I don’t read comic books that much.
Given my reading habits, and how quickly I read, I find it difficult to go out and get every issue of a serial. I’ve read some collected works, like Sandman, and enjoyed them—storytelling is storytelling, whether it’s in words or art on a page. Digital editions might help, once we finally give up on that DRM nonsense. However, even with that hurdle cleared, I’ll admit I’m not a very visual person. Pictures, whether they are paintings or prints or ink drawings, do not communicate with me the same way words on a page do—they don’t, as I explained to a friend while we saw Picasso at the AGO, convey as much semantic information to me. This is why, above any other literary form, I am so drawn to the novel: it’s a word-dense method of storytelling, and that appeals to me.
Nevertheless, I think I “dig” comics. I appreciate them, perhaps not as fervently as other fans, but with an eye towards their cultural and artistic significance nonetheless. Even if that weren’t the case, after Lynne M. Thomas’ excellent Chicks Dig Time Lords, pre-ordering this from Amazon was a no-brainer. Besides, we nerd genres need to stick together!
At first, I was a little disappointed with Chicks Dig Comics. It might be that I’m less excited about comics than I am about Doctor Who, so perhaps that dampened my enthusiasm for the subjects of these essays. However, I was expecting more of the focused critique of the medium that I saw in Chicks Dig Time Lords. Many of the essays therein were personal, yes, but they always referred back to the show, its production, and its delivery. It was an edification for me, as a fan who came to the series through its 2005 regeneration, to read those accounts. Chicks Dig Comics definitely has a more personal feel to it; almost every essay is about a female fan’s involvement with comic books and how this has enhanced or intersected with her other identities and roles in life.
In that sense, this book doesn’t disappoint—it just wasn’t quite what I expected at first. The essays and interviews are thoughtful, well-written, and above all, insightful. As I continued through the book, my initial disappointment evaporated and then condensed into approval. Because as I kept reading, I started to realize that Chicks Dig Comics isn’t actually “a celebration of comic books” like its subtitle claims. It’s a celebration—and a confession—of the experiences women have with comic books, their relationship to comic books over time. Hence, while the discussions of how most comic books seem aimed and young men are certainly there, they aren’t the focus here.
The value of Chicks Dig Comics comes from the fact it provides space for minorities to speak up about what comics mean to them. The value comes from a reader getting to hear about an experience and say, “Yes, I understand what you mean completely—I’ve had a similar one.” It’s that instant connection to the authors, that sense that you are not alone. It’s putting into words what other fans have felt but could not express. It’s a celebration of women who love comics by women who love comics—and that’s awesome.
The moment this clicked didn’t come until all the way on page 129, during the interview with Greg Rucka. In response to writing so many series with women as the leads, he says this:
But, I think, in all honesty? In all sincerity? I female-identify. I like writing about female characters. I can even go back through my writing—and here I’m talking about the stuff I wrote when I was in my teens … and those stories almost universally have female leads.
And then, to the follow-up question regarding his conscious choice to portray genderqueer characters:
Also, inasmuch as I have always been aware of feminism and interested in feminist politics, I’ve been very aware of sexual politics and issues of sexuality. And, not to be glib about it, but if I female-identify and I’m in a heterosexual relationship, what does that make me? I’ve always been comfortable in my own body, enough that I’m pretty content being biologically male. But certainly intellectually, and emotionally, I’d say that I’ve always identified far more as female than male.
This resonates with me quite a bit. I very carefully reached up to the top left corner of the page and deliberately folded it down into a neat triangle. I don’t dog-ear pages! I annotate; I underline, but to crease the page? I did it anyway.
My exploration of feminism and involvement in feminist discourse has been as much about exploring my own gender identity, and the way I perform gender, as it has been about critiquing gender roles in wider society. A lot of what Rucka says above applies to me—and I’ve said it in various bits and pieces to people at one time or another, but I don’t know if I’ve ever put it all together so succinctly. I tend to form stronger friendships with women than I do men. Like Rucka, my stories often involve women protagonists or at least very important women main characters. And I’m intensely interested in what it’s like to be a woman. (I’m not sure whether the relationship between these last two things is cause-and-effect or effect-and-cause.) It is a perspective I cannot, owing to my biology and socialization, realize myself; I have to seek it vicariously through literature and discussions with female friends. For me, personally, my involvement with feminism has been a quest for empathy.
The bottom line here, though, is that this is a book about women and comics, about women who love comics, and all the awesomeness that results. It crosses generations and occupations—there are essays and interviews here from fans, from authors, from editors, from artists. Rather than presenting a prescriptive, monolithic definition of what it means to be a female fan, Chicks Digs Comics embraces a diversity of perspectives. There are differing opinions on what makes a female character empowered, for instance, or the nature of Barbara Gordon’s transition from able-bodied Batgirl to the disabled Oracle. As with so many things viewed through the lens of feminism, I think it can be tempting to simply condemn comics for being bastions of the male gaze or otherwise demeaning to women—and some of the contributors note the surprised reactions they receive when other women learn of their self-professed feminist fandom. Chicks Digs Comics belies this approach to feminism by exposing the nuance that makes comics worthwhile.
I don’t always read comics. But I do occasionally read books about comics! Because sometimes, things about comics aren’t just about comics, in the same way that comics aren’t just about spandex and onomatapeia. There’s something good here, something human and true. It’s academic, and meaningful, and personal. So if you like comics, even if you don’t read them all that often, read this. And if you don’t like comics? Maybe this will lift the cloud of confusion over why so many women do.