The (Female) Force Awakens

It’s happening, finally. The importance of heroines isn’t being cast away and seen as something that’s not worth film-makers, comic book creators and TV producers time.

It’s a new year, and a new hope.

Alongside the blockbuster of the year, where Charlize Theron stole the throne from Tom Hardy’s Mad Max, we had some killer television.

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At the end of 2015 we saw Marvel’s Jessica Jones bring a harrowing, female-focused storyline to screens, where sexual and emotional abuse is shown at it’s most potent and it’s the male characters who go nameless.

Supergirl also hit screens, and even though it’s popularity has seemed to dwindle – it’s a shame. Supergirl was integral to my interest in superheroes. She was the attainable heroine, the one I could most relate to as a child.

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Lesser known, but still important were the Scream Queens and Scream series’. As a horror fan, these stand out. Dispite Scream Queen’s tongue and cheek look at slasher flicks and use of movie tropes, the cast is heavily female, and they are all very well fleshed out, with both heroines and villains.

Scream was perhaps one of my personal favourites, with the Scream series yet again warping perceptions and proving that it’s still well ahead on the horror trend, still relevant and cleverly self-aware.

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Then came Star Wars, and thank the universe. Rey gives little girls the hope we have been waiting for – the proof that you don’t have to ever be the damsel in distress, be sexualised, be provocative. That a female character can be just as universal as a male. Let’s teach little boys and girls not to worry about gender, to relate to the character and not the sex – young girls have to do this a lot more, as the hero of a blockbuster is very rarely a girl, so finding yourself in the shoes of a boy is common in our imagination.

Here’s an interesting article that illustrates this point beautifully and adds to our cause – we don’t need another hero, let their be more heroines.

New Statesman Article: What to do when you’re not a hero anymore

And another brilliant piece from Mary Sue: The Importance of Rey

Interview: Comic Book Slumber Party Extraordinaire… Hannah Chapman!

CBSP Logo Designed by Donya Todd (http://donyatodd.tumblr.com)

CBSP Logo Designed by Donya Todd (http://donyatodd.tumblr.com)

Aiming to create diversity within the heavily male-orientated world of comic books, Comic Book Slumber Party brings together an array of creative, unique women around the UK (and beyond) and helps them to promote and publish their works.
The mastermind behind CBSP, Hannah Chapman, joins us, here at Heroine Junkies, to discuss her thoughts on comics and gender and the differences between the UK and US ‘scenes’.

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HJ: Starting at the beginning… how did you get here, what did you study etc? How did you come up with Comic Book Slumber Party and what do you do as your day job?

HC:I studied Creative Writing at uni and for a long time wanted to be a journalist. I was doing okay freelancing as a writer and editor while studying but I realised that my heart wasn’t in it. It was something I could do, not something I needed to. In my second year of uni I spent a few months in Chicago taking some writing and art classes  and I really focused on comics while I was over there. By chance I set up Graham Crackers Comics Ladies Night and that was really the start of CBSP.  I wanted to create a community that promoted, encouraged, and recognised the awesome work that women are doing in comics. Not just as creators but as publishers, critics, distributors, and readers.

After graduating I got an office job in marketing that just didn’t work out and so after that decided to tackle freelancing again but from a different angle. I now work with small businesses helping them with small amounts of admin but mostly assisting with branding, marketing, web development, and event planning. I think my degree helped a little but I have done so many internships and personal projects over the years and I’d credit my career more to that.

What are you doing now?

Because I work from home a lot I don’t get much structured ‘free time’ but I try to make the most of it. I write for the Forbidden Planet International blog, plan upcoming CBSP events and anthologies, edit GCC Ladies Night anthologies, and play lots of Mario Kart.

I hear you studied in the US, how different are the comics scenes?

It’s a weird one. Mainstream comics are way more accepted over in the states than they are here. When I was in America I got to enjoy mainstream titles and indie/self-published books without having to justify it. Comics are comics, you know? Some are trashy, some are not, but that’s just the way it is. I spend so much time in the UK listening to people who are into ‘mainstream’ titles ragging on the indie scene and vice versa. It’s irritating as hell. My gut tells me that it’s because in the UK we want so badly for them to be taken seriously as art with a capital A, so people get a bit cagey when Marvel or DC release something that is so generic and cliched that it hurts a bit to read it.  I once heard an artist say at the London Book Fair that a comic doesn’t have to be about cancer or the Holocaust to win and award.  Having fun with comics is also totally cool, you know?

We hear ya! Are more girls involved in comics in the UK or in the US?

The struggles and prejudices apply in the UK as they do in the US. The scene in the states is bigger and geographically America is huuuuuugggeeeeeee so in terms of sheer numbers I imagine there are more women involved in/reading comics in the US. If we talk percentages though, I’m not so sure. I don’t think it’s that not enough women are involved in comics, I think it’s that we don’t see them anywhere near as much as the men.

Did you find a difference in trends, ie. Indie/superhero?

I love reading mainstream comics but I find it hard to pick up new titles for old characters. It’s virtually impossible these days to read X-Men or Batman without knowing 50 years of backstory. And it is so tiring!!! I think that’s why I love reading Image so much, everything feels newer. The difference is definitley there, and the sort of events you go to will really show. I’d rather spend time at CAKE, SPX, or TCAF than Comic-Con or San Diego – the atmosphere and work is way more relaxed and feels less ‘flashy’.

It’s worth remembering though that while we get to read mainstream titles here they’re almost all set in America, with American characters, and they’re made in the states too. The big publishers in the UK are indie publishers so I’d say the market leans more that way in terms of what we make in the UK – I don’t know about what we consume so much.

What sort of comics do you find girls are more drawn to create?

I think one of the reasons there are so many women self-publishing and working with indie publishers is that for the most part the key to the mainstream industry is shaped like a dick. Can I say that? The same doors that are open to male creators/editors/colourists are not open to women.

We then get stuck where you have lots of women wanting to make lots of different types of work and they can’t necessarily make certain kinds because the mainstream doors are closed to them and the indie scene isn’t always welcoming of your typical caped crusader.

I guess women are lucky in a sense that we get to make whatever the hell we want, but mainly because we’ll be publishing it ourselves…

What were your childhood dreams?

I wanted to be all sorts of things a writer, director, actress, politician, Egyptologist. I really really really wanted a dog or a sister. I got the dog when I was a teenager but am stuck with five grotty brothers (sorry boys).

Egyptologist! YES. What comic would you love to have created?

I wish I’d gotten round to finishing off some of the comics I scripted while in the states. I had so much fun doing the writing exercises for my classes but never took them further than that.

What are your favourite kind of comics? Are you a superhero girl?

My favourite now are indie comics because the scene is so vast and so freakin immersive. I went through a phase of only wanting to read auto-bio comics but I’m more into political stuff at the moment. That said, my first love was Witchblade and I get a tone of X-Men in my pull list each month.

What is it about comics that made you want to be a part of it/ first comic that grabbed your attention and inspired your love of the medium?

People are so nice! Talking to people who read/make comics is my favourite thing. I love that it feels like a really niche thing that I’m into but then I get to ‘do’ comics with so many people. Comics as a medium are really accessible and I love that.

I used to work in a bookshop and we got this one really battered copy of Skim by Jillian Tamaki in. I bought it for practically nothing and it was unlike anything I’d ever seen. It made me fall in love with comics all over again.

Who is your favourite comic character?

Oh man this is so hard…I think it has to be…Witchblade. But only because every time I see her near naked body I laugh and wonder why the hell I liked it so much when I was 11.

Hannah at GCC Ladies Night (c) Megan Byrd (comicbookcandy.blogspot.com)

Hannah at GCC Ladies Night
(c) Megan Byrd (comicbookcandy.blogspot.com)

Apparently the division of genders consuming comic books isn’t quite as huge as anticipated. One recent poll found that over 40% of facebook users who read comics are female. Do you feel comics are geared towards a male audience, and the idea that boys don’t want/can’t relate to female lead characters/heroes is misinformed?

Did you know that in childrens publishing you’re more likely to get a book about a duck published than a book about a child? Because apparently as human beings we’re only able to relate to somebody who looks exactly like us.

I don’t think the problem is with the consumer – it’s with the publisher. Somebody please tell me what a focus group for comics looks like because the last time I checked it was a medium for storytelling not a genre. Comics are made and read by so many different people and I refuse to believe that men being unable to relate to women is true.

Do you feel like it is any more difficult to enter the comic industry as a female?

100% undoubtedly yes.

Who are your heroes?

Too many to name them all but I will try: Annie Koyama, Zainab Aktar, Emily Carroll, Jillian Tamaki, Judith Buteau, Donya Todd, Lizzy Stewart, Kate Leth, Wendi Freeman, Lauren Burke, Megan Byrd…the list is endless.

Where would you like to be in ten years?

I would like to be King of Comics – or failing that I’d like for CBSP to still exist and for us to be publishing awesome books. That’d be great. I’d also like to be living in a commune for one.

Do you think female comic fans are taken seriously enough? Do you feel judged when you walk into a comic store?

I thinks sometimes I get on my guard when I go into a new one but my past experiences have been so great. Excelsior, my current local shop, are super nice to me even when I threaten to stitch all my single issues together. Graham Crackers Comics in Chicago is great, as is Quimbys. And American Dream Comics in Bath are wonderful, especially Nick. Hi Nick!

If I walked into a Tesco Metro and somebody was a dick to me I’d probably just moan at my friends and go back anyway. In the past I’ve been way to prone to have a bad experience at a comic shop and then never go back to it – people have off days, sometimes only person who works there is an arse (and if you learn the days they work you can avoid them haha…not joking). I’ve been lucky to have so many great shops with amazing staff so close to me.

I get this feeling that people assume you will be heading straight the manga when you enter forbidden planet, and if you are picking up a comic, you can’t possibly be a serious reader… I may just be overly paranoid though! haha

I think that comes down to personal experience, and yeah, I have heard a lot of horror stories where people have just been totally disrespected in comic shops. That’s the worst, and it’s also why we started GCC Ladies Night – it really helped a lot of women who were intimidated by the idea of shopping for comics feel way more comfortable.

Do you think it is important to promote girls within comics? Have you read any of the recent female led series’, ie. Pretty deadly/ Coffin Hill?

I’ve not read either of those titles – maybe I should? I don’t know. I really really believe that promoting women in comics is a good way of addressing this weird gender imbalance in the industry. It’s not the only way by any means, but it’s a step in the right direction.

You should definitely check those two out – they are brilliant!

Do you think female comic book writers and artists and getting more recognition and respect within the industry?

Slowly I think things are changing but we’re not at a point yet where we can stop pushing for it and say ‘great job gals’.

Do you think more strong female leads, who are not scantily clad animated sexual objects, would attract more female comic readers? I know that the avengers movies have inspired a lot of young boys to pick up comics, but with only one female avenger on the team, what do little girls have to look up to?

I think more choice will help and showing that there are more to comics than just these types of books. Getting more comics into school and public libraries, more child friendly comic events! That’s one of the things I love about TCAF – libraries, schools, and children are such a big part of their programming. It’s a great way to tackle this stuff.

Or do you feel it depends more on content? Is there a difference in what girls read and what boys read?

We need to stop telling boys and girls to read different things – it’s dumb and I hate it. My brothers would read the stuff I brought home and vice versa. Like I said, choice is a big part of it.

We agree whole heartedly.

Tell me a little bit about the plans for Comic book slumber party – Also, are there any upcoming events and how did you manage to get so many people involved in previous ones?

People got involved because they thought promoting women in comics was a good idea I guess. And I asked! It’s like I said, people in comics are so so friendly and I love that!

This year we’ll be having a birthday event in Bath (CBSP turns 1!), we’ll be tabling at TCAF and debuting two new books there, and we’re planning a two day event to be held in Chicago next year. On top of that we’ll be doing lots of Drink’n’Draws in the South West and workshops up and down the country so keep an eye out.  Lots of things happening!

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Comic Book Slumber Party celebrates it’s first birthday on March 9th 2014… and event is being planned in Plymouth, check the website nearer the date for more details!

For more info about Hannah and her project, check out these previous interviews:

Hannah currently writes for Forbidden Planet International’s Blog, and guess what? It’s all about up and coming lady comics!

Interview: Kate Killick – Award Winning Game Artist

Heroine Junkies caught up with Kate Killick, a BAFTA Cymru ‘New Media’ winner, for her role as lead artist on the Xbox Live for Windows Phone game, Mush.

After studying at University of Wales, Newport for her foundation in Art, Media & Design, game fan, Kate Killick discovered they offered a Computer Games Design degree, “It was an obvious choice – I wanted to do something creative, and computers had been a hobby from a young age. Working in games seemed like the perfect way to combine all my interests and skills,” she says.

Games have always been an important part of Kate’s life, as a child she loved the sense of adventure and exploration that they captured better than other media. “I think that’s what originally inspired me,” she admits, “although I’ve realised over time that the games I love playing aren’t necessarily the games I want to make.”

The first games that grabbed her imagination were Ocarina of Time and Pokemon.

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Girls and Gaming

Do you feel games are geared towards a male audience, and the idea that boys don’t want to play as girls is misinformed?

I don’t think there’s any doubt that the majority of games are geared towards a male audience, at least when it comes to hardcore games. Less so for mobile and casual. I don’t know that I would say the idea is misinformed, but maybe it’s a little self-perpetuating. Ultimately, it’s developers that need to take the risk and introduce more diversity – I don’t think gamers are as close-minded as marketing teams believe.

Do you think it is any more difficult to enter the games industry as a female?

“I do think there are extra challenges facing women in terms of the facing sexist behaviour. Nearly everyone I’ve met in the industry has been perfectly professional and respectful, but sadly there are always exceptions. One instance that stands out happened quite recently. I was contacted on LinkedIn by someone who was in need of some art assets. We exchanged a couple of messages, and I asked whether the job was on a freelance or a contract basis. The reply I received:

‘It would also be beneficial to have a pretty girl like yourself in the Kickstarter video. Would you be able to make a 30sec video introducing yourself and why you think [game I’d never heard of] is Amazing?’

Both he, and some of my friends on Facebook who couldn’t understand why it was sexist, got a piece of my mind that day.”

With so many companies taking such a narrow minded view of what attracts a female audience and online platforms being rife with bigoted language – Do you feel girl gamers are taken seriously enough?

“I think attitudes towards women in games does vary. There’s always going to be companies driven by ‘market research’ which push out patronising ‘pink games’ etc. There’s studios that are happy to disregard the female audience completely with continued use of sexualised imagery of women. But there are also studios making great games that don’t rely on massive gender stereotypes.

I don’t play much multiplayer, so I haven’t encountered the sexism and abuse that women seem to face with online gaming. Most people I meet in person who are either gamers or involved in the games industry haven’t treated me any differently because of my gender.”

Do you think it is important to promote women within gaming, and to attempt to get girls accepted as real gamers?

“It’s a hard question, I’ve never felt less than accepted as a gamer by people I’ve met in real life, but I know there are big problems with online gaming communities and also games media. I don’t know whether changes to these attitudes can really come from within the games industry though, or whether they’re something that need to be addressed across society and the media in general.”

Do you think more strong female leads, who are not scantily class animated sex objects, would attract more female gamers or is it dependant on content?

“I think more strong, diverse characters should exist, but not to attract female gamers. They should exist because there is a huge variety of human experience that games could explore in interesting ways – picking characters from the same couple of moulds every time is painfully limiting.

I don’t know whether female leads are necessarily the biggest factor in appealing to women, but we can be certain that having sexualised women alienates the female audience. I’m sure there is research that shows women prefer certain types of gameplay, etc. but I try not to take those kind of statistics at face value – I’ll leave the stereotyping to the marketing departments. I think if studios want to make games with wider appeal, they should just focus on making great games, with great writing – and that means not basing characters on sexual fantasies.”

Do you see more women getting involved in the gaming industry in the future?

“I think women are getting more involved. Casual and mobile games have seen big success whilst being pretty gender neutral, so I think that’s a very positive development. I’d also say that indie games seem to have gained more ground in the last few years, and they don’t seem to have the dedication to objectifying women that some of the bigger studios have. Overall, I do see progress being made, but there’s always a lot more that needs to be done.”

Kate hopes to be leading an art team in a games studio in the near future and continues to try and learn as much as she can about the medium and the industry. To find out more about her and her projects check out her website.