We can discuss the role of women in comics to no end, simply because they have a vital role in the genre. Young kids look up to superheroes like Wonder Woman because they are a symbol of strength and empowerment. However, those same kids grow up in a world where strength is secondary to the exterior. Not only this, but the desire to be more like these fictional heroes conflicts with the impossibility of looking like Catwoman, which is apparently more important in this society.
A quick Google search of “female comic book characters,” and the top results are lists based not on unique qualities – but their “hotness.” While comic books are an art form, granting authors freedom to write their characters how they please, it’s interesting to note how there is little body diversity. Even recently, with Christopher Nolan’s take on Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises, virtually all media coverage of Anne Hathaway focused on how she looked. Her actual character, which is an interesting adaptation in comparison to past takes, had little significance in mainstream coverage. Journalists asked Hathaway about her tight, shiny costume, not the mentality of her character or her purpose in the story.
Not shockingly, women in comic books do in fact have amazing qualities that extend beyond their looks. But interviews like this play women down as if their super powers don’t exist at all.
So without these unique powers, what would women be? We can often look to graphic novels for the answer. Not all, but some graphic novels and their adaptations are the answer to the under appreciation of women in the comic book world, and they explain why these characters deserve just as much screen time and analysis as the others. Graphic novels are the average teenage girls who have something to say. They are the characters who reflect women in an honest way because they prove that the most redeeming quality of a woman is not her tight cat suit, which she is very much entitled to wear. They are the superheroes without any actual super powers, and these are just a few examples of why that is.
Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel about her childhood before, during and after the Islamic Revolution. Satrapi, although writing about her personal experiences, touches upon universal themes of family, change, desire, and remorse. She does this with a uniquely powerful, and at times, strangely comical voice. This graphic novel is a coming-of-age story of a child who lives through a war that she vaguely understands, however responds with a clearly intelligent and at times rebellious streak. Marji often questions her surroundings, and as seen in the photo above, does things that she knows will get her into deep trouble. However, she does things purposefully and with the same curiosity that any child would.
One of the most remarkable qualities of Satrapi is that while she is a strong female author, she did not intend the graphic novels to be exclusively female. In an interview with Movieweb, Satrapi had the following to say about her graphic novel not being about a woman’s point of view, “It happens that I am a woman, but it’s a human point of view. Really, if there is one message in this movie, the humanistic message, is that human beings everywhere is the same. They have the right to live because they have dreams, because they have love, because they have parents and kids, and the life of all of us worth something. We have to understand that the situation is not as easy as we think.”
Ghost World (2001)
Enid Coleslaw of Ghost World has been in both comic and graphic novel form. However, her character resonates with women and has becomes a great discussion point for feminism. Enid does not symbolize teenage rebellion, but an actual defiance against the structure of adulthood and “normal” assimilation into society. She’s not “cool” but rather different, and her comfort with her difference is what makes her so likeable. Not only this, but Enid also sticks up for herself (even rather crudely) when boys pick on her, and cares very little about their impression of her.
The author of Ghost World, Daniel Clowes, was interviewed in 2011 by Rookie Magazine, a publication that has become an Internet herald of teenage girls, noting in the interview, “[Enid] figured out a way to make her life more exciting just by imagining the things around her being charged with some kind of mystery and energy that’s possibly not actually there, but that she’s giving to them.” This generation is in love with Enid – from her hair, to her opinions, to her strange relationship with Seymore. Her superpower is making people fall endlessly in love with her with no actual intention of doing so.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)
This one is a bit of a stretch, as the graphic novel version of Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim does have some special abilities that could be considered powers, however, movie Ramona seems like an every day girl (with a cursed romantic past). Ramona is very much a kick ass girl because she stands her ground. When she wants something, Ramona gets it – but by her accord, and not Scott’s.
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