So what does a gal have to do to get into The Comics Journal anyway?

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201311051253 So what does a gal have to do to get into The Comics Journal anyway?

Last week, Frank Santoro and Sean T. Collins engaged in a discussion of contemporary comics criticism, that raised several issues on the lack of in depth criticism of newer cartoonists and the lack of outlets for the same. This is related to my own call for critical and cultural context for the emerging indie comics scene that I mentioned a few months ago. So I’ll have quite a bit to say about all this.

In the piece, Frank Santoro mentions what he calls “pap pap comics,” an insular world of middle aged men who like their Flash, the way they like their omelets — with a little Wally West. This world in various iterations has been the primary force in comics for a long time—but no longer. With the explosion of micropresses, tumblr and webcomics, its clear that people want a spirit guide to help them get to the other side, but I’m not sure that the current comics culture responds to much more than the crowd-sourcing of “like” and share.”

But before we move on to the new world, I would like to explore segment of the TCJ.com piece that sent the mercury shooting up the most on the Internet Outage-ometer.

In an offhand comment Sean T Collins, wonders about why there aren’t more women indie comics critics. And he does so with this:

The “where are the women critics” question’s an excellent one too, of course. Zainab Akhtar? Sarah Horrocks, to the extent that she writes reviews?

So that’s it. 24 words. Two question marks.

Of course this followed this graph on the “established” critics:

Moreover, when not a lot of writing is being done overall, the idiosyncracies of individual critics start mattering a ton. Rob obviously performs an invaluable service, but he reviews literally everything people send him, so it’s difficult to ascertain his point of view as a critic based on what he chooses to talk about, particularly because he rarely pans anything. Matt basically never wrote about women cartoonists. Comics Comics’ mission of broadening the discussion to genre-indebted work led to a dropoff in discussion of canonical ’90s alt comics and the rise of a lot of criticism by people intelligent and well-read enough to handle that kind of work but who now had the cover to talk about nothing but Heavy Metal and Akira. I’ll never begrudge a critic as great as Joe McCulloch for following his bliss, but I’d love to read more from him on current alt/art comics as opposed to older/obscurantist/untranslated manga, just from a purely selfish perspective. He’s great on the podcast he does with Matt, Chris, and Tucker Stone, but it’s not the same. (Super, super excited to see his review of Fran, on that note.) With me you’ve got a much tougher row to hoe if your work isn’t at least bleak if not overtly horrific; I’ve got a bias toward hard-R work that’s undoubtedly limiting. Nick Gazin is Nick Gazin. The loudest, most argumentative, most in-it-for-the-insults voices — who are invariably the most thin-skinned when criticized, oddly enough, perhaps because they take everything as personally as they make it with the comics they go after — dominate, and that can be a huge turnoff to artists whose personalities don’t mesh with that mode of discourse. That’s always been my problem with Tucker, for example, who has phenomenal taste and is a top-drawer critic outside of his superhero-insult-comedy mode — he’s tough to have a conversation with if you disagree. So is David Brothers, whom in my experience approaches disagreement — over Kickstarter, say — like a debater looking to win. An exception here among the big arguers might be Darryl Ayo; you can feel like you’re banging your head against the wall with him, but he’s never going to block you on Twitter. But he loves argument for argument’s sake, which undermines him; it made him invaluable when decrying faux-edgy racebaiting, because you need someone with the fire to fire back at trolling, but often he’ll hit things he doesn’t like with any weapon to hand, no matter how inapt — he once told me Dan Clowes’s earlier work was less cynical, for example. And so on. We’re a weird group overall, and having more of us would mitigate the weirdness in a necessary way.

460 words on various guys—”a weird group overall”—whose quirks are investigated and biases known.

So just WHY is a Nick Gazin worthy of analysis and a Sarah Horrocks a question mark? What sets Zainab Akhtar’s writing on comics apart from Matt Seneca’s in its quantity or quality that it gets a questions mark instead of an analysis?

I’ve said this a few times before, but it bear repeating, shouting and tattooing.

THE WAY TO BE INCLUSIVE IS TO INCLUDE PEOPLE.

Like, if you think there should be more female critics, maybe engage with the ones who are doing it and don’t just relegate them to a question mark.

Now, I know and like Sean T. Collins and we had a private email conversation about all this. As a stylist, he’s one of the finer writer about comics, and one of the few with a very specific viewpoint about the comics he likes and dislikes. I know Sean is a big admirer of the music critic Matthew Perpetua, and its often struck me that Collins is trying to bring the sensibilities of indie music to indie comics—specifically a more Pitchforkian elevation of the “authentic,” or in Collins’ case, the bleak and horrific. I don’t think this is wholly a waste of time in the abstract, but the general inclusivene nature of the indie comics scene mitigates against it. Oh sure, there is snobbiness and constant after hours trash talking, but it’s kind of hard to get people to band together in a “school” of any kind other than “Study Group” or “Kramers Ergot” and the work in these groups tends to be dissimilar in a way that makes branding it “nowave” or “Ibiza trance” a little harder.

Part of this, as mentioned, is also the change from the well worn highway of the “established canon” of comics from Kirby to Crumb to Ware to a place where the dirt road simply stopped in in middle of a flowery meadow. But the canon won’t go quietly into the night. And that’s what I’m here to talk to you about today. Because if you want to see rigid adherence to a canon that rejects anything that isn’t a straight white man, the place you want to be is the print version of The Comics Journal.

A long time ago I received the new (#302) edition of the Comics Journal and noted that not one page of it was written by a woman. Considering that there were 670 pages, this was quite a definitive shut-out.

Was this just an aberration? A mistake? I decided to dig through the last THREE issues of the Comics Journal, and found not only maybe five pages written by women, but exactly ONE article devoted to female cartoonists.

But even that shocking neglect doesn’t get quite to the level of near-total dismissal of the work of women in comics over the last 20 years evinced in The Comics Journal.

Lets take issue #300 for instance. It is 288 pages long. I took a post-it and stuck it in every time art by a woman was shown. I used four post-its. One was for a report on the 2009 (yes it has been that long since TCK #300) Eisner Awards where Lynda Barry and Jill Thomson were winners. One was for the sole dedicated look at women creators in all of the 1578 pages of these three issues. The gimmick for TCJ #300 was younger creators interviewing older creators, so you have Art Spigelman and Kevin Huizenga, Denny O’Neil and Matt Fraction and so on. Representing the women is Alison Bechdel talking to Danica Novgorodoff. (You could only have women talking to women and men to men so that women could talk about their tampon brands, presumably.) The Bechdel/Novgorodoff piece is also only six pages long. Most of the other pieces average 20 pages. So not only do you have a grand total of two women represented in the whole thing…THEY GET THE DINKIEST PAGE COUNT OF ANYONE.

The last two post-its were for a picture of Marilyn Bethke, an early Journal rabble rouser, in a history of the Journal (And probably the reason you’re reading this, since she was my inspiration to even show that women COULD write for the Journal), and a few panels of Lynda Barry in R. Fiore’s round-up “The Experience of Comics” which goes over Little Orphan Annie, Plastic Man and Crumb, Pekar and the other touchstones of the orthodox pap pap history of comics.

The next two issues of TCJ have switched to a thick, bookshelf format, occasionally published. #301 from 2011 weighs in at 620 pages, and #302 from earlier this year, as mentioned before, at 670. They are handsome books that will always have a place on my shelf but lets look at the spines of these:

tcj301 02 So what does a gal have to do to get into The Comics Journal anyway?

As you can see, R. Crumb is so important that he gets not only a 200 page analysis in #301, but an extensive history of his lawyer, Albert Morse, in #302. Joe Sacco is also a double dipper but he is, to be fair, pretty fucking awesome. Al Jaffe, Roy Crane, Jeff Smith, Roy Crane…all fine creators, but this is beginning to look like a driving school in Saudi Arabia.

I did a similar post-it run through with all 1290 page of these two books. In #301 there’s a five page interview with Tim Hensley by Kristy Valenti; it’s the only woman bylined article in all these 1290 pages. It is also, as I mentioned, five pages long.

But surely women cartoonists get covered, you must be saying? Surely after the decade in which manga changed the game, Bechdel, Satrapi and Beaton rewrote the rules and Bell, Barry, Hanawalt, Wertz, Modan, the Davises, Eleanor and Vanessa, Weinstein, Park, Tyler, Gloeckner, Hellen Jo, McNeil, Cloonan, Thompson, Brosgal, Hicks, Larson and so on triumphed and transformed the world of comics from a stinky man cave to a flourishing, universal art form…surely that got some mention?

Right?

By my count, the images of and by women in #301 include an ad from Diamond Comics (!!) where a woman gets up early so she can go through her Previews catalog; a panel by Aline Kominsky-Crumb in the aforementioned 200 page Crumb article; the Valenti piece, and (FINALLY) an article by Rob Clough on the Center for Cartoon Studies which discusses distinguished alum Melissa Mendes and co founder Katherine Roy. Mendes gets a picture and art and a discussion and everything.

Perhaps the most perplexing piece in the whole issue however, is Marc Sobel’s “The Decade in Comics” a look back at the Amazing Aughts which states in the section on “literary comics”:

An amazing number of these literary graphic novels were written and drawn by women. These books broadened the diversity of the medium as a whole, and brought a welcome, distinctly female perspective to the male-dominated industry. Many of these books took the form of graphic memoir, including Miss Lasko-Gross’s excellent two-part reflection on childhood, Escape from “Special” and A Mess of Everything, and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, which enjoyed widespread acclaim and turned the cartoonist into a media celebrity. Carol Tyler’s brilliant You’ll Never Know explored her father’s life and military service while Ann Marie Fleming reconstructed her search for clues about her personal relation to the long-forgotten celebrity magician in The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam.


Well alright then! Between manga and graphic novels, women were a driving force behind some of the decade’s most important developments. And what illustration is used to show the decade as a whole?
photo2 So what does a gal have to do to get into The Comics Journal anyway?
Yep, you got it, all potential Hair Club for Men customers.

Issue #302, the one which sparked my “gendercounting” exercise, has a similarl “no grrls allowed!” vibe. Trina Robbins gets mentioned many times in the article on Crumb’s lawyer, since he was also her lawyer. Ruth Krause gets a mention; an ad shows a book about Lynda Barry. A 130-page piece on children’s comics has not a single female voice because, to paraphrase the explanation I heard, Francoise Mouly had better things to do with her time than send emails about Al Hubbard all day, as delightful as it sounds.

The one ladypart invasion comes yet again from Rob Clough in a tribute to Dylan Williams and Sparkplug, because, shockingly, Williams published a bunch of female cartoonists including, Julia Gfrörer, Dunja Jankovic and Katie Skelly.

So what are we left with? 1578 pages of comics scholarship where, literally, the sex life of Robert Crumb’s lawyer gets as much attention as the contributions made by female cartoonists in the last amazing decade of comics. 1578 pages extolling Crumb, Dave Sim and Chester Brown, guys not exactly known for great relations with the opposite sex, and nothing to suggest there is any other viewpoint.

It’s also, 1578 pages of “pap pap” comics, the old familiar route from Krazy Kat to Dick Tracy to EC to Stan and Jack to Neal and Denny to Crumb. An old familiar comfy story that doesn’t need to be questioned.

After I tweeted about the gender imbalance in #302, in an interview, Tom Spurgeon did ask Gary Groth, editor in chief of the magazine, about the matter.

SPURGEON: Do you have any response to the criticism — I think it was Heidi MacDonald that was public with this observation — that this latest issue lacked women writers, cartoonists and even subject matter? I know that Esther Pearl Watson was scheduled but there was a hitch there.

GROTH: Yeah, Esther was supposed to be in it. I have to admit I’m gender-blind when it comes to good writing. And to subject matter.


And then fwoooooosh. That was it. Insider clubby “Oh I hear you tried! Good job!” And then moving on. Gender blind meaning, I suppose 1578 pages of comics criticism that spend, in total 6 pages looking at the work of women cartoonists? Yep, I could say blind is probably the word for it.

Nicole Rudick, an occasional contributor to the online version of The Comics Journal, and editor of The Paris Review later wrote in to comment on this exchange.

I’m a big fan of your interviews — they’re always substantive and insightful — and was eager to read the Gary Groth conversation. In some ways it doesn’t disappoint. It’s nice, for instance, to read a succinct appraisal of what’s missing in some comics; that is, that the cartooning can be great, but if the story doesn’t come together, then it throws off the whole project. I was mightily disappointed, though, by his response to issues of gender disparity in TCJ #302.

Say simply that he’s gender blind when it comes to writing and subject matter strikes me as disingenuous and utterly avoids the issue. And it’s a significant issue given that this is the second iteration of the print TCJ that has omitted women altogether. How is it that a 600-page doorstop can’t make room for women cartoonists? I would have loved to read more on this in the interview. It’s a subject that generally seems to get short shrift.

I hope all’s well with you, and I’m looking forward to your next interview.


How indeed? How has the supposed “last word” in comics scholarship completely ignored the contributions of women to the comics medium for four years?

I don’t know the answer to this question, but in this milieu, it’s easy to see how Horrocks and Akhtar were reduced to question marks.

Now, pulling out my old TCJ message board bingo card, my guess at the explanation for all of this from TCJ’s editors, is that TCJ is covering older established (pap pap) cartoonists and going in depth on them. Sure. But there was an attempt at covering some newer folks like Anders Nillsen, Kevin Huizenga and Tim Hensley, all cartoonists who I love, but I think every one of the women I mentioned above is as accomplished as them. And that doesn’t mean “Oh noes, we must cut out Anders and Kevin and Tim so we can have a woman!” It means…you ADD coverage. And I’ve also heard “Well Kristy Valenti is the assistant editor on this!” and as much as I love and adore Kristy Valenti, and she is one of my favorite writers on comics, my answer to this is…try harder.

And what is the price of all of this? Continuing exclusion. A continuing “Why have there been no great female cartoonists?” that has to be answered over and over and over. A continuing subliminal message that women creators don’t belong with Chester Brown and and Lewis Trondheim and Roy Crane. I know some pap pap adherents just felt a flush of rage when I suggested women were the equals of Roy Crane. Because they think no woman has touched these hallowed icons. I know this because I’ve stood there and argued with them about it.

But you know what? The new audience for comics doesn’t know about the pap pap tradition. They think Alison Bechdel is just as important as R. Crumb. And I think you could make a pretty good argument that she is.

I’d like to think that in the long run this exclusion doesn’t matter, since, well, only a few people read The Comics Journal any more, and thousands of people read tumblr and the web where people who are not white men are able to put their work on display without fear of “gender-blind” gatekeepers. It’s definitely a world without gatekeepers any more, thank God, and I’d rather have the tyranny of crowd sourcing than the tyranny of patronizing, patriarchal privilege; a privilege oblivious to its own sheltered viewpoint.

But heed me well, young women of tumblr, this is how women get forgotten and marginalized. They get left out of history. Over and over and over, and have to prove over and over and over that they belong in discussion. Women cartoonists and women comics critics have as much to say and as much wit to say it as a jackass showboat like Matt Seneca who once burnt and ate a book because he didn’t like it. I’d like to think it’s douchbaggery and prejudice that’s being marginalized when I look at the new world of comics—a world where most cartooning students are female; international influences are more important than Neal Adams or S. Clay Wilson; digital is a fact of life; and, most importantly, creators grew up reading only literary and indie comics, and aren’t still playing out their rejection of Marvel and DC as the Oedipal crisis of their adult lives.

Luckily, Peggy Burns, associate publisher of D&Q, rode to the rescue of everyone with a response to the Santoro/Collins big feminist question mark, to point out:

I know we’re all on the same page here, –more women in all areas of comics is a good thing–and that Sean and Frank are fighting the good fighting and asking and discussing the important questions. As a publicist, however, I would say that my list of VERY influential journalists who regularly write or assign (assign being just as key) comics reviews that happen to be women is pretty solid. I could clearly state as fact that my #1 journalist right now who regularly writes full-length reviews with more frequency than any of the men mentioned in Sean and Frankie’s conversation, is Hillary Brown of PASTE. In fact, she may be my only journalist who regularly writes single-title reviews with any frequency, second to, you know, Rachel Cooke of the Guardian of the UK, perhaps one of the top three newspapers in the world; or two of my most important Canadian journalists – Laura Kane of the Toronto Star and Nathalie Atkinson of the National Post; or Heidi MacDonald in her role at PW, or Francisca Goldsmith in numerous library journals, and these are just the few I can think of while cooking dinner for my family on a Sunday evening.


My own contributions aside—editing a weekly section of comics reviews for ten years—this is a fine list. And to those MEN who wonder “gee how come no women write about comics?” I can only say, will you just get your head out of your ass for ten minutes? You might learn something.

Comments

  1. Chris Hero says:

    I dunno. The Comics Comics gang has always been an insular, boorish bunch who are one step away from troglodytes. I don’t understand why anyone cares what they think about anything. They go on and on about things their friends do and hate on everything else. Women aren’t their friends, so they’re not going to get any attention.

  2. While my own book of interviews may be pretty inconsequential in regards to the bigger picture, but it was important to have a fair gender balance, in regards to both men and women and creators that were young and not so young. Looking back, we could of still done a better job, but i am happy with the results. http://www.inkstuds.org/inkstuds-book/
    Hopefully if there is ever another inkstuds book, it will also feature some fascinating trans identifying creators as well.

  3. Did you just ask the folks at TCJ to get their heads out of their asses? HA, good luck with that.

    Great article.

  4. I have never heard the term “pap pap’, so I had to check into that. I gathered that it is a dismissive or “term of endearment” shall we say, for a Grandfather.
    Anyway, my conclusion about the amount of discussion that is among peers, and excludes anyone else, is that it is inevitable. Get a bunch of people together that want to spend time agreeing with each other, and they’ll review material that they all like to read.
    Yes, it excludes everyone else, but those excluded people just wander away and create their own discourse among themselves, don’t they?

  5. The question marks were intended to mean “who else?” not “do these people count?” The lack of clarity there is on me, of course. I could certainly talk about Sarah and Zainab’s idiocyncracies, though — Sarah has that focus on older genre work I complain about elsewhere, while Zainab’s prose is often unnecessarily verbose.

    Also, I don’t think “Nick Gazin is Nick Gazin” constitutes analysis — I’d counter with my concluding graf on Leah Wishnia, whom I talk about at greater length than any other critic in that piece and cite, accurately I think, as a lynchpin figure both editorially and critically.

    Finally, please don’t let legendary poptimist Matthew P. hear you saying he values authenticity!

  6. Calvin Reid says:

    Well, its hard to describe the TCJ’s latest example of intentional exclusion of women as anything but, well, intentional exclusion of women. Gender blind? Oh come on. This is appalling.

  7. Esophagous says:

    I think Al@ kinda hit the issue here. While the inclusiveness is a problem, it’s a mistake to treat Comics Journal as some sort of all encompassing journal of comics criticism as opposed to a group of people who’ve made it pretty clear what they like over the years (Things from the sixties, whether in the form of comics drawn then or unattractive bald men born then) and have written a lot of stuff suggesting what they like is the best and most important stuff in the medium.

    So yeah, we will inevitably have things written about these women and they will be things about how they are the most wonderful and brave geniuses who ever lived. Which is the biggest danger of insularity in criticism. Letting people write their own stories.

  8. Louis Falcetti says:

    that “driving school in saudi arabia” line was in pretty bad taste.

  9. Jessica Lee says:

    Wonderful, insightful piece! There is a number of emerging comics scholarship from women, yet they still get overshadowed by male predecessors like Scott McCloud/Charles Hatfield/Thierry Groensteen. Uni Press of Mississippi has been publishing more writing from women theorists (ie the Lynda Barry bio/Comics and Language/Japanese Animation, not to mention someone like Hillary Chute) and these works are strengthening comics scholarship as a whole, not to mention demonstrating there are women immersed and thoroughly knowledgeable about the comics medium. Even in the new book “In Love With Art,” one of the foremost points of the bio of Francoise Mouly as an editor in the shadow of her husband is that she is monumentally talented and hugely instrumental in shaping indie comics today. I think definitely a continuing dialogue or a new outlet for the presence of women comic critics need to be put out there more, otherwise things like this happen and people sideline or just forget that there IS fantastic, smart comics writing out there by women.

  10. Torsten Adair says:

    1) Heidi, have you ever chronicled your tenure at Fantagraphics?

    2) While I was reading this, I recalled “No Flying No Tights” and “Comics Worth Reading”. And now I recall Laura Hudson.

    Are they “critics” like those of the TCJ, sitting around in tweed jackets with elbow patches, sipping brandy and engaging in discourses about dichotomies, semantics, and symbolism?

    Probably not. But they are critical, just like Ms. MacDonald. Just like DC Women Kicking Ass. And much more interesting.

  11. Lester Hamilton says:

    On a similar note, do you think TCJ will be critical of Fanta’s Kickstarter campaign as they were of Retrofit’s? Something deep down inside me says, “No.”

  12. Sing it, Heidi. I long ago gave up on The Comics Journal for being irretrievably insular, but I also think you have a solid point about being erased from comics history. Also, as I’m giving a presentation on women in comics this week, this has arrived at just the right time to provoke discussion!

    Torsten, thanks for the shout out here in the comments. :) We are pleased to be included in such company as Comics Worth Reading and Laura Hudson (who I aspire to be when I grow up.)

  13. Something I haven’t been able to articulate and am glad somebody did is the “in addition to” clause. This way you can still acknowledge the importance of male-centric creators like Kirby and Crumb. Marie Severin is better than Dick Ayers, Tarpe Mills is the equal of Matt Baker, but patronization and tokenism just for the sake of having women only puts something like Dale Messick on a par with Charles Schulz. I’m just as guilty of having blinders, but “in addition to” is a good way of including things without counter-arguments of how there’d be exclusions in one’s canon or treating some female creators as equals to more talented ones that happen to be male. “In addition to” is a good way of saying people are people without sounding chauvinistic.

    As for critics, I’m afraid I’m not embedded enough in that world to fairly comment.

  14. jacob lyon goddard says:

    Heidi, isn’t this a problem you have the ability to change?
    You run a well traffickers website devoted to comics.

    Can’t you (and the people you hire) fill in the obvious gaps?

  15. “I’m gender-blind when it comes to good writing.”

    At a certain point, you’ve got to wonder why Groth didn’t just get “I am a massive bag of shit” tattooed across his forehead 25 years ago. Would have been simpler and quicker for everyone.

  16. Women are always welcome to pitch pieces to me. I do discourage pieces along the lines of “this is how I teach comics” and “comics are art,” which tends to be the bulk of the pitches I get.

  17. jacob – what is Heidi meant to do? Beyond asking female critics to contribute here, which she already does?

  18. TEND. I am having a terrible day for typos.

  19. The amazing thing is that the audience for women readers is there. As of now, the male/female readership on ComicMix is about even, there are even signs that it might have a higher female readership.

    How do we do that? Well, it starts by having female contributors: Martha Thomases and Mindy Newell and Emily S. Whitten and Tweeks Maddy and Anya Ernst, and numerous women who contribute to the site even if they aren’t writing regularly.

  20. george says:

    Frank’s comment — “I went through the last two weeks of this site and there wasn’t a single comment by a woman” — was sad. But I know of sites where no woman has posted a comment in SIX MONTHS.

    It’s not just the Journal. A lot of comics sites are dominated by middle-aged men who want to chat about superheroes, superheroes and more superheroes. They’ve never gotten over the thrills they got from Silver Age superhero comics.

    I started reading comics in that era, too. Those Silver Age superheroes made me a fan for life, but I know there is much, much more to comics than superheroes. But try to start a conversation about pre-Code horror, or newspaper strips, or the output of any company other than Marvel or DC, and the silence is deafening.

  21. for whatever it’s worth- my work has received more measured, critical writing on TCJ or the personal sites of TCJ writers than anywhere else (that i know of), and never in the context “hey, here is a woman doing something,” which i value.

  22. Synsidar says:

    The Comics Journal stands out as a loud institutional voice in a niche market, the comics trade press. Artwork is a common element in publications ranging from children’s picture books to comic strips to graphic novels that function as literary fiction, but that common element doesn’t mean that they’re all directly comparable to each other, much less that all those publications are aimed at the same markets.

    Criticism is most relevant to comics-format publications when criticism affects the production and marketing of the publications. Treating those publications as the equivalents of literary, genre, subgenre, and niche (superhero comics) publications and examining the presence and influence of women in each segment complicates analysis, but it’s more productive than wondering why women aren’t more prominent in comics.

    SRS

  23. I grew up going to my local comic book store while also getting into the then-nascent manga-in-America scene. For more than a decade I’ve been frequenting anime and manga conventions and been a panelist at cons to discuss the history of influential feminist moments, creators and characters in Japanese manga. Their works gets pretty extensively covered in academic books about Japanese pop culture (I have several). Heck, I’m pretty sure I’ve been to a few museum exhibits about this sort of thing. As I mentioned on Twitter, I am pretty damn sure that most half-literate manga fans in the west at least know the names of creators like Naoko Takeuchi, Riyoko Ikeda, and Rumiko Takahashi (amongst many, many, many others). It has been BEYOND jarring as I immerse myself more and more in the western comics world after being a part of the more manga-centric scene for 10+ years and see that women are just not part of the conversation, even though — as your article perfectly states — so many women creators are very well established and producing amazing stuff, and have legions of fans around the world. I have to wonder what world some of these pubs inhabit?

  24. Heidi, why not make the Beat more accessible to comics criticism? You’ve made some valid points about TCJ, but why not instigate the change yourself? TCJ does not dominate the market share like some, or they themselves, might think.

  25. Heidi, you made my whole day. Great read. TESTIFY SISTA! – Paige

  26. To anyone saying that The Beat should do more criticism/reviewing – I think that’s beside the point that Heidi’s making. TCJ (along with PW) is considered to be at the vanguard of comics criticism. They’re an institution and one that’s regarded as scholarly and serious at that.

  27. I think it is worth mentioning that Kristy Valenti is one of the longest running editors of TCJ (over 10 years of service to TCJ). Not that it excuses Heidi’s argument about the content in the printed editions of TCJ. It might also be worth mentioning that the staff at Fantagraphics (hired by Gary) is about a third female. I want to make it clear, I hate to think that my position in the company to be defined by my gender. I like to believe that Marketing Manager Jen Vaughn and I were both hired because we are good at promoting comics, not because we have vaginas. (Do I “count” as more or less of a woman because I’m gay?) Again, I am not trying to completely excuse anything that Heidi is saying in regards to the content of issues #300 and #301 of TCJ, but if the conversation is going to be focused on Groth’s inability to hire women writers, then I think these points should be made.

  28. george says:

    Torsten Adair wrote: “Heidi, have you ever chronicled your tenure at Fantagraphics?”

    I’d like to read about that, too.

  29. Heidi MacDonald says:

    First off people, I never actually WORKED at Fanta! That is a myth that a lot of people seem to think. I was a freelance writer in the early days and got to know the crew quite well by phone and partied at their house a few times but that’s it. I turned down a job there as a transcriber because I wanted $10 an hour, which is what I got paid temping, and that was too much

    JACQ — thanks for pointing that out. And the excellence of yourself, Jen and Kristy it yet more proof of how many great people have come to th eocmics industry in the last decade who are NOT LIKE YOUR DADDY’S COMICS WORKER.

    Finally, Katie — the ONLINE version of TCJ is indeed open to many newer cartoonists and voices of all different kinds. And that’s a wonderful, wonderful thing.

    To all those asking that I be the change, I would love to do that but in order to do it I would need funding to pay my writers. So I guess I’ll be doing a kickstarter one of these days as well.

  30. “It might also be worth mentioning that the staff at Fantagraphics (hired by Gary) is about a third female.”

    Yes, but does he *know* they’re women? Y’know, what with all the gender-blindness and whatnot.

  31. jacob lyon goddard says:

    i read this blog a lot. for free.
    i’d be happy to contribute to a kick starter to pay the writers.

  32. Chris Mautner says:

    I can’t speak for the print version, but even though you’ve already pointed it out I do feel obligated to note that the online version of TCJ has had reviews by Hayley Campbell, Naomi Fry, Nicole Rudick and the great Shaenon Garrity to name a few, though they don’t write frequently enough to suit my tastes. I also can’t speak for Dan and Tim, but my suspicion is they’d love to have them write more frequently — and get other, new voices in the mix as well. I will also note (somewhat self-servingly) that the site has featured interviews with folks like Genevieve Castree, Gabrielle Bell, Carol Lay and Diane Noomin.

    Finally, I consider Matt a friend, so obviously I’m biased, but your “jackass showboat” comment is unwarranted, mean-spirited and way out of line.

  33. Thanks Heidi, great thorough article. It is a bit of a quandry. On one hand the Comics Journal isn’t really that influential anymore (or read that much) but it still carries the sniff of being the chronicler and historical recorder of “serious comics.” Perhaps they might want to expand their audience by reaching out to women?
    oh wait, sorry we’re talking about comics. LOL.

  34. Heidi MacDonald says:

    Chris — would it make you feel better if I meant jackass as a reference to the TV show?

  35. Chris Mautner says:

    Honestly? Not really, no.

  36. I think it’s probably important to note that TCJ is not an academic journal – and while I’m not overly familiar with it myself, the general feelings towards it in my academic circles are quite disdainful.

    Of course this could be because the gender split in said circles is genuinely around 50/50. A glance at the likes of the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics or Studies in Comics will show you that women in academic comic criticism and analysis are right up there with the guys :)

    For my own part though what is academic in academic circles – or what is perhaps striving to be – is often impenetrable outside those circles. I have very different styles for the different places that I write for, and I confess that pay-rate does factor into that. With a busy schedule, it has to I’m afraid.

  37. Chris Hero says:

    I can’t believe I forgot to say this earlier. Zainab is FUCKING AWESOME. So is Johanna. They are, without question, my two favorite writers about comics. No, wait, add John K and Abhay to that list.

  38. Annie Murphy says:

    Thank YOU!! The first thing I noticed about the most recent TCJ book when I got it in the mail was man, man, man, man. I felt dejected. The entire cover and table of contents was all men–despite many incredible comics by women the past year (and despite the actual book itself being created in large part by female fantagraphics employees). Psyched about the interview with the late Gay Genius Maurice Sendak , I realized it would surely erase any acknowledgement of his queerness…his last EVER interview! Speaking of Gay Genius, the last Sparkplug book published while Dylan was alive (also the ‘largest’, and nominated for an Ignatz award just before his passing) was barely mentioned (thank you Austin). Seriously. I sat down with #302 and just cried. It’s like that. Now i am going to try and read this whole article without exploding.

  39. Meh, TCJ has never been my favorite institution, and has been particularly nasty to women creators from Molly Crabapple to Linda Medley. Two thumbs down also to the oft mentioned Johanna Carlson, who lost me for good after her gleefully nasty running feud with Valerie D’orazio. Also, I can’t stand a lot of her reviews.

    There should be a greater voice for women critics and the inclusion of great women artists in the catalogue of great comics. I just don’t know who is going to be at the vanguard of that. Probably not frustrated, insular former fans of advanced middle age like Carlson and the TCJ crowd.

  40. man, fuck ya’ll

  41. I think this is a great article; well researched, well written, well thought out, with lots of excellent points. Brava.

    My one caveat, like Chris’ above, is the sneer at Matt Seneca. I often disagreed with Matt’s criticism (back when he was writing it), but he was consistently stimulating and interesting, and the suggestion that he had nothing to offer because he had a sense of humor is really depressing.

  42. Heidi MacDonald says:

    Matt, Abhay and Tucker—and Nick Gazin—all seem to come from the “Gonzo/Jackass/Vice” school of village burning fearless talk. Personally, I feel they are all grown men and can take a little sparring now and then. But Noah, if you are sad at Matt’s being dismissed because of a sense of humor, imagine my immense depression at an entire gender being excluded because…because…well, we still don’t know why.

  43. While the whole article was strong, and damming too, the two parts that made me laugh were the Saudi Arabian driving school crack (and I strongly disagree with the person who said it was offensive, I thought the comparison was apt really), and the jab at that book-eating guy.

    The fact that the entire old boy’s club has appeared all at once to tut tut you for hurting the feelings of such a brave and principled guy who eats books just seems to validate your entire point! Mission accomplished, I say.

  44. Annie Murphy says:

    Whew, so glad someone pointed out that elephant in the room.
    To the dudes who relish in pointing out to the ‘flaws’ in what Heidi is saying, whilst ignoring the rest, please revisit
    THIS: “So what are we left with? 1578 pages of comics scholarship where, literally, the sex life of Robert Crumb’s lawyer gets as much attention as the contributions made by female cartoonists in the last amazing decade of comics.”
    THIS: “..I’d rather have the tyranny of crowd sourcing than the tyranny of patronizing, patriarchal privilege; a privilege oblivious to its own sheltered viewpoint.” [a lesser of two evils sentiment that many people share about the publishing world in general]
    AND THIS: “But heed me well, young women of tumblr, this is how women get forgotten and marginalized. They get left out of history. Over and over and over, and have to prove over and over and over that they belong in discussion.” [so you can understand why some women are frustrated.]

  45. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Hi. I know that people didn’t think I hit the exclusion-of-women point hard enough in my interview with Gary Groth, and I was and remain happy to accept that criticism — I ran and called attention to a letter sent to the site making that case.

    I am kind of baffled by the suggestion that I actually thought, “Good job.” Yikes.

    I thought Peggy’s post was great not because it was the most effective but *why* it was effective: it provided germane-to-the-discussion, specific counter examples that have undeniable agency of their own. And no, no one has to argue a certain way, and everyone has the right to state their case and there’s value in presenting a criticism any way it gets presented. But I do think it leads to better discussion a lot of the time to make a focused case, and I love to see that as much as possible. Let’s get down to it, let’s continue to argue Rose O’Neill and the specific awesomeness of Edwina Dumm and that amazing Diane Noomin collection that came out a couple of years ago just as we are compelled to assess Walt Kelly, and Roy Crane and Chester Gould. I think too many amazing cartoonists that were women — and that are/were non-white, and that are/were different-gendered, and that are/were not straight — for them *not* to have agency as individual considerable artists; I think it does those individual great artists a disservice when we’re not specific because it kind of casts them as a collective Not Milton Caniff. They are each one of them greater than their ability to facilitate an argument, no matter how righteous and right-thinking. I greatly admire Alison Bechdel’s work, but in terms of criticism I am way more thrilled by actually discussing her work and analyzing it and getting into the question of its value as directly as possible for the sake of that work rather than determining its status as a potential counter-point or counter-value to Crumb. That doesn’t sound very interesting at all. Go away, Crumb! Anyway, I think we can all learn from that Peggy Burns post in that way.

    I think the contextual arguments are kind of interesting, too. As pointed out, Fantagraphics has a fine publishing record when it comes to female cartoonists. It has employed any number of people that happen to be women that feel valued and vital as employees there. The Journal itself has had multiple female editors in its past — can any other important comics entity say this? — and has published a lot of really good writers that are women: Marilyn Bethke, Heidi, Anne Rubenstein, etc.. It has championed any number of female cartoonists and even groups of schools of same. It has a female editor now in both of its three-person editorial teams. The concurrent, every-day iteration of the Journal has a number of excellent contributors that are women, and as Katie Skelly points out above, I think there are a lot of women creators that feel their works have been discussed and analyzed on that site with respect and in an engaged way.

    To be clear, that context *doesn’t justify in any way* the specifics here of having that much criticism that’s neither from contributors that are women nor about comics-makers that are women in those print editions. But I think it might change the way we portray the implications of that. I think it’s *more* disappointing that this kind of material wasn’t pursued and those writers not facilitated *for* the positive parts of that record, and for Kristy’s direct involvement, and for all the really good writers available to them and known to them via the site. And it actually makes me sad for the material that was in those issues. I mean, that Bob Levin article about Robert Crumb’s lawyer is really good! It makes me sad to see discussion of it reduced to a punchline, or see it dismissed because it was published in a way that allows that.

    So not, “Good Job.” Bad job! I think they could have done better, and I think there would be value to them — and certainly for us — in their doing so. I am sure I can do a better job, too, on a lot of these things. We all can.

  46. Rob Barrett says:

    What I love about this discussion is that it’s already effecting the change it desires: e.g., I’m in the midst of teaching my department’s first dedicated comics course, and I’ve learned more about female creators from this post and the comments than I have from a great many histories of the genre. Many thanks to Tom Spurgeon for the reference to the Diane Noomin collection (Glitz-2-Go, yes?). I was looking for a pre-2000s female creator to add to the course, and Noomin looks just like what the doctor ordered.

  47. Tom Spurgeon says:

    http://www.fantagraphics.com/browse-shop/glitz-2-go-november-2011-5.html?vmcchk=1

    I’m glad I was able to remind of you that; it’s a really interesting book, and I think your students will benefit by being exposed to it.

    One thing I find super-interesting Noomin’s work is that she was making comics of a kind for which there wasn’t yet a lot of context, so her solutions on the page are I think very idiosyncratic and creative. People talk in comics about how free and unfettered and creative a lot of the early century strips were for their newness and the lack of established traditions, but a side-point that develops out of that is how many times comics had to reinvent ways to do things because of its dominant commercial structure and unique culture place, so you get the benefit of five or six or seven wild west periods, including the on in which Diane played a part.

  48. Rob Barrett says:

    I like that idea of “five or six or seven wild west periods”–and it’s worth noting that I hadn’t heard of Diane Noomin before you mentioned her name, so this thread has been really eye-opening for someone who came into comics through Walt Simonson’s Thor (and Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe’s Godzilla, but that’s another story).

  49. “the suggestion that he had nothing to offer because he had a sense of humor is really depressing.”

    All right, how about the suggestion he had nothing to offer because, like Stone, Khosla, et al., he’s a tiresome loudmouth who uses a repetitive stream of bile and invective to disguise the fact he’s never had a single unique, original thought worth sharing in his life? Or because his ballsachingly uninteresting obsession with Grant Morrison marks him out as a member of that valueless spectrum of critics and creators Heidi rightly dismisses as “still playing out their rejection of Marvel and DC as the Oedipal crisis of their adult lives”?

  50. Kristine says:

    Heidi, Heidi, Heidi, stop criticizing boy critics. They are sensitive flowers. Plus, I’m sure TCJ would cover more women critics and cartoonists if you weren’t so, y’know, strident… (Consider a new shade of lipstick, too.)
    Seriously though, I fell over laughing at Gary’s “gender-blind” comment. Did anyone else hear Stephen Colbert’s voice insisting, “I don’t see race.”?

  51. Heidi MacDonald says:

    Rob, you may also be interested in Joyce Farmer and Special Exits:
    http://www.amazon.com/Special-Exits-Joyce-Farmer/dp/160699381X

    Special Exits (published by Fantagraphics, as well) is a recent work but Farmer is another underground original who goes back to the early days of the movement.

    Tom, thanks for bringing up Noomin — she spoke a lot about being “left out of history” at the SPX where she was a guest.

    I agree that Fanta not only employs some of the most kickass non-men in the industry, but has published some of the best work by a very diverse spectrum of creators. The shocking imbalance at the print version (and NOT the online version) of TCJ is a very specific failing, but one that is directly connected to the whole issue of comics criticism, comics canon, and comics history, which is why I explored it in that context.

    Tom wrote:
    >>>I greatly admire Alison Bechdel’s work, but in terms of criticism I am way more thrilled by actually discussing her work and analyzing it and getting into the question of its value as directly as possible for the sake of that work rather than determining its status as a potential counter-point or counter-value to Crumb.

    Which is a great, egalitarian attitude but one that has been specifically used AGAINST women cartoonists. Because Dale Messick (the most accomplished woman cartoonist in the general pap pap period) didn’t draw as well as Milton Caniff, no women were discussed or considered worthy of inclusion in the canon. In fact somewhere in the existing TCJ.com messages you’ll find arguments very much along those lines.

    Obviously, somewhere, somehow, this attitude still exists, and direct, specific academic comparisons need to be made, not to remove the established works, but to include the outsider works.

    For instance, off the top of my head, I think Debbie Drechsler’s “Daddy’s Girl” is as powerful and important a comics short story as “Master Race,” but because Bernard Krigstein has a much larger body of work, you’ll find lots of books about him and none about Dreschler. Yet these specific comparisons need to be made and argued to get wider diversity of work included in the canon.

    I would love to see the work of non white men discussed just for its content and value in comics criticism — as it is in academic and journalistic writing outside of the comics echo chamber, ironically enough—but I don’t see that happening right now. Which is why I wrote this piece.

    And, I also really enjoyed the story of Robert Crumb’s lawyer. It was a great colorful tale. I would love to similar coverage of some of the obscure but fascinating women in comics history like Helen Meyer, Alicia Patterson Guggenheim, Dorothy Woolfolk or even still living folks like Louise Simonson and Lee Marrs. There is a lot of history out there waiting to be explored.

  52. David says:

    I enjoyed this article. I look forward to Heidi’s thoughts on the upcoming Pretty in Ink book from Trina Robbins (also from Fanta)

  53. Heidi MacDonald says:

    David — I got a copy of that book at PW but I passed it along to the non fiction department since I’m quoted extensively in one portion of it.

    As for what I think? I think everyone should buy a copy! Seriously, it is, as always, an outstanding piece of scholarship by Trina.

  54. Annie Murphy says:

    I grew up idealizing male cartoonists: Berkeley Breathed, Herge, Schulz, Jim Davis, Maurice Sendak, and unbeknownst to me at the time, Art Spiegelman (for his work on the garbage pail kids). I had literally no idea I could even be a cartoonist until I got older–I had unconsciously relegated the vocation to the exclusive world of men. Until I rifled through my first roommate’s collection and had my mind blown open by Phoebe Gloeckner, Debbie Dreschler, Julie Doucet, Lynda Barry, and Love and Rockets (I was still too scared of myself to pick up a copy of Dykes to Watch out for. and plus I was a punk, so I got my lesbian comics fix with L&R at the time).
    I remember when Dylan (Williams) told me Debbie Dreschler’s Summer of Love was the most important graphic novel in his life, his favorite book. i think he is the only man I have even heard bring her merits up in a conversation. For the comics class we were teaching, he suggested we assign the interview with Dreschler in TCJ # 249. But when I read it I was appalled at Groth’s insensitivity, disrespect and dismissal. Like, it was reaaally bad. And guess who stopped drawing comics altogether (shortly after creating the #1 book in Dylan’s library)?
    I literally could not stomach his interview with Gloeckner enough to finish it (haven’t seen any new comics from her for awhile, though I am looking forward to her book that takes a very close look at the femicides in Juarez. Wonder how that’s going to go over with critics?)
    By the time the interview with Alison Bechdel came out in #287, they had the sense to ask a woman to interview her–but then added an addendum from some dude who felt that the woman interviewer had not been ‘thorough enough’ (I thought the interview was brilliant) and proceeded to ask Alison a bunch of asshat questions including something about masturbation to which she replied “did you ask Crumb these questions?” Even just including that addendum at the end turned my thrill at reading the article a little sour.
    So I’m saying, all this relates to the environment of comics at large and the confidence of women artists. Groth’s comment about what is ‘good’ or not is the rule, not the exception. I cannot tell you how many women have come up to me and told me that they used to draw but stopped completely after someone told them their drawing was not ‘good’, because it did not look like what men were drawing. I’ve heard this from dozens and dozens and dozens.
    My experience teaching in the IPRC comics and certificate program in Portland illustrates this point. Pre-program, we had a meeting to decide how to divide up the accepted applicants between the two teams of teachers (two different classes). When I entered the room, I saw that the director had already divided the applications out in two groups: ‘good art’, students whose work was perceived as ‘more advanced’ was on one side (assigned to the teacher he considered the ‘expert’–a man) while on the other side were the beginners, the ‘unclassifiable’ applications, and the artists that he considered ‘less advanced’–assigned to the ‘fun’ team of teachers (one of which was a woman). As I circled the table and read the applications, a rock grew in my stomach. “Did you notice that all the artists you consider ‘good’ and ‘advanced’ are mostly men, and the artists you consider ‘less good’ and ‘less advanced’ are all women?” Radio silence. I was the only female in the room. It took several minutes before the men reading the applications could assess and reiterate my observation before the director would acknowledge my critique (albeit assigning the critic to a male teacher) was valid. I did not perceive the same difference in ‘good’ and ‘bad’ as he did, but the gender imbalance was obvious, at first, to only me.
    Is it any wonder that the comics journal gets so many proposals from women on the subject of comics education? It’s one of the only spheres in which we are granted authority, at best.
    The irony of a company whose name and image were built on the foundations of feminist artwork/stories, drawn by two people of color, whose most loved and reknowned characters are two Latina lesbians and a badass lady who carries a hammer around for protection and rage, is not lost on me.

  55. “Which is a great, egalitarian attitude but one that has been specifically used AGAINST women cartoonists. Because Dale Messick (the most accomplished woman cartoonist in the general pap pap period) didn’t draw as well as Milton Caniff, no women were discussed or considered worthy of inclusion in the canon. In fact somewhere in the existing TCJ.com messages you’ll find arguments very much along those lines. ”

    I seem to remember messages that claimed it was unnecessary to write much about Robbins because she wasn’t anywhere near as important as Crumb. Or maybe that opinion, assuming I didn’t just pull it from the aether, was in the old magazine.

    In any case, this did not keep JOURNAL writers from devoting space to male underground creators who, by that logic, were arguably also not as good as Crumb.

  56. Criticism can be performative and funny. There isn’t any reason it shouldn’t be. Insisting that it has to be serious, or that a bit of goofiness invalidates it, is really limiting and unimaginative. IMO. The reason (or, rather, one reason) to have more women critics is to broaden the conversation, not to stifle it.

    FWIW, here’s a piece I wrote about one of my favorite pieces by Matt. And, just so as not to be too off topic, it’s also about one of my favorite pieces by Shaenon Garrity, who’s a wonderful critic.

    http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2011/01/best-online-comics-2010-kibbitzing/

  57. Wasn’t TCJ edited by Helena G. “Ruthie Penmark” Harvilicz there for fifteen or twenty minutes back in the go-go 1990s? What happened between then and now? Tons of great women making great comics and great comics journalism, and nary a peep out of The (print) Journal. The divide these days between the print version and the online version of TCJ is like night and day (or, say, $25 and free).

  58. Anyway; I did want to reiterate that my main point is that I think Heidi’s article is great. The point about how particular canonical choices end up pushing women to the margins is particularly good — esp. in the context of the massive piece on Crumb’s lawyer (!)

    I also like the discussion of how being gender-blind isn’t really an answer and ends up being an excuse. The idea that you can just choose quality and then the gender balance will work itself out or some such ignores the fact that (again) the canon you choose, and also your social networks and other factors mean that if you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing, you can end up where the print tcj has ended up. Just saying, “I didn’t intend to exclude” isn’t good enough. If you think women’s voices are important, you need to actively work to include them.

    Also, Annie Murphy is awesome.

  59. Heidi MacDonald says:

    Pretty sure Ruthie Penmark was Anne Elizabeth Moore, another Journal editor.

  60. Seneca is a dude who draws weird comics about leering at women on the subway. It’s absolutely reasonable to react to him like this.

  61. Gianni says:

    A mixed bag of an article. As a reader, I only care about genre issues if I’m missing a good book, comic or film because of it, and certainly there have been lots of cases; so, yeah, there’s a point to women being overlooked and I apreciate when that is adressed. But, considering a couple of the responses to the interview that started all of this, sometimes its hard to understand from this femenist pov what the heck is “progress”, I mean: if things are unfair for women in comics, when or how will it become “fair”, exactly? Because now and then this site throws numbers to make an argument, I’m guessing “fair” means when every comic book publisher has a 50% male and 50% female staff team, and a 50% male and 50% female autored catalogue, and every comic book web site or magazine or whatever gets that 50/50 of contributors. And a 50/50 readership. Mathematical variables aside, that scenario does not necessarily traduce in terms of always getting the best book, comic or film (it doest mean that a 100% male industry will be either, nor a 100% female for that matter). Much less on reading the “best” comic book critics, since criticism is subjective as hell. In fact, I don´t see a 50/50 scenario as the ending of any “ism”.

    Probably is a better strategy to promote good female talent just because it´s good to get good contents, ideas, art, etc. Never heard of Hillary Brown or Rachel Cooke (not even in this site, mind you), a good thing I know of them know because of this little controversy, and you bet I´m going to give them some reading time, but that doesnt mean I´ll be reading them for live even if I don´t like their particular point of view (or maybe I will) and that´s where numbers go straigh out of the window.

  62. I think progress would be moving to somewhere less than 98% male-focused, driven, and created content.

  63. george says:

    Heidi MacDonald wrote: “I turned down a job there as a transcriber because I wanted $10 an hour, which is what I got paid temping, and that was too much.”

    Ah, the good old days when people could turn down jobs because the salary wasn’t to their liking. Thanks to the Great Recession, that is no longer an option for a lot of people They take what they can get.

  64. “The new audience for comics doesn’t know about the pap pap tradition. They think Alison Bechdel is just as important as R. Crumb. And I think you could make a pretty good argument that she is.”

    1000 x this. The new audience for comics is very, very different to the one that dominated comics discussions when I was first discovering magazines like TCJ in the early 1980s, with different enthusiasms, concerns, interests and preferences (not to mention demographics).

    I think a lot of conversations about comics today get pretty confused because the participants are essentially living in different comics worlds, but assume that their world is the only one (especially for those still focused on Marvel/DC and/or on the canon as defined by earlier fandom).

    Peggy is right. The revolution has already happened; it’s just that some people are so focused on whatever isolated bubble they’re in that they haven’t even noticed.

  65. Gwen Tarbox says:

    A great article – informative and thought-provoking, as is evidenced by the comments section.

    At the Toronto Comic Arts Festival this spring, I was able to purchase comics from over 40 women creators, many of whom, like Erika Moen and Lucy Knisley, have an extensive web following. Also, a tip of the hat should go out to the British group Laydeez Do Comics, which has now branched out to groups in Chicago and SF. In fact, if I were a young woman starting out in comics, I would move to Chicago, where both practitioners and scholars are helping to shape a truly vibrant scene. Finally, those of us who teach comics studies need to teach women artists and incorporate gender and queer theory into our classrooms.

  66. I want to support what Dylan and Gwen said. In academic comics studies, comics by women are significantly more prominent than in TCJ-style criticism. The academic canon of comics basically consists of three core texts, Maus, Persepolis and Fun Home, two of which are by women. In my experience, when academics who are not specifically comics scholars decide to teach a graphic novel, it’s usually one of those three. And because of the work of people like Hillary Chute and Susan Kirtley, issues of gender are central to the field of comics studies.

  67. When I was a teenager, cat yronwode was one of my favourite writers about comics. I’d say she was probably a formative influence in my own writing, which I used to do quite a lot of. I never much cared for Marilyn Bethke, though I never attributed it to her gender so much as her off-putting writing style. Perhaps it’s time Team Comics examine the schism between fans of yronwode vs. Bethke.

  68. Good article. I have always wondered about this too. At least they have a better track record with books, for instance they just published Trina Robbins “Pretty in Ink.”

  69. So much to read here that I missed the comments about Trina above, sorry. Carry on…

  70. I thought it was interesting to see someone take note of the fact that the journal isn’t a an academic journal, and that people in academic circles consider it to be a joke…

    In my more or less halfway-informed view, the Comics Journal doesn’t have something to prove here – academic journals do. Most Academic writing about comics is poor – laborious text to make super-obivious points, and obscure research into strange corners of comics without making the case of why those corners are important. (There are exceptions – things published by The University of Mississippi Press in book form –often by Journal contributors…) Academic writers generally fail at being able to discuss comics in a comics context. Imagine if the only in-depth analysis of films came from someone that reviews novels the other 11 months of the year, and you get an idea of the problem this causes…

    I would like to see more great comics criticism from women, and more dicussion of women artists, and I think Tom’s point, that we talk about Women in specific, Rose O Neill, Nell Brinkley, and the like are worthy to be discussed alongside Caniff or Hal Foster, because their work stands up as individuals, not just because they are women and they’ve been left out of the discussion.

    and yeah, the gender-blind thing is dumb. Gender-blind, or merely unexamined privilege?

  71. Heidi MacDonald says:

    Matthew Jeske. you are still missing my point, a little bit. This is not about Rose O’Neill and Nell Brinkley. This is about the last 40 years of Diane Noomin, Lee Marrs, Shary Flenniken, Mary Fleener, Donna Barr, Dori Seda, Carol Swain, Julie Doucet, Gabrielle Bell, Megan Kelso, Debbie Drechsler and so on and on and on. These are the STILL LIVING (mostly) creators whose trailblazing efforts should be included in the mix, along with many others.

  72. For what it’s worth, if you were to ask me who the smartest, best-prepared interviewer I ever sat across from was, I’d have to say Hillary Chute.

    Dumbest was a guy. But that was a long time ago.

  73. spencer says:

    Im surprised no one mentioned Jessica Abel; one of my favorite cartoonists. Artbabe was probably the first alternative– and fantagraphics published–periodicals I ever read. Her work got me into non-superhero comics, actually.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Commentary | Heidi MacDonald asks the question right in the headline: “So what does a gal have to do to get into The Comics Journal anyway?” Pivoting off Frank Santoro and Sean T. Collins’ conversation about comics criticism from a couple of days ago, MacDonald calls them out for their dismissive attitude toward women critics in that piece and then looks at the representation of women in the last three issues of TCJ. The results are dispiriting: “So what are we left with? 1578 pages of comics scholarship where, literally, the sex life of Robert Crumb’s lawyer gets as much attention as the contributions made by female cartoonists in the last amazing decade of comics.” And MacDonald also articulates very succinctly why this is important: “But heed me well, young women of tumblr, this is how women get forgotten and marginalized. They get left out of history.” [The Beat] […]

  2. […] MacDonald writes about the intersection of comics scholarship and female creators and reviewers in So what does a gal have to do to get into The Comics Journal anyway? over at The […]

  3. […] So what does a gal have to do to get into The Comics Journal anyway? […]

  4. […] foibles of those of us who are left, and so on. The interview sparked responses from Ng Suat Tong, Heidi MacDonald, and Frank himself that are worth reading, as are the comment threads attached to all those posts […]

  5. […] MacDonald attacks the Comics Journal‘s almost all-exclusive male credits and focus. And does a little Gendercrunching on a number of […]

  6. […] It’s why women need to be on panels that aren’t about gender, and need to be written about in history books, and their work needs to be judged on is own merits. It’s why phrases like “one of the […]

  7. […] Heidi MacDonald had an excellent piece a couple of weeks ago on how the Comics Journal isn’t doing a very good job at including women. […]

  8. […] Heidi MacDonald had an excellent piece a couple of weeks ago on how the Comics Journal isn’t doing a very good job at including women. […]

  9. […] y a malaise pour la visibilité. Cet article de la critique BD Heidi MacDonald publié sur le site the Beat (comics culture) exprime bien ce malaise. The Comics Journal (dans lequel yours truly  reçut […]

  10. […] voices remain marginalized in comics. Mouly created the kind of work she wanted to see in the world when the landscape was even more […]

  11. […] of women writing about innovation in comics right now (Critic Heidi MacDonald made this very case about the print edition of The Comics Journal in 2013.). That’s thirteen men writing about comics and animation in ARTFORUM in 2014, with two […]

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