PackageI keep hoping to get a big enough caffeine buzz going to write about the current gender war raging in the comics petri-dish blogosphere, but it just isn’t working. Maybe it’s time to switch to Jack Daniels. The matter of the Mary Jane statue strikes at the very heart of what my life’s work has been, but I long ago decided that walking the walk was the only way to go, and grow increasingly tired of talking the talk. But with everyone using the issue to parade their own sexual hang ups in front of everyone, why should I be any different?

For those coming in late, the matter started when the blogger linked to above showed a Sideshow statue of Mary Jane, Peter Parker/Spier-Man’s wife designed by Adam Hughes in a posture that was planned to show off her amazing assets — well let’s not be coy, designed to show her giant boobs and fantastic ass. We’re all used to that, but it was the fact that she was also bent over a wash tub wringing out her husband’s costume by hand that really put it over the top. Hughes is a fine artist whose sexy and titillating art is accomplished and original enough to appeal to men and women alike, although probably more of the former line up for his sketches. The pose may have been an homage to L’il Abner, or some Playboy cartoonist that I’m not aware of (i should mention that I haven’t read the hundreds and thousands of message board postings on this topic…I have a life.)

The statue is very well done, which is probably why it’s struck a nerve to the point where its been mentioned on and in EW. There’s also the simple matter that many people seem to have forgotten, which I shall return to, articulated by this poster:

Even if I accepted your premise about cheesecake imagery (which I don’t), there’s one important fact you’re forgetting.

Mary Jane is a character that Marvel has actively marketed not to men, not even to women, but to girls. What age do you think ‘Mary Jane Loves Spiderman’ is aimed at? 11? 14?

6818 Press03-001Coinciding with this uproar is a posting on Johanna’s blog in which she stated bluntly that superhero comics aren’t for women, a bold assertion that turned the When Fangirls Attack/ faction against her and further foamed the milk.

Why the hoo-ha? Well, as I’ve been hinting for a long time, the integration of women into the comics world (again) is easily the biggest sociological aspect of comics current rise to respectability. It may actually be the CAUSE of it. Comics regaining a bilateral appeal is a huge story, and any demographic shift in any sphere brings discomfort and border skirmishes.

As hard as it may be to boil down, I think there are a couple of issues at the heart of the matter here. One is female comics readers. The other is female comics creators. One does not necessarily solve the other, although it helps.

Before moving on, I need to point out that one of the reasons Johanna, Valerie and I are all so snarky and/or jaded is because we’ve been to the mountain. We’ve worked in the comics industry. Although it never affected the way I felt about my own work — I’m pretty secure in my abilities, or lack of same — the messages I received engendered in me a powerful need to help others by showing these message up for the ignorant, insecure messages they are.

What were those messages? “Women can’t draw comics.” “Women can’t draw superheroes.” “Women can’t read comics; they aren’t visual enough.” These are messages I heard and or read over and over again, sometimes implicitly but many times boldly, flatly stated.

Clc 0001 0106 0 Img0018I remember an early crisis at Friends of Lulu when the writer Andrew Vachss was slated to be a speaker at a Lulu function. Some members of the board were appalled because in an earlier talk he had mentioned the old “Women don’t read comics because women aren’t visual,” trope. Privately, I wondered what a guy with one eye knew about visual acuity, but he did end up talking; his support for women and children’s safety superseded his lack of demographic knowledge.

While it would be nice to think that these messages are a thing of the past, their influence lingers to this day. Some of it is the normal boy/girl questioning of methods, some of it is peculiar to the comics world. I will return to how this affects the making of the comics in a later post, but for now I will stick with the matter of what some have dubbed “fangirl entitlement.” While there is no doubt that this exists, the wish to read about characters you like that are ostensibly aimed at you presented in a manner that you will find enjoyable is not necessarily entitlement. But again, we need to peel away the onion.

SpideywifeymedThe first question to ask is: Are female heroes even viable? By heroes, I mean, implicitly “action/adventure heroes.” not Mrs. Dalloway or Jane Eyre. Female action heroes were very scarce in any commercially viable way until maybe 15 years ago. (It was called ALIENS not RIPLEY.) One theory goes that it was Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider video game franchise that really made it okay for boys to watch a woman with big boobs run around with a gun, Russ Meyer’s pioneering efforts in this direction to the contrary. In other words, just having a female figure near didn’t kill a boy’s action jones, and even increased the excitement.

The rise of the female genre fan paralleled this. While for boys Xena: Warrior Princess had some of the thrill of watching an attractive woman do things, it also presented the kind of fan-friendly role model and mythology for women, and the lesbian angle made it even more attractive for everyone. Then came Buffy the Vampire Slayer, another mythology/romance heavy franchise that appealed most strongly to girls and women and lasted for seven seasons. BUFFY proved you could have it all.

One thing you gotta remember: women and girls are the CONSUMERS. They are the ones who buy the shoes and the pillows and the books. Young males like their gadgets, of course, and their toys — or statues as the case may be — but they are the most coveted demographic group to reach, and part of the reason why comics advertising sells. Given no other personal responsibilities, women would probably spend ALL their spare time buying shoes — The Beat included — but men have to be persuaded to buy shoes, even if the ones they are wearing are falling apart and smell. And they have to be persuaded that the shoes they buy do not have cooties and will somehow make them seem cooler so that they can attain more young women who are wearing expensive shoes.

You see how it works? It is all so simple, so natural, so beautiful.

Now cut back to the American comics industry, i.e. Marvel and DC. They are run by people to whom fanboy entitlement means a job application. As I heard Will Eisner say long ago, “As long as there are young men who doubt their masculinity, there will be a need for superheroes.” Throw in the Biosphere III environment of the comics shop market, and you have a perfect closed eco-system of consumer and producer, each feeding what the other needs. Only there’s a leak in the bio-dome and oxygen is slowly leaching out and no one knows what to do.

Or was. The flash flood of manga in America swept away all preconceived notions. Turns out it WASN’T the medium or the characters or the format that didn’t draw in the girls…IT WAS THE CONTENTS ALL ALONG!


Okay I’ve spent 90 minutes on this and I vowed I would do some badly needed errands today, so I’m going to have to cut this history lesson short for now. To be continued.
Heartofdarkness 03


  1. Been to the mountain, indeed. That’s why I, personally, do not believe in change from within.

    But, since I can, as Cheryl Lynn says, make the fucking comics, I will continue to do so. To proceed as I have for twelve years, making an end run around the Biosphere by doing it on the web, and publishing with companies not entirely dependent on the DM titty.

    I’ll just be over here, being glad I was right about Sailor Moon, bookstores and manga.

    Great essay, Heidi. I’ll buy the booze when you come to CAPE! next year.

  2. I look forward to the rest of this essay!

    The issues you bring up parallel some of the issues the Biosphere faces with children’s comics. One one hand, they claim their books are being bought by an older crowd. On another hand, the animated shows on Cartoon Network, the WB and ABC Family have created an opportunity for new readers to come in, but the Biosphere has been slow to respond.

    I suspect “Teen Titans GO!” and “Justice League Unlimited” far outsell their DCU counterparts, but are there more books put out to satisfy that demand? The DCU books are from some alternate dimension as far as these kids are concerned.

    The Biosphere says: “Well if you like “Mary Jane Loves Spider-Man”, try reading “Amazing Spider-Man” or “Spectacular Spider-Man””, but I don’t think it’s going to work that way. If the Biosphere wants to keep those “Mary Jane Loves Spider-Man” or “Teen Titans GO!” readers they’re going to have to change the way they do things. Maybe the next administrations will understand that.

  3. Well, there’s no stopping outrage at sexist (and sexy!) comics, nor should it be stopped. Heidi is right that the comics system seems closed, the same notions recirculated through a meta-ventilation system of editorial, retail and fan expectations. And she’s also right that there’s a big crack in the dome that’s let in some fresh content in the form of manga, manga made for and much desired by women.

    Women have every right to their outrage over most of the stupid stuff that us guys just seem to dig and expect–like sexist (sexy) statues. But it won’t be long before there’s so much better comics stuff for girls and women to read, they won’t want to waste their time condemning all the stupid, albeit ocasionally entertaining, stuff that will no doubt continue being cranked out.

    What’s funny is that on the same page with Dirk’s original post about the Mary Jane statue is an online ad for Return of the Super Pimps, a black super hero team of sorts decked out in capes and platform shoes? Just what are these Mofos up to anyway? Now that’s what I call representation!

  4. My readership has been largely female for decades now, to the point where I have to make sure my books have sufficient female appeal to keep me in business. That’s why almost all my books have a female character that kicks ass, including “Nat Turner” and “Plastic Man”. Most of the male fans tell me they’re just buying my books for their girlfriends.

  5. I for one, abhor that MJ statue and I love girls.

    As for those aids animations, OMG!!! Awesome!!! :D Thanks again Heidi!!!

  6. Isaac Asimov once noted that science fiction didn’t really gain mainstream acceptance until women started reading and watching it in large numbers. His example was, believe it or not, Star Trek, and the strange hold Mr. Spock seemed to have over the women of the day.

  7. It looks like a basket… but the clothes look wet. And I think to make it more “retarted” someone should ask for the Aunt May variant.

  8. Sure the clothes are wet. Gotta take them out to the backyard clothesline in something, don’t we?

    Nice write up, Heidi…. speaking as a guy who is currently doing an exploitive tits & ass comic, I can say the response from the comics community is quite interesting from my other work.

    That’s what I’ve been SAYING all along. I said it when Andrew Vachss spoke for Lulu (at Comic Con.) and I almost got run out of the room, for talking about how comic shops were set up to scair girls away. Hey, that was the day I met you. You were still working for DA magazine. I still have your old card. Funny that.

  10. Ha on that Christopher! Sometimes it astonishes me what a long, tangled web of history I have with some of the regular posters here! But I value it greatly.

    MJ has a jug of laundry detergent at her feet, highly suggestive of actual suds, to my eye.

  11. I’m with you except for the shoes Heidi. Shoe shopping is torture for me. I’d much rather be watching Russ Meyer movies.

    It would be a shame to waste this excellent brou-ha-ha without making a plug however: There are, perhaps unbeknownst to Dirk, many, many women making comics, so many that I think the Friends of Lulu’s list of Women Making Comics really will never be able to keep up. However, we did manage to put together a pretty sweet collection of a group of about 50 mostly unheard of female comic artists, called “The Girls’ Guide To Guys’ Stuff,” and the book is in Previews this month & coming out in July. It’s also available for preorder right now @:

  12. Women are so socialized to accept such cheesecake depictions as “harmless” that protests to the contratry simply have no weight.

    However, I suggest this: Comic book editors and publishers of the future — change the paradigm.

  13. Excellent piece, Heidi. If I had a nickel for every obnoxious comment made to me in a comics shop (even with gray hair! with my kid with me! what’s wrong with you people!), I wouldn’t have to work in comics. Luckily, I can make much more obnoxious comments myself, and I love comics too much to let creeps deprive me.

  14. This may have been mentioned before, but I think part of comics’ whole problem stems from this desire to force books and characters to appeal to everybody, to the point where one version of the character that appeals to a demographic will completely alienate another demographic. There are so many variations of Batman, Spider-Man, Wolverine, and so on–versions for kids, adults, men, women–created by different writers and artists apnning generations. It’s impossible at this point for there to even be a definitve version of these characters that appeals to everybody (and if it doesn’t appeal to you, then it’s just not for you.)

    Everytime a character is reinvented or redesigned you may get part of a new audience that you never reached, but at the same time lose some of the audience you already had. Is this new version of the character STILL the character it had been?

    I’m not saying characters/comics shouldn’t evolve, and I’m not inherently against change, but when you force something to appeal to a demographic that was initially not interested, then that’s just commercialism and marketing.

    I’m not a fan of this Mary Jane statue, but some commentor on one blog said something along the lines of “I want to see MJ taking down a super villain. That statue I’d buy” and while I see the point, I have to ask, is that the character? Wouldn’t that be just as untrue to the characer of MJ as this laundry statue is? Sure, Marvel could make two MJ statues: one where she’s being domestic, another where she’s defeating Galactus single-handedly. I bet plenty would sell, and fans might get a kick out of it just for the humor, but just because they can do it doesn’t mean they should. I bet plenty of people would buy a statuette of Charlie Brown kicking the football-wielding Lucy Van pelt’s head in, but that wouldn’t be a faithful rendition of the characters.

    When so many people have contributed to the mythos of characters like Batman, Spider-Man, etc., to the point where the characters have traits and histories that contradict themselves, and every generation of readers has that one version of the character they like best, what IS a faithful rendition of the character?

  15. “Wouldn’t that be just as untrue to the character of MJ as this laundry statue is?”

    Oh, no. Not at all.

    She beat the SHIT out of Chameleon, back in the late nineties. BicketyBAM and everything.

    Maybe they should make a statue of MJ where she’s biting her thumb, nervously trying to learn lines for an audition for, oh, I dunno, RENT.

    Then some wag could repaint it to be an upcoming Spider-Man script.


  16. “Excellent piece, Heidi. If I had a nickel for every obnoxious comment made to me in a comics shop (even with gray hair! with my kid with me! what’s wrong with you people!), I wouldn’t have to work in comics. Luckily, I can make much more obnoxious comments myself, and I love comics too much to let creeps deprive me.”

    Strange comment. I’m an overweight guy who reads comics, so I probably automatically get lumped in with the “drooling fanboys” who like the MJ statue. Maybe the best approach would be to create better comics and tout their virtues, rather than trotting out the “fanboy” stereotype.

    Twenty years ago, it was “cool” for indie creators to bash super-hero comics. I read LOVE & ROCKETS and AMERICAN SPLENDOR, anyway. I passed on several indies titles because the point of sale seemed to be “Super-heroes suck!” If the point of sale is now “I hate geeky fanboys,” rather than the cirtues of good storytelling, same scenario.

  17. “… Some commentor on one blog said something along the lines of ‘I want to see MJ taking down a super villain. That statue I’d buy’ and while I see the point, I have to ask, is that the character?”

    Interesting point. At one point, I think Betty Brant became a reporter, to make her “stronger” and such. They didn’t want to portray her in the comics as “just” a secretary, although that seems good enough for millions of movie-goers. I know of one woman in my office who wouldn’t appreciate being thought of as “just a secretary”, although she doesn’t mind being acknowledged as a “secretary” since that’s her job title. No disrespect intended, none interpretted, especially since she basically keeps the workflow flowwing. But would she suddenly turn around and beat up The Chameleon or Kraven the Hunter? Hell no …

    Maybe at some point, instead of reinventing a character, we have to decide that their stories have been told, and let them move on and bring in new characters.

    “I bet plenty of people would buy a statuette of Charlie Brown kicking the football-wielding Lucy Van pelt’s head in, but that wouldn’t be a faithful rendition of the characters.” I would laugh at such a statue, but I think seeing poor Lucy getting pummeled every-day by Dark Side, Symbiote-Wearing Charlie Brown on my display shelf would be too morbid.

  18. It’s a laundry basket. That said, the statue is hideous. Why do people buy these things? I’m not outraged by this at all, just curious.

  19. I wish someone with more balls than me would compare the sexploitation of MJ , exploited because of her sexy pose, to the sexploitation of the three well known female fictional characters seen in Alan Moore’s LOST GIRLS. If you just look at the imagery, isn’t LOST GIRLS imposing a unnecessary sexual titillation to otherwise non sexual characters? If so, why weren’t these feminist comic book fans up in arms protesting Alan Moore… oh, wait, it’s Alan MOORE — you can’t protest his exploitation because it’s ART not just SEX, right? Right?

  20. >>>it’s Alan MOORE — you can’t protest his exploitation because it’s ART not just SEX, right? Right?

    ….uh….right. Your point is?

  21. Anonymous Mouse; You’re doing the classic “deflection” argument. Stop it.

    As for the actual Beat post itself: Great post. Like to see the rest of it. But don’t say we should stop talking about the statue. That’s the “be quiet” argument used over and over again throughout HISTORY.

  22. Maybe it’s uhm a cultural thing, but I know alot of males who do not shy to buying brand new kicks perodically, specifically to get ladies to think they are attractive.

    I still don’t get why we are bringing up comic book swag which has little to nothing to do with the actual stories told by creators.

  23. “…speaking as a guy who is currently doing an exploitive tits & ass comic, I can say the response from the comics community is quite interesting from my other work. “

    Jimmie! Somebody brought BQ up at my Journal in context with the Mary Jane statue. With apologies for misspelling your name, here’s what I had to say:

    “Funny thing is, Bomb Queen doesn’t bother me and here’s why: She’s never presented as anything other than what she is.

    She’s not a tarted up Lolita disguised as a young heroine. She’s not a sex kitten disguised as a housewife. She’s not a three dimensional character that’s been reduced to ‘purring and presenting’ while the publisher pretends that nothing about her has changed. She will never be killed to further the plot of her male counterpart.

    BQ may be a sexist fantasy, but Jimmy, (her creator) is honest about it. She is what she is on the cover of every book and, as such, I am free to pass her by as not my cuppa.”

    The thing about MJ’s statue is that it’s not an aberration. It comes on the heals of many other depictions (2D and 3D) of otherwise well rounded characters being reduced to the level of spank-fodder. It comes on the heals of Avi Arad saying,

    “In the comics, the easiest way to bring real life into the life of the hero is to give him a spouse.” or…

    “Lois Lane and the other women, in the comic books, the woman is the other world that represents all of us, and she is there to support, she is there to demand, she is there to observe and to make you think of her as an ambassador of the rest of us.”

    It comes on the heals of a female characters who are raped and/or tortured to death for the purpose of plot.

    And all of this is interwoven with the wholly disingenuous, yet entirely plaintive cry of, “Why don’t women read our comics?”

    The MJ statue just the latest final straw. And speaking as a woman involved with this industry, I’m sick and tired of having my back broken.

  24. I’ll say it again: Alan Moore used sexual exploitation of characters originally made famous as underage girls to sell his work. I believe this was more detrimental to “women in comics” than this sexy statuette could ever be. THAT’S why I think it’s relevant to this statuette

    If someone other than “Alan Moore” attempted to sell that same comic book concept, I would suspect he/she wouldn’t get the same pass. If I’m wrong, say so. I just didn’t see too many so-called feminists decrying Gebbie’s artwork as exploitative — a quick search points out just the opposite.

    To sum:
    Sexploitative cheesecake pose by Mary Jane – decried offensive to feminists
    Sexploitative erotic trysts by Wendy, Alice, and Dorothy – lauded as art by feminists

    And what’s worse, I am making my point as anonymous for a reason.
    I truly do see a level of hypocrisy here, and I’m surprised that others haven’t seen it as well.

    Both items (the MJ statuette and the LOST GIRLS comic book are art work, and they should both fall under the same level of scrutiny.

    If I’m wrong, fine. Show me the error of my ways. If you feel this isn’t related to this thread, fine. Dismiss me out of hand. Or discuss it elsewhere, and link me to it. I promise to read someone else’s thoughts on this.

  25. Well, Anon, to begin with, a cheesecake pose is not the same thing as an erotic tryst.

    Alan Moore has devoted his life to subtext and irony. Dorothy, Alice and Wendy long ago passed into folklore and are iconic characters whose iconic nature can be examined from many angles. The subtext and irony of LOST GIRLS is implicit in its content, the message prefering love– no matter how perverted — over war is an obvious one…maybe too obvious, as some reviews have stated.

    Okay not let’s take the MJ statue. To begin with, we don’t even know if she’s washing clothes or simply doing the laundry. The statue medium is not well suited to showing degrees of dampness. According to the website:

    Sideshow Collectibles, Marvel Comics and Adam Hughes are proud to present the latest addition from the Marvel Comiquette line. The Mary Jane Comiquette was designed by artist Adam Hughes, who’s critically acclaimed realistic illustration meets “good-girl” pin-up style art has made him one of the comic book industry’s most sought after artists and a perennial fan favorite. The consummate “girl next door,” Mary Jane discovers that her superhero husband has slipped some of his laundry into the mix, but she’s not looking too displeased about Peter’s naughty little transgression. Each piece is cast in high quality polystone, then hand finished and hand painted to exacting standards. An absolute must for any true believer’s collection.
    Okay so she’s sorting the laundry. And finds Peter’s uniform. And smiles. I get it. A cute moment, in a Dell Four-Color cover kind of way. The pin-up visualization of MJ is not the text of the statue, it’s the subtext. And it’s the overly (some say) sexualized subtext that people are criticizing.

  26. TheBeat, I appreciate your comment. With the MJ statuette, without the Spidey context, that’s just a cheesecake pose of a shapely redhead. I’m sure it wouldn’t command the collectible price if there was no iconic nature of the statue. The reason Spidey’s costume is there at all is for the licensing connection — the money. If it was Peter Parker’s T-shirt, the connection to the comic book icon is gone.

    Re: Moore’s subtext of love and war — What exactly was the reason for the use of the iconic characters? Was there some specific subtext of using Alice or Dorothy or Wendy? While I’m sure Mr. Moore has some reason that doesn’t sound like he exploited those characters so as to tweak sensitivities of those who may have grown up thinking that the three characters will forever remain pure, can you see how others might not feel the same way?

    Are we solely judging the sexploitative merits of some particular artwork on the artists intentions?

  27. Jeez- Heidi.

    You mentioning Andrew Vachs. That brought back memories when you went toe to toe to eyepatch with him at a retailers panel at San Diego one time. I was sitting behind you when the whole place erupted.

    I think I got that on tape somewhere..



  28. Uhm, Anon Mouse,

    I’d have to hunt down the links (posted on WFA), but I do remember reading quite a few posts from women who did and do not like Alan Moore’s LOST GIRLS. Female Comic Bloggers & Feminists are not the BORG. There is no group mind.

    Sure some people might have called it art and talked about subtext and the play of irony to the known stories. Or whatever they felt like saying while holding it in a positive light.

    Other people thought Alan Moore was smoking crack and sipping 40’s and were trying to figure out if he meant such iconic figures to be seen as smoke and mirrors yoni healers and oedipal mother substitutes.

    I’m sure if the more general female population were exposed to LOST GIRLS there’d be even more varied opinions.

    Personally LOST GIRLS isn’t for me. But I think the artwork and concept can invite debate and varied ways of looking at it. The MJ statuette strikes a universal chord, which is probably why it seems like every man should be wary of the woman next to him, should she get a signal from the mother center and leap to tear him limb from limb like inverse Stepford wives.

    (that was snark btw)

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