I wanna talk about female lead characters in comics. Again, I know. But it’s a thing I think about a lot. Now, this post will contain some spoilers for Amelia Cole and the Unknown World issues 1-3 because it is hard to discuss this in a vacuum when I’m involved in it. So let me leave a bit of spoiler space for those who care:
Ahead be spoilers…
Well, spoilers eventually. I just wanted to be able to talk freely, and some of it will spoil things. But I am digressing like mad here. Let me get back to my point:
Female leads in comics! Why aren’t there more and why do so many of them just manage to miss? I am not going to name names, fair warning. That feels strange to me. Because naming names feels like “They didn’t do this right but we did” and yes that is a component of what I’m saying and my examples and such but I don’t want to call out people by name because then it feels like cheap shots.
Here’s one of the big things that drives me nuts about female leads in comics: Every one of them, it seems, was empowered by a guy. They got their powers from, were trained by, found themselves inspired by, whatever – some dude. Now, does this happen? Of course it does! But let’s put a few notches in the other column for a change, huh?
This actually came up when we were first working on Amelia Cole. We very specifically didn’t want her mentor to be a guy. She doesn’t get her powers from a man. She is herself, not a replacement for a guy. Just, you know, for a change.
But let’s say you get your female lead. What does she do? Who does she do it for and how does she do it? Again this came up a bunch. Amelia, you know, at the end of issue one, she sheds a few tears. And we had to stop and look it over from a few angles. If the char was a guy would we still write that scene with tears? When then answer was yes, we went for it.
And it’s something we do a bunch, still. We aren’t writing some big-boobed stand-in figure. We’re writing a character we want to be as real as all the people we know: men or women. And that means that she has a figure, she dresses like a human and, in one of my favorite touches that is all D.J. Kirkbride – she is always looking for her next meal.
Hey what she does would make anyone hungry. But that’s the thing – she’s gonna get hungry and she’ll have a burger and a beer and there won’t be a scene where she bemoans she needs to go on a diet or the boys won’t like her.
But, and this is why I wanted the spoiler tag really, because this next bit is all about the mid-end of issue 3 which just came out yesterday, possibly my fave thing in the series just happened.
She gets a new wand and it happens to be a pipe wrench.
Well, fine, but why is that a big deal?
Well, first let me give you some history on it, because this is why I love comics. Nick Brokenshire, our beloved artist, just asked one day if she could use a wrench for a wand. He liked the visual. D.J. and I laughed and thought about it and saw how it could fit into the story and enhance stuff and really become integral to everything.
But it’s more than that. Most magic users they use wands, just little spindly bits of stick. Amelia uses a pipe wrench. It’s a big heavy stick, ten inches of solid cast iron This isn’t some precious little girl doing some cute spells. This is a woman who is her own person, hefting a wrench as a weapon. She’s a building’s super by job, and a do-gooder in her spare time – the wrench works either place. It sets her apart as someone who doesn’t care what you think.
And this is stuff we think about.
We’re three white guys making a comic with our female letterer (who has dropped notes on the script when we do something really right) trying to broaden things out a bit and also, more importantly, create a fun comic for anyone to enjoy. it just happens to star a woman – but because of that she’s gonna be an awesome character in her own right and not a cut-out. And I don’t claim we won’t make mistakes, or even haven’t made them already. I am just saying we actively try, in every scene, to make this right. I’m not saying every comic I write/co-write will have a female lead – it won’t, but the majority of them seem to…
I just want to know why we don’t see more of it. Seriously. I honestly want to know why there isn’t more.
I mean there is other stuff, of course there is! But nowhere near, say 20% of the market. I want 20% of the market to be honest female leads – as a start. And yes “Honest” not “strong,” people tend to misuse “strong female lead” a lot, so I’m trying this out.
Anyway. I want 20% of the market, for a start, to be female leads. And I won’t be happy until we reach that starting benchmark.