Last Dance With Mary Jane

I figured the whole "Appalling Mary Jane Maquette" thing would be the usual over-in-a-day tempest in a teacup of the comics blogging world. But Dirk Deppey at Journalista has weighed in, and he's supremely annoying about the whole thing.

He begins by using what I call the Limbaugh Technique: writing off the group you are arguing against as crackpots and wackos rather than dealing with their arguments in any substantive way. He describes the controversy as "the fangirls freaking out" and characterizes the response as "reactionary herdthink." I'm a little astounded he was able to restrain himself from actually using the term "Feminazi" anywhere in there. The effect is the same, though - he lumps everyone who is offended by the statue into a hivemind category, offended not because the piece can easily be seen as offensive but because overreacting with "an inflated sense of entitlement" is just what "fangirls" do. I can say I find the thing to be pretty offensive, and I'm either not a fangirl, or I'm an exceptionally broad-shouldered, hairy-faced, deep-voiced fangirl with a seriously misshapen vagina. Nope, turns out that you can be offended by garbage even if you're male. What people like Deppey (and Limbaugh) don't seem to understand is that you can be a feminist - a believer in complete equality of the sexes - and not be female. There is also a big, big difference between "this statue is sexist and offensive" and the admittedly somewhat bizarre efforts of "Project Girl Wonder," but Deppey makes no distinction. To him, anyone who has anything to say with gender issues in superhero comics is just a crackpot.

He says there's nothing wrong with cheesecake - and I'm in complete agreement. I'm a big fan and admirer of female flesh. Most straight men are. But there's a difference between the "Sports Illustrated" Swimsuit issue or "Maxim" and the Mary Jane statue. The lad mags are in their niche, and marketing directly to men. Sure, they're perfectly happy if a woman decides to pick up an issue, but they have no particular interest in acquiring new female readers. The Big Two comics publishers, on the other hand, have an enormous interest in acquiring new female readers. DC and Marvel would love nothing more than for all those "teenage girls sitting in bookstore aisles reading shoujo manga" to cross that aisle and pick up some American comics, too. They've said as much, and DC is in the midst of launching a new imprint, Minx, to target those shoujo readers. What neither seems to realize is that attracting female readers is a lot easier if those females aren't bombarded with blatant sexism every time they open a comic.

Deppey says the solution is for women to "make the fucking comics," which also isn't really a bad point. African-American life was rarely depicted with any accuracy or honesty in the cinema until Melvin van Peebles came along to inspire a whole generation of black filmmakers like Spike Lee and John Singleton. Likewise, women won't really get a fair shake in comics, superhero or otherwise, unless women are making comics. The thing is, the small and independent publishers are a lot more open to women. There's a fair number of women represented in the Flight anthologies, for example. But the list of women working for Marvel and/or DC pretty much begins and ends with Gail Simone. Deppey lays this charge - "make the fucking comics" - at the feet of "fangirls" as a better alternative to "whin[ing]" and "demand[ing] that people do what you want them to do," and by implication absolves Marvel and DC of any responsibility for the matter. But the fact is, they do have to be active participants in the process if women are going to "make the fucking comics." If they really want girls to read their comics in any substantial numbers, Marvel has to shed its boys-club "No Gurlz Allowed" mentality. If DC's Minx line is going to succeed, they need to support it, promote it, and actively try to make it succeed, not just throw it out there and let it sink or swim the way they did fifteen years ago with the Milestone line. When it comes to the Big Two, women can't "make the fucking comics" unless they are given opportunities to do so, and that can't happen as long as Quesada, DiDio, Levitz and Buckley are climbing into the treehouse, putting on their newspaper hats and calling to order meetings of the G.R.O.S.S. Club.

He also misses the point, as so many do, that what worked in Japan (either in the '70s or today) isn't automatically a solution for the problems in the American comics industry. The Japanese manga industry is interesting, and there are probably a lot of things American publishers can learn by studying it. But "women stormed the Manga industry in the early 1970s" has no real relevance to the rampant sexism at Marvel and DC in 2007.

Deppey concludes by comparing "fangirls" to the John Byrne Forum, and that's just low, man. I propose a comics-blogging version of the Godwin's Law principle to be applied forthwith: the first side in any comics-related argument to compare the other to the John Byrne Forum automatically loses.