Boobgate: Nine Days Later

November 28th, 2009 by | Tags: ,

Jen Van Meter, the writer of “Spin Cycle,” the Cyclone and Power Girl story in the JSA: 80 Page Giant, has responded to my entry of last week. 

Hi, Esther. A friend forwarded me links to your post and to a couple other blogs that have picked up on your comments, and I feel compelled to reply because you’re right — I failed in what I was trying to accomplish with the “Spin Cycle” story, or, at the very least, I failed you and many of your respondents.

What I was asked by DC to supply was essentially a short story about one of the younger JSA characters walking through a door in the brownstone to find something unexpected, surreal, impossible (by the character’s standards) that, whether it “really happened” or not, could somehow have bearing on the way that character perceives her-/himself.

I’ve been interested in Cyclone since she was introduced because, unlike most teens in costume in the superhero worlds, she doesn’t seem particularly interested in conveying a fully-formed adult sexuality, nor is her chosen costume conventionally sexualized. I like her smarts, her sense of the theatrical, and I think she’s interesting because her insecurities seem very plausible and refreshingly commonplace. I wanted the story to be a series of experiences that in one way or another allay some of her anxieties about meriting a place in the JSA, and given that she was team leader at the time I was writing it, I wanted to use PG to stand in for the focus of those anxieties.

Because I was thinking about the story as being some whacked-out magical construct emerging somehow out of Maxine’s point of view, I wasn’t thinking about Power Girl–in the story–as herself but as something produced by how Maxine sees her, and in my reading of these characters Maxine had been seeing PG the way a new hire might see a CEO as explicably demanding, intimidating, and intense as, say, Oprah, Madonna and Secretary Clinton all rolled into one. I wanted Maxine to leave the story feeling more like a worthy peer and teammate.

So one thing led to another, and I found myself wanting Maxine to come upon PG doing something simple, ordinary, humanizing, and when I decided on laundry I started wondering what Maxine would think of Power Girl’s costume. There was nothing externally meta-textual going on for me, but I was indeed thinking that Maxine looks at super-heroics as at least one part theater; she’s got the theater background and knows that–in their world–there’re lots of reasons they’re not all running around in track suits and army/navy surplus. What I had in mind was that in “reading” the costume to this apparition of Power Girl, what Maxine is really doing is explaining to herself some of why she finds Power Girl so intimidating. I’m not pretending to be unaware of the conversations amongst fans and creators about the sexism that seems so deeply embedded in the genre, especially as it focuses on costuming; I am saying that what I was concerning myself with at the time was the notion that similar conversations might/must be ongoing in the world the characters occupy as well.

One other thing I do need to offer up for consideration, and I see this come up frequently in comic reviews and critiques: you ascribed intent to lecture to me but used the art as the focus of your argument. In the script, what I asked for was a shot of Power Girl, “a little surprised by the enthusiasm, perhaps thoughtful,” or something like that. I didn’t see what you have when I saw the inks; if I had done, I probably would have asked if there was time to redraw at least that panel, or, more likely, would have tried to make changes at the lettering stage to make the ideas behind the scene more plain.

Do I like the vast and very gendered disparity in costuming in conventional superhero comics? No. Do I love superhero comics despite the many flaws of the genre? Absolutely. Having chosen to write superhero comics for hire on occasion, must I work with what’s available to me? Sure. Did I imagine that I could say something about Cyclone by giving some thought to how she might see, or want to see, one of the costumes most emblematic of the problem at hand? Yeah, I did. Clearly, I misstepped.

I wish I had caught how the scene could be taken while I was working on the script. I would have done something about it.

No obscenities, no intimations of rage, and no snotty rhetorical questions (which is more than you can say about my original entry).  Very classy.

And here is a link to the original post.  (Jen Van Meter’s comment currently the third from the bottom.  You can also see my response, and a special guest appearance by Jimmy Palmiotti.)

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13 comments to “Boobgate: Nine Days Later”

  1. Now THAT is how to deal with a matter of some controversy! if more comic people took that approach most issues with stuff in comics would just fade away without all the ridiculous hoo-hah that comes with the stuff

  2. Very ballsy for a creator to defend their work, or interpretation of it, to the often slavering insane comic book fanbase.

    Seriously major kudos, now if only we could get the creative team behind marvel divas or Joe Quesada to have to do the same.

  3. @TobyS: They don’t “have” to do anything.

  4. I quite enjoyed Marvel Divas.

    The way it was promoted was flawed, but the work itself was solid, if a bit bland.

  5. Never have I seen so mature a response to legitimate criticism of a political nature from a writer of Mainstream American Superhero Comics. If only the original script had been so tactful and elegant as to avoid making a jab, intentional or otherwise, at those fans who desire comics to live up to their feminist ideals. Still, the response seems sincere and self aware, and I hope to see more work from this writer in the future.

  6. one writer humbled; the rest of America’s two powerhouses to go. lemme stop hating; classy response, destructive comic remains though. however, this actually does get me a little optimistic about the internet community being paid attention to; let’s see these dialogues affect the actual powers-that-be at the respective houses. Then I’ll cry uncle

    till then

    make mine not marvel or dc (fill in the blank)

  7. I guess that the difference between this and the controversies regarding Marc Guggenheim (Spider-Man “civil union”), Peter David (scans daily), Fred van Lente (Chameleon “rape”) is that Esther did not wish death upon the writer or her significant other, tell her she wrote a piece of shit story, that she is “dead to me”, “epic fail” or similar phrases angry fanboys like to toss around, in her mail.

    Being nice gets you a long way when interacting with other human beings (even over the internet). If someone would make me an ultimatum to apologize to them lest they stop buying my stuff I would probably (kindly!) tell them to stuff it.

  8. @Niles Day: “Destructive comic” very measured response, not full of inflated, hyperbolic indignation at all

    because of this comic, women can’t vote anymore.

    @Sputnik: I can’t imagine what it must be like to receive such nonsense on a regular basis. Goddamn, did Steve Gerber get letters telling him to kiss the grits of his readers?

  9. Jen Van Meter is classy and filled with awesome.

  10. @Lugh: Ann Nocenti got those letters, often and vigorously.

  11. @Lugh: “Destructive comic” very measured response, not full of inflated, hyperbolic indignation at all

    because of this comic, women can’t vote anymore.

    When a piece of work that is purchased and taken in by thousands, perpetuates an incorrect mindset, regardless of how minimal that contribution may be, it is ultimately destructive. Anyone who writes superhero comix has to understand the context, why the status quo is as such, and what about the status quo is incorrect. Any girl or nonwhite kid will tell you that other than some brilliantly conceived iconic superheroes, they really don’t look towards marvel and dc’s pages for their heroes, because we aren’t catered too.
    The industry has often reacted by patronizing; creating lifeless run-of-the-mill characters and then getting surprised why no one buys it. When the women who are supposed to be role models are absolutely impractically dressed, looking like Halloween’s worst, it positions the man in power (the woman as unworthy of standing alongside if not above him because he isn’t dressed to fight crime but to look good). It perpetuates the pornographic voyeur eye for guys, and furthers the gap of understanding between both sexes. There’s a reason why the stereotype of the creepy comic book geek exists. Worst is when a comic like the one Esther pointed out tries to justify what is incorrect.
    You don’t think such things as bad movies with gratuituous violence play their role, regardless of how small, in the general indifference one has towards their fellow man’s suffering? So sure this comic didn’t move the seas. Neither does a crappy song or stupid television show. But every little piece does its part to maintain problems as opposed to fixing them. Maybe you should’ve measured your response.

  12. […] you for doing more with one post to raise the level of discourse in the comics community than the whole blogosphere could manage in […]

  13. @Niles Day: I understand. It’s just that I think a hyperbolic response helps slam shut the ears of the people with the creative power. Instead of finger pointing, we should be having discussions. Coming at things like this with overt hostility won’t do anything. I still think it’s amazing that Van Meter responded at all, especially with such class. And explaining what she was trying to get at is incredible. Even if you disagree,

    Honestly, to erode these stereotypes? All we have to do is not be them, and slowly they will vanish. Veering in the absolute opposite direction will just be overcompensating, and reinforce them.

    Is it just the costume, as well? What if Power Girl got a new costume, a well designed one that doesn’t look like swim wear, but remained exactly the same otherwise. Would that be alright?