Webcomics shatter so many of the barriers presented by traditional form web comics. As we discussed with Bitch Planet and Orange is the New Black, while they are bringing representation to mainstream media, they are operating within the capitalist system. Their ultimate goal is profit, popularity, entertainment and appealing to the masses. Webcomics are not screened through editors and do not need to be censored in the same way that publishing companies may censor author’s work.
The direct link the creator has to the public is also powerful. Not only does the creator have more power, but the audience does as well. As Nami Hatfield points out in “Transforming Spaces: Transgender Webcomics as a Model for Transgender Empowerment and Representation within Library within Library and Archive Spaces” there is power in representation.
Accessibility is a key strength of the webcomic medium. Hatfield draws attention to the importance of accessibility in that as a child there was no way to find information or representation in media at the library as a transgender person. Libraries and information spaces are one way that people can access media with limited means; it is therefore critical that people can find representation in these spaces. Not only this, but even when representation exists it is often misrepresentation.
Webcomics are one space in which all types of people have been able to have the platform to express their voices and their stories. In “Oh, Hey! It’s Alyssa” Alyssa Alexander creates an autobiographical webcomic that speaks to an experience with disability as well as being gay. These experience are both distinct and intersecting, personal and relatable. This webcomic could serve as a source of representation to someone with a similar experience. This webcomic also serves as an underrepresented voice in media to create awareness or increase empathy and understanding.
Furthermore, Alexander’s platform is also a strong example of Hatfield’s argument that webcomics foster community and participation. Not only this, but they “do away with the strict distinction between mediators and users” (67). These internet communities can create connections between both the creator and the readership creating a two-way stream of influence. Further, they can create fandoms and bonds between the readers themselves. Webcomics allow for these niche groups to be born and exist regardless of if there is mass appeal or a small group which finds one another. Webcomics also defy physical distance and build national and international groups.
Ultimately, Hatfield’s argument that similar methodology to the “South Asian American Digital Archives” could be applied to webcomics is a powerful one. Creating a space which is democratic and available to all to share, create and interact with diverse stories could influence so many people. Though webcomics have a lot of perks by being on the internet, excluding these forms of representation from information and archive spaces as well of libraries is exclusionary. The transgender community in particular, as Hatfield points out, is severely underrepresented in media. The webcomic medium is a great medium for freedom of individuals to represent their experiences and tell their stories but entry into information spaces would be greatly impactful next step.
Audre Lorde’s essay speaks to the untapped power of the erotic in women’s lives. She speaks to the ways in which power has been taken from women in their exploitation in the media but also in the ways in which the patriarchy suppresses the erotic in women, thus taking away creative power in many aspects of their lives.
This reminded me of the interesting use of nudity in Bitch Planet and DeConnick’s goal to represent women’s bodies but without doing so to create sexual desire. It is an act to humanize women in comics. To make women more than a symbol or a thing to be rescued. Lorde points to the way in which there is power in subverting the male gaze and reclaiming our identity as women, but also power in acknowledging our deepest feelings and desires and in our sexuality.
On example of this is in Orange is the New Black which attempts to subvert the male gaze while simultaneously validating and acknowledging female sexuality. By taking the quintessential lesbian sex scene found in women in prison films and reframing it to not cater to the male gaze, the show acknowledges the erotic in women. The women are fully clothed in the prison uniform but sharing an intimate moment of human connection. The moment is passionate and genuine between them but also not glamorized or intended necessarily to evoke sexual desire in the viewer.
Similarly, the women in comics we have read reclaim the erotic in ways that is not seen in comics written from the male perspective. Lorde says that pornography which exploits women is the opposite of the erotic. This is counteracted in women taking their sexuality into their own hands for example, Alana in Saga, shows women in empowered positions, acknowledging their erotic side. Similarly, Wimmen’s Comixspoke about all things taboo in mainstream comics: menstruation, lesbianism, feminist issues, etc. and was censored by the press.
This speaks to Lorde’s final point: that “this erotic charge is not easily shared by women who continue to operate under an exclusively European-American male tradition” (91). Thus, Lorde acknowledges the difficulty of overcoming the patriarchal society, systems and structures that exist. They exist inside women as internalized mysoginty and outside women in the suppression of women’s voices, points of view, and ability to represent themselves. The issue Lorde speaks to is profound and has implications for the individual reader—she speaks directly to an audience of women—as well as for the power that female authorship and female representation could have to break down what is suppressed and taken away from women by society. Lorde’s essay is empowering and indicative of one of the many, many reasons that it is important and essential to have women creators creating for women.
Lamb’s “Super Man is a White Boy” and “Dear Kamala Kahn” put in conversation offer very different perceptions of the potential of super hero comics given their racist and sexist origins. Lamb argues that the “most famous, most powerful, most influential superhero ever devised is a straight White man. Here, meaningful diversity in superhero comics is not possible. The superhero concept is a racial construct, used primarily to derive profit from printing White male power fantasies.” Lamb’s historical perspective no the origin of super heroes as straight white males is undeniable. However, I feel conflicted about the idea that “meaningful diversity in super hero comics is not possible.”
For example, Lamb claims that super hero comics is “an industry dependent on White male consumer support”.However, I wonder if this is entirely true or if it is a misconception of the true consumers of comics—such as the unrecognized female fans that recounted their experiences in “She Makes Comics.” There are also whole comic conventions just for women, whole subgenres of comics directed at women readers. I also wonder if more comic authors and artists of diverse perspectives were embraced by big-name comic publishers if the genre would be redefined.
I also feel that the subversion of genre could be an even more powerful way to empower. I feel like the underlying principles of super hero comics: morality, a superhuman force for good, fighting evil, are all principles that people find universal enjoyment in.
In putting this piece in conversation with “Dear Kamala Kahn,” the author finds meaning in seeing a representation of herself in place of who would traditionally be a white, male character. She feels the definition of who is an “American” expanding when she says “Yes, it is OUR country! Right, Kamala?” which is in part due to Kamala’s reinvention of a genre that came to represent “Americanness” in the mainstream eye. She is empowered to see herself in Kamala when she says, “Yet, you broke the concrete ceiling and became who you wanted to be. You give me a ray of hope because if you can, so can I.” She identified with the character and super hero to feel empowered and emboldened in her real life. Finally, she says, “I don’t have to change my color or my values to be an influential figure to the world.” In this instance she references both seeing herself represented by the character of Kamala and the role of a super hero in being a force, of having the power to effect change.
Therefore, while I agree with Lamb on what the super hero genre came to represent, I feel there is also subversive power in reinventing who a super hero is and what it means to be a super hero.
“Monster Culture” by Jeffrey Cohen sheds new light on the subversive power of Sagagiven the history of monsters in storytelling as a form of “othering” and demonization. Cohen argues that there is much to be learned from the “monsters that cultures engender” (3). In particular, the way that monsters are used as a representative tool to express and fear and anxiety towards that which is not dominant in a given culture.
With this in mind, the power of Sagais profound given the number of ways in which tropes of comics and conventions of dominant American culture are subverted and called out. One of the ways Cohen explains that culture depicts monstrosity is in their threat to binaries, distinctions and categories (7). One of the many ways “Saga” subverts this is in the unconventional gender dynamic between the Alana and Marko. While Marko desires pacifism, Alana opts for aggression when confronted with danger. Alana also breaks gender norms in her explicit expression of her sexuality. Another notable moment is when Marko is unconscious and Alana saves the entire family from its demise. No longer is it man-saves-woman and children, but a single woman saving the whole family unit.
Another clear inversion of categorization is the ambiguity of the race of the characters. Not only are Alana and Marko unrecognizable races to its readership—not allowing for immediate associations and stereotypes to be jumped to for its readership—but the races of the different planets are fictional and often fantasy-based. Thus, as Cohen points out, the fear of monstrosity has traditionally been tied to the of the refusal to be easily categorized, however, in this instance the heroes and heroines of the story are themselves “monsters” and difficult to categorize.
Lastly, Cohen outlines the history of miscegenation as a form of monstrosity (17). This trope is addressed head on from the very first scene in which Alana is giving birth to a child born of two races, from parents who originated from two separate planets. Hazel comes to represent hope, a beacon of light in the world—she is a positive force in the novel, whereas she would have traditionally have been viewed as a monster.
Thus, Sagais meaningful in its inversion of the use of monstrosity as a divisive tool. In this story, using the terms of monster—as different from dominant representation, as not easily categorized, as the mixing of different races or social groups—is taken and subverted. The protagonists would qualify as “monsters.” They represent a threat to social norms in their defying of gender norms, their skin color, their relationship dynamics, the creation of a mixed race child etc. and yet we as readers are encouraged to identify or at least root for these characters as they navigate a world which seek to destroy them.
The process of creating an autobiographical comic brought to light many of the challenges of the meeting of real, lived experience and image, text and narrative. As Yaël Schlick points out in “What is an Experience?” it is impossible to completely construct the self textually, leading to the unavoidable fictionalizing of experience in autobiography. As I wrote my autobiographical comic, I found that I ultimately told my story in a way that fell into the conventions of appealing storytelling: a narrative arc, a summary of only the interesting parts of the experience, a satisfactory conclusion. This is of course not a reflection of my lived experience, however, the autobiographic comic nonetheless conveyed a feeling that I was seeking to get across to my reader. Yaël rightfully ponders this tension of lived experience versus text and the role that intertextuality plays in constructing personal narrative.
In the case of my autobiographic comic, it was evident that intertextuality—whether directly referenced or not—always plays a role in the way that a text or comic is created. For example, despite that neither my demon or Lynda Barry’s One! Hundred! Demons!are directly referenced, they both entirely formed the style and topic of my comic.
One of the ways in which Barry directly impacted the construction of my text is the idea of bringing the present self into the text. Yaël argues that this layering of temporalities demonstrates the “palpable presence of the past in the present and the narrative struggle to render it so” (38). The structure of my autobiographical comic begins in the present day, which brought me back to a past memory in which I felt the power of my painted “demon.” My demon is a visual representation of the fear of judgment from others. The reader of my comic is brought back to a time in my life when I felt this “demon” strongly. Then, the reader is brought back to the present, demonstrating how the power of my “demon” has lessened over time. Ultimately, the panel ends on a reflection of both stories by myself, the narrator.
While this process seems truthful to me, the events are not as cut-and-dry as I presented them in the comic. Similarly, Yaël argues that Bechdel problematizes the distinction between life and art by saying her parents are most real to her in fictional terms (42). Similarly, in Barry’s text she tries to find “tangible objects for intangible or indigestible events for feelings” (36). The process of translating life experience into art is not a science. My own process of creating an autobiographic comic clued me into Bechdel and Barry’s insistence on the necessity to include—unintentionally and intentionally—fiction in their autobiographies. For me, conveying a feeling or life lesson was not possible to present without elements of fiction or dramatization. This is because it is perhaps my internal reality that I am attempting to portray more than that of a play-by-play of events. My fictionalization of the storyline gives my life experience more meaning than perhaps it would have otherwise—much like Bechdel and Barry’s goals in infusing intertextuality into their autobiographies.