Saturday, December 02, 2006

I got hit by a Minx Car

Maybe it's just because I have a penis, but it seems to me that the buzz about Minx is absolute proof that comic fans are never happy about anything, ever.

So, if you've been under a rock for the last couple of weeks, DC has launched the Minx line of graphic novels, designed to increase readership among teenage girls. The Minx line will initially feature seven titles. Here's the text from Newsarama, with truncated creator descriptions:
* THE PLAIN JANES (May 2007)
The story of four girls named Jane who are anything but ordinary. Once they form a secret art gang, the girls take on Suburbia by painting the town P.L.A.I.N. - People Loving Art In Neighborhoods. [Writer: Cecil Castellucci; Artist: Jim Rugg]

* RE-GIFTERS (June 2007)
A Korean-American California girl learns that in love and in gift-giving, what goes around comes around. [Writer: Mike Carey; Artists: Sonny Liew, Marc Hempel]

* CLUBBING (July 2007)
A spoiled, rebellious London girl conquers the stuffy English countryside when she solves a murder mystery on the 19th hole of her grandparent's golf course. [Writer: Andi Watson; Artist: Josh Howard]

* GOOD AS LILY (August 2007)
What would you do if versions of yourself at ages 7, 29, and 70 suddenly became part of your already complicated high school life? [Writer: Derek Kirk Kim; Artist: Jesse Hamm]

* CONFESSIONS OF A BLABBERMOUTH (September 2007) When Tasha's mom brings home a creepy boyfriend and his deadpan daughter, a dysfunctional family is headed for a complete mental meltdown, compliments of Tasha's blabbermouth blog. [Writers: Mike Carey, Louise Carey; Artist: Aaron Alexovich]

*WATER BABY (October 2007)
Surfer girl Brody just got her leg bitten off by a shark. What's worse? Her shark of an ex-boyfriend is back and when it comes to Brody's couch, he's not budging. [Writer/Artist?: Ross Campbell]

*KIMMIE66 (November 2007)
This high-velocity, virtual reality ghost story follows a tech-savvy teenager on a dangerous quest to save her best friend, the world's first all-digital girl. [Writer/Artist?: Aaron Alexovich]
And the two major complaints seem to follow thusly:
1. There's only two female creators: Cecil Castellucci and Louise Carey.
2. The name has negative and sexual connotations.

I can't really speak to #2. I agree, to some extent, and the phrase "you saucy little minx, you" pops into my head. But, it's a term that hasn't been vogue for what, sixty years? When I hear the word "minx," I might think of a black-and-white "doll" with "moxie" and "spunk" who smokes a cigarette, has a "beauty mark," and slaps men when they get too "fresh." It's not a terrible image, really, it speaks to strength and beauty and mystery and confidence, in addition to sexuality. And it's a better name than "spunk," which, unlike "minx," has taken on different connotations since it was popular.

But I digress, and I kid. Reclaiming the word "minx" seems like it would be neither difficult nor unrewarding. It's vaguely onomatopoeic, it sounds bright and sharp and positive. And, as I mentioned before, it's not popular, which means attaching a new connotation to it wouldn't be difficult. And it fits thematically, for good or ill, with girl-oriented products like "Bratz." Now, personally, I think the word "brat" has almost universally negative connotations, and the Bratz dolls themselves look slutty and creepily inhuman, so among its similarly-named companions, Minx is a step up.

As to the first problem, I would say that there are four female creative forces on this line (counting editors Karen Berger and Shelley Bond), but that's nitpicking. I'd also say that one does not have to be X to tell good stories about X, or to tell stories that appeal to X. Joe Kelly, who, so far as I know has never had a child suffering from cancer, told a damn good vignette about just that in Action Comics #800 (better than Jeph Loeb's story of the same tragedy in the backup to Superman/Batman #26, despite his experience with the matter). As Neil Gaiman said, through William Shakespeare, "I would have thought that all one needs to understand people is to be a person." Despite things like the color of our skin and the stuff between our legs, we're all pretty similar. All it takes to write a good story, no matter who it's about, is being a good writer. If we all followed the old "write what you know" adage, the only books would be autobiographies. I don't think one needs to be black to write about black people, or a woman to write about women, or a man to write about men, any more than they need to be a child to write about children. It's obvious that having the experiences that come with being those things will inform an author, and will lend a realism and credibility to the story that wouldn't otherwise be there, or would have to be reasonably fabricated. I'll even say that it would be arrogant and offensive for a white person to write a story which focuses on the trials and tribulations of being an oppressed black person. It'd be similarly offensive for a man to write a story that centers on the difficulty of womanhood. But most stories with characters from one minority or another are stories about people, and you don't have to be anything but a person to tell those stories, no matter what people populate them.

I'm not going to go into what sorts of comic books teenage girls like, because no matter what I say will be anecdotally and individually false. What I will say, though, is the only way any comic will appeal to a wider audience than the niche market that comics currently cater to, is by getting out of the isolationist, dark, snooty, elitist atmosphere of most comic shops. Few comic shops are welcoming to women; most comic shops are fairly unwelcoming to all newcomers. I loved my last LCS to death, and I shopped there for over ten years, but I remember when I would walk in there as a kid (and as a young teen) how the older guys who hung out there all the time got quiet and tried not to look like they were putting their porn and "mature" items out of view. I've seen the atmosphere of comic stores, and I've seen comic stores with no atmosphere whatsoever, save coldness. They're places where the people who were bullied and shunned in High School can go and be in charge, and be among their 'own kind' and support each other.

They're Fortresses of Solitude.

And that's intimidating to neophytes. I don't blame anyone, regardless of gender, for being uncomfortable in comic stores. But it's because of that sort of atmosphere, that 'I don't know how to act around women' or 'there's a girl in the clubhouse' feeling, that helps keep girls out of comic stores. And so, the comics that most girls buy are ones they can get outside of the comic shops--i.e., the bookstores.

So that much, DC's doing right--marketing directly to the stores with slightly-larger-than-digest graphic novels. And at the head of it, they have Karen Berger and Shelley Bond, heads of Vertigo, who have (at DC anyway) probably had more experience with gender crossover material than anyone else. Despite showing up on all the moronic "buy this for your girlfriend" lists, Vertigo offerings like Sandman and Y: The Last Man have had a great deal of popularity among women, greater apparently than the offerings from the mainstream capes-and-tights DCU. So it's a no-brainer for two people with decades of experience finding talent that appeals to people of both genders, to be heading up this imprint.

And Johanna Draper Carlson has addressed some of the more practical reasons for the lack of female talent, namely that monthly books pay better (understandable for a new imprint; after failures like Matrix Helix Comics, I can imagine why DC would be cautious about this sort of experimentation), and that some creators didn't want to be pigeonholed. I'd say that's understandable; female creators are rare in the industry, and I imagine some fear that if they start writing "comics for girls," it'll become the new stigma--female writers can only write comics for women. Sadly, I suspect that if the majority of the talent on Minx were female, that would be the resounding cry from the blogohedron. As the quotes on Johanna's post mention, this is meant to appeal to the people who frequent the YA aisle of your local bookstore, and said aisle is full of gender diversity. As long as these books are good, the genders of the creators shouldn't be a concern.

And what if all these books had female creators, and the line tanked? What would that say to the "bottom-line" people? What would the fans say? That DC picked these people for their gender, not their skill, as if girls would rather read things made by girls than things of quality? At least this way, if the first batch of titles doesn't do so hot, they have the opportunity to ramp up the line with more female talent, more talented talent, and try for a second wave. And if that's more successful, chalk it up to girl power.

So, what we have from Minx is a collection of titles designed, despite the genders of their creative teams, to appeal to teenage girls. The manifesto of the line is that it shies away from the fantasy and superheroics and horror that define DC's other imprints, though that seems rather arbitrary to me (I'll get to that in a moment). We have some hot creators, a good mix of indie and mainstream talent, and no one can say that a line with Mike Carey and Marc Hempel isn't trying for high quality. We have a name with mixed connotations that, hopefully, will take on some new ones as a result of the line's success. It's an attempt to tell quality stories that can appeal to young girls through their availability and through the fact that they're relatively free of the nerd-icky of normal comics. Maybe it's just me, but finding fault with that smacks of nitpicking perfectionism.

That being said, I do have a bit of a problem with the stated purpose of the Minx line, specifically Karen Berger's statement that "Again, these are stories about real girls in the real world. There are no genre or fantasy aspects to it." Now, it seems to me odd that a book like Kimmie66, a "virtual reality ghost story" about the "world's first all-digital girl" and thus clearly science fiction of some sort or another, wouldn't be considered a "genre or fantasy" aspect. And, since one of the implicit goals of this line will naturally be to get a new audience interested in some of the other things published by DC, and considering the apparent popularity of fantasy manga, it seems like it should be natural for this line to have some of those genre and fantasy aspects.

But, this is the beginning of what will hopefully be a long and successful life for Minx, and I can understand their trepidation regarding those "geekier" aspects of comics, the things that might turn young girls off. So, hopefully in the future, we might see something akin to Marvel's "Mary Jane" series or something to compete with the more fantastic manga out there, things that could serve as the 'gateway drug' to mainstream DC comics (while, naturally, being good comics on their own).

As a male comics reader, and thus as someone clearly outside the target audience for this line (but one who will probably end up checking out at least a couple of these titles), I know a few things I'd like to see. First, I think this is the perfect place for a new Amethyst series, and I think the graphic novel structure would hold up better than the demands of a serialized monthly, which high fantasy comics struggle with. I also think that the manga Wonder Woman pitch that's been making the rounds looks fantastic. I don't read manga, but I think I'd have to check that out. It's a novel approach to comics' most enduring superheroine, and those tend to be hard to come by (though I suppose this could fit just as well or better in the CMX line, but it seems like Minx is getting more attention, the sort that this book would deserve). I think this would also be a good opportunity for DC to employ the trademark they took out on Chloe Sullivan, with a Nancy Drew/"Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane" take on Smallville's pluckiest reporter and her encounters with the weird (including the superpowered object of her affections).

But, that's for another time, and another purpose (namely, getting more people interested in mainstream comics). Up until the line can handle that sort of thing, until it proves itself sturdy enough, I wish Minx the absolute best of luck. Even if it isn't perfect, it's a step in the right damn direction, and to damn it already seems foolish.

And I'll totally be reading Good as Lily.

Hm...seems like this post is still missing something.
Ah, right, of course!
Just watch the hits roll in!

It's been way too long since I got linked, anyway.

Read More!


Anonymous said...

"Now, personally, I think the word "brat" has almost universally negative connotations, and the Bratz dolls themselves look slutty and creepily inhuman, so among its similarly-named companions, Minx is a step up."

Also, Minx has the advantage that it comes pre-packaged with a trendy, edgy, end-of-the-alphabet 'x' at the end, so there's no need to coin a dumb new word.

Anonymous said...

By far the weirdest thing about Minx, to me, is that Mike Carey is writing/co-writing two of the titles. How does a man's career path go from vaguely indie opus (Lucifer) to mainstream superbooks (X-Men, Ultimate Fantastic Four, the freaking Marvel Holiday Special!) to teenage girl imprint, in like nine months?! This guy is really talented (though, IMO, nothing has topped his Lucifer), and I'm not criticizing his artistic choices, it's just kind of bizarre.

And I should hope that your current comic shop is pretty welcoming to women. :)

Tom Foss said...

Given that my current comic shop has the one feature which my girlfriend desired in a comic shop (i.e., someplace to sit), and the fact that it is well-lit, not decorated in borderline pornographic images, and staffed by friendly, talkative people, I'd say yes, it's pretty welcoming.

It could do with a larger and more prominently-displayed graphic novel section or "hot GN" rack, and with the volume of youn'un's I've seen in (my few times on-site) coming in with CCG requests I would imagine a more prominent and extensive selection of kid-friendly titles and manga TPBs might be profitable, but it's pretty welcoming.

I think, as Johanna noted, pay probably had a lot to do with it. Mike Carey's sitting pretty with his X-Men gig, Crossing Midnight, Faker, Ultimate Fantastic Four, Wetworks, God Save the Queen, and his prose novel (sheesh!). He's got the fundage to take a gamble on a section of the industry that helped him gain a foothold with work like "My Faith in Frankie." Other writers might not be in the same financial position. I'd imagine that Gail Simone might be, but with at least two Wildstorm books and three DCU books on her plate, she might not be up to the workload.

guttertalk said...

Bring back Dazzler. That will pull in the female readers.

The comic store I hung out as a teen and where I now shop have the atmosphere of warehouses. Everything's on the cheap. When I went to the big Dallas chain's relocated store a couple of years ago, I was impressed by spacious the place was. There were chairs for sitting and reading. ('course, there was a whole more than comics there, too.) It wasn't cramped and full of stuff.

As long as comics are housed in that environment, most women won't feel comfortable there(Heck, I don't), so they're not going to pick up comics there.

Your point that men can and have written stories that appeal to women is valid, but the problem is that comics have a record. Still, writers like Brian Vaughan are helping change that.