Reach back into the recesses of your mind and try and put yourself back into the mindset of someone discovering comics for the very first time. It starts with the realisation that there’s an entire world waiting to be traversed - myriad adventures, numerous villains, deaths, battles and rebirths to be witnessed. You have your favourite. Maybe you latch onto a certain character because you dig what they say about the human condition, or their moral stance vibes with your own, or maybe they just rock a red safari suit like a pro.
Maybe you find a small slice of the internet, a gathering of like-minded fans, all like you, all eager to devour, chomping at the bit to show a burgeoning love for character and medium with doodles, clothing, blog posts, and everything in between. At some point though, you know this won’t be enough. A convention. You have to go to a convention. You scrape the money together for tickets, you spend the next month deciding exactly what panels you’re going to attend, what books you’re going to get signed and which creators you’re going to spend the entire weekend mustering the courage to speak to.
Okay, this it. The day arrives. You get there and it’s even better than you imagined. You see a fervour to mirror your own, you see creators whose names you recognise from the comics you love, fans dressed as characters that only previously existed on the page, you meet friends for the very first time, and oh my, the longboxes. So many longboxes.
You try and do it all. You go to the panels, you get your books signed and you speak to the creator who hooked you in the first place. Everything is right with the world. But it’s all passing like a whirlwind. You chase the frayed edges of the day, time barrelling onwards like a locomotive when all you want to do is stop it in its tracks. You try and take in everything you haven’t seen yet, running around like a headless chicken, dragging friends and parents around like a frantic spirit because youhavetoseeitall.
A t-shirt! You haven’t bought a t-shirt yet. You remember seeing a pretty sweet Wonder Man t-shirt somewhere in the corner. Look, Wonder Man is the coolest, okay? You could have sworn it was here. You flick through the racks, you stop, and your heart drops at what you find – a ‘KEEP OUT’ sign. A sign telling you to get out and stay out. The self appointed gatekeepers are here to tell you that you don’t belong.
50% of those reading this will never have to deal with the scenario painted above. But your daughters? Your sisters? Your friends? It’s a potential reality for them. Imagine that as the curtain call on your first con, a giant, sexist, misguided middle finger to your gender. The worst part is that it’s one incident amongst many.
When Al Ewing’s Loki, Agent of Asgard launched, I lost track of the amount of comments I saw from male fans decrying the new look Loki. It was “obviously done to cash in on the popularity of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki” they’d say. It’s “catering to the fan girls” they’d wail into their tear-soaked pillows.
At this point we’ve had more than half a century of superhero comics that primarily catered for a male readership, covers that overly sexualize the female form to attract readers, and female characters that might as well be the proverbial sexy lamp.
What these so called ‘fans’ are failing to see is that not only are they doing themselves a disservice by being close minded, but that they’re crippling the very industry and artform they claim to love. And for what? Because they can’t bear to think it may be snatched from them.
It was never theirs to begin with.
Comics are bigger than them, forever changing and growing. Comics culture is now in the mainstream more than ever. With it comes increased focus, attention and new fans, fans outside the remit of its previously established demographic. This is a good thing, not only for the increase in readers but for the future and potential of the medium itself.
Stan Lee once said that every comic book is potentially someone’s first. Now it’s more than that, now every interaction, blog post, headline, comic book cover, shop, convention and movie is potentially someone’s first, someone’s Opening Contract.
Threats of rape, assault and other assorted nastiness because a female journalist had the ‘temerity’ to criticise a comic book cover is not the Opening Contract this industry, or its fans, deserves.
Female characters contorted into impossible poses so their sexuality can be heightened and exploited is not the Opening Contract this industry, or its fans, deserves.
Hate, anger and negativity in any of its form is not the Opening Contract anyone deserves.
Comics are for everyone.
Each of us have our own comic book origin story, our own personal Opening Contract that leads us to a life-long love affair with this medium, its stories and its characters. It’s not anyone’s place to deny others that same privilege.
To the ‘fans’ who think that this is okay, stop and think. Stop and think about how you’d want to discover comics if you could start over. Think of why you fell in love and wonder why you’d be so ignorant to deny someone else the same by virtue of their gender.
Grow up, evolve and let comics do the same.