Yesterday I wrote a long blog post outlining an idea for how I think the classic British Girls' Comic could be updated in a way that would be interesting, exciting and relevant for young readers today. I was kind of throwing the idea out there as a way to gauge interest, both from readers and creators, and the response on both fronts has been amazing already (oh my goodness, some of the people who've been in touch...), and has only strengthened my conviction that there's the potential to do something really awesome here.
I covered a lot of ground in that post, and a lot of it I felt really solid on - the kind of creative approach I think would work, the need for strong editing, and some of the particulars of how it could work financially and logistically. (If you didn't, I'd urge you to go back and read the original post before proceeding, just to give context to the following.)
All that being said, and with the understanding that what I'm proposing would not be in any way intended as a further contribution to the pile of pink princessy putrescence that passes for so much of media targeted at girls; that it would be a funky, diverse and awesome character-focussed comic taking in a broad range of subject matter and interests: is there still a problem? Is there a problem that's just unavoidable, inherent to any conversation that uses the phrase "...for Girls"?
You know what, turns out there is. And it was brilliantly put in this post by Lauren O'Farrell and Sarah Leavesey, over at the Fleece Station blog. Both Lauren and Sarah make some excellent points, and I'd really encourage you to go and read the whole thing, but Sarah puts the issue best in summing up:
It's a fair point, and one I wholeheartedly agree with. I think it's worth just backtracking a second and describing why, aware of this, I was using phrases like "Girls' comics" in the first place; and also perhaps some of the reasons why the idea of reviving them creates so much enthusiasm and excitement amongst other readers and creators.
The term "Girls' Comic" immediately harkens back to the publishing history of titles like Jinty, Tammy, Bunty, Misty, etc etc - as previously discussed, and again, please go and read this brilliant post by Jacqueline Rayner on the subject if you haven't already. And those comics were, unequivocally, Girls' Comics - that is absolutely how they were conceived and marketed at the time, so we can use the term accurately there at least. Now, I can entirely understand why one might have felt left cold by such comics, or by the perceived notions of femininity they represented. (I myself had little to no interest in comics about football or war or other such traditional 'boy' stuff as a child. I mention this not to suggest the cases are equivalent, as after all I had plenty of comics about transforming robots and farting pigs and such to keep me busy while still firmly in 'boy space', but merely as a point of comparison). However, I think by simply dismissing those Girls' Comics you do them - and the many readers who loved them, a disservice. I think it's inarguable that a lot of girls (and boys) DID enjoy them; enjoyed the greater focus on emotion and character, the stories featuring girl protagonists, the greater focus on real-world settings that reflected the readers' own lives, the stories relfecting a wide range of interests - sport, family, friendship, mystery and intrigue), the beautiful artwork and brilliant stories. And this is really just my point: that kids who'd really respond to material like that - girls AND boys, can't keep repeating that enough - should get comics too.
So those are the strengths of the material itself; but the other thing is the potency, or clarity of the phrase "Girls Comic" itself. You say that, and immediately people know what you're talking about; it's got that link to the past, and it makes for a nice, marketable hook. You say "a new, updated Girl's Comic", or "it's like Jinty, or Misty, but relevant for today's kids", and people immediately know what you're talking about. It's a problematic phrase but a convenient shorthand, an attention-catching idea to get people talking. I've struggled to find a way to express the idea in a more accurate way without going on for a page and a half of prevarication and qualification; "it's a comic that deals with areas of subject matter or narrative approaches that may traditionally be perceived as 'feminine' when applying retrogressive normative gender identities" doesn't quite trip off the tongue in the same way.
(Sidenote: I'm doing my best here, honest I am. I reached a point in discussing this stuff yesterday where I was groping around for an example of what I was trying to get at and ended up at "y'know... sort of like Mo-Bot High", and came to the worrying realisation that this whole discussion has very likely come out of me sublimating just how much I want to make more Mo-Bot High. A classic British Girls' School Story, but with Giant Robots. I really, really want to make more Mo-Bot High, you guys.)
So the question is: do the problems with the phrase "Girls' Comic" outweigh the convenient shorthand it provides? And I think there's a pretty compelling case that they do. The last thing I was intending to propose was a project that would in any way worsen the already-dire sitation of gender stereotyping and cultural segregation that Tescos and their ilk seem so keen on inflicting on our children. If the term itself is divisive, or ends up alienating or excluding the very people you'd want reading the comic: then you'd probably try and find a better term.
Murder She Writes, (c) 2012 by John Allison. On another sidenote, this comic is insanely brilliant and you should all go and buy it immediately.
Anyway, I think there's the seed of something potentially really exciting there. UK YA Comics. Girls' Comics, For Boys. Awesome Comics, for Everyone. I feel like this puts the idea on much more solid ground, and I'd be really interested to hear what others make of it. As I mentioned yesterday, this is not a thing I am proposing to take on myself any time soon, for all the aforementioned reasons of workload and happiness where I am, but I'm making notes and taking names and I look forward to having a lot of very interesting discussions about it all when the time comes.
And lastly: you know what's been brilliant? Both Lauren and Sarah kind of calling me out, but doing so so eloquently, so passionately, and so politely - and in a way that focussed on the strengths of the approach taken by the Phoenix and indeed by Pirates of Pangaea. It's a confusing thing to have one's own work kind of thrown in one's face as an example of A Better Way of Doing Things. Confusing, but rather wonderful.
As before, I'm really interested to hear from comics readers and creators who might be interested in the kind of thing I'm talking about here. The discussion is ongoing on twitter on the #awesomenewcomic hashtag, or please feel free to drop me a line privately at email@example.com, or indeed add your comments to the discussion on yesterday's blog post.
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