Discussion Scan

Scan for discussion: character design in Orbital

To let Wikipedia do the talking for a moment–

Orbital is a Franco-Belgian comics series written by Sylvain Runberg, illustrated by Serge Pellé and published by Dupuis in French and Cinebook in English.

We were tweeting about space comics the other week (@womenoncomics, hit us up), and Hannah Chapman from Comic Book Slumber Party mentioned Orbital as a favourite. I just read the first volume, and I want to share a scan, a bit of context, and a question: What do you think?

The protagonist of the book is an earth-boy from Poland. He lost his parents to violent politics, and has broken records and boundaries by becoming the first human to be granted membership into the–I’m paraphrasing–galactic united nations’ diplomatic corps. Those humans, they’re so destructive. It’s particularly controversial because his fellow First and eventual colleague is from a race that suffered devastating losses in the face of human colonial aggression. In living memory. They’re (kind of) cops! They’re partners! How will they ever get along?

By utilising their diplomatic training, I hope. That’s a cool angle on mismatched co-workers.

The first volume gives only marginal insight into the personality of our Human. He’s shown to possess the strength of character to be excessively accommodating towards people he is aware he can hurt. But the book quickly introduces the turf war between one planet’s immigrant human mining population, the civilisation in power on this planet, and a non-sentient species native to the miners’ tunnels. There’s a lot going on.

Including:

orbital

 

The exclamation mark at the end of that last caption box sounds worse, to me, isolated from the rest of the book, the rest of the scene. If you’re up for giving the benefit of the doubt, give it there.

But what do you think? How does it strike you that this black, feminine-coded character design is established as gender-irrelevant? Is it weird that the book establishes a male/female divide in this culture? Do you like it? Have you been waiting for something like this? Do you see something in it that can hurt real life non-binary human people?

Let’s talk about it.

  1. Sylvain Runberg

    February 7, 2014 at 10:44 am

    Hi
    I’m the writer of the book. Interesting that you start a topic about “Orbital”. There’s just a sentence that I don’t get : “Is it weird that the book establishes a male/female divide in this culture”. Are you talking about the Sandjarr culture ? About the “black, feminine-coded character design is established as gender-irrelevant”, the point is that it could be gender relevant as human, physically speaking, but those are an alien species, where all individuals, male and female, are physically close to what could be established as “female” for us. But not for them.
    Best
    Sylvain

    1. Claire Napier

      February 7, 2014 at 3:30 pm

      Hi Sylvain! I’m looking forward to reading more of your work.

      Yeah, I’m talking about the Sandjarr culture. I think this aspect of your book is very interesting–the kind of thing that a number of our readers will enjoy considering in a book. It seemed like the best way to introduce Orbital! I want to get some talk going about the things the characters in the book have to think about, instead of just being all, “this comic is about space diplomacy, here is the plot, the end”.

      Nobody is obliging yet, but hopefully that will change (ARE YOU LISTENING, LURKERS??)

      Welcome to our site, though. I hope you’ll be back!

    2. Claire

      February 7, 2014 at 3:34 pm

      Hi Sylvain! I’m looking forward to reading more of your work.

      Yeah, I’m talking about the Sandjarr culture. I think this aspect of your book is very interesting–the kind of thing that a number of our readers will enjoy considering in a book. It seemed like the best way to introduce Orbital! I want to get some talk going about the things the characters in the book have to think about, instead of just being all, “this comic is about space diplomacy, here is the plot, the end”.

      Nobody is obliging yet, but hopefully that will change (ARE YOU LISTENING, LURKERS??)

      Welcome to our site, though. I hope you’ll be back!

  2. Megan

    February 7, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    I can’t speak to how a non-binary person would see this, but I’m a little over aliens that are “gender-irrelevant” but look like female humans (and are considered sexually accessible by male protagonists) – it seems like fanservice to me. Exoticism without the thing actually being strange to a challenging degree. The asari in Mass Effect are case in point.

    However, there’s something to be said for casting feminine as the default – having female-coded characters who would be confused as to why humans find them attractive, maybe.

    It’s complicated. I tend to be more interested in non-humanoid aliens in general, so may not be the best one to speak about this.

    1. Claire

      February 7, 2014 at 3:45 pm

      FTR, the character in question is afforded absolute respect and personhood from our Human, who doesn’t seem to consider sex relevant to their partnership.

      1. Sylvain Runberg

        February 11, 2014 at 1:34 pm

        Thanks for the welcoming ! There’s nothing sexual between those two characters in the story. And it is more about how a human with a gender agenda stereotype (which is not the case of the human mean character here actually) would react to a individual from a species where gender, individuality and sex are absolutely not linked. Actually, a lots of readers had ask me for years if this alien was a male or a female and I always answer the same : I don’t know and I don’t think it matters 🙂

    2. Jerome Saincantin

      February 12, 2014 at 2:39 pm

      Hi there. My name’s Jerome Saincantin, and I’m the main translator for Orbital (into English, anyway). Figured I’d pipe in. 🙂

      The Asari in Mass Effect are not gender-irrelevant. They’re all female. That’s very different. Fan service… maybe, maybe not. If exoticism there is with them, it’s colour-based – or concerns the structure of their own society (their reproductive process is fascinating).

      In Orbital, however, Mezoke looks female, but is… unknown, and he/she won’t tell. It’s irrelevant to Sandjarr society, and it’s irrelevant to his/her Human partner. But of course, it’s not irrelevant to other Humans who don’t know about that particularity; they approach it with their own preconceptions – just like the reader does. I have the hardest time in the world making sure I never use ‘she’ or ‘her’ for Mezoke when I translate; it’s an automatic response.
      Personally, I find it a very interesting aspect of the comic, because it allows for a good deal of reflection on our own, current, mores and behaviours towards gender differences. For example, that barman with the creepy smile automatically assuming that because he/she looks female, his/her male partner would try to ‘tap that’ – a sad statement on the respect afforded a trained member of a particular profession, and an all too common occurrence nowadays.

      1. Claire Napier

        February 12, 2014 at 3:35 pm

        Thanks for cutting in, Jerome! Your perspective is pretty rare, as a translator.

Comments are closed.