I Was Comics Non-Compliant Until Bitch Planet Showed Me How It Was Going To Be
I consider myself a newcomer to the comic book world. As an anime fan, I read manga from time to time, but unlike novels, which I read at least two of per month, I probably read only a handful of comic books or graphic novels every year. I read the entire Sailor Moon series in my youth, as well as Full Moon, which was suggested by a friend who’s an expert on manga. I really like Ghost in the Shell, and I highly recommend Masamune Shirow’s original manga. I love Kiriko Nananan’s artistic style, like in Blue, and Jiro Taniguchi is classic, especially Botchan no Jidai. I also really need to finish reading Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life, as well as the Korean comic book artist Dong Hwa Kim’s The Color Trilogy.
Many anime shows are based on manga, but since some animes end before their respective manga series has been completed, they often feature divergent endings or abrupt finishes. So, I especially like to read manga that can tell me what happened after an anime has ended. Favorites include Fruits Basket, Claymore, Nana, Usagi Drop, and Chihayafuru, all of which feature one or more younger girls or women as the main characters. Most of these manga, particularly Nana, Usagi Drop, and Chihayafuru, are considered josei, which literally means “woman,” and are written for an older audience of young adults and adults.
My experiences with “Western” comic books are much more limited. I really liked the film adaptation of Persepolis, so I read the graphic novel a few years ago. I leafed through Watchmen, skipping all of the Tales of the Black Freighter, after finding it lying on the floor of my brother-in-law’s apartment. It was an entertaining read at the time, but it didn’t really inspire me to read more graphic novels like it in the future.
Of course, I’ve read the Dragon Age comics by David Gaider and Alexander Freed and published by Dark Horse Comics, because it’s Dragon Age, and I love Bioware, although I have yet to get my hands on the Mass Effect comic books. I’ve been following the work of Lucy Knisley, Kate Leth, Jody Houser, and Erika Moen for a while too, and I have a small wish list of comic books and graphic novels I really want to read, including The Walking Dead, since I recently got hooked to the television series, and In Real Life, because I’ve started playing Guild Wars 2 lately. I’d also like to read Ghost World and Blue is the Warmest Color, because I’ve seen both of the film adaptations, and I’d like to read the original stories.
I think that there are three main reasons why I haven’t really delved too deeply into the world of comic books, especially “Western” ones. First, I will readily admit, I don’t care for superhero stories very much, so “traditional” comic books have never been of any interest to me. I watched various superhero cartoons when I was younger, including X-Men, Batman: The Animated Series, and Superman: The Animated Series, but I have no desire to explore these stories any further. Secondly, I’ve developed the impression that many “Western” comic books mostly contain scantily clad, overly sexualized women, and many comic books shops don’t help ease this preconceived feeling. I often feel like I’m shopping in the pornographic magazine section of a 7-11 when I enter some comic book shops, and frequently, comic book shops are not very safe spaces for women. Lastly, I don’t always care for series fiction—I quickly lose interest in a story if I discover that it never ends or has too many installments, and this applies to all fiction, including anime, manga, and novels.
This is why I’m so surprised that I really enjoyed reading Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick (@kellysue). I hadn’t even heard of this comic book until I randomly stumbled upon a giveaway of the first issue by Heather of Wrap Around Curl (@wraparoundcurl). I don’t remember how I came upon her Tumblr, but I figured, I had nothing to lose, so I entered the contest. I rarely enter giveaways, and when I do, I never win them. Somehow, I was lucky, and for the first time ever, I won a giveaway on the Internet! I’m really glad that I did, because it’s given me the opportunity to read a comic book that I probably would never have bought if I saw it in a comic bookstore, and it’s inspired me to be more adventurous and explore comic books further, especially comic books written by women, for women.
Bitch Planet’s tagline is “Think Margaret Atwood meets Inglourious Basterds”—a truly accurate and telling description of the story. I definitely had similar feelings of discomfort and empowerment while reading Bitch Planet as I had when I read Maragaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale or watched a Quentin Tarantino film.
As Women Write About Comics already observed, the artwork by Valentine De Landro greatly reminded me of Ghost in the Shell and Sailor Moon. The drawings of the women as they’re being transported to the “Auxiliary Compliance Outpost Intake Facility” in some kind of futuristic liquid-filled containers—with all these cables and tubes protruding from their nude bodies—reminded me of Motoko Kusanagi in various scenes in Ghost in the Shell. That particular scene also felt very similar to the transformation sequences and some battle scenes in Sailor Moon in which the Sailor Senshi are suspended in space, nude, and vulnerable.
Even with these similarities, Bitch Planet is definitely very different from many other comic books I’ve read. It’s story and drawings feel raw and brutal. Most shoujo and josei manga that I’ve read are more slow moving and lighthearted, although they can definitely evoke feelings of heaviness and loss, like in Blue. On the other hand, Bitch Planet left me feeling discomfort and disgust, but also enthusiasm and empowerment, more similar to Persepolis.
Overall, one of the best parts of Bitch Planet #1 for me was the ending. Of course, it finishes with a cliffhanger and the pain of having to wait for the next issue. But, there is a very coherent essay on the last two pages by Danielle Henderson (@knottyyarn) that helped me gain some feelings of closure. It voiced many of the thoughts and concerns I had while reading Bitch Planet #1 and comforted me with the realization that there is a community of women in comics and other “geek” industries who also want to produce and read these types of stories.