“We Don’t Want You” Or; Why I Don’t Consider Myself a Comics Fan

The Wicked and the Divine; Author: Kieron Gillen; Artist: Jamie McKelvie; Colorist: Matthew Wilson; Image, 2014
Some of the teen gods from Kieron Gillen's "The Wicked + The Divine" #4. Art by Jamie McKelvie, letters by CLayton Cowles with coloring by Matthew Wilson.
Some of the teen gods from Kieron Gillen’s “The Wicked + The Divine” #4. Art by Jamie McKelvie, letters by CLayton Cowles with coloring by Matthew Wilson.

When my editor asked the staff if someone could write about why they stopped reading certain types of comics, my first reaction was to ask, “Well, what if I feel like I never really started?” I’ve never bought floppies, never had a pull list. Although a self-professed DC fangirl, I don’t buy comics from either of the “Big Two” of comics publishing, Marvel or DC. None of this was done consciously, but somehow I’ve become a comics fan who doesn’t read comics.

Teen Titans Go! #18 written by J. Torres with Pencils by Mike Norton and inks by Larry Stucker. The Teen Titans Go! comics had many inside jokes for readers familiar with the characters in the greater D.C. comic-verse.
Teen Titans Go! #18 written by J. Torres with Pencils by Mike Norton and inks by Larry Stucker.

The simple fact is that most comics tend to disappoint: the shock-value stories, the dramatic differences in characterization from writer to writer, and the ever-prevalent sexism, racism, and homophobia. With every fridged female character, every racist depiction, comics seem to say, “We don’t want you!” Unfortunately these themes also seem to plague the industry itself. As a consumer it seemed like an unwise idea to get emotionally and financially invested in a story that could end badly within a month’s time or get too attached to a female character who would just turn out to be a stereotype as soon as the next writer or editorial mandate came along.

Frustrated, I was ready to quit comics almost as soon as I had become interested in them. Scans Daily, however, provided proof that there were comics for everybody, including me. A community of comicbook fans across the spectrum that provided a safe space to post and intelligently criticize comics excerpts, Scans Daily taught me to ask, no, demand good writing and art of comics creators and publishers that was not racist, homophobic, or bigoted in any way.

Since then I have only bought comics that fulfill these expectations and actually own only three sets of comics: a handful of volumes of “Teen Titans Go!” based on the cartoon, the graphic novel versions of the first and second books of the Artemis Fowl sci-fi/fantasy series, and The Wicked+The Divine written by Kieron Gillen. As Artemis Fowl is an adaptation of a book series and Teen Titans Go! a spin-off of an established TV show, I felt confident that the writing would not provide any unpleasant surprises. The Wicked+The Divine, which is the only ongoing title I own, was a bit more of a risk, but after seeing lauded snippets on Scans Daily I decided to take the leap and buy the first and second volumes (I am happy to say that the series has been consistently well-written and hasn’t failed me yet).

Artemis Fowl: The Graphic Novel. Adapted by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Dorkin. Art by Giobanni Rigano, coloring by Paolo Lamanna.
Artemis Fowl: The Graphic Novel. Adapted by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Dorkin. Art by Giobanni Rigano, coloring by Paolo Lamanna.

These are the comics that I trust won’t let me down and fall prey to the many tropes that fail a female audience. Even now, the comics that I feel most drawn to, such as Faith and Jem and the Holograms, are produced by smaller publishers or creators that I keep track of and trust. However, I still can’t help but retain old suspicion that the next comic I try will turn out to rely on the same old tropes that disgust me.

So no, despite the fact that I may know and rant about the latest civil war or the newest costume change, I don’t consider myself a comics fan. I may read some of them occasionally, call myself a casual reader or an unofficial critic, but until the many issues in the industry and medium are properly addressed I can’t call myself a comics fan.

Stephanie Tran

Stephanie Tran

Queer, 20-something intersectional feminist, Vietnamese-American, and born fangirl. Writes about anything geeky and thinks about food too much. You can find Stephanie's Twitter rants at @YouAndYourEgo.

5 thoughts on ““We Don’t Want You” Or; Why I Don’t Consider Myself a Comics Fan

  1. that seems to be a much wider problem than comics, doesn’t it? films and video games are just the same: never be unpredictable, and cater exactly to what the audience expects to get. (which is exactly what it has gotten before and before)
    i wonder what relentless maximising of profit would look like if the audience valued good writing and meaningful experimentation more, instead of throwing hissy fits at something as trivial as casting more women.

  2. Exactly! Perhaps there’s another article in there about how focusing so much on profit kills creativity in comics or that the capitalist nature of the comicbook industry makes it inherently (socially) conservative.

    I enjoyed Nausicaa as well though I did feel it was a little drawn-out and over-complicated (though that may be due to the fact that I saw the anime first).

  3. this rings so true.

    comics as a medium are super cool, and i’m pretty enthusiastic about them. but the largest part of the market (and its associated fanbase) isn’t for me. and something about it doesn’t seem friendly towards a ‘different strokes for different people’ approach either. ‘we don’t want you’ really describes the vibes i get from that.

    i share your reluctant attitude towards the big two, but have to make a case for marvel’s hellcat aka patsy walker and squirrel girl. both i have WWAC to thank for, and i’m glad for it. (jem and saga are also thanks to WWAC, two really really big recent comic loves)

    another comic i recently binged on is miyazaki’s nausicaä manga – i was pleasantly surprised, but i’m not sure i’d blindly recommend it. while the art is really pretty, it can be quite crowded and visually dense in the earlier volumes. it also isn’t exactly a fluid read, but i like miyazaki’s philosophy in it, and i enjoyed nausicaa and kushana as characters. (both women share a similar brilliance, yet are opposites in many regards, and get treated enough as characters –as opposed to being stand-ins for ideas – to allow for them having meaningful influence on each other)

  4. Hi Timothy. Yes, I absolutely agree that there’s a great variety of inclusive, quality webcomics out there. Maybe it’s the nature of producing physical comics or even just being in the industry for so long, but Big Two comics and others are too slow to change.

  5. I absolutely love comics as a medium. I get my fix mostly from webcomics. There are so many of them, and even if Sturgeon’s Law rightfully implies that most of them are crab, I can find enough that are really good, sometimes extraordinarily so. And I’m so fascinated in the diversity of creators, themes, world building, characters, plots, and storytelling techniques, that I had to write a blog post about Diversity In Webcomics.

    Of course, sometimes it’s disappointing if a great webcomics has a glacial page update rate, runs into schedule problems, goes on hiatus, or gets abandoned altogether, but as you write, similar things can happen with regularly published comics as well.

    There are so many webcomics creators who update on schedule, draw fantastic art, and tell great stories. They are worth our attention and support.

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