Comic Books and the Male Gaze

Jul 5, 2010 | Opinions

Jenny Sparks

I like comic books, really I do. They’re remarkably underrated as a medium. Alan Moore in particular is a storyteller of consummate skill; V for Vendetta, Top Ten, and others are among some of the most in-depth and emotionally involved works I’ve ever come across.

The problem, of course, is that comic books are rarely written for me.

Comics as a medium are, like the rest of mainstream media, entirely dominated by and created for men. I would probably be more interested in comics if they didn’t constantly pander to the male gaze – that is, comics display women-as-objects, there to be eye candy for heterosexual men, even if the women are characters in their own right. The Most Common Superpower is aptly named; although male characters run the gamut of size, age, shape and what have you, female characters are overwhelmingly tall, skinny, young, attractive, and have breasts that apparently defy gravity.

Michael Turner was terrible for it, actually. See here for a classic example of his work. I don’t recall ever seeing an adult female by him that didn’t have an F cup at least.

Yes, it irritates me like nothing on earth. All comics have started to look the same to me now. Like movies, they have become variations on a theme of ‘white hetersexual male plus assorted other white males and maybe some minorities get into shennanigans’. This just isn’t all that interesting to me anymore, especially when women – yes, half of the goddamn human race – is considered a minority. The Losers? Five men, one woman. I didn’t even look at the comic book. The Expendables? Nine men, most of whom are white.

That’s just two films this year that my better half was getting excited about that I really, really couldn’t care less about and will not be spending any money on. But I’m not bitter. Totally.

Anyway, I have to give credit where it’s due, and much as I have a problem with a lot of comics, some of them stand head and shoulders over the rest. And the one that I elevate above all others is the Authority.

I prefer the Ellis/Hitch early stuff. I can remember faffing around, looking at the giant boobs brigade and getting a little disgusted, before someone shoved a copy of the first issue of the Authority into my hands. I started to read about Jenny Sparks (pictured above) and it just blew my mind that Bryan Hitch was drawing her so… normal. She smokes, drinks, wears tank tops and comfortable pants, and dresses like a businesswoman with a grudge when she goes out to kick villain ass. Jenny was an immensely powerful character, a leader, and a saviour.She had history, and depth, and experience. She was real to me in a way that, say, Power Girl could never be.

Jenny wasn’t a sex symbol. Bryan Hitch didn’t draw her like that. I met him at San Diego Comic Con once, and spent a silly amount of money on an original Authority comic page because of it.

Jenny Sparks became another thread that inspired one of my main characters in the Novel, and I would have given anything to have more of her in mainstream media. It hasn’t happened yet, unfortunately, even though Wonder Woman is finally wearing pants after all these years. (Someone had to actually point out to me that WW’s usual outfit is classic dominatrix – seriously, hot pants, corset, knee-high boots, and a whip? How did I miss that?)

Someday, though. Fifty years ago, there would never have been a Jenny Sparks to inspire me. I wonder will they ever do an Authority movie?