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Push Comics Forward – The Female Super-Scientist

j4p4n_Scientist_Woman_(comic_book_style)Recently the head honchos at BOOM! Studios put out the idea that comics needs to change and to not be stagnant as a medium.  Long since dominated by superhero stories, the medium has indeed made a number of changed in the past couple of decades and the change is noticeable in some regards.  Equally though, comics are somewhat of a niche when it comes to their perception in popular culture.  Although there is an increasing amount of female readers, the medium is slower to make the changes to draw in fans of all backgrounds, and especially at the big two publishers instead still focuses on mostly a collection of characters who are both white and male.  While the interest in push comics forward doesn’t necessarily lie solely with the big two publishers, change has to happen there as elsewhere in order for the medium to evolve.

Science in comics was a bit of an x-factor until the onset of the silver age.  Until that point, science was usually grossly misapplied in order to move along a plot.  Gross inaccuracies were made and aspects of scientific knowledge would be presented, leaving what was actually used of the science to be misappropriated and simplistic.  As the silver age started, the focus on science is what rescued comics from being a medium for children, and instead allowed the medium to mature.  The changes first came at DC, though with the generally more god-like powers of the characters, the science was not as pertinent.  Hawkman and Green Lantern became intergalactic police, the Atom used White Dwarf matter to give himself powers, and the Flash became a scientist that gained powers by a scientific accident.  While the science was there, it was not until Marvel arrived that it redefined science in comics.  Although still unreal, the science was still presented in a way that it could be real, at least in our imagination.  Instead of characters that were either given or born with their powers, the new wave of heroes earned it the hard way, by building it themselves.  Not every Marvel hero was a scientist, but there were a few – Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Tony Stark, Hank Pym, and Reed Richards.  While this did push the envelope forward for comics as a medium, what was left behind were the women.  The female leads to these heroes were still sometimes heroes, but they fell back into the template of having powers given to them.  Sue Storm was a college dropout, and Janet van Dyne was just an girlfriend.  They even did better than Betty Ross, Pepper Potts and Mary Jane Watson, who were often relegated to secondary status as damsels in distress (though Sue Storm also performed this role despite being a power superhero.)

lego women scientistsWhile there are perhaps more men than women in science still as a profession, there is no real clear reason why.  Women at younger ages are as adept as their male counterparts, and the interest for science is equally there.  Some consider it to be a genderized problem, that the “old boys club” of science discourages women from entering its field in some cases, and that women are taught gender roles by society to be less focused on science as opposed to other ventures.  While there is debate on these assertions, it is true that women have no more or less natural inclination to science than men do.  So why can’t there be a female version of a super scientist?  There are of course some very intelligent women in comics.  The female version of the Hulk is an accomplished lawyer, and others have shown an ability to pursue more academic fields than what is traditionally typified by their genders, but there is still a gap in terms of the heroes, and who can do what.  Female characters can still be powerful, but it is unlikely that their minds are capable of giving them those powers.  In fact a large portion of female characters derive their powers from either magic or the supernatural.

What has been an interesting and worthwhile development in the cinematic versions of comics, is that the women characters are presented in a way which is a lot more progressive.  Jane Foster is an astrophysicist and in the previous round of Fantastic Four movies, Sue Storm was shown to a be a scientific genius in her own right.  This is because as the characters move to a more popular medium, they are forced into a more acceptable presentation of the role that women play, more so than just damsels in distress, but also as able thinkers on their own.  So why is there no female superscientific genius yet in comics?  This comes back to the inherent idea behind #pushcomicsforward, that there can and should be such female characters, because the medium simply has not caught up yet to the reality of the world.  There is even maybe not a need for as many as Marvel has, but a character that is at least adept at science, and who knows the periodic table from the kitchen table.  There is no reason not to, as such a character wouldn’t even have to carry a series, but they could still be there, guiding the scientific discussion to a place that is more realistic.

Matchett’s Musings: Working For GrayHaven Part II

Hey everyone!  Sorry about the delay, had some personal issues both comic and non-comic to deal with.  I’m back and will be posting from my regular Thursday (ish) from next week.  

Working At GrayHaven Part 2:  Bigger and Better (Part 1)

Welcome back to my memories of the stories I published with GrayHaven during my tenure with them both as writer and editor.  Last time we spoke about some of the early volumes I was involved with and some of the early lessons I learned as a creator and some lessons the company learned too.

Once again this only deals with volumes I was involved with as a writer and is from my own perspective.  Other versions of events may vary, I can only tell you what happened from my perspective.

I won’t waste much time and take you right to where we left off last time with Vol. 7, which I actually wasn’t in…but I was meant to be.

Note:  This section is a lot larger than I anticipated so I have decided to split in half.

Hope you enjoy!

Vol. 7:  Dreams and Nightmares

I don’t really remember much of the submission criteria for this volume but I do remember the story I put forward.   The entire volume was themed with ‘Myth’, which again was a genre I hadn’t played in much and was eager to explore.  I remember really taking a long time coming up with the story that became ‘Until The End’.

The story featured two wizards named Garth and Rex (short for Rexmus) who represented the light and dark side of magic respectfully.  Starting off in modern times the six page story told a tale of them essentially fighting each other since medieval times.  It was a story I was really looking forward to seeing published and I was paired with a new artist to GrayHaven.  I don’t remember this artist’s full name now but I believe his first name was Robert, who upon initial communication was very eager to bring my warring wizard’s to life.

After the initial communication though, he stopped answering e-mails from me and the editor on the book.  He vanished from the face of the earth and by the time we realized he wasn’t going to draw the story, it was too late to find a replacement.  This was my first experience with an artist who had let me down and flash forwarding to today it is something I have come across far too often.

There was nothing that could be done.  There was some talk of turning the story into a webcomic but that never really came to fruition.  The story likely needs a lot of polishing from what I’ve learned in subsequent years (this story was written in 2011 and I would say I’ve grown quite significantly as a writer) but I would still like to see it come to life at some point.

It is true what they say, there is no such thing as a wasted idea and some of this story may even appear as apart of something else entirely down the road, who knows.

My disappointed was short lived however as I was about to begin my most prolific period as a writer for GrayHaven.  The company as a whole was getting bigger and better and it seemed that I was going to face the challenge to do the same creatively

Vol. 9:  Once Upon A Time

Like I’ve said many times before, growing up my biggest influences to me for the rest of my life were likely ‘Batman The Animated Series’ and a complete collection of Arthur Conan Doyle ‘Sherlock Holmes’ stories.  I can likely link everything I have liked or been passionate about back to those two things in some fashion.  Another big influence growing up that I don’t talk about very often is the steady diet of Disney movies I enjoyed in my youth…and even until today.

I’m a big fan of animated films and it all started with Disney films like ‘Aladdin’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘The Lion King’.  I was really eager to participate in a volume based around Fairy Tales such as Vol. 9 of the Gathering was.  The only stipulation this time was that all stories had to have some moral undertone or ‘lesson’ for readers, just like all good fairy tales do.

I quickly came up with a story where the moral would be ‘always listen to your elders’ and would feature a cast of talking dragons.  I found it hard at the time to think of many fairy tales to feature dragons as protagonists and thought it would be something a really talented artist could sink their teeth into.  Essentially the story revolves around an older dragon telling a younger generation about a volcano where the most dangerous dragon of them all resides.  The young dragons are told to stay away but of course, one of them decides to check out the legend for himself and comes across the dangerous creature first hand.

Upon reflection it’s a pretty simple, straightforward story that really benefits from the art of Paula Cob who I worked with on this story and a few subsequent others.  Paula is a very talented artist whose work I adored when I first saw it in ‘Vol. 3: Heroes’.  She had worked primarily to date with a writer who also happened to be her husband in Ignacio Segura but I was eager to see if she would lend her manga style art to my little fairy tale.

Fortunately for me, she said yes and I’ve had the pleasure of working with Paula on a number of occasions.  I’m still a big fan of her work and find it sad that she doesn’t participate in GrayHaven stories as much as she used to due to her and Ignacio working on a personal project.  Her art style gave my story the scale it needed and I think added a lot to my fairly straightforward tale of doing what you’re told.

I also edited the book but don’t have many memories of it.  This likely means it all ran fairly smoothly which is always something to be celebrated.

Vol. 10:  The Unbelievable Arthur Richmond Is One Smart Cookie

Previously known as ‘the adventure’ volume I believe Vol. 10 is something that to this day sends editor James O’Callaghan into traumatic flashbacks.

A little background about Vol. 10, which began like any other Gathering volume and had people submit stories with a different take on the ‘adventure’ theme.  The trouble was that the amounts of submissions were low so it was decided that the interested parties would take their individual stories and combine them.

The new main story would feature a character called ‘Arthur Richmond’ who would serve as our Indiana Jones style protagonist.  It was up to our editor to figure out how all our individual stories would figure into a larger hole.  For that task, I cannot give but the highest praise to James who took several different stories (including one that had talking birds) and somehow made it work.  I would say he made it work more than any of the rest of us on the editorial staff would have in any case.

My section basically served at the books epilogue where we would discover that the entire tale was one told by an aged Arthur to a pair of young men in an adventurers club.  Of course they don’t believe his story of talking birds and magical cookies (you had to be there) so Arthur goes home, clearly dejected.  The closing scene has him go down in his home to a sizable trophy room, where indeed we discover his stories were all true.

It wasn’t conventional but it somehow did work.  I was proud to be a part of it and thought my epilogue gave it a suitable note to end on.  On this story I was fortunate to work with artist Sam Tung, who was an early GrayHaven fan favorite.   He only worked on a handful of GrayHaven projects before going on to do some production work for Iron Man 3 and GI Joe 2.  Apart from my misfortune regarding my Vol. 7 story, my extremely good fortune with artists seemed to continue.

Volume 11: Silver Age

This volume was a big passion project for GrayHaven publisher, Andrew Goletz.  He wanted to do a volume that would harken back to the classic ‘silver age’ of comics where Marvel where just coming into the eye of the public and comic took themselves a little less seriously.

I was initially tempted to bring back my inept hero from Vol. 3 ‘Commander Cosmo’ when submitting for this volume but it wasn’t an idea Andrew was in favour of.  He wanted to avoid stories that connected to each other as he did not want customers to feel pressured into buying several volumes in order to get a complete story.

Understanding and agreeing with his logic, I decided to do a story revolving around time travel.  I love time travel as a storytelling device and if you meet me for more than five minutes, I would say you’ll soon learn that.  I also decided that I would have a female protagonist as that was something I had yet to do in any of my stories to date.  Regular readers of these articles will know that I feel very passionate about the portrayal of female characters and having more of them in comics, so with that in mind I created Lucy Letwood.

Having stole a time band that her father invented, Lucy was a young woman who finally found herself LOST IN TIME!!!!  I basically wrote this story with a big stupid grin on my face and tried to have as many silver age callbacks as I could cram in.  I was especially proud of having the classic Stan Lee moment where a character would point out that something was crashing through a wall even though we could clearly see it.

It was drawn by an artist named George Amaru who has become something of a GrayHaven staple and is one of my favorite artists to work with.  Not only is George a really nice guy but he is extremely talented.  He gave the story the exact tone it needed and made my silver age multi panel pages work flawlessly.  I’ve worked with George a couple of times since, even tasking him with a Living With Death short ‘The Reporter’ which I released on the comics Facebook fanpage a number of months ago.  I’ve been wanting to work with George on something long term for years but at that time, it wasn’t possible.  These days he is a very busy guy working for GrayHaven, Bluewater and Inverse press on a variety of projects.  When his schedule clears up, I hope to work with George on something long term.

I brought Lucy back in a future volume and would love to tell more of her story at some point.  It was really with this story that I started to get more attached to the characters I was creating.  I didn’t just want them to be there and then gone forever, I saw life in them beyond the stories.

This was when I really wanted to creating larger stories starring some of the Gathering featured characters.  I knew that would have its own problems however.

Next:  More characters I didn’t want to say goodbye to, ghosts that aren’t ghosts and the final Gathering stories.

Got any comments, suggestions or questions? Let me know! Also follow me on Twitter @glenn_matchett

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