There's been a kerfluffle of sorts this week about a comment made in an article on The Comics Journal website. (When I type out that phrase, it makes any concern or any comment made seem very minor). In a conversation between Frank Santoro and Sean T. Collins (disclosure: I've met both, don't claim to know either well and to my knowledge we've never shared a meal). Collins made a remark, which in the context of the article I felt was more offhand and less a thoughtful considered analysis (which he has written in the past for various publications) about what he perceives a lack of female critics in comics.
I'm not sure I would have phrased it as such, but I have to admit that I know more men who write about comics than women. At the same time I would hesitate to say that there is a shortage of women who write about such a topic. Moreover I think that part of the problem with this comment is that Sean and Frank are writing from a certain perspective, men who write about comics, not exclusively but that is a primarily interest of their work.
Of course I disagree with or am indifferent to many of Santoro's comments as well. For example his argument that many of the younger cartoonists are not properly covered, I think has some truth but at the same time I disagree.
Regardless this comment that Sean made about a lack of women has been taken up by some - including most prominently Heidi Macdonald who wrote a lengthy post titled "So What Does a Gal Have To Do To Get Into The Comics Journal Anyway?" In the spirit of the internet, it's a hyperbolic title.
I find a few problems with her article. First, she condemns the print edition of The Comics Journal which is edited by Gary Groth and has excluded coverage of female cartoonists and female writers, which I think is bizarre and odd and I have defense for. Second, she condemns the online edition of The Comics Journal (which is edited by Dan Nadel and Tim Hodler) and argues that they share the ideas and values she reads into Sean and Frank based on that conversation. That's unfair. Ms. Macdonald knows that the editor does not share the opinions of everyone published by a site - at least I would pray that an editor of Publishers Weekly knows that. Also there is a difference between the print and online editions of the magazine, having different editors and similar but different approaches.
I do think there is an argument that the print TCJ - being a more formal exploration of "canon" comics and graphic literature - particularly considering the last annual featured a lengthy interview with Maurice Sendak conducted shortly before he died and by excluding women creators and cartoonists is deeply troubling.
I think there are a number of female creators who have not gotten their due - Diane Noomin, Joyce Farmer, Trina Robbins, Lee Marrs, Dale Messick, Louise Simonson, Marie Severin, Lynda Barry, Roberta Gregory, Carol Tyler, Carol Lay, Mary Fleener, Kate Worley, Jennifer Camper, Sarah Dyer, Elaine Lee. I think Rutu Modan has made one of if not the best comic of the year. I think Alison Bechdel is an immensely important creator both within and without comics. I think Phoebe Gloeckner and Debbie Dreschler are giants. I think Tove Jansson needs much greater attention (and I'm hoping someone will let me write a lengthy piece on her work next year for her centennial).
I think that if we list the best cartoonists working today the list has many many women - if not dominated by women. Looking at my own writing at Comic Book Resources, which I'll argue is one of–if not the best–website about comics online., I've written longer profiles of many women for the site in 2013 including Anya Davidson, Kate Leth, Dylan Meconis, Rutu Modan, Ramona Fradon, Fiona Staples, Emma Vieceli, Lucy Bellwood, C. Spike Trotman, Maris Wicks, Lisa Hanawalt, Miriam Katin, Joelle Jones, Genevieve Castree.
This doesn't include women I've mentioned or included in conventions reports from MoCCA, NYCC, SPX and such. This doesn't include people I've written about for other publications including TCJ and Suicidegirls. This isn't because I make an effort to find female creators. I make an effort to keep an eye out for new books, new creators, work that pops up on tumblr and twitter. Some of those happen to be women. In that list I just had are veteran artists (Ms. Fradon), webcartoonists, people starting out in their careers, people releasing books. Regardless of whether or not I personally spoke with them, these are among the people that any website that sought to comprehensively cover the comics industry would have to talk with.
In short, I think that Ms. Macdonald is mostly right. Gary Groth needs to take off his blinders and there needs to be an awareness that The Comics Journal and he have blinders on as far as the canon, as far as personal taste, and that it can be problematic as far as the rest of us in terms of trying to think about a canon of graphic literature. Mr. Groth doesn't seem to be awareness of his own flaws, so we need to point them out. We need to find a way to work around them. If he won't let female writers work for the print edition or let female cartoonists be covered, then we need to find a way to write about such people and enshrine a canon outside of TCJ.
In one sense, Ms Macdonald and I are on the same page but I think we're going about it in very different ways. Our goal is the same, though. we know that there have been many great female cartoonists and that they deserve attention. We want to make sure that not being a CIS-gendered white male doesn't keep anyone from reading or making comics.
There are a few ways I'd like to see that, besides more articles about many of the women I mentioned above. Those include collections of some of them. I know that Trina Robbins is assembling a collection of Lily Renee's comics work, which should make a nice companion to the two volume Miss Fury collection that Robbins has edited. I'd love to see some nice collections of Brenda Starr by Dale Messick. Also of the Dale Messick-Ramona Fradon years of the strip (shouldn't those two names be able to guarantee some sales).
I have a few other ideas and suggestions that I won't get into, but I think it's important to note that Gary Groth has hired some great women who work at Fantagraphics and he publishes a lot of great cartoonists there. That in such a context, he doesn't think there are any women cartoonists of the past worth discussing or women today to write about well says something. I don't know what, honestly, but it's something to consider.