Thursday, July 29, 2010

Are all the “Action Chicks” in the music business?

Since getting home from San Diego, I’ve been ruminating on an interesting but ultimately unsatisfying Comic Arts Conference panel I attended called “Where are all the Action Chicks”? Meaning, “Where are all the strong female lead characters in TV, Film and Comics”?

Kramer, Stuller & Misiroglu
The panel seemed promising (and had a huge line for a CAC panel). The moderator Katrina Hill (, see summary here) was joined writer/scholars Jen Stuller (Ink Stained Amazons) and Gina Misiroglu (Encyclopedia of Women in Popular Culture) who both did a heroic job of summing up the history of female heroes in Film, TV & Comics in ten minutes each. Comics writer Marjorie Liu (Black Widow) and the always insightful J. Michael Stracznski (Thor, Wonder Woman, etc…) were there and had interesting things to say but left early. Rounding out the panel was a bevy of media chicks & actresses including Jill Pantozzi (MTV Splash Page), Adrianne Curry (America’s Top Model, who was dressed in a Princess Leia Slave costume), Cindy Morgan (TRON), and Clare Kramer (Buffy).  Morgan told an interesting story about an on-line campaign to pressure the producers at Disney to include her in the new Tron: Legacy film, but otherwise, this panel seemed to kept circling around the usual litany of complaints with no real substance or suggested solutions.  I didn't disagree with most of what was said, but with all the brains in the room, I hoped for more. The fact that Angelina Jolie, arguably the chief female butt kicker in film these days, was just there the day before promoting Salt went without comment.  I think the public actually enjoys seeing a strong female heroine, but it has to be the right female heroine.  We need to figure out how to keep building on our successes. It will be interesting to see how Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is handled in the upcoming Avengers film.

2010 The New York Times Co.
One of the panel participants asked “where are the women who could really kick some ass?”  I’ll tell you… have you seen Christina Aguilera lately? An article in Sunday’s New York Times (Pure Gaga: Spectacle Rules by John Caramanica) got me thinking about this.  Here are all these ladies in pop music: they are rich, famous, have athletic bods, wear crazy revealing costumes, and they can dominate an audience (Photo: Lady Gaga, foreground left, and Beyoncé, right, in the "Telephone" video). The point of the article was a compare/contrast between the sincere, singer-songwriter Lilith Fair style performers (not doing well) and the outrageous spectacle of the Lady Gaga generation bad girls.  Maybe the general public wants distraction from their problems instead of introspective confessions?  I don’t know, but if you are looking for women in spandex that look like they could kick some ass, here they are.

JMS & "WW 601 Players"
One comic heroine that is still kicking ass is Wonder Woman, who just got a controversial reboot by DC and J. Michael Stracznski. Although I understand some people’s concerns about the change to her iconic outfit, personally I’m glad to see her wearing clothes that she can actually fight in without her breasts or butt falling out.  It’s funny in a way that Wonder Woman is finally getting to cover up and Lady Gaga and Beyoncé in the photo above are obviously referencing her and not wearing much, but I digress…. I bring this up because I witnessed what must have been a ComiCon first at the JMS spotlight session, a staged reading of a comic book.  Bummed out that Wonder Woman #601 wouldn’t be out in time for SDCC, he brought in 4 voice actors (the "Wonder Woman 601 Players") and had them do a dramatic reading of the characters, while he narrated and the drawn pages were shown on the big screen.  Overall, I like this change. JMS is strong in character development, and I loved his reboot of Thor and his mythological world. I’m not sure how this version of the character will fit within the DC Universe (or if DC will completely screw it up when the next big crossover event comes along), but I’m willing to give WW & JMS a chance (here's another review I agree with).


  1. I too found the Action Women panel disappointing. In part it seemed the actresses were hijacking it to play to the crowd, which didn't allow the producers and academics to contribute much. The two academics' powerpoints were particularly vapid, being nothing but slideshows of female characters with no real contextualization or analysis. The lack of pragmatic solutions was disturbing, indeed. What was most strange, though, was that no one mentioned Disney's monopoly on female protagonists. Maybe because they are so Barbie-ish.... but really, if any corporation has the means to figure out how to morph a princess into a superheroine, it's them. (Aside: whatever happened to She-Ra? Omitted from those slideshows). Also, I think Lucy Lawless would have been acceptable as Wonder Woman; I disagree the Lynda Carter icon is indelible. The point someone made about heroines always being reluctant in their roles was well made - but could have used historical context. Women for over 200 years have had to couch their ventures into masculine territory as being for any reason other than their own conviction, pleasure, or pride. Until this apologetic thing is addressed in culture as a whole, it won't change in comics. On the other hand, maybe comics can change culture.... the usual catch22 of media theory...!

  2. Well, in defensive of Jen and Gina, I've seen them give other good presentations and they only had 10 minutes. Otherwise I agree totally. And Lawless would have been a great Wonder Woman, she had the moves, a good sense of humor and was known for a simular role. People love female superheroes. Remember how disappointed everybody was by Catwoman? It wasn't that Halle Berry was unacceptable in role, it was just a terrible movie. A wasted opportunity. We have to stop playing victim and build on good work.

  3. Hi Kim, I want to thank you for acknowledging the constraints that me and Gina had to adhere to. I very much wanted to provide more context, but it's so hard to say anything in such a short amount of time and I did my best to be smart, funny, and give a taste of the depth that one would find in my book. It's hard to know if it was a good thing to get up there and say *something* that hopefully sparked people's interest, or to have not said anything at all knowing that some people will think me vapid and incapable of providing analysis.

    That said, I think that a good chunk of the audience was there for the geekness, not necessarily the scholarly aspect, as I did get a lot of feedback from people who found me & Gina to be very informative. I'm hoping we did a better job than not in striking a balance between audiences.

    All in all, it didn't quite feel like a CAC panel, but more like a regular Con session. And while JMS might have had interesting things to say, I felt as though every time I spoke he either talked over me, or repeated what I'd just said, but louder.

    (And believe it or not, me and Gina wanted to talk about Salt - but no time! I cried every time I had to cut something from my presentation. AND She-Ra *was* in the very last slide of female heroes I said I didn't have time to explore!)

    Anyway, Gina, Trina Robbins and I are talking about proposing a more scholarly, and thus more satisfying, panel for next year - stay tuned!

    P.S. Trina said she'd invited you to lunch - I wish we'd been able to meet in person. Perhaps at Wondercon?

  4. Hi Gina, thanks for your comment. I'm sorry I missed you at lunch, there was a miscommunication about the location, but I meet with her the next day about another project. I hope that you can get a panel together. I'd love to hear more about this, as a former film person myself. Scholarship is important, but the panel also needs to draw from people that are connected enough to have some real answers. I'll look forward to hearing more about this as time goes on.

    About the audience. I spoke last year on a comics & museums panel. The audience was totally different from the one I prepared for. Not that it was bad, but a completely different set of questions and knowledge base. At SDCC, I guess you never know...

    Please feel free to e-mail me at

  5. Also, I want to apologize for reading too much too fast and calling you Gina. Sorry Jennifer.