I’ve been having some more thinks about New York Comic Con 2014. As I mentioned in my last post on the topic, it was a somewhat trying experience for me. Aside from the fact that I am extremely uncomfortable in situations where I am crowded very close to, and must navigate my way through, throngs of strangers (I know, I know, New York City might not be the best place for me), I was trying to pitch my graphic novel, Tracy Queen, to publishers. It was… discouraging.
Here’s the deal: the graphic novel is mostly written (some of the last few bits are only outlined at this point), and eight pages of original, penciled, inked, and colored art with lettering have been created by the incredible illustrator, Jayel Draco. We have a professional comic creator and writer on board to do the lettering throughout. We have several adult industry professionals who have signed on to make cameo appearances. We have the love and support of our friends and colleagues. We want to make this thing happen.
But right now the book is slated at 288 pages, of incredibly labor-intensive, time-consuming art. Jayel cannot just make these happen magically–he has to spend a lot of time and energy on each image to get it looking perfect. We need to be able to fund his ability to make this happen, and doing it “at night after work” sounds all well and good until you factor in, you know, life. And realize that if we were to try to weekend-warrior this thing, it would likely take years to complete. Like well over half a decade. In that time we’d be able to create very little else as a team. And that… is just… not acceptable.
So what we’re trying to do is find a publisher of comics or graphic novels that would be willing to help us out, either by providing some capital up-front or by supporting us in crowdfunding, or something similar, so that we can pay for this to happen.
So, we went to Comic Con with professionally-printed, full-color samples, brimming with gorgeous artwork, a plot synopsis, character bios, creator bios, contact info… All that stuff. It looks professional. It looks lush. It’s awesome. We are also a pretty rad duo–we wore Tracy Queen logo shirts and presented ourselves at numerous publisher booths, where we schmoozed and handed samples to editors and publishers, over the merchandise they had displayed on tables and racks and the like.
Let me tell you what around 60% (the part of it that wasn’t male superheroes, zombies, or super-cute Japanese stuffed animals) of that merchandise looked like: boobs. Spandex-stretching, cleavage-spilling, bursting-free-from-button-downs, burgeoning, corseted, sometimes-just-covered-with-a-bandage-like-strip-of-cloth… boobs. Everywhere, boobs.
And camel-toe. Camel-toe is big in the comics world. It’s not only accepted but encouraged. A little bit of an outline, here and there, of the lips. Totally cool. All over the place at Comic Con.
Female sexuality, females as sex objects. Everywhere. Being used to sell everything from supervillain comic books to statuettes to T shirts.
Seems like a comic book about a super-sexy porn star would fit right in there, right? Like Tracy Queen would be every comics publisher’s wet dream, correct?
Because even with all those boobs everywhere, in all the imagery, none of them were uncovered entirely. You couldn’t actually see nipples, aside from a bit of an outline here and there through the fabric. Or sometimes there would be a topless woman shown from the side or behind, so you’d get some sideboob action. But never nipples. Dear god, not the nipples. (What is it about nipples that is so terrifying, exactly?)
And all those snug-fitting jumpsuits that oh-so-clearly cup the vulva and the butt? They’re still on there. Hiding stuff.
Because these hypersexualized female comics characters covering every surface at Comic Con? They don’t actually have the sex. They are too pure for that, or something. Or, somehow, these comic books in which they appear are too pure to deal with overt sexuality, while they parade around supernaturally perky sets of HH cups trying to escape their bonds just as valiantly as the heroes try to stop the villains. These women are allowed to look sexy, to provide eye candy for the totally-not-perverted readers, but they aren’t allowed to act sexy, or they’d taint the not-perverts with their filthy womansex.
And because, as long as those boobs and vulvas aren’t showing, you can totally bring your kids to Comic Con and they will totally not get the impression that women are just sex objects, or–gasp!–see any images of overt sexuality. Or anything.
So anyway, I knew I was up against this. I realize that the comics industry is one of the most bizarrely attached to the virgin/whore dichotomy of all the industries. That it’s long been a boys’ club that encourages women to dress up in sexy costumes but not get “in the way” of the men doing their man stuff, like saving the world from unspeakable evil and, you know, getting blood on things. I knew that being a female writer, presenting publishers with a strong female lead–of color–who chooses to take off her clothes because she likes to… and gets paid for it… would be an uphill battle.
But. Man. Wow.
I can’t tell you how many uncomfortable smiles I got. And wide eyes, and puffed-out cheeks and “Hoo, boy” asides. How badly it stung to get the “Ok, I’ll take your sample, now get the hell out of my booth you perverted freak” treatment. How exhausting it was to watch a publisher smile warmly when handed the sample, flip through it for a few pages, notice the nudity halfway through, and clench up, grimace, and look up at me like I’d tricked him (and I say “him” because they were all men–most of whom were surrounded by images of mostly-naked, busty women on their comics covers and original artwork and so on). How strange and disheartening it was to realize that images of nipples–uncovered nipples–was not just unwelcome, but terrifying to them. How fucking infuriating it is to walk around the show floor, looking at image after image–and costume after costume–showcasing female sexuality… and be treated like a leper for wanting to show it, in an empowering, enlightened way, in a mainstream, not-erotic-specific publication.
See, that’s the thing about Tracy Queen: the book is about an independent porn star who makes her living by having sex on camera. But it’s not about porn. And it’s not porn. There’s nudity, and there’s imagery of sex happening, because that’s part of the story. much like sex is part of life. But the point of the graphic novel is not to titillate–it’s to tell Tracy’s story. The sexy parts and the scary, bloody parts, and the mundane parts, too. It’s got sex, but it’s got a lot more.
And nobody wants to touch it, because sex is all that people see when you’re brave enough to talk about it without the spandex. Blatant depictions of sex and nudity in comics (and everywhere) is a no-no, unless you’re willing to hide out in the “erotica” corner of the internet. The corner that doesn’t even get a booth at Comic Con. Because Comic Con is family friendly, spandex-seam-splitting-boobs-everywhere notwithstanding. Somehow.
What is it that makes the display of the female body for consumption permissible, so long as nipples and pubic hair are not specifically shown? Why is it that women’s bodies can be sexual, so long as they’re never shown actually having sex? Why can’t we own our bodies and do what we want to with them, instead of having some artist or publisher or consumer tell us what’s ok?
I’ll tell you one thing: whether any of these publishers wake up and smell what Tracy Queen is cooking or not, she’s going to get out there to the world. She is going to be a strong female lead who likes sex and uses her body the way she wants to and also raises an army of cyborg-clone warriors to defeat the forces of evil.
It’s going to happen.