Take a step back from the topless ‘Halo Jones’ furore to see the big picture. Bristol Comics Expo 2013 have hung a huge “no girls” sign on their comics clubhouse this year.
‘Halo’ was not the first “Expo eXclusive” print on sale this year. That honour goes to a John Higgins cover, also marketed as for “the discerning adult”. And there’s also the fact there wasn’t a single female on the guest list this morning.
What these things tell you, right there on the very first page of the site, is that women in comics are fictional. They exist to be consumed, objectified. To titilate and provide fan service. Women in comics don’t produce. They don’t create. They aren’t active. We aren’t expected to have a voice, to have opinions. it’s in the language the organisers use, the promotional actions they are taking and the programme decisions they have made. The entire culture of BCExpo2013 is reactionary, sexist and puerile.
Let’s look at some of that language – because someone made decisions about those words. Someone thought “this is the best way to attract the audience we want”.
Look! “eXclusive” has got a capital X in it because it’s X-rated! Hammer did this in the 1950s, making a selling point of their X-rating. Hence the film being The Quatemass Xperiment. And “exclusive” also connotes “tasteful gentlemens clubs” etc. So this phrase tells us the organisers know the material is unsuitable for children, and a marketing it on that basis. Bearing in mind this is on the first page you land on, if you google Bristol Comics Expo. And it’s on several pages, so it’s not a typo.
“for the discerning adult”
This is well-established code for people wanting pornography. As a teen, I frequented a couple of seedy bookshops that were fronts for porn shops. One of these was in Soho. The ‘innocent’ fronts happened to sell lots of old Doctor Who books. “Discerning adults” is a phrase designed to suggest tastefulness whilst simultaneously making it clear this is porn. The bookshop owners, by the way, always kept me out of the adult section. It wasn’t visible as soon as you walked in.
“We have a special, very limited run of Halo in all her ‘glory’!”
I’m actually slightly amused by the scare quotes around glory. Like the writer is a bit scared of gurl bits. None the less, it’s code for female body parts.
I don’t have a problem with fan service. I have a stash of Professionals fanfic which would make the writers of the BCExpo2013 site blush. I do have a problem when all the fan service is centered around objectifying female characters though. Combine that with a dearth of female guests and the upfront sniggery tone and I’m not getting prudish. I’m getting angry.
And you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.
I get angry because my daughter loves comics. I get angry because I like taking her to comic conventions. Yes, we have to do a certain amount of distraction work so she just sees furries as people who like to dress up. And let’s not go into her fear of Darth Vader. I’ve taken her to two BCExpos. Three if you count the year she was a bump being jostled by blokes with backpacks who couldn’t see my Baby on Board badge.
But we’re raising our daughter to be smart. To ask questions and voice opinions. To be creative. And the culture this row has exposed shows the BCExpo2013 doesn’t want girls to be like that.
So we’re out.
Oh, and to just turn the screw that little bit more, the charity the “eXclusive” prints are fundraising for is Marie Curie Cancer Care. That’s right, a charity named after a woman who went into a male world and achieved extraordinary things. A woman who thought, and fought, and had a voice. And a charity that seeks to ensure people are treated as people, with dignity and respect, not just as bodies.
The irony is infuriating.