Women; we are a lot of things from a lot of different perspectives. We are mothers, daughters, and nieces. We are the worker, the housewife, and the nanny. We are the nurses, the lovers, and the wives. We fit into various boxes. However, from outsiders looking in, primarily men, do not see the difference between an experience that includes or excludes women. Animation and the cartoon world is just one perfect example.
Those who aren’t hardcore comic book fans may not be familiar with the buzz around “Suicide Squad”, the newest superhero movie in theaters right now. Possibly only the original comic book aficionados and other die-hard readers will know the importance behind all of the superhero escapades and graphic art in this specific comic. John Ostrander and his wife Kimberly Yale co-wrote “Suicide Squad” in the 80s. Together they created a new kind of DC comic which changed the standard goofy and colorful superhero world into a more serious and darker environment.
Ostrander and Yale’s goal in “Suicide Squad” was to form characters that simulated real life characteristics, and the diversity found therein. They decided to make each character have a definable trait, whether it dealt with the character’s race, religion, sex or disability. One example of this would be the character Amanda Waller, a 200 pound, short black woman that holds the power of the entire squad by acting as their boss. While people in the real world come in all varieties, representation for characters matching Waller’s description are rarely found in comics.
Yale held 50% of the writing power. She and Ostrander would write different scenes, then they would swap their work so that they could edit their partner’s work. If any addition or subtraction felt necessary, the other person would say so, and together they came to a compromise.
Having a lead female writer definitely showed in the final product. The characters’ personalities were detailed and complex, their struggles intended to be realistic. For example, Yale decided that the removed Batgirl should be revived. This character’s former role involved the most stereotypical female plotlines by being tortured, shot, and possibly raped by the Joker. The transformation into Oracle marks a change for the era, as DC comics commonly portrayed females in inferior roles that came off as passive, weak and victimized. However, Yale transformed Batgirl into Oracle, who was a disabled, wheelchair wielding superhero written into a realistic feminine plot and personality. Yale knew the only way to display Oracle’s external struggles was to depict the superhero attempting to get into a car, which used half of a comic book page . For scenes like these, Yale interviewed disabled people about the process, and what the graphic artists must include for a more detailed shot.
After all that she achieved, in 1997 Yale lost her battle with breast cancer at the age of 43. Her legacy now encourages other female cartoonists and comic writers; there is now a female section for Comic-Cons for ‘Best New Talent’ award, continuing the work that Yale had helped to make prominent in the field. Yale, a rarity in the her field, worked her whole life to make the comics industry more diverse and encourage the development of female talent as well as representation for female characters.
Unfortunately, Yale’s desire has not been fully realized. Today there is still a lack of female cartoonists, and most that are in the field do not draw for either of the capital industries- DC or Marvel comics. Yet, there are overall greater numbers of female cartoonists, and they primarily take work for indie comics companies.
For those of you looking for a diverse comic book, the ‘indies’ are for you. They strive to promote diversity for all kinds of readers, not just the usual ‘teenage boy’ demographic like the major comic companies market to. Stereotypical female characters are drawn with their impossibly large breasts, small waists, enormous hips and uneven body to leg ratio, while men are depicted with exaggerated muscular frames. Today’s female cartoonists tend to draw all genders equally dimensional depending on art style. For example, if a man has an enlarged toothy smile and big ears, the female character will as well. This ideology demonstrates the feminist outlook on the comic industry, which sees men and women as equals in body type, strength, personality and appearance.
Though the individual strides have been small, women in the cartoon industry are making waves. Women are developing new kinds of graphic art that are visually equal and realistically truthful. Even though Yale was not hugely popularized by DC comics, her legacy lives on and her work is well appreciated. Hopefully someday people can think of women in as not only mothers, wives, and daughters, but also as powerful women drawing, writing and coloring as members of one of the most colorful industries: comics.