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Comics! Yes!

2009 February 18
by Alex M.

I need to thank Marwa for her post on Gender Differences in Comics, which discusses traditional newspaper-printed comic strips. I am personally a big fan of comics, newspaper and more recently those on the internet. Webcomics are not subject to the same quality control as newspapers and I have found that, as a result, they tend to have a more fluid representation of a gendered world. An example of this is one of my on and off favorites, Wapsi Square, which is about Monica, a Latina who lives in the fictional town of Wapsi Square, Minnesota. An initial glance at this comics may make you tense and wonder why creator Paul Taylor would feature a women who is 4’11” with a 32DD bra. Taylor would simply answer that women like this exist. He even has a list of resources to help short women like this find bras that are supportive and pretty. His comic is about the lives of strong women of absolutely all kinds (although the current arc is pretty crazy, involving the search for a calendar machine). Monica’s friends are professionals, athletic types, dreamers, and achievers. They are women who embrace womanhood and have fun with it. The art for the comic has definitely evolved over the years. Monica started out looking very young with her small stature and large cheeks emphasized. Because of this, other characters related to her as a little sister type, someone who needed protection. Yet Monica grew up and became more sure of herself, which is evident in the increased definition of lines throughout the whole comic. In this way, the art becomes a way of expressing a character’s physical and psychological being, showing yet again that the two are difficult to separate.

Another example is from a fairweather friend, Diesel Sweeties, which might be a lot more relevant to the course. Not only does it play around with gender roles, but also human relationships with technology. Initially it focused on the relationship between Maura, an ex-porn star, and Clango, a kind-hearted robot. In its infancy, the comic could have been called, “Robots and the Women Who Love Them. Carnally. On a Regular Basis” (some QC fans will get that joke). The strip imagines a rapidly advancing, technologically saturated world exactly like ours, with the notable exception that robots are more or less humans with a metal chassis and a clearly defined function. Even appliances are able to express themselves to some extent, with toasters angrily setting fire to bread and old computers grousing about the old days. Interestingly enough, a male human and female robot relationship has yet to emerge. How would R. Stevens envision such a pairing in today’s world? How would we? This comic is especially interesting as it is also syndicated in a number of newspapers, which is considered one way for a webcomic to make it big. By choosing to stand alongside such classics as “Dilbert” and “Family Circus,” the comic has had to tone it down visually and content-wise. No longer are human-robot relationships as accepted or risque, indicating a return to the more traditionally newspaper way of viewing both gender and technology, as subjects that should rarely mix. I wonder whether it is worth diluting one’s unique ideas for a chance at financial security (probably yes). In any case, the online version continues to blur the lines between gender and technology in increasingly cynical ways.

I am ending this post here, not because I don’t have more to say, but because this may end up being too long and rambling. Perhaps a part two is in order? Do other people see more of a combination of gender and technology in the realm of webcomics?

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