WE COULD BE HEROES
It takes SUPERHUMAN STRENGTH to succeed in the comic book world. So to celebrate Oz Comic-Con, we meet the women colouring OUTSIDE THE LINES.
you need superhuman strength to crack into the comic book industry, so we meet the industry leaders colouring outside the lines
Jewella is a tall figure in a bejewelled red suit and a ‘blazing mask’ who can transform into any object – a rock, a chair, even a car. Her mission? To explore the unknown universe to find cleaner energy supplies. Her superpowers? A team of tiny Nanoid robots and a red crystal that shoots out beams of light. Her superheroine comrades, who have names like Interspeed, Typerviper and Enthusiastica, battle evil with their curious minds, their knowledge of technology and an arsenal of cutting-edge gadgets.
Meet the Tech Girl Superheroes – characters populating the pages of a non-profit comic book, Tech Girls Are Superheroes, which aims to encourage Australian girls to enter the tech industry.
“It is no secret that the information technology industry lacks women,” says creator Jenine Beekhuyzen, who launched the comic on International Women’s Day two years ago (the second book in the series, Tech Girls Are Superheroes 2, was published in 2016, with a launch party at Google’s Sydney headquarters). “I teach IT at universities and during my last course there was one girl in a class of 37 people. I wanted to find a medium to get young girls in schools excited about building their future via technology.”
It’s an INTRIGUING idea, using the medium of COMIC BOOKS to tackle gender INEQUALITY.
Since the first book’s release, over 20,000 free books have been given away, and anybody can order a hard copy or e-version online. Amongst the readers was seven-year-old Tilly: “Her dad had been teaching her brothers to code, but Tilly wasn’t interested,” says Jenine. “We sent her a book, with a handwritten note inside saying, ‘Welcome to the sisterhood’. Her dad said that was all she needed to ask if she could learn to code too.”
It’s an intriguing idea, using the medium of comic books to tackle gender inequality in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), when traditionally the comic book industry has its own gender bias. In January 2016, one of the biggest international comic book festivals in the world, The Angoulême, came under fire after it announced the shortlist for its annual lifetime achievement award – and there wasn’t a single female amongst the 30 contenders.
“Unfortunately, there are few women in the history of comics art,” says the festival’s executive officer, Franck Bondoux. “It’s just the reality. If you go to the Louvre, you’ll equally find very few women artists.” >
In recent years, however, a new wave of female illustrators, writers and bloggers are putting themselves in the frame. Australian artist Nicola Scott has watched the change happen from the inside since landing a dream job with iconic DC Comics in the early noughties. “There were female creatives around [in 2005] but they were mostly on the fringes, working on independent or self-published comics,” says Nicola, whose impressive credentials include Wonder Woman, Superman and Legends of the Dark Knight.
Amongst other factors, she blames the cut-throat commissioning process of the past.
“There weren’t many women pitching back then and when they did it was usually to male editors who weren’t very gentle [with their feedback]… A lot of successful people in the industry… aren’t necessarily the most talented but they weren’t going to take no for an answer.”
So, what changed? Well, comic book readers got vocal.
“The galvanisation of the female fan community online has made the difference,” says Nicola, who has since left DC Comics and is working on her own project. “A female reader no longer feels like the only girl in a group of geeks – she can find a social media sisterhood.”
And that sisterhood wants relatable content. Last year, Marvel comics released a new version of their Spider Woman book which showed the heroine heavily pregnant with the tagline, ‘Parent by Day. Hero by Night.’ Meanwhile US publisher Valiant created a plus-size
A female reader no longer FEELS like the only girl in a group of GEEKS – she can find a social media SISTERHOOD.
superhero called Faith, written by Jody Houser who previously worked on the Avengers series for Marvel.
And more diverse characters aren’t the only changes happening. In India, a comic book for young girls called Menstrupedia is being used to combat the country’s “culture of silence around menstruation,” whilst another comic book, Priya Shakti, tackles the issue of rape (and is now being developed into an augmented reality version). Back in Australia, writer Miranda Richardson is the creator of digital comic Hail which explores mental health issues (its main character, Lana, crumbles into shards of glass whenever she has an anxiety attack. Initially she sees this as a weakness, but later develops it as a superpower).
And the heroes aren’t just for kids. Comic book vlogger Comicbookgirl19 (real name: Danika L. Massey) has over 514,000 subscribers on YouTube. As an entrepreneur with a growing media platform, she admits that comic books provide her with an unlikely role model – Superman’s nemesis, Lex Luthor.
“It might sound odd but he’s an amazing businessman and entrepreneur,” she says. “Think about it: he has chosen to take down an almost un-take-downable person and I feel like you have to have a really good attitude about problems to do that.”
The other key benefit of comic books is that there are no rules – this is a world where people can pick up cars, breathe underwater and become masters of Jiu Jitsu with just an hour of training.
So if you’re in need of inspiration, put down the self-help guide, head to a comic book store and channel your superpower.
TECH GIRLS ARE SUPERHEROES 2 BY JENINE BEEKHUYZEN