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.

Collective Hub - - CONTENTS - WORDS AMY MOL­LOY

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

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