Dr. Abel Alves invited Christina Blanch, owner of Aw Yeah Comics in downtown Muncie to speak to his Hist 445 class about the evolution of comic books. Ms. Blanch created the MOOC “Gender through Comic Books” in 2013 and has co authored the scholarly article “Do Serenity Comics Forecast Our Pedagogies of Identity Construction?” She has a background in Anthropology.
When most people think about comic books, they think about superheroes. Ms. Blanch discussed how there are many comics that do not use superheroes as their primary plot device. The first serialized comic in the United States was “The Yellow Kid” comic strip. Similarly the Archie and Jughead comics have been wildly popular, but do have have superheroes.
The late 1930s and early 1940s began the prevalence of superhero comics. Wonder Women was an early female character, but even though she was a member of the Justice Society (later to become the Justice League), her contribution to the team was to serve as the secretary. Lois Lane, while having no superpowers, helped to drive the plot of Superman Comics. The message that was associated with Lois was that when she acted as a strong and independent women, she would be putting herself in danger that required Superman to save her from herself.
In the 1950s, a quarter of comics were romance comics. Women were a significant consumer of these comics, but regardless the majority of comic books were still dominated by males.
With detailed artwork, comics became an avenue for enabling forms of fetishism, voyeurism, and narcissism. The objectification of women with fetishes, the ability of readers to be peeping toms with voyeurism, and seeking to identify with the hero with narcissism.
Today, while some of these examples still exist in comics, there are strong movements to appeal to a strong female base. Christina Blanch is a part of that movement. She is even the author of her own comic book, “The Damnation of Charlie Wormwood.” There are many options for people interested in comics outside of the superhero genre. Exploring the possibilities is one part of the fun.