They call it alternative/indie

When it comes to the world of Anglophone American comics, there’s a tendency to describe superheroes as mainstream even though quantitatively speaking they really aren’t and anything that doesn’t involve superheroes as alternative or indie. Maybe not always exactly the case, but the fact that outside of Archie Comics, best-selling children’s graphic novels and especially newspaper comics/cartoons so far in the Anglophone world (to my knowledge) much of comics pander to geeks.

Which means pandering a lot to what geeks are into, even if geeks aren’t always necessarily into everything geeky but it’s telling when a good number of comics published in the Anglophone world centre around what geeks like, be it manga, science fiction, fantasy, horror or superheroes with the non-manga, non-superhero, non-comic strip comics being kind of unpopular. At least up to the time webcomics showed up and even then, some of it’s based on what geeks like.

When it comes to crime and romance fiction, they used to be pretty common in comics and still are to some extent when it comes to Dick Tracy and Archie. But it is telling when the comics industry has come to pander a lot to geeks, especially so in North America when it comes to the Direct Market, that’s when they began phasing out a good number of comics that would appeal to non-geeky readers though it could’ve been complicated by censorship bodies like Comics Code.

It does get really strange when you realise that crime and romance novels regularly hit the bestsellers charts, which’s enough to make their authors rich or at least lead a comfortable life, don’t appear often in comics anymore. Either that readers’ tastes have changed, or the odd fact that outside of newspaper cartoons comics publishers have began catering a lot to a rarefied minority. That rarefied minority being geeks, so it’s easier to stick to a small but loyal audience than it is to reach out to many more.

Okay, that too may not always be the case even in prose fiction where literary fiction doesn’t always produce that much bestsellers compared to crime and romance. But it is strange that in the world of comics, outside of newspaper cartoons and Archie, romance and crime don’t seem to be very popular genres in comics compared to science fiction, horror, superheroes and fantasy.

Well at least these days, but it proves my point that much of comics publishing has come to pander to and actually stems from geeks. So much so that a good number of comics popular with those characters tends to centre around the kinds of stories they enjoy and read in prose fiction, so it’s something comics publishers have come to tap into and cater to them a lot. This may not always be the case for all comics publishers, but it’s telling.

This may not be the case for all graphic novels, as they are changing for the better when it comes to catering to a wider audience who aren’t big comics geeks. But it seems to me that many comics publishers have come to pander a lot to geeks, since they’re the more loyal readers and customers out there who’d patronise such a medium that they cater to them instead.

At least until recently and even then, it’s telling when a good number of comics published by many comics publishers tends to revolve around the sorts of stories geeks like to read that’s when you realise the (near) marginalisation of crime and romance with that audience. Even though these kinds of prose novels sell very well, they’re not the kinds of stories that attract a big geeky audience.

Even if there are geeks who’re into those kinds of things, it’s parsimonious to say that perhaps outside of certain stories (paranormal romance for instance) and some people there’s not much of a big crossover audience between those who read something like Miss Marple and those who read Starship Troopers, the latter is more likely to intersect with comics readers even if that may not always be the case either, but still.

It’s not that there aren’t any comics based on things normal people would be interested in, though the best examples are to be found in newspapers, but I think that’s what happens when you pander to geeks a lot. It may not always be the case, but when everything that isn’t about superheroes (and to an extent, anything speculative fiction) is considered alternative that’s what happens when you pander to geeks a lot.

A Kink of One’s Own?

When it comes to things like guro yaoi, violent macabre erotica and the like in light of that some women do have a fetish for sexual sadism if such stories are used to explore their sexuality one might wonder if they may use it to understand what really turns them on? There are cases where women do get arrested for sexually abusing somebody when they are sexually sadistic, though it may not be that as rare as others make it out to be.

It could be complicated by socialisation in which some men may act out their sexual desires, though I think the case for something like guro yaoi may make one wonder if there are more female sexual sadists than one realises. Even if not every person who reads gory or violent erotica are necessarily sexually sadistic, there’s a good possibility that some of them are. But this is a tricky can of worms where if it were applied to women writing erotic fanfiction involving younger characters, could there be more women sexualising minors than one realises?

Okay, not all of them writing those stories are legal age themselves and there are kids who actually watch South Park. But when it comes to older people sexualising such characters, whether by ageing them up or keeping them as they are it can be a slippery slope. According to writer Stitch, there were older people in the Voltron fandom who did this and the teenaged fans who identified with the characters were disgusted with this.

Honestly, I don’t know much about Voltron but the possibility of women sexualising minors should not be underestimated and overlooked. While not all South Park characters are this young, many of the better-known and more popular ones are. Supposing if Tim Drake’s aged 17, he might be legal age in other countries like Ireland and past legal age in Britain and Canada. But Kyle and gang are only preteens, which makes it worse.

While not all fans who age these characters up in their works necessarily sexualise them, it can be a slippery slope especially to those who may even identify with them at all. Then we get to other kinds of paraphilia, where it doesn’t just end with sexual sadism but also something like diaper fetishes (there’s a case study of a woman who has a thing for men in diapers) and I’ve read one essay by a woman with a self-proclaimed fat man fetish.

If I were to peruse something like Archive of Our Own, you have tags for things like anal sex and fingering. If fanfiction, erotica and the like are used to explore one’s sexuality, one would wonder if they may use it to explore their real sexual desires in a way they wouldn’t in real life. But this is a can of worms when it comes to the possibility of things like sexual sadism among women.

One big advantage

I’ve just read The Oracle Code by Marieke Nijkamp and they got hired by DC Comics to provide authentic disability representation (they’re disabled themselves) in addition to being a talented writer, on one hand they don’t seem to be a big DC fan and admitted that writing for comics is a struggle at first. On the other hand, as she doesn’t seem to be big into DC Comics they’re not too beholden to decades of prior lore and knowledge which makes it easier to tell a simple Barbara Gordon story.

By simple, they got the basics and essentials of the character right. That’s missing from what’s generally regarded as DC canon, which involves a lot of recalling prior lore but amidst a new continuity which makes it really convoluted. It seems like with what became of DC and Marvel, until recently, is that there’s a big obsession with continuity and lore among writers (especially if they were DC/Marvel fans beforehand). You get multiple in-jokes about Dick Grayson being a sex symbol due to his butt.

Stuff that only makes sense if you’re romantically attracted to him in any way, which’s why this kind of fan pandering is off-putting to anybody else who aren’t into that even if it’s not always the case. If you pander real hard to a certain audience, you could risk losing everybody else which’s what happened to Arrow when the showrunners began pandering a lot to a certain community. There goes the problem with these in-jokes.

They’re things only fans will get, only certain people will care about. Anybody who’s not beholden to these kinds of things will not get it, though it could be a matter of personal preference but still. Anybody who’s not into this kind of lore or pandering will get left out, which’s how I feel about Arrow or Dick Grayson. But that’s also because I actually don’t read comics that often, the most I’ve read were in 2011-2012 and 2020. So it’s something that’s appealing to frequent, diehard audiences.

For instance, what Marvel has been doing is to tease the Stucky relationship (that’s Captain America and Bucky). While it’s not committing to making such a relationship official, it does reek of fan in-joke pandering if you’re into pairing Captain America with Bucky. Some even make it into a statement about LGBT rights, but I can’t tell whether if they want to stand up for LGBT rights or want their pairing validated to be honest and blunt. Sorry, if I came off this way.

(To be fair, there are some who write M/M romances saying that they want pure female pleasure plain and simple.)

I still think somebody like Marieke Nijkamp, they have the combination of being an outsider to DC lore (though I’m wrong about this) and an insider’s look at being physically disabled that makes their take on Barbara Gordon all the more believable. All the better for DC for choosing them to write such a story at all, though I still think hiring people who aren’t big comics fans but are good at other things (or are other people themselves) has a bigger advantage.

Not just in providing an outsider’s take on things, but also how and what a certain person’s life’s actually like. Not that intersectionality doesn’t exist in fandom, but I think being an outsider with interesting and desirable traits can colour the story in a way an insider wouldn’t. That’s just my two cents.

What makes a character a Mary Sue

Mary Sue is in theory and originally meant an idealised fan surrogate character, so by this definition characters like Barry Allen and Tim Drake would fit the descriptor well. Though it’s not that common for them to be called Mary Sues, even though they qualify for it far better than Damian Wayne has done and will ever be. While male characters can get called Mary Sue, it’s not common and if it does happen it gets directed to any male character who steps outside of the male ideal like say being a bratty son or a bratty young man.

Wesley Crusher is the rare male character that gets called a Mary Sue, but lately it’s common to deride any powerful or truly strong female character and call her a Mary Sue character even though she may have flaws. Conversely speaking, an idealised female character may avoid the Mary Sue moniker if she fits the cishet male ideal of what a female character (and by extension, a real woman) ought to be even though she’s portrayed as ironically a character no woman can relate to.

If the Mary Sue moniker has become a misogynistic fan criticism of any strong female character, what does that say about their standards for what a female character should be? Alternately speaking, if a male character gets shamed for being effeminate, black or whatever what does that say about their racism? I will be honest when I say that Barry Allen’s a Mary Sue, well at least in the comics that’s how he is. If a Mary Sue character originally meant an idealised fan surrogate, then he fits.

He fits the shoe very well, far better than Riri would in the sense that to my meagre knowledge she wasn’t created to be a fan surrogate the way he is. The original Mary Sue is pretty much any fan surrogate character, Barry Allen was created to be one himself. But you won’t see that many people admitting this, if because a lot of superhero and geek media panders a lot to male fans. Likewise, Patty Spivot doesn’t get called a Mary Sue because she fits the sexist ideal of women.

Same with Caitlin Snow, whether if they admit or not though this would change if she were to become an evil werewolf. I still think comics Barry Allen is one of the better (or worse) examples of a canonical Mary Sue, in the sense that he’s an idealised fan surrogate (fan of superhero comics and becomes the Flash himself). Damian Wayne wasn’t like this and still isn’t like this, which is saying.

Carol Danvers isn’t a Mary Sue character, this is a character who has struggled with alcoholism, has led a hard life and is recently ever treated nicely. Barry Allen’s only fault is being tardy, there’s not much depth to him beyond being a fan surrogate and that’s how I see him. Patty Spivot’s also a very flat, idealised character (well at least in her recent appearances and on telly). So flat and idealised that she’s a Mary Sue.

Not many will admit this, even if it makes itself obvious in some regards.

A taste of their own medicine?

When it comes to Arrow, that’s a programme based off of the Green Arrow comics but where a number of those fans seemingly dismiss the comics canon. When I mean by that, they say that Black Canary (who is Green Arrow’s wife or girlfriend) needn’t him. True, Black Canary herself didn’t start out as Green Arrow’s girlfriend she was engaged to somebody else before in the comics. But the fact that she became associated with him in later years makes you wonder about their compatibility.

Admittedly, I haven’t read much of the Green Arrow comics myself but I have some familiarity with them prior to Arrow due to Black Canary. I actually think it’s not helped by that other Arrow viewers aren’t that familiar with the comics and also because Green Arrow himself, despite making appearances in some DC cartoons himself, isn’t as famous as Batman. Which’s a shame because Arrow could be used to introduce themselves to Green Arrow, maybe it already does in a way. But it doesn’t help that some Arrow viewers seemingly have no interest in comics and actually prefer the telly version to the source material does explain why the show’s fandom is such a mess.

As for Felicity Smoak, she is the character some of those Arrow viewers have strongly latched onto. I even have a weird nagging feeling that whether if they’re aware of it or not (maybe some are), some of them are even romance novel readers. I have read a romance novel online before, which’s about a girl meeting a billionaire and these kinds of stories are fairly common even online. If it’s true, then I think in reinventing Felicity Smoak (as she existed in comics before where she’s not Jewish and was somebody else’s mother) they created a romance novel heroine.

Admittedly, I haven’t read that much romance novels but judging from what I read from going to romance novel websites one would wonder if Olicity’s popularity and staying power struck a chord with romance readers. True, not all romance readers watch Arrow but if some Arrow viewers are romance readers then it’s something not many realise or admit. There are certainly romance heroines who’re like Black Canary in one way or another, since she’s something of an entrepreneur herself in the comics (well a florist) there are some romance novel heroines who are like her in this regard.

But then again there are romance novel readers who don’t identify much with kickass heroines, so it seems there are probably Arrow viewers who may not identify with Black Canary either on telly or in the comics even if she has a fanbase before. I have a nagging feeling they gravitated more to Felicity Smoak not just because she’s relatable but because she’s very reminiscent of many romance heroines in a way Black Canary isn’t. Perhaps it can be said that Oliver Queen himself’s something of a romance novel hero, especially in that show. You might say I’m projecting, but I have a nagging feeling it took off due to similarities to romance novels.

Now imagine if somebody were to retool Felicity Smoak in the comics for this decade, instead of being a blonde Jewish hacker and IT professional she’s an Anglo-Indian raven-haired seamstress. She’s not necessarily daft, given she has a habit of sewing clothes by hand using two needles at once (I did this before). Though I have a feeling by making her Anglo-Indian, this would be the most controversial reinvention of her to date even if she scarcely ever resembled her telly form when she first appeared in comics. It’s even been said that Arrowverse Felicity’s a retread of Smallville’s Chloe Sullivan.

Or as I’d like to say, the 2010s version of Chloe Sullivan. She even marries Smallville’s version of Oliver Queen, predating what would happen in Arrow. Now that the 2010s are over, one would wonder what would the 2020s version of Chloe Sullivan would be like. Perhaps it’s for the best that Chloe Sullivan would never be reinvented again for this decade, given how loathed Felicity Smoak has become for some people. But would a reinvented Felicity Smoak be more likable? Not necessarily, though I think portraying her as Indian would annoy some of her fans.

I could even imagine a Twitter hashtag campaign called #makefelicityjewishagain in light of making her Anglo-Indian, thinking it erases her Jewish heritage even though she wasn’t depicted as Jewish in the comics either. Actually that would make Anglo-Indian Felicity Smoak her return to form in a way, since she wasn’t depicted as such in the comics. Admittedly this is based on what I know of her from reading just a few Firestorm comics, but it’s clear that Felicity Smoak wasn’t like this before. An Anglo-Indian Felicity Smoak would prove this right in some way.

Perhaps an Anglo-Indian Felicity Smoak would be interesting or relatable to other people, especially if they’re Indian or generally not into STEM that much. Okay, I might be wrong about Arrowverse Felicity as well, but for those seeking Desi representation an Anglo-Indian Felicity Smoak might be the one they’re craving for. Think of it this way, there aren’t a lot of well-known Desi characters in DC Comics and Arrowverse specifically. Jinx could’ve been DC’s most well-known Desi character if it weren’t for portraying her as an apparently white girl in the Teen Titans cartoon.

Making Felicity Anglo-Indian would make her DC’s most well-known Desi character in a way Jinx never got the chance to be, likewise Caitlin Snow could become DC’s most well-known werewolf character if she ever becomes one in the Flash. Think about it. Of course, some of these Arrow fans would be mad because it doesn’t follow canon or rather their idea of canon, especially if DC makes Felicity Smoak Anglo-Indian at all. True, adaptations take liberties with the source material but with an Anglo-Indian Felicity Smoak it would be almost the reverse.

It’s like expecting Felicity Smoak to be a blonde, quirky Jewish white hacker but imagine in the comics where somebody has the audacity to reimagine her as a raven-haired timid Anglo-Indian seamstress would lead to a role-reversal since it’s television that has given us the Felicity Smoak people either love or hate. An Anglo-Indian Felicity Smoak wouldn’t be any better, but it does beg the question regarding fidelity to the source material. Perhaps for some, it’s the loss of the Felicity Smoak they know. But for others, it’s the representation they’ve always wanted.

Kind of misogynistic in hindsight

As I said before, there’s this part of me that thinks it reeks of misogyny (including internalised misogyny) whenever Iris West is considered stupid simply because she doesn’t work in STEM. By this logic, characters like She-Hulk, The Wasp and Carol Danvers are also stupid because they also don’t work in STEM. Actually it becomes even more blatantly misogynistic if it were applied to The Wasp as she works in fashion, not STEM like what Hank Pym does.

While there are certain sciences (such as the social sciences and biology) that attract a substantial number of women, other sciences don’t have a substantial number of women in it. Conversely speaking in fashion, the garment industry has a substantial number of female workers (often as either under contract or self-employed) and many more women spend on fashion than men do. Okay, not all fashion designers are women but the fact that a good number of women’s magazines revolve around fashion should point to the importance of fashion to many, if not most women.

Not saying women who like otherwise masculine things are less of a woman, but it does play into the sort of misogyny that revolves around being not like other girls. Some girls, including myself at some point, believed in this. I suspect if Caitlin Snow were tweaked to be more conventionally girly, as in she’s not into science but rather writing (and there are a lot of women who take up humanities) and expresses more interest in makeup than technology would her reception be any different?

Maybe yes, maybe no given the nature of misogynoir but it does make you wonder whether if certain female characters get bashed for being stupid unconsciously because they don’t do things both boys and tomboys do. Onto Patty Spivot, I have a feeling that if Patty Spivot were portrayed as into romance novels and soap operas despite being a scientist she’d risk being seen as stupid because scientists aren’t supposed to be into those things.

One of my relatives liked both romance novels and National Geographic magazines, so it’s not a stretch for somebody as smart as Patty to indulge in romance novels. I could go on saying that Caitlin Snow’s the sort of person who enjoys male on male erotica so much she even writes and reads more of that stuff, both offline and online. Not to mention this sort of behaviour’s done by many geek girls, if slash fanfiction’s any indication. These are the things some geek women have done before and continue doing so.

In a nutshell, they are like other girls. Rao help if Patty Spivot turns out to be a romance fan and if Caitlin Snow quits Team Flash just so she can continue writing erotica, which was one of her hobbies. There are geek women who write sexually explicit stories, so the hypothetical thing with Caitlin Snow is not out of the blue. Surely it ruins fans’ images and expectations of these women, but the fact that there are nerdy women out there who read and/or write romance and erotica shouldn’t be overlooked.

I don’t know much about Iris West to be honest, but from what I know about her she’s supposed to be a journalist and women make up a substantial number of journalism graduates. There are even countries where women outnumber men as journalists, so if Iris West were say Brazilian or Finnish she’d be part of that statistic. There are more female journalists than there are female editors, so again Iris is part of this statistic. Let’s not forget that there are geek women who do journalism themselves.

Iris West would fit into these easily, if she’s black in the telly programme there are black geeky women who do journalism themselves as well. As for Iris West, it’s quite unfortunate that some people claim she has no chemistry with Barry Allen because she’s not a scientist. Then they say he has chemistry with Caitlin Snow because they’re both scientists, so it seems easy to think this way. However, it’s not always that easy and always the case in real life.

Victoria Beckham is not a footballer like her husband David is but they’re together for a long time despite their occupational differences, so it’s not a stretch for Barry and Iris to be together despite their own occupational differences. If we apply Snowbarry logic to a real life couple, then Victoria should have less chemistry with David Beckham because she’s not an athlete. But the fact that David himself’s into fashion and both were bullied so they do have something in common.

Supposing if both Barry Allen and Iris West don’t like erotica and romance, so in some sense they do have more in common with each other than he does with Caitlin Snow (who’s big into erotica and writes those herself). There are people who don’t like romance novels, one of my relatives finds them too sentimental so Barry doesn’t like romance books for the same reason. So if occupational compatibility’s not always mandatory for good chemistry, maybe recreational compatibility does.

That’s even the case with Victoria and David Beckham where for all their occupational differences they have/had, they still find commonality in their love of fashion. Likewise Barry and Iris are united in their disdain for romance and erotica books, so Barry actually has less chemistry with Caitlin and Patty in this regard. It seems the bashing of Iris West, whether if racism is involved or not, risks having a misogynistic component if because she doesn’t work in a male majority occupation the way Caitlin does.

If race is involved, then it’s a damning one on why the fanbase excuses Caitlin Snow. I also think the Snowbarry fandom has unrealistic expectations of how things work in the real world and even online, especially when it comes to the certain kinds of women a good number of geeky men desire. Bateszi pointed out that while many geek men are into geek women in theory, in reality they get disgusted especially when it comes to things like slash.

Slash is common in almost every kind of geek fandom, whereas a Goth girl (one of those women that get sexualised and desired a lot in /co/ threads) isn’t that easy to come by in those same fandoms. The Caitlin Snow I’m proposing would actually be more common and easily found than the Caitlin Snow they see in canon. The Caitlin Snow who reads and writes male on male erotica is a common fixture in many geek and nongeek circles, the canon Caitlin Snow’s just imaginary.

Let’s not forget that m/m romance is fairly common, written by women for women so a Caitlin Snow who likes m/m romance is somebody they’re bound to encounter. This Caitlin Snow is the Caitlin Snow people would catch by chance in any fandom, in a way the canon Caitlin Snow isn’t and will never be. The frequency of dissociative identity disorder sufferers is around 1.5-2% of the population, the market share for romance and erotica’s around 40% so there are more people who read them than there are those with DID.

This proves my point that the Caitlin Snow I’m proposing is far more common than the canon Caitlin Snow, so common you can easily find her writing for stuff like Archive of Our Own and Adult Fanfiction. That’s something Snowbarry fans will never consider or admit, if Caitlin Snow were to be outed as into erotica both as a reader and writer. Likewise, Snowbarry fans will never admit that there are other things that make spouses and lovers compatible with each other if occupation’s not taken into consideration.

David Beckham relates to Victoria when it comes to their interest in fashion despite their occupational differences, whereas if Caitlin’s into erotica but Barry’s not into it then Barry won’t relate to her. That’s something Snowbarry fans will not admit whether if it’s misogynoir aimed at telly Iris or misogyny in general.

This is how we did it

Glenn Vilppu, in his time working in animation, said that what animation studios want (or rather wanted as times have changed) for aspiring animators to submit isn’t fanart and caricatures but rather classical life drawing. Certainly, times have changed where a good number of animators these days flaunt their fannish colours and hearts on their sleeves. But his point can also be applied to comics cartooning, especially considering that some of the earliest comics cartoonists like Jack Kirby and Curt Swan didn’t have much of a fannish background the way later artists did.

I also think this should also be applied to writing where when it comes to storytelling, it’s not just a matter of getting the existing characters’ voices and personalities right but also most importantly whether if they can create original stories and characters to explore and expand upon. While fans turned professionals do bring in their knowledge of their fannish passions, they also bring in a strong fannish smell that can risk becoming glorified fanworks this way. Not that they can’t do excellent stories and art, they can but I think somebody who isn’t this fannish can bring in something rawer and more professional.

Maybe more professional’s not the right term for it, but it does bring in a rawness fan artists can’t vouch for. Now that’s something that I think some at Marvel and DC are attempting to bring back, especially when it comes to non-fannish writers bringing something new and different to the table. They hired professionals who weren’t fans before, so they’re bringing those characters back. That was the case before, when a good number of writers and cartoonists came from a non-fannish background. They’re bringing these people back in comics.

While I have done fan works before, as I get older I get less fannish over time. Not to mention I don’t read comics and fiction that frequently, so I think it’s kind of cool seeing more non-fannish professionals doing comics and that more comics writers and cartoonists need to have more interests and experiences outside of fandom. So I do agree with Glenn Vilppu and understand where he’s coming from. It seems a good number of artists who get hired these days come from a fanart background. No doubt, they get hired for being rather good.

But it does beg the question whether if anybody can get into comics and the like without coming from a big fannish background. Back in Vilppu’s day, as far as he recounts it, animation studios didn’t want would-be animators submitting fanart but rather life studies to prove their skills. This also would’ve been the case with comics at some point, though there’s not a lot of people who would admit this. To be fair, a good number of people get into something because they like something. If you like football, you could get a career as an athlete, coach or sports journalist.

If you like music, some of you will be inspired to make music yourself and you could work as a musician, songwriter or producer one day. If you’re inspired by fashion and start sewing, you could work as a seamstress or tailor. So on and so forth, so this isn’t unique to comics and animation. Though the major salient difference between say sports and fashion and the geekier fields of comics and animation is that with the latter you have people bringing in their fanfiction and fanart ideas and sensibilities to the stories they professionally work on.

Not that sports fanfiction doesn’t exist, but in the case with sports usually if you wanted to write about athletes you either write biographies, special interest reference books or do sports journalism yourself. Same with fashion and possibly any nonfiction topic around to whatever extent, not that fanfiction based on these subject matters doesn’t exist maybe not to the same extent you get with whatever geeks like a lot. Maybe not always the case, but it does explain a lot of things.

When it comes to how things went in Vilppu’s time, what’s required for employment in animation isn’t fanart but rather the ability to draw from life. This is important when it comes to exaggerating and stylising anything later on in animation, likewise I think it’s important for writers to derive a lot of inspiration from the real world. Not just from real life but also reading up on anything nonfiction (personal diaries, memoirs, reference books, journalism and even academic studies).

Even encountering and interacting with real life people helps in making less stereotypical, more realistic or naturalistic characters. It’s not enough to subvert stereotypes and expectations, including fannish expectations, but also to draw upon the real world to create something that’s actually novel or at least based on actual characters. Fannish sensibilities sometimes play into expectations, given the fannish drive to adhere to certain ideas of characters.

Though this isn’t always the case when it comes to racebending, playing into fannish expectations can lead to stereotyped characters. I think that’s probably why Glenn Vilppu and Hayao Miyazaki expect people to draw from real life, it’s much healthier and more inspired this way. To put it this way, one could have good drawing and ability but if they don’t study from real life then their figures come off as very off in some regards. Same thing goes for writing, and why it’s important to derive inspiration from the real world when telling stories.

The evolution of moe

Moe, as a word, came into being in the 1990s when it comes to fans being rather infatuated with characters from certain anime like Dinosaur Planet for instance. However, as a fannish practice and sentiment, this goes all the way back a decade earlier or more when it comes to lolicon, kemonomimi and other forms of moe anthropomorphism (Gundam Girls anyone?). While anthropomorphised animals and half-animals aren’t anything new in manga, be it Cat-Eyed Boy by Kazuo Umezu, Osamu Tezuka’s Hecate or Gegege no Kitaro, the animal eared aesthetic as we know it can be traced back to Wata no Kunihoshi (綿の国星).

As with a good number of shojo manga in the 1970s and 1980s, it was really popular with otaku so popular that Hideo Azuma created his own kemonomimi character not too long after (Shan Cat). Likewise, characters like Clarisse from Lupin III and magical girl characters like Minky Momo and Creamy Mami were also popular with otaku so popular they even spawned copycat characters appearing in pornography and the like. As for what constitutes otaku manga, in an interview with Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure author Hirohiko Araki he knows what otaku manga are like but admits he doesn’t get the appeal.

Strangely enough, the late Hideo Azuma’s born a decade earlier than Araki but the difference is that the former, for all his love of horror movies, wasn’t that as engrossed in otaku culture as the latter was. Either what Japan considers a geek could be different from what Westerners call a geek or perhaps Araki wasn’t and still isn’t that greatly involved in otaku culture himself. So that’s why he sees certain manga as otaku pandering, which makes me think a good number of moe anime is otaku pandering in that they pander real hard to otaku.

It’s parsimonious to say that most anime and manga in Araki’s time didn’t pander hard to otaku, well not to the same extent that happened in the 1990s around the time that interview took place. While there were cartoonists like Azuma who pandered real hard to fellow otaku and were otaku themselves, they were in the minority and since Araki didn’t do fancomics so he never had much of a big otaku background himself and probably so do other mangaka who didn’t indulge in lolicon and other paraphilia that much either.

While the lolicon boom died down in the late 1980s and early 1990s due to a scandal surrounding Tsutomu Miyazaki, the infatuation over and sexualisation of moe characters continued unabated in later decades not just in fan comics and proper hentai productions but also later late night productions like Queen’s Blade for instance. Stuff like Touhou Project and Higurashi, given their background in doujinshi culture, are knee deep in otaku aesthetics. These include knee-high socks and kemonomimi.

If Superflat artists are any indication, it’s possible to divorce kemonomimi and other otaku motifs from otaku fandom but the otaku sensibility wouldn’t be there so what makes an anime otaku-pandering can be pretty specific to those who’re knee deep in otaku culture themselves. This is what separates the mostly pre-moe generation of mangaka from their moe-drenched successors, while it’s true some contemporary mangaka aren’t that deep in otaku culture themselves.

But the fact that later generations of mangaka are deep in otaku culture, especially when it comes to stuff like Killing Bites having the hallmarks of otaku pandering (idol culture, twin tails, tsundere, kemonomimi and maid outfits) are things Hirohiko Araki and most of his contemporaries wouldn’t do much and never do to begin with anyways. Why I call Killing Bites a moe or otaku manga while Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure isn’t (well to the same extent) is that Killing Bites has more things Japanese otaku are into.

Not just schoolgirls, kemonomimi, twin tails, maid outfits and tsundere but also idol culture since in Japan there’s such thing as idol otaku. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure does have a schoolgirl character or more, but one of the manga’s biggest influences (as evidenced in many of the characters’ and stands’ names) is Western popular music. So it’s not a moe manga in the same way Killing Bites is, I might even go out on a limb saying that Black Lagoon is also a moe or otaku work.

Pretty much because it has things that would immediately attract otaku to it like twin tails, maid outfits and so on though I don’t know much of it and it wouldn’t register as moe to some people. Moe, however, can be a rather vague term to define when it comes to what makes otaku infatuated with a character. Nonetheless, otaku anime and manga are pretty much anime and manga calculated to create moe feelings in fans that they’re full of stock motifs and characters to know how moe they are and can get.

So that’s why I consider Killing Bites very much a byproduct of otaku culture in a way Jojo isn’t, certainly not to the same extent and it becomes evident when it comes to other things otaku like very much. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya contains a fair amount of characters intended to be moe, you have dandere characters like Yuki Nagato, tsundere like Haruhi herself and the fact that it contains schoolgirls in school uniforms has in common with Sailor Moon when you think about it.

Sailor Moon, to those who’re Japanese, is one of those anime that attracted a male audience not unlike what Totally Spies, Kim Possible and My Little Pony got in the West. In fact, it’s sometimes considered to be a moe anime because it has things otaku like. So did Creamy Mami and Minky Momo, which were both casualties in the lolicon crossfire. Neon Genesis Evangelion would logically get caught up in the moe crossfire, which seems surprising to some at first, but it did plant the seeds for dandere and tsundere moe characters in later anime.

So to conclude, stuff like Fist of the North Star and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure were both conceived in an era when moe otaku weren’t that hugely influential to the same degree they are these days and both their respective authors weren’t that hugely involved in otaku culture themselves show up in the works’ sensibilities. However, while Wata no Kunihoshi were never intended to appeal to otaku it did hugely influence otaku when it comes to moe and conceiving such characters they think are moe.

Thus we get the beginnings of kemonomimi moe with Wata no Kunihoshi which later begat works like Shan by Hideo Azuma, likewise the roots of lolicon lay not only in works that sexualise young girls but also with clean works that have young girls in it that get sexualised by the fanbase such as Minky Momo and Creamy Mami. Moe anime has its roots in works that are popular with otaku, even if it’s not always the case with other works popular with otaku it’s not hard to see how moe anime came to be if it weren’t for otaku.

The elephant in the room

It seems whenever a good number of manga fans and readers talk about American and Western comics, they often forget that newspaper cartoons exist. This might not be true for all of them, but there’s a sad tendency to conflate American comics with superheroes even if as others pointed out they’re not really that interchangeable. If American comics are comics coming from America, then the likes of Garfield and Peanuts count. Despite their immense popularity, they’re sometimes not seen as comics to some people.

It could be a matter of semantics where these are often regarded as cartoons (in the sense of being caricatures, not because they’re animated) and where their authors are regarded as cartoonists. Not as comics creators, but as cartoonists. Surprisingly, to my experience, most comics fans regard comics illustrators/cartoonists and writers as comics creators. They hardly use author for that, even though it serves the same purpose. I dunno, either comics creators sound more dignified.

Or perhaps cartoon and cartoonist sound too revealing, even though it makes sense to call comic books cartoons and comics illustrators cartoonists. Likewise Garfield and Peanuts count as American comics, even if they’re not really the superheroes others think American comics revolve around. Maybe they really don’t read much American comics, even though these kinds of comics get a lot of readers. Perhaps far more than what most manga get, Garfield even landed on the New York Times bestsellers list several times over.

That’s how popular Garfield is with many people, though Peanuts is also a worthy contender for this title. They attract so many casual readers that these are pretty much the kinds of comics normies actually read, if they ever read comics at all so it’s not going to be what geeks read. Which’s telling in what many more people actually read and more likely to encounter in places like groceries and bookstores, speaking from personal experience where I found two newspaper cartoon books in a grocery store before.

That’s the weird thing about manga readership and to some extent, Anglophone comics fandom is that they sometimes ignore the kinds of comics normal people actually read. When I mean by that, while not always the case, these aren’t always the kinds of comics geeks read. These are more likely to be Peanuts, Garfield, Doonesbury, Curtis, Pearls Before Swine and Cathy. Some of these comics don’t even have a big geeky following, well as far as I know, they don’t seem to have a certain aura that attracts a big geeky following.

Well, the same way manga does which means these readers pretty much miss out on what else American comics offers. Maybe not entirely if they read webcomics, but they do miss out on what newspaper cartoons have been offering and continue to offer. Now these are the kinds of comics normal people read, so much so they sometimes get forgotten by geeks despite their popularity.

Marvel’s Whipping Girls

While this isn’t always the case, it seems like from my experience both Carol Danvers and her protege/fan Kamala Khan have raised the ire of racists and sexists alike. Well, mostly Islamophobes for Kamala and sexists for both of them (mostly Carol). I don’t really read comics that much, not as much as I did before when I was in my late teens (19 at that). As far as I know about these two, Kamala Khan was introduced in 2013 and Carol Danvers came about decades earlier.

Carol Danvers, for a time being in the comics, was something of a punching bag even if she did likely have good moments before. She was also seen in a black leotard and gloves, despite attempts at dressing her more modestly at various times. So far, her reinvention’s successful enough to make it to merchandising (I did see somebody wearing a variation of her latest outfit in a mall before) and film. If most people don’t read comics, let alone that often, then the modest catsuit would be the first thing that comes to mind.

She was Miss Marvel, I say was as it’s now given to Kamala Khan. Carol Danvers, in her latest incarnation, has provoked the ire of misogynists who complain that she’s not relatable, she’s too much of a Mary Sue (even though she battled alcoholism before) and they also think she looks like a man just because she had a haircut and now sports a less buxom physique as well. I do think it’s unfair in that it’s all expecting women to have large breasts to be feminine.

Anything less than that makes them manly, even if her physique’s more in-line with most female athletes and bodybuilders (the only naturally buxom bodybuilder I can think of is Rasa von Werder/Kellie Everts). I swear, they have one of the worst expectations for women which makes them no different from their Muslim counterparts. In the sense that rather than expecting women to be modest, they expect women to dress sexily and be busty with little individual choice.

Honestly, there are characters who’re better qualified for the Mary Sue title than Carol Danvers will ever be. I actually think Patty Spivot, as presented in the Flash programme and to an extent the comics, would be a better candidate for the Mary Sue title. I say Mary Sue in that whereas Carol Danvers became alcoholic in response to being raped (her maladaptive coping mechanism I presume), Patty has become rather idealised in a way Carol never was and never will be.

I don’t know anybody who’s like Patty Spivot, but there’s at least one person I know who’s like Carol Danvers and his name is Chester Bennington. Much like Carol, Chester got raped and traumatised from it that he turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with it. Unfortunately he’s dead, but he’s a person I can relate Carol to whereas I can’t with Patty Spivot. Well not in the form she’s presented in, which makes me think the real reason why she’s not called a Mary Sue because she’s pretty much what men want in a woman.

Essentially almost everything most women aren’t and will never be, a sexist fantasy if there ever was one. That might be one of the reasons why a good number of misogynists complain about Carol Danvers, but not Patty Spivot, the former has been freed of sexist stereotyping and is also practically a real human being. The other is a sexist fantasy. If Patty Spivot were like most women, the sexist fantasy would stop. In the sense that rather than being an idealised woman, she’s a normal woman.

By normal, she has horrible taste in books (romance novels) and men (goes after an Indonesian gigolo), she watches melodramatic soap operas and plays mainstream music in her spare time and is rude and prone to gambling. A normie if there were was one, despite her occupation and let’s face it there are geek girls who read romance novels, listen to mainstream music and watch soap operas. There are geek girls who write romance novels, especially the paranormal variety.

Kamala Khan’s also prone to this, but mostly because she’s a Muslim and she often irritates Islamophobic fans as well as fans who want Carol Danvers back as Miss Marvel. Kamala Khan, to me, seems to be a fine enough character and one who’s popular enough to warrant her own magazine series and now her own telly programme. She also gets called a Mary Sue, even if there are other characters who qualify for the title better. Honestly, I can’t think of anything about her that makes her a Mary Sue so she’s disqualified for it.

As I said before about Patty Spivot, she doesn’t get called a Mary Sue I think because she’s a character men wish women were more like. The same can’t be said of Kamala Khan and Carol Danvers, as far as I know about the latter she has battled alcoholism before and that alcoholism came about as a response to herself being raped. That’s not a Mary Sue, that’s somebody with a maladaptive coping mechanism at one point. It’s only now that she stopped drinking alcohol.

I think if Patty Spivot were portrayed as a more normal woman, or rather somebody with less geeky tastes despite her occupation she wouldn’t be seen as a strong female character for some men. Even though there are actually more women like her than the ones they seem strong, let’s say Patty Spivot overreacts to somebody criticising her taste in books and there are romance readers who get really defensive of their taste in books as well.

Caitlin Snow likewise reads male on male erotica and has a habit of dismissing heterosexual erotica as sexist, there are women who read or write slash fiction who’re like this as well. That actually makes them more like other women in a way they aren’t in the original stories, when I mean by that many women have read erotica and romance novels before. Many have also read slash in its various permutations. Though that’s what Bateszi calls facing the reality of a geek girl.

In the sense that her preferences and activities differ from what male geeks expect of her, if there are many more like her then the discrepancy grows bigger as well.