Female characters in On the Verge

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Something that has been brewing for a while now in the comics community is women in comics – how they’re portrayed, how they’re treated, equality issues, everything. I’ve often thought about writing some kind of post but I’ve held back for a number of reasons – mainly because I’m a 30-something male and I feel like no matter what I have to say, I’m probably not going to have anything that’s not going to get slammed at some point.

So maybe this post is completely the wrong thing to put up and I may regret this. We’ll see…

Here’s the thing, as a 30-something male I grew up with a strong female influence in my mother who worked full time and kept my brother, father and me inline. I also work predominantly with a diverse group of women. Infact, my boss (who is male) was the only other guy in our department for the first 6 or so years that I was at my current job. And finally, my wife is a strong (hi honey!) woman and I love her dearly because of it. So needless to say, I respect women and when they have something to say (like all the discussions that have been going on within the comics community) I listen and really take it to heart.

I asked my wife (who has only been into my local comic book store) if she feels comfortable going in there and she said no and that really caught me off guard because I’ve always thought that it was a pretty open store* (much more than the comic stores I frequented growing up!!!). But I guess this is part of the growing change in the larger comics community and how things are slow to catch up.

*I just want to point out that my local comic book store is awesome and super friendly and most of their staff are female which is one of the reasons why my wife’s answer caught me off guard. But when I dug deeper, it wasn’t so much the staff, but the customers which goes back to the larger comics community issues…

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Anyway, I thought this was a good time to dig into this issue here on the OTV blog because of the set of pages that I’ve just posted which could be perceived as being stereotypically “male oriented” and overly sexual. And my concern is that I don’t want to offend anyone. Now I guess the obvious point would be that if I think something will offend, then it probably will and then I shouldn’t run with the story idea but the thing is, to me, La Fleur is the character she is and I really didn’t intend her to maybe be seen as extreme or sexual and that definitely wasn’t the intention as I was putting the story together. But La Fleur is who she is, and she ended up that way because of it and it made the most sense to her character. I know that sounds like a lame excuse since I’m the creator, but as I added to her character over time, it seemed to make sense that it went further and further. And part of this is that she’s a counterbalance to Hannah who to me is much more of a wholesome character.

I never set out to write a story with a mainly female lead and a female villain. In fact, when I started out I knew I wanted a pair of characters, one male and one female, that were not romantically involved (this probably had something to do with things like the X-Files, Fringe or even the early episodes of Castle influencing these decisions*). It was only once I started generating the backstory of the Edge lead researcher being kidnapped that I decided to make Hannah’s character female and really be the lead and that was mainly because I thought it was totally stereotypical to have “a woman get kidnapped” and “the man” come and rescue her. It seemed like an obvious twist to have them switch spots. And once I’d established Hannah as a character, it made sense that she ends up going head-to-head with a female villain –  and that turned into La Fleur.

To me, I could have written the exact same story with the exact same dialogue if Hannah was a guy. I’ve never wrote her as a girl – she was always Hannah and she had a certain thought process and gender never really came into it. I know that might sound weird, but I really believe that.

*And yes, I realize that all of these pairings ended up romantically involved. I liked how the male/female pairing balanced each other out.

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The other thing that I think is worth commenting on at this point is how the female characters in OTV are portrayed. My intention is not to be overly sexual or otherwise degrading to women (La Fleur as I mentioned is a bit of an exception with the “overly sexual” thing). What actually works in my favour is that I’m not drawing a superhero comic so there are no capes and skin tight clothing and I can focus on drawing real clothes which I think suits me and my art better anyway.

Overall, I’m trying to draw female characters that are more “realistic” and I actually want to draw more “realistic” people – both male and female – despite the fact that I’m cartooning here and not actually drawing “real” people. For example, one of the things that I’ve noticed is that I’ve drawn Hannah more athletic looking and with more muscle every time she pops up. In my first concept sketches, she was just a skinny girl with nothing special but over time she’s become more athletic looking and muscular and I attribute this to how her backstory has developed. At the same time, I’ve really tried to not make her look like the “stereotypical” comics heroine (big boobs, small waist, etc.).

Drawing the women of OTV over the years.

And as far as everyone else goes, there’s actually quite a lot of female characters in the OTV world and for the most part I try to draw them as “real” people. Hannah LOOKS different from Jane who looks different from Cheryl and Andi (who you’ll see very soon) and they look different from La Fleur and Mackenzie (who we just saw). The only character that really breaks this “realistic” type of drawing is La Fleur. And again, that’s for a reason and it’s really character driven and I want to play off that stereotype since it brings baggage with it that actually helps to add to the character. To a certain extent, she uses her sexuality and her appearance to her advantage (and I’m not suggesting that women do this and again, it’s not every character that does this in the story). In the parts of the story where the Professor has met up with La Fleur, she’s trying to control him and by making him uncomfortable, she’s able to really do this.

To me, the larger issue is really about developing characters and then having how they’re drawn be true to the character. I’ve tried to invest a lot of time into not only drawing diverse male characters, but female ones as well. I am constantly picking my wife’s brain for what type of clothes a character would wear in a particular situation (though let’s not blame her for the wardrobe in the last section of story).

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I guess the main point of this whole post is to try to gage how people feel about the characters in the OTV world. My hope is that I’m writing a story for both men AND women and that means not only being respectful but writing strong characters. I hope that there are some female readers out there that like the work that I’m posting and I hope that the last set of pages isn’t turning them off the story.

Maybe I’m just a little sensitive about everything because the climate of “women in comics” is rapidly changing or maybe I’m just overthinking things.

About jason

Illustrator and graphic designer. When not working full time as a Senior Graphic Designer, I am usually working on the graphic novel On the Verge: the Arrow of Time. Artist on Andrew Jackson in Space and The Sisters.

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