Wednesday, March 23, 2005


The Bendis interview in the Comics Journal 266 was, surprisingly or not, blah. I think Bendis is still suffering a little from the overexposure of a couple of years ago when there were multiple interviews with him available every month. There is a sense that he has already been asked all the questions, and that he has settled in on the best answer to anything they can ask him by now (not that the interviewer probed that deeply). The only thing that I didn’t recognize as having already been covered was the stuff about the end of Caliber, and I found it interesting that he was still able to remain thankful to Gary Reed after essentially getting screwed over when all was said and done.

One thing that gelled for me in the article, however, was a better idea of what’s going on with Bendis’ women characters. Writing women (for male comic and other writers) seems to be a big challenge. Susan Faludi talked in “Backlash” about how serial television only had one type of woman character for many years – the good wife – until the Mary Richards paradigm finally kicked in. Thus was introduced the type of gal who had a career that was important to her, but who cried a lot. Of course, this was due to the (not always spoken) sense of loss at being removed from her natural state of wife-and-motherhood; hopefully, the characters seemed to say, this was temporary, but oh-my-god maybe it’s forever and I’ll die unloved. And behold, there was now a second type of woman on the tube (go figure). This is the TV woman version of that old Alan Moore saw of inventing two-dimensionality in world of one-dimensional characters. So, your choices for female protagonist were goodwife and deep-down-want-to-be-goodwife-but-can’t-right-now-because-I’m-working-and-being-unhappy. This is kinda simplistic, but Nick at Nite seems to more or less bear this out. This period lasted for an awful long time; but, if you write for a medium where there are actors and actresses performing the parts, you at least can depend on the fact that the intermediary is the correct gender, and can help interpret what you’re trying to get at - comic and prose writers are on their own.

In comics, femme characters were written as swooning dames for a loooong time. Since then, we’ve mostly had them written as men with breasts, or in specific wish fulfillment modes*. The Bendis women are more interesting, because they seem more real, but with 2 caveats: they all seem kind of the same and you can still feel the connection to that Mary Richards archetype which, when boiled down further, suggests that to be “real,” women need to be unhappy.

You can’t, obviously, pin this just on Bendis. I was talking to my wife once about a “great idea” I had for a TV show, and she asked me why the lead female role needed to be so relentlessly miserable. I thought instantly of the “women in refrigerators” cliché, and how it seems any woman in any medium that seeks to have a less traditionally defined identity must do so by suffering. So when you watch Jessica mope around getting shit on or Deena get abducted or Wanda go crazy with the loss of her kids (this one is even closer to the roots of this sociologic nexus), you can’t help but think that what Bendis is doing is related.

Bendis reportedly gets a lot of his dialogue tics from actual observation, and it seems that the accuracy of his general portrayal of women may also be from watching them behave. Jinx seems to be the crucible of his female writing, where he was really doing the observation and trying to capture it on paper for the first time. It is interesting that probably his most realistic (and best) writing in this vein is the flashbacks to her teen years (something he also did in Alias, the spiritual sequel to Jinx), a time in which the brooding intensity of feelings bring male and female psychologies the closest they will ever be. Perhaps the reason writers put women through such pain is that their strongest identification of the feminine point of view may be from junior high and high school, when deep mental anguish is a way of life.

Anyway, in this interview, he claims that Deena (a character I think quite close to Jinx) is the closest character to his wife. As I said, I think most of his “strong” female characters are similar. The insight (such as it was) that I got from the article was that the reason Bendis’ women characters seem so real is that he is channeling his wife, with different aspects of her personality accented. This works particularly well for him because: 1. channeling is mostly how he works anyway (see dialogue), 2. his wife’s personality is somewhat more compatible with the male POV than average, and 3. due to the time periods involved with meeting his wife, and him taking his usable impressions of her, there are some specific events and some age related “pain” to draw on.

Thus, the reason the women feel the same is because they are reflections of the same person, and they seem more real because Bendis is close to his subject and knows how to channel character as well as language. Bendis’ tendency to channel this personal stuff directly into his stories (as well as high output) also explains why every title he has worked on in the past few years has also had a woman in a coma, with a male in anguish poised over her (as noted in TCJ).

I need to play catch up with TV soon, so my posts will probably skew that way next. See you sson.

* A lot of this boils down to a need for identification. Previous generations of male mass media writers may have been more comfortable understanding women in terms of roles or uses, but currently, they strive to identify with them (albeit in somewhat limited ways). At the low end of the totem pole is sexual identification – “bad girl” comics - attempting to delineate sexually aggressive creatures that want what the writer and presumed audience wants. John Byrne turned the early 90’s She Hulk revival into “I act like a guy, but look at how much I enjoy having female body parts” (something similar to National Lampoon’s “My Vagina” with, um, Wyatt Wingfoot). But indy relationship comics are not always that much better, often showing stabs at relating to stereotypical women, only to find connection with the girl that is basically indistinguishable from a guy. I’m picking on comics, but this is everywhere. One of the reasons I think I like Stephen King so much is he is the rare male writer that seems to know how to write female characters as people, not just story dressing.


Post a Comment

<< Home