Elayne Riggs' Journal (for Leah)

Sunday, August 08, 2010

BlogHer Around

I'm at a weird point in my life, when I've never felt more connected to folks online and disconnected in real life. A scant five years ago I was on the advisory board for the first BlogHer Con. This year the 6th annual BlogHer gathering was held this past Friday and Saturday about a block away from my office - and I didn't even know about it. I really would have loved to have gone! Especially Friday, when I got out of work at 3. Alas, more water under the bridge, but at least I can get another blogaround done:

• I found an RSS feed for Occasional Superheroine that actually works for me on Bloglines, so I can finally keep up with Val's comics-centric blog again. As Heidi and many others mentioned, at this time last month Val was pretty much the last person standing at Friends of Lulu. She told me a bit about the situation when I saw her at the NonCon, and had wondered aloud how to break the news to the general public. I composed a version of what I'd write if I were her, which I'm glad she didn't use because we have completely different styles and circumstances, but I wanted to excerpt some of it anyway 'cause, hey, why not?
FoL began in 1993 with seeds of hope – hope that an unapologetically feminist organization could help improve an industry that had created such joy for both its creative forces and its consumers, to bring it out of dingy and often dangerous specialty shops catering largely to male fetishists and into the mainstream of entertainment accessible to both genders. The way it used to be when comics were available on newsstands and read by boys and girls and men and women. The way we knew it was and is in Japan and Europe. The founders of Friends of Lulu wanted to celebrate all that American comics could and should be – diverse and expansive, rather than narrow and imploding from the burden of catering to an ever-dwindling readership, profitable once more for both the companies and the creators producing those comics. FoL desired to spread the love of comics through a change in mindset among those in charge of the industry, to help them see how allowing girls into the clubhouse (and even letting girls build clubhouses) would make the comics family stronger and more fun for everyone.

It was an uphill struggle from the start. The direct market had little use for women in the age of Image over substance, when all many companies had to do to sell gazillions of books to unsuspecting speculeeches was slap sparkly lenticular images onto umpteen alternate covers. These babies practically sold themselves! As did the booth babes. When sex sells, and where women always equal sex-and-nothing-else, the only position for women in comics was, to paraphrase Stokely Carmichael, scantily-clad on a two-page spread-and-we-do-mean-spread. And woe betide any organization seeking to proclaim the basic humanity of its members against those who had a vested interest in seeing those members as anything but human. When you need to justify your existence in response to the tirades of the ex-husband of one of your founders, a man with a misogynistic paper trail worse than Mel Gibson whose credibility on the subject would be laughable in a more sensible world, you know you have a long road to hoe.

And yet Friends of Lulu succeeded for a time against all odds. We spread the word that women were interested in reading and writing and drawing and publishing and selling comics. We became visible at conventions, speaking with scores of “drag-alongs” who attended to please their male companions but were delighted, even relieved, to find oases in the deserts of Y chromosomes, many of whom were readers themselves but had never picked up a comic because nothing their men read really spoke to them. And we’d tell them about books that existed in the periphery, unnoticed by the superhero “mainstream” – about girl comics in Asia and independently-published efforts closer to home, about pockets of joy brought by female creators who were able to break into the Big Two, it seems, one at a time in those days, only to be marginalized by the opinion-makers at the comics lad mags and Usenet newsgroups. We praised female and female-friendly creators to the skies via our newsletters (kudos to primo “herstorian” Trina Robbins for a yeowoman’s job on that!) and Women Doing Comics list and Lulu Awards and other activities.

We saw things start to change for the better. Manga swept the country in numbers too big to ignore, and brought with them tons of entranced shoujo readers. Alternative comics gatherings blossomed throughout the country, where as many women as men participated both in front of and behind creator tables. At the bigger mainstream conventions, the drag-alongs became con-goers in their own right, and the ladies’ rooms at cons were no longer queueless. And the Web ushered in (literally) a new way of viewing and doing comics.

For the first time, women who didn’t have a lot of free time or money could produce comics online for next to no cost, on their own schedules at their own computers, not having to rely on old boys’ networks to distribute or publicize them. Women could and did band together in their own collectives to demonstrate the power of their voices and their wallets.

Everyone who’s ever been involved in Friends of Lulu ought to be proud of everything we’ve accomplished. Women are doing comics, and being recognized for it, in such numbers that our visibility and presence is (almost) taken for granted. One of the Big Two just published a three-issue series celebrating women in comics and showcasing the current generation. Everyone’s eager for the comics equivalent of a Harry Potter or a Twilight series, recognizing that both highly successful entertainment empires came from women. Things have undoubtedly changed for the better, and are continuing to evolve in a positive direction for women. I think the late Kim Yale and Leah Adezio would be proud to see so much of what they fought for with their activism in Lulu actually come to pass.
As it turns out, the news of the organization's demise was, thankfully, premature. Val now reports that not only has Lulu been resurrected with an interim board but, just as importantly, once-missing financial records have been located which will allow the organization to move forward with clearing up any outstanding tax matters. And there will be Lulu Awards! I hope they're held at the NY Comic Con, that's the only one I can afford to go to.

• Elsewhere on Occasional Superheroine, Val muses on what went wrong with mainstream comics at the turn of the millennium, and suggests a game plan for 2012. Meanwhile, on her Daily 23 blog, she covers a wacky atheist de-baptism and sorts out the Lawsuits of the Beatles Knockoffs.

• Bob Herbert recommends unplugging and personally interacting a bit more. Good lord, not me, then I'd be even more out of touch!

• It figures, as soon as I discover Amanda Hess' The Sexist she decides to call it quits at that blog. Dang, it hasn't been my month. Naturally it's all about me, whinge whinge!

• Hey, at least I noticed that Charles2 has started posting again at The Fulcrum. He's been re-added to the Liberal Coalition section of my sidebar blogroll. And Bora Zivkovic's link has been updated, due to the ScienceBlogs situation. Bora chronicles why he left the SB fold and what's next for science blogging networks; and PZ Myers sees the tidal wave rising and then reports on how further damage appears to be averted for now. I think the best news to come out of all of this is the proliferation of all sorts of science-based blogs in lots of places, way too many to keep track of now. Just like blogs by women!

• Bryan, who's done some great coverage on BP's oil spill and subsequent coverup, profiles the Joe-the-plumber who actually came up with the working solution.

• Lance Mannion visits the Edward Gorey residence. Creepy-cool!

• Not everything around Ground Zero these days is sad and political. Some is historic and kinda neat. The Awl brings their own take.

• I've written about the Hey Baby video game before, but never as comprehensively as Alex Raymond, cross-posting his link round-up to Racialicious. This pretty much covers it all.

• I swear, Robin had nothing to do with the anatomically graphic posters in his old hometown (via BoingBoing), honest. At least that's his story and he's sticking to it. (Hey Dad Riggs, I know you read this blog, any follow-ups to this story in the local press?)

• My old friend Jill has lots of terrific posts (as usual), of which I particularly liked the comparison of First Lady vacations, the history of the looting of FICA and how rich folks purposefully set out to eliminate the middle class starting around 30 years ago. It's always gratifying to hear someone else mention that the election of Reagan and his cohorts was one of the proximate causes of our current income inequality, as the rich only continue to grow richer at the expense of the middle class and poor. On a lighter note from Jill, an unexpected tribute to Snooki.

• Dave Johnson has noted a trendency (see, I can make up words just like Shakespeare and Sarah Palin!) for the aforementioned rich to treat the rest of us like the help, rather than as fellow citizens deserving of bothersome rights. I was once in a work situation where the boss treated employees like the help, and it was more than a little icky.

• As for people having trouble finding work? Avedon points out the fallacies involved in the retraining mantra.

• If that weren't enough, Melissa McEwen reminds us that the current situation is a direct result of Bush's legacy: "Bush didn't part ways with conservatism; Bush realized its destiny." A policy legacy that has been proven to work, but that well-heeled conservatives can't wait to step up to make things even worse in this country for everyone except for them and their cronies.

• Meanwhile, it'd be hard to top the catty bitching over, as Amanda Marcotte notes, our current President speaking to adult female viewers instead of posing for photo-ops with boys. Jennifer at the Hathor Legacy reiterates what I've been saying for years about the lousy representation of women, gender roles, lack of diversity, etc. in science fiction - you can't blame people for not being ahead of their time, except when they're supposed to be. And for anyone like me wondering why we don't see coverage of, say, the FIFA Under-20 Women's World Cup in US media, Julie Hollar at FAIR brings the stats - seems women's team sports are more popular than ever in person, but not on TV where men and male-centric ad revenues rule. And Melissa Silverstein does some nice follow-up work on the current Mad Men writing and producing staff, emphasis "men." Ah, for a simpler time, when we gals knew our invisible place!

• Our place is almost certainly not in Afghanistan, and the Rude Pundit apologizes to all the women there whom we haven't helped yet and whose situation may or may not worsen if we leave.

• What Digby Said, in a teachable moment about race.

• Remember that "I Write Like" meme making the 'net rounds a couple weeks back? Making Light did a little research, Teresa sussed out the problem with the code, and Jim McDonald went a step further and discovered the people behind it are a bunch of apparent vanity press sleazoids. "This 'I Write Like' site isn't remotely legitimate. No, they aren't trying; or, anyway, they aren't trying to analyze writing samples: They're trying to lure newbie authors to the rocks and shoals of vanity publication." Caveat lector!

• I really hope Thers at Whiskey Fire turns out to be wrong about the Troubles resurfacing in Northern Ireland, but I fear the worst.

• While Keith Olbermann (with whose politics I mostly agree) continues to bend over backwards to speak no ill of his late friend George Steinbrenner, PJ Mungiole (with whose politics I usually disagree) reminds me once more why I had no use for the man.

• Bully presents Thor, Walking Across America!

• Lastly, this gem from XKCD:

It's sad because it's true! And speaking of old-timey, I think I'll settle in now for an afternoon of Hope/Crosby road movies. Not terribly BlogHer-iffic, but a lot more accessible to me since I know about them.