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Women in comics: Have they got their due yet?

Wonder Woman is getting a movie. Betty and Veronica have got a makeover. But have women got their due in comics? Not yet, says artist Aarthi Parthasarathy

art and culture Updated: Dec 01, 2016 18:03 IST
Arundhati Chatterjee
women

Batgirl from DC Comics

In March 2016, eight South Asian women came together to form a platform for arts with a common agenda — to promote graphic storytelling. However, they only communicated over Gtalk and social media apps; never face-to-face. The art collective, called Kadak, went on to make online comics and zines about socio-political and cultural issues, including feminism, gender and sexual identity. One of the eight members, film-maker-artist Aarthi Parthasarathy (32), will be in the city, this weekend, to map the evolution of women characters in comics and superhero movies.

Marvel’s She-Hulk

Parthasarathy feels that the representation of women in the comic universe has undergone a sea change. For instance, last year, to mark its 75th anniversary, the creators of Archie comics — Fiona Staples and Mark Waid — gave it a much-needed reboot. Betty and Veronica are more than Archie’s objects of fantasy.

Like so many of us, Parthasarathy read a lot of comics as a child without analysing them. The women characters were quite “problematic”, she says.

Read more: A satirical web comic on things that happen only in India

“Much later in life, I realised the girls in those comics, especially in Phantom and Archie, were not significant to the plot. The women characters in them were mostly playing boy crazy or damsels in distress. Betty and Veronica in Archie have received a makeover, not only in appearance, but also in terms of character,” says Parthasarathy. Her own weekly webcomic, The Royal Existentials, projects women’s angst using vintage miniature paintings.

Artist Aarthi Parthasarathy

The change, however, is not a consequence of any sudden movement. Art, in every form, is a reflection of times and society, and this mirror effect has resulted in the change. “In the 1890s, women didn’t even have the right to vote. The stories, too, didn’t portray women with power. But with time, stronger stories came about. Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is one of the finest examples,” she says.

She asserts that a lot of superheroines and super-villainesses are making their presence felt in comics. However, most women characters still stem from male superheroes. Think She-Hulk, Spider-Woman, Bat-Girl. The road to a true female superhero is still a long one.

5 women’s comics to know

A strip from Persepolis

Persepolis: Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel is an autobiography. Satrapi illustrates her growing up years in Iran during the Islamic Revolution.

Embroideries: It’s Satrapi’s intimate account of the sex lives of Iranian women.

Fun Home: The graphic novel, by American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, examines her troubled bond with her father, during her childhood years in Pennsylvania.

Hark! A Vagrant: Canadian artist Kate Beaton’s comics reinvent literary and historical figures in modern times.

A Child’s Life & Other Stories: Artist Phoebe Gloeckner’s follows the journey of a teenage girl and her loss of innocence through sex, drugs, rape and AIDS.

DON’T MISS

Women in Comics by Aarthi Parthasarathy will take place on December 3, at 2pm

Where: Cuckoo Club, next to Candies, Pali Hill, Bandra (W)

Call: 96199 62969

Entry: Rs 200 on insider.in