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Punching Out Patriarchy

If there's one thing the Silicon Valley Comic Con deserves praise for, it's the special focus on female characters and creators.

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IN CONTROL: The 'Jessica Jones' Netflix show and comic book series is just one example of the higher profile women now have in the male-dominated world of comics.

Nothing enthralls a moviegoing audience like the sight of a woman with a sword, unless it's a woman with a bow and arrow. Still, I'm haunted by a phrase novelist A.S. Byatt made about men "who love strong women for the wrong reasons"—in short, because they're chickens themselves.

Nevertheless, if there's one thing the Silicon Valley Comic Con deserves praise for, it's the special focus on female characters and creators, which throws this year's Angouleme International Comics Festival into sharp relief. At that French event, where comics take on something of the cultural weight that films do at Cannes, no women were on the short list for the Grand Prix d'Angouleme. The judgement caused a boycott and a protest analogous to the #Oscarsowhite hubbub.

By contrast, our local con has a series of panels suitable for the era of Agent Carter, Supergirl, and Jessica Jones. Friday night's "Superheroines!" brings together a group of fans—including local writer and archivist Mary Alexander—to celebrate the phenomena.

"Fierce Femmes in Live Action, and the Literary World" is a subject that requires no introduction. Perhaps getting deeper is a separate panel on "The Heroine's Journey" with Valerie Frankel, whose From Girl to Goddess sets out to ascribe this travel the same weight Joseph Campbell gave to the arc of the legend in Hero with a Thousand Faces. Sharing the "Heroine's Journey" panel is film professor Patti McCarthy. Her upcoming book, Outlander and The Heroine's Journey, regards the realm of Diana Gabaldon's unputdownable series of historical fantasy novels.

"Ladies of the Legion" celebrates female cosplayers of the 501st Legion aka "Vader's Fist": those ever-so-expendable soldiers with their immaculately white PVC overalls, their erring marksmanship and borderline comical inability to spot the "droids they're looking for."

Also here for the weekend is Trina Robbins, the world's leading expert on women as creators and characters in the history of comics. Robbins edited The Complete Wimmen's Comix anthology, set for release at the end of March ($100, Fantagraphics). Included in this tome is the predecessor of the long running Wimmen's Comix anthology, the very first all-women's comic book, It Ain't Me Babe (1970).

Robbins was the first female to draw a Wonder Woman comic book, but maybe the best tribute to Buffy, Katniss and all the rest is to give some attention to the women who edited and created the autobiographical comic book: the literary form of the new century. Such writers include Robbins, Aline Kominsky, Marjane Satrapi, Phoebe Gloeckner and Alison Bechdel, but there's more and hopefully will be more to come. Let's honor the fearlessness of a tale-teller at least slightly as much as we honor the bravery of the lady with a sword.

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