Furor Over Basic Comics Criticism: Janelle Asselin and the Attack on Women


As many of you can imagine, there is a lot of cheesecake that makes its way into comics. As a critic, this is a can of worms that you open when you’re ready for the shit storm that follows when daring to criticize a major comics title. This is what just happened to Janelle Asselin, a seasoned professional in the comics industry after she dared to criticize the above cover for “Teen Titans #1,” published by DC Comics, home to Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Can you guess what Ms. Asselin may have taken issue with?

You probably noticed yourself. The big problem is Wonder Girl and her Barbie-like figure. This character is supposed to be a teenager and yet she has breasts that, as Asselin describes, only exist in the real world as silicone implants. Wonder Girl’s whole figure is distorted. To what purpose? Well, do we need to ask? It’s a textbook example of a corporation catering to what the market supposedly craves. It is all about satisfying the lowest common denominator in young men when it is an opportunity to cater to a far more suitable audience, young women!

Here are some highlights from Asselin’s recent critique at Comic Book Resources. You’ll want to read her full critique, entitled, “Anatomy of a Bad Cover: DC’s New ‘Teen Titans #1,” right here. And, as you’ll see, the story does not end there:

You know who loves Teen Titans? People who enjoyed the early 2000s “Teen Titans” animated show, many of whom are female and many of whom are teenagers or young 20-somethings today. Market research could and does back this up. Graphic Policy’s Brett Schenker pulled together the Facebook stats for me for fans of the original “Teen Titans” animated series. Currently in the United States, there are 500,000 self-professed fans of the show on Facebook. 260,000 of those are women. Yes, that’s right — more than half. The majority of male and female fans are ages 15-23 with the bulk being 17. This is just a quick review of the potential market for these comics. Say a quarter of those fans actually tried a Teen Titans comic aimed at their demographic — you’re going to have a significantly higher number than the 26,000 copies “Teen Titans” is estimated to have sold in March. One-tenth of those animated “Teen Titans” fans buying a comic would result in a drastic increase in sales. Even if just the 17-year-old fans of the show bought the comic, you’ve got double the sales numbers. I could keep going, but you get the point.

Even the newer series, “Teen Titans Go!” premiered as the #1 show in its time slot, not just for boys but for kids aged 2-11. Kids and teens are into the idea of the Teen Titans, and there’s money to be made off of even tangentially relating to that crowd. Virtually all of DC’s New 52 books appear to be aimed at the exact same demographic: Males 18-39. And this cover is made for that demographic. It shows that, once again, DC is relaunching a book with no thought to targeting wider demographics or a new audience. This is not a cover you run if you’re trying to appeal to teenagers, and it’s especially not going to appeal to teen girls. Sure, the team may not be the same as the animated Teen Titans team, but there are ways to frame the characters to draw in new readers. For one, they could look like an actual team. For another, you could avoid cluttering up the background with imagery that offers nothing to a new reader, instead creating a distraction from the team you’re presenting.

Basic market research could tell DC that it has potential readers of a “Teen Titans” series in the teen market. I’ve done this market research from my living room using library databases, so I’m sure DC has a way to do it. YA is selling like crazy right now. Why not study that market for real — no pandering nonsense — and launch this new series with a cover that can truly revitalize what is actually a wonderful franchise? All these characters are interesting, cool characters with a ton of completely untapped potential. Comics can and should operate like a business, and publishers need to figure out how to sell comics to truly new demographics — but they sure as hell won’t with covers like this.

But there’s more to this story, the backlash, from a sizable amount of men who are lost in hate and insecurity. After Asselin’s critique on CBR, this incited a hatefest that include threats of rape. You can read the article at xojane.com regarding this right here.

Will many of these young men grow out of their stunted vision? Sure, we can hope so. And let’s hope that, when it comes to comics, as with other forms of entertainment, that those who can make a difference will continue to do so. We seem to have made some progress since Gail Simone’s Women in Refrigerators website asked for a head count of all the rapes and violent deaths to female characters in comics. But we still have quite a ways to go.


Filed under Comics, Essays, Janelle Asselin, Sexism, Women, Wonder Woman

11 responses to “Furor Over Basic Comics Criticism: Janelle Asselin and the Attack on Women

  1. Sigh. This is sadly an all to common occurrence in many parts of geek culture. Look at what happened with Anita Sarkeesian and her web series Women vs Tropes in Gaming (I think that was the name of it… been a while since I took a look at it). I may not agree with everything Ms Sarkeesian had to say, not because I want to see games remain misogynistic/sexist, but because I felt that she simplified the topic far too much, and ignored the fact that tropes are not by definition a bad thing, it’s when they’re overused and become cliches that can become seriously harmful to the medium… but no one, no matter what difference of opinion you may hold, deserves threats of rape, assault, death, or any of the online abuse that she received as well. In that situation, they were even starting to treat it as a game, congratulating each other on particularly “good” rants/insults/threats. Disgusting.

    That said, I do wonder how many of the people posting this crap are actually serious about their belief in the matter they’re screaming about. I find that a lot of people get online and will find literally anything they can go ballistic over, because it’s this great sense of freedom since they feel it can’t come back to them (Guess what guys! It can and, if you push it too far, probably will!)

    Penny Arcade summed up this theory masterfully years ago, with John Gabriel’s Greater Internet F***wad Theory. The idea is that “Relatively normal person + (False) Anonymity + Audience = Total F***wad”. It’s surprisingly accurate, only update I’ve felt it needed was the addition of the false anonymity instead of anonymity, because true anonymity online is in very short supply these days.

    Anyway, that’s my piece said. Sorry for the wall of text, I hope you at least find something of interest in there 🙂

    • Well said. You can’t get more basic than this issue. There is so much pain being felt by those threatened and, hey, by those doing the threatening. Is it because they feel threatened themselves? Sure. This is all going to require a lot of soul searching. We’ve made great progress with resolving racism. We are going to continue to make progress with resolving sexism. I’m trying to pick my words carefully. Ultimately, what our souls hunger for is healing, understanding, and progress.

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  3. jennifer daydreamer

    My boyfriend is more of a feminist than I am.

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  5. I read this earlier, but just wanted to leave a note saying thanks for writing it and for the link to Janelle Asselin’s piece. (And thanks for dropping by my blog.)

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  7. This show… this show is AWESOME. With an in-depth storyline, character development, and action this is one show you need to watch! I seriously can’t find a problem other than it ended on a cliff-hanger.

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