Todd McFarlane is a legend of the superhero comic. Creator of Spawn, illustrator of some of the best Spider-Man out there, and toy-maker of the highest repute, he’s earned his position in the industry, and his opinions of the industry matter.
Which is why I was saddened to see McFarlane make the following comment at the Televisions Association Critics Press Tour:
“I’ve got two daughters, and if I wanted to do something that I thought was emboldened to a female, I probably wouldn’t choose superhero comic books to get that message across.”
This is a distressing remark.
It represents to me an artist who has created a box in which his medium must be locked. The box both protects his work and limits what he can aspire to do in the face of new challenges made to the comic industry by the eyes and interests of a broader world.
Claiming that superhero comic books is not a medium that can ‘embolden a female’ justifies the continued creation of superhero comics that do the opposite. It justifies the objectification and marginalization of non-white, non-super, non-men, because the parameters have been set and the stories are subject only to these parameters. This is something that we should oppose.
This is not naivete. I love superhero comics. I grew up reading them, and I read them still. The world of the superhero comic has invaluable lessons to teach youth and I learned a lot through the medium.
But the superhero comic has without question been the denizen of, and perpetuated, the male American fantasy. Stereotypes have and do persist within the genre that turn readers–especially females and minorities–away. It does not need to be this way simply because it has been this way.
The superhero comic industry is the reason that Todd McFarlane is Todd McFarlane. He works within a medium that has emboldened him to success and allowed him to speak to the culture at large about the work and experience he has garnered.
It leaves me wondering: Why would Todd McFarlane not want to work within his own medium to make something powerful and inspirational for his daughters? McFarlane claims that having a “message” is no way to succeed in comics. “So the female characters that work are the ones that are just strong women that actually it’s good storytelling,.”
Is there no story that McFarlane can imagine which combines good storytelling and strong women, and would result in a superhero comic that emboldens a female reader? Certainly this cannot be the situation as McFarlane sees it.
If so, it’s a terrible failure of the imagination, from a mind that has shown great imaginative heights.