On the Hypersexualization of Female Characters in Superhero Comics

I just finished up a really awesome uni course for my MLIS, and we were recently discussing portrayals of women in comics.

This is a touchy subject for sure, and as with anything I try to keep an open mind and consider the many shades of gray. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying erotic art and comics (I do!) but I’m talking about something different here outside of the context of erotica.

To be clear before I get into it, I don’t believe in the censorship of artistic work⁠— Neil Gaiman helped shape my perspective on this topic with his blog post Why Defend Freedom of Icky Speech?, which I totally recommend reading if you haven’t yet. I’m not interested in participating in witch hunts of particular artists because they draw or write thoughtlessly sexy women⁠—I’m more interested in the big-picture phenomenon.

When it comes to hypersexualized portrayals of women in comics, the thing that irks me is the ubiquitous nature of it- it’s OK for characters to be sexy, but when the default has been that women and girls in Western comics are contorted and accentuated regardless of their personality or the context of the scene, it becomes a tiresome, dehumanizing trope.

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Don’t get me wrong — I’m a huge fan of comics in general, including many that feature these sorts of female characters, and I will defend any author’s right to write or draw their characters however they see fit. It’s your story, knock yourself out. Artistic freedom doesn’t mean you can’t be criticized for your choices, though, so I too have the freedom as a comic consumer to call you out and roll my eyes if you unleash yet another barely covered bombshell babe whose story takes a backseat to her… well, backseat.

So why does a female character drinking coffee at home alone in her pyjamas sit in a spine-cracking posture with her butt extended,  lips pouting,  and shine highlighting the curves of her inexplicably exposed underboob? Why does a powerful heroine need to bend her body in such an anatomically impossible way that we can see both her bum AND her boobs on display when she’s mid-action?

Why is this the standard way that women are portrayed? Traditionally comics were considered a masculine space, and as such these depictions aimed to appeal to the male gaze⁠— yet, I wonder how much of that historic imbalance in demographic is because of the aforementioned ways women have been depicted in comics and other media (when they’re depicted at all)?

“My feeling was never that the industry was that vile, my feeling was that there just hadn’t been any feeling that females were interested, and so all the content skewed that way, to that imagined audience. Which becomes self-fulfilling.” (Simone, 2014).

Just go to any con nowadays and you will see that women love comics- they’re a valid format for us just as much as anyone else, albeit with a long history of objectifying us unnecessarily.

“A woman’s sexuality is one of her many facets that she is allowed to express, however she likes. The problem is that our media landscape shows, values, and celebrates women’s sex appeal more than any of their other qualities, opinions, or accomplishments… when you grow up as a girl surrounded by sexualized images of women, it changes the way you build your identity.” (Rees, 2019, p.45).

Comics have a history of hypersexualizing women that goes back many decades, and people have been discussing the phenomenon for just as long. One more recent(ish) project that has really provoked discussion about ridiculously hypersexualized poses of female characters is The Hawkeye Initiative, in which people redraw sexy female poses with Hawkeye. I gave it a quick shot below…

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Drawing Hawkeye like this might seem like taking “an eye for an eye”, but his portrayal it doesn’t have the same weight- besides the fact that my awkward rendering isn’t nearly as stylistic and professionally done as the original, the sexualization of male characters is certainly not omnipresent like that of female characters, and men don’t have the troubled past of systematic and oppressive objectification tailing them. The result is a cheeky satire that points out the absurdity of how female characters are so often portrayed.

Some comic fans will point out that lots of superheroes have bulging muscles that are larger than life, aiming to equate this with sexualized femme characters, but ridiculously strong male characters are different than pointlessly sexualized female characters for a few reasons:

  • generally there is an arguably valid reason that the man might have huge muscles (for example, he’s a superhero); over-sized muscles are certainly an unrealistic ideal, but they usually don’t come with the baggage of being totally pointless- they’re a boon to the character and part of his superpower
  • these muscled male characters aren’t created for the female gaze- they’ve been included in traditionally male-focused comics and could perhaps be seen as a male wish fulfillment fantasy or an exaggerated style
  • even when male characters have huge muscles or accentuated features, they aren’t habitually highlighted to the same cumulative extremes that the female anatomy is often subject to: protruding, glistening, tugging at skimpy fabric, peeking through non-functional viewing holes, angled awkwardly to be shown off at every possible opportunity, etc…

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Not sure if Mary Jane or a blowup doll…

Taking it to a further and more upsetting level, a female character’s assuredly ample physical assets are very often contrasted with an underdeveloped backstory, nonexistent character arc, or her being used as a throwaway plot element or means to the ends of a violent trope, as pointed out in Gail Simone’s “women in refrigerators” movement born in the late 90’s.

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“At the time, you know, female readership was low, female con attendance at comic cons was low, morale for female readers was low. And I kept seeing guys ask, “Why don’t women read comics?” And for me, it felt that there was a connection between that and the fact that if you loved female superheroes, you had this endless parade of stories where the women were killed or de-powered, and they were never the focus of the story.

It felt symbolic, it felt textural. It felt like they were saying, okay, no one cares about Supergirl, no one cares about Batgirl, and so their stories rarely became about survival, they became about some dude getting revenge on their behalf.” (Simone, 2014).

Again, drawing sexy female characters in and of itself isn’t a bad thing – a sexy woman is empowering when she’s owning it – but it’s the nonchalant routine of the industry expecting this uber-sexed up default paired with otherwise forgettable, tragic, or underdeveloped characterization that doesn’t sit well with me.

To conclude, I don’t think we should be trying to ban works or shame those who read them – let the creators create what they will, and let consumers enjoy what they want in peace- but I hope more creators and publishers are beginning to realize that mindless routine portrayals are alienating a potentially huge reader base who are rolling their eyes at yet another pointlessly and predictably titillating femme fatale.

Today, although hypersexualized female characters are still common, both indie and mainstream comics are being published with much more diverse characters and successfully appealing to more demographics, which is wonderful to see.

 

 

References

Claremont, C., & Buscema, J. (2005). Marvel comics presents: Wolverine. New York: Marvel Comics.
Gaiman, N. (2008). Why defend freedom of icky speech? Retrieved from http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2008/12/why-defend-freedom-of-icky-speech.html
The Hawkeye Initiative. (n.d.). Home. Retrieved from https://thehawkeyeinitiative.com/
Houser, J., Portela, F., Sauvage, M., & Dalhouse, A. (2016). Faith. New York, NY: Valiant Entertainment LLC.
Loeb, J., Kelly, J., Churchill, I., & Rapmund, N. (2016). Supergirl: The girl of steel. Burbank, CA: DC Comics.
Marz, R. (n.d.). Green Lantern #54 (1994).
Montclare, B., Hadley, A. R., Bustos, N., Height, R., Bonvillain, T., Lanham, T., & Kirk, L. (2017). Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. New York, NY: Marvel Worldwide.
Nelson, Kyra (2015) “Women in Refrigerators: The Objectification of Women in Comics,” AWE (A Woman’s Experience): Vol. 2 , Article 9.
Available at: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/awe/vol2/iss2/9
Pak, G., Parker, J., Frank, G., Kirk, L., Pagulayan, C., & Sibal, J. (2008). World War Hulk the Incredible Hercules. New York: Marvel.
Rees, A., & Esmeraldo, M. (2019). Beyond beautiful: A practical guide to being happy, confident, and you in a looks-obsessed world/ Anuschka Rees ; illustrations by Marina Esmeraldo. New York: Ten Speed Press.
Simone, G. (2014, December 01). Gail Simone: The Comics Alliance Interview, Part One. Retrieved from https://comicsalliance.com/gail-simone-the-comics-alliance-interview-part-one-batgirl-birds-of-prey-and-women-in-refrigerators/
Thompson, R. (2016). Silk Volume 1. Panini UK.
Wilson, G. W., Alphona, A., & Herring, I. (2014). Ms. Marvel: No normal. New York, NY: Marvel Worldwide, a subsidiary of Marvel Entertainment, LLC.

Bad Romance: A Defense of Reprehensible Love Interests in Otome and Beyond

My prince charming is your worst nightmare.

From the age that I can first remember feeling the pangs of infatuation and lust in my mid-teens, I found I had a taste for rogues, tricksters, baddies, and miscreants. In books, movies, manga, anime, and otome games, I rarely go for the hero of the story- my affections are generally reserved for the evil adversary, mysterious secondary character, or perhaps the dangerously playful womanizing side-kick. These characters are often sexy but would ultimately make terrible romantic partners in real life.

Recently I’ve been noticing in comment sections all over the internet well-intentioned people decrying these very sorts of characters that I am drawn to. Fans and non-fans alike are calling out reprehensible actions of characters as they see them. I think this is a positive reflection of wider discussions and movements that are happening worldwide right now regarding healthy relationships, love, affection, sex, and consent. These honest reflections on characters, from Sabrina’s Father Blackwood to the Sakamaki family of Diabolik Lovers, are valuable and worth noting. The relationships you see on TV or other media are often not good examples for real-life relationships to follow- sometimes these sorts of characters stray into cruel or even verbally and/or physically abusive behavior.

However, I do not believe that the answer is to eliminate such characters from the stories we tell and worlds we create.

One area that gets a lot of heat for these sorts of characters is otome games- perhaps because they are simulating a relationship with the player. Games like these feel more intimate than watching a movie or reading a book: usually a player uses their real first name in-game to enhance the immersion, voice-actors use dummy-head mics to record sound like they are right beside your ear whispering sweet nothings through your headphones, and choices in the game lead to consequences for the character you play as well as other characters in the game.

The first true otome game I played was Code: Realize, Guardian of Rebirth. It’s an interactive visual novel with a Victorian steampunk aesthetic, excellent Japanese voice acting, and odes to famous historical figures throughout.

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Code: Realize

A common strategy for playing otome games is play the main route with the main love interest first (often he’s featured on the cover, as with this example featuring Arsene Lupin) and then branch out to other romantic partners in subsequent play-throughs.

However, I always gravitate immediately towards the character that (you guessed it) is strange, aloof, mean, temperamental, and/or seemingly sinister. In Code: Realize, I went for Saint-Germain, an intriguing and mysterious white-haired gentleman voiced by my favorite voice actor, Daisuke Hirakawa.

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Saint Germain still image from Code:Realize, Guardian of Rebirth

*Warning:  spoilers ahead!*

My interest in Saint only grew as his complex and tragic story slowly unwound, with seemingly no means of a happy end. Still, I was caught completely off-guard when my first play-through ended abruptly with that is probably considered the worst possible ending you can get in the game: he murdered me.

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Scene from Code Realize, Guardian of Rebirth

I was shocked, bemused, and strangely thrilled by this sudden turn of events. Retracing my steps and choosing different directions on my second play-through, I discovered that he had some solid legitimate reasons for killing my character (really!) and in the less tragic story-lines he is actually a gentle, devoted, caring partner, despite a crushingly brutal past that haunts his every step.

Aside from his bad-ending (murder…) route, Saint is actually not particularly problematic, so I’d like to present a more blatant example of the “reprehensible love interest”…

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Diabolik Lovers, by Rejet

Diabolik Lovers began as an otome visual novel game franchise, but has since been turned into manga, anime, a stage musical, and tons of drama cds and merchandise in Japan. I stumbled upon the subbed anime on Crunchyroll a few years ago, starting a personal infatuation with this vampire series- a series featuring characters that are unabashedly terrible in their treatment of the female protagonist, Yui.

Yui is a Mary-Sue type character often seen in otome series-  aside from some rare moments of tenacity, she is presented as an unremarkable, quiet, polite young lady. She’s a sort of vanilla stand-in for the viewer or player, one which they can easily replace with themselves.

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Her potential suitors, on the other hand, are some very strong personalities. Their dispositions differ widely, ranging from hysterical and possessive to dismissive and toying. What unites all of the Sakamaki boys, though, is the way they all cruelly use and abuse Yui to sate their thirsts for blood and amusement.

Some hardcore fans will argue that by the end of the plotline their favorite boy truly loves Yui and is deeply devoted to her, but let’s be real here: that doesn’t excuse the abuse, and nobody is compelled to watch the Dialover anime or play the Dialover games because of the romance. The average viewer would be repelled by the sadistic, narcissistic, misogynistic and psychopathic actions of the Sakamaki family (some of my friends certainly are). The Sakamaki brothers each in turn physically restrain Yui, attack her verbally and physically (mainly through biting and taking her blood against her will) and deceive her naive and trusting nature unendingly. Each boy has a different demeaning nickname for Yui (Pancake, Sow, Bitch-chan, and so on…). So why are some people, like myself, drawn to these characters who are obviously toxic?

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This scene from Watamote is literally me T-T

This conundrum has fascinated me for some time. Why am I attracted to characters in fantasy that would make me miserable in real life? Is this predilection linked to the dark triad of features that supposedly signal a capable mate, triggering some biological response in me? Am I simply bored by predictable good guys and their chivalry? Is it pure masochism on my part? While not everyone falls for the charms of the bad boy, i’m certainly not unique in this regard, and there are lots of potential reasons someone might be willingly pulled over to the dark side.

Whatever the reason, the truth is that I and many others enjoy these sorts of flawed, dangerous, cruel characters, even when they are at their worst. While I understand the criticisms of series like Diabolik Lovers,  I believe we mustn’t equate a portrayal of an abusive or problematic fictional character with the actions of a person in real life or an endorsement of these kinds of relationships.

It’s okay to enjoy a romantic fantasy, even a dark and twisted one.

I am an advocate for the freedom to read, write, and create without restrictions. No work will be pleasing to everyone, and some may find certain works distasteful, but we must remember that these stories are fictional. When I immerse myself in an otome game, it is my choice, and I can withdraw my consent from the experience at any time by pressing the “power off” button on my Vita. I don’t confuse the tangled relationships in the fictional stories I enjoy with my real life relationships, which are thankfully much less dramatic than the ones I read, watch, and play.


 

Abuse is wrong. Verbal, physical, and sexual abuse have no place in a healthy relationship. Consent is vital. I don’t condone abuse in real life.

The fantasy world of books, movies, and video games are a space where the dangerous sides of love and lust can be explored safely- the cat and mouse game, which is exciting in theory but potentially devastating in real life, can be enjoyed in a make-believe format in which the consumer controls (while enjoying being “controlled” artificially).

We can and should continue to reflect on characters, and each person can determine for themselves what they enjoy or do not enjoy reading, watching, or playing, but there should be no shame for enjoying reprehensible love interests in fiction!

 

Blog 2: The Sequel= ShaunaSeeks

While I will continue to post on HideNGoShauna about personal stuff and geeky randomness, I’ve just started up an additional blog, ShaunaSeeks!

On this new blog I will focus on sharing my library-related posts, book-lists, projects, and experiences as I work on completing my Master of Library and Information Science and learn new things in my library career  🙂


Bill Maher Needs to Read Comics

Brace yourselves, this is something I’m realllllllly passionate about, so here comes another one of my blog posts that is pounded out in an uncontrollable flurry.

Bill Maher knows how to kick up a firestorm online- his recent blog post disses the recently deceased legendary Smilin’ Stan Lee and challenges the legitimacy of comics as a format. It closes by laughably implying that the people who view comic books as important are the ones who voted for Trump. Sure, Bill… yeah no.

Firstly, on dissing Stan Lee- even if you don’t appreciate comics, Bill, there’s no need for that low blow (other than shoehorning it into an intro for a controversial blog post that will get you lots of views, I guess?). It’s undeniable that Mr. Lee’s creative genius has touched the lives of many people, and suggesting that art, literature, and entertainment are not vital to life paints a false picture. Bill writes:

“Someone on Reddit posted, “I’m so incredibly grateful I lived in a world that included Stan Lee.” Personally, I’m grateful I lived in a world that included oxygen and trees, but to each his own”

What exactly is your point here? I don’t know about you Mr. Maher, but I don’t want to live my life fulfilling only the lower rungs of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. 

Ok, on to comics. Here’s what he has to say on that topic:

“Twenty years or so ago, something happened – adults decided they didn’t have to give up kid stuff. And so they pretended comic books were actually sophisticated literature.”

As an educator and an MLIS student, you really awaken the fire in me with this one, Bill. Who is to say what constitutes “sophisticated literature”? Is it a word count? Is it a certain vocabulary? Is it one of those “i’ll know it when I see it” things? I call bullshit.

Comics are a format, not a genre. I’ve spent a lot of time getting to know comics in my 10+ years working in bookstores and at my public library. At my library they call me the Comic Queen because i’m so passionate about spreading the word about the versatility of comics (and graphic novels, and webcomics, and manga, which are all forms of sequential art)

So, again, what makes something “sophisticated literature”, exactly? Does the use of sequential art immediately reduce something to junk reading for kids?

Hell no!

Comics are just a format, Bill. They can be used to address any kind of information, and can be tailored to suit the needs of readers of any age. They are increasingly diverse and inclusive as more artists, authors and publishers jump on board. Comics are especially wonderful because they are approachable and lots of readers, even reluctant readers, may be enticed to read a comic because of the pictures.

Yet, unfortunately, Bill, you have joined the masses of people who mistakenly believe that the comics format = kid stuff, as if the format somehow dictates what kinds of content can be delivered in a comic.

There are comics that:

These are just some examples, but comics can be about ANYTHING. More and more comics are coming out every day on all kinds of different topics.

And yes, comics also include superheroes sometimes- what’s wrong with that, Mr. Maher? The world of superhero and fantasy comics is gigantic and diverse in its own right, and has been and continues to be entertaining, inspirational, and motivational for many people all across the world.

At the risk of triggering Bill Maher, i’d like to finish here with one last sentiment:

Rest in Peace, Mr. Smilin’ Stan Lee.

File:Stan Lee (5774464408).jpg

 

 

 

Canadian Library Month!

The month has flown by, but before it’s over I really want to acknowledge on my blog that October is library month in Canada! This month we celebrate our libraries and raise awareness of the vital roles they play in Canadian lives each day.

“More than just a place to find books, libraries promote cultural awareness, engage in the community, provide educational programs, support freedom of expression and so much more.”

CFLA

Libraries have been evolving and keeping pace with the changing needs of communities today- when oblivious people (usually non-library-users) try to claim that libraries are becoming obsolete, they are met with fierce library defenders who realize the true value libraries continue to provide to their communities (despite recently enduring closures and/or huge cuts to their budgets).

This library of nothing but books and silence is a lie. It’s a myth of a previous time, and that myth gets in the way of us realizing an important truth: that our world needs libraries more than ever… in an age of technology and information, in growing inequality and social isolation, our world needs libraries. They’re essential.

Laurinda Thomas

Libraries, both here in Canada and worldwide, are thriving and doing more with their communities than ever before. They are reinventing their collections, their strategies, their programs, their services, and their physical spaces. Check out this slideshow article from Matthew Hague of Chatelaine, “15 Of the Absolute Coolest Libraries in Canada” , and also Brian Bethune of Maclean’s: “How Public Libraries are Reinventing Themselves for the 21st Century“.

Libraries are not just places to consume- they are places to create, and places that engage with their communities.

“Librarians no longer have all of the answers. We no longer expect that we do the talking and you do the listening. We are building a world… where we share in these experiences, and we are co-creators in the experience that people are going to have in libraries.”

Ellen Humphrey

 

Here are some titles to check out for Library Month!:

These are just a few I’ve come across, and there are so many more awesome resources out there! Please let me know if you have any other favourite recommendations 🙂

 

This is What a Librarian Looks Like: A Celebration of Libraries, Communities, and Access to Information for All by Kyle Cassidy

“In 2014, author and photographer Kyle Cassidy published a photo essay on Slate.com called “This is What A Librarian Looks Like,” a montage of portraits and a tribute to librarians. Since then, Cassidy has made it his mission to remind us of how essential librarians and libraries are to our communities. His subjects are men and women of all ages, backgrounds, and personal style-from pink hair and leather jackets to button-downs and blazers. In short, not necessarily what one thinks a librarian looks like.”

 

Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind by Cynthia Grady and Amiko Hirau

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“A touching story about Japanese American children who corresponded with their beloved librarian while they were imprisoned in World War II internment camps.”

 

Americus by MK Reed and Jonathan Hill

“Neal Barton just wants to read in peace. Unluckily for him, some local Christian activists are trying to get his favorite fantasy series banned from the Americus public library on grounds of immoral content and heresy. Something has to be done, and it looks like quiet, shy Neal is going to have to do it. With youth services librarian Charlotte Murphy at his back, Neal finds himself leading the charge to defend the mega-bestselling fantasy series that makes his life worth living.

This is a funny, gripping, and relatable tale of life and local politics in middle America”

 

BIBLIOCraft: The Modern Crafter’s Guide to Using Library Resources to Jumpstart Creative Projects by Jessica Pigza

“There is untold wealth in library collections, and, like every good librarian, Jessica Pigza loves to share. In BiblioCraft, Pigza hones her literary hunting-and-gathering skills to help creatives of all types, from DIY hobbyists to fine artists, develop projects based on library resources. ”

Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes

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“When twelve-year-old June Harper’s parents discover what they deem an inappropriate library book, they take strict parenting to a whole new level. And everything June loves about Dogwood Middle School unravels: librarian Ms. Bradshaw is suspended, an author appearance is canceled, the library is gutted, and all books on the premises must have administrative approval.

But June can’t give up books . . .”

 

Library Wars: Love and War by Kiiro Yumi and Hiro Arikawa

“In the near future, the federal government creates a committee to rid society of books it deems unsuitable. The libraries vow to protect their collections, and with the help of local governments, form a military group to defend themselves—the Library Forces! Iku Kasahara has dreamed of joining the Library Defense Force ever since one of its soldiers stepped in to protect her favorite book from being confiscated in a bookstore when she was younger. But now that she’s finally a recruit, she’s finding her dream job to be a bit of a nightmare. Especially since her hard-hearted drill instructor seems to have it out for her!”

Packing for Cosplaying at Cons: 15 Things To Bring

In a couple days I will be heading to Edmonton Comic Expo with my hubby! I’ll be cosplaying as Krul Tepes, and also presenting my panel There’s a Graphic Novel for Everyone (Yes, Even You!)

I’ve been packing everything up slowly but surely, and thought it would be fun to share some of my must-haves that I always bring to cons.

So, besides the obvious things to pack if you are traveling for a con (toiletries, your phone, your cosplay) here are some things that I always pack:

  1. Portable Steamer

I am such a big fan of steamers- they are so much easier and quicker for getting out wrinkles in everyday clothes or costumes than using an iron (which I have a tendency to accidentally burn my clothes with!!!)

The first con I ever went to, I hauled my gigantic stand-up steamer into the hotel room, and it was a pain in the butt, but I’ve since discovered portable steamers, and my life has never been the same. I bring this thing everywhere I travel!

2. Garment Bag

I bought this garment bag for one of my tap dance costumes, and it’s awesome for safely transporting my cosplay- I especially love the pockets in the front for storing little accessories and undergarments.

3. SFX bag

If you are doing a cosplay that involves any sort of blood, spirit gum, latex, etc. it’s good to have a separate bag for those. I always wrap up liquids because somehow they always manage to leak.

4. OH NOES pouch

My Mom bought this little pouch for me for my wedding, and it’s amazing. It has little mini versions of a bunch of items you might need in a pinch: breath drops, safety pins, deodorant, lip chap, floss, even itty-bitty containers of hairspray and clear nail polish!

A lot of cons have Cosplay Rescue/Repair booths now which may provide some similar items if you need a quick and simple fix or freshen up with your cosplay.

5. Bits and Pieces

Just to be on the safe side, I bring some extra scraps of material that match the ones I used for my cosplay- I haven’t had to use any yet, but I imagine I will be so glad I packed them if someday I get a sleeve caught on something, or bend over and hear a terrifying ripping sound!!!

6. Makeup Bag

I usually create a makeup bag specifically for the character I am portraying- it will include my basic everyday items (bb cream, powder, etc) as well as some more unique cosplay makeup like flesh colored lipstick, red eyeliner, and any other uncommon types needed for the look.

7. Hair and Wig Bag

Wigs are frustrating things, especially long ones. I’ve learned to wrap my wigs up gently, folding the hair strands into the bag. I also include detangler, a metal brush (metal won’t make your wig staticy) and gels and creams for styling, as well as wig caps, bobby pins, and other hair management stuff.

8. Tripod and Camera Accessories

Whether you are using your phone or a dedicated camera, it’s a good idea to bring a tripod, and maybe even a selfie stick- you might want to get pictures with groups who are cosplaying the same series as you, or you might find a really awesome photo location that makes you want to prop your camera up for the perfect shot.

9. Portable Charger

Portable chargers can be really useful if you will be relying on your phone for communication, transportation, information, or other ations. When I am traveling I often rely on google maps a lot to help me navigate, so I make sure to have a backup battery with me.

10. Catch-all bag

I’ve learned that, no matter how comprehensively I pack my travel bags, I like to have a giant bag to put all the smaller bags in- this is also useful if you are really busy and have to scramble to pack everything before checking out of your hotel at the end of your trip- just chuck everything into the bag and deal with it later! Winners stores as well as Ikea sell giant bags at the checkout counters that are pretty durable.

11. Shopping Bag

I always pack an extra bag to put any purchases in while i’m at the con- sometimes if you’re lucky you might get a nice bag when you check in to the con, but often bags are hard to come by and you might end up with lots of little bags from various vendors- it’s much easier to have a larger, sturdy bag to carry your goodies around in.

12. Water

A lot of cons have started offering free water from coolers, or maybe they have fountains, but some only have bottled water for sale, which is usually overpriced.

13. Ca$h Money $$$$$

While some vendors will likely have debit on demand, many will rely on cash at most cons. Right now I only have a partially ripped $20 and a few coins, but I’ll likely stop at my bank before leaving so I have cash on hand when I arrive and don’t get dinged with service fees at an ATM.

14. Business(?) Cards

Ok so these aren’t really business cards, but just cards with my social media handles on them. I usually run into a few like-minded people and it’s handy to have a card for sharing info to stay in touch!

15. Snacks

Sometimes at cons you get stuck waiting in a line for something for quite a while, or you are so active running around that you forget to take a break and eat something. In such cases, it’s very helpful to have a granola bar or some kind of snack to hold you over until you can get some proper food into your belly!

That’s all I can think of at the moment- did I miss anything? Happy con time!

Fit Your Material to Your Audience (Not the Other Way Around…)

Sometimes you try something and it just doesn’t work out. Sometimes you look at your creations so much that you can’t see them the way others would see them. I can be really hard on myself for these kinds of things, but I am trying to learn from my mistakes and “get back on the horse” when they happen so I don’t lose confidence.

This past couple of weeks my colleague and I have been giving tours of the library and informational presentations to grade 7 students. We still have more to go- there are 7 tours in total. My manager asked if I could give the students a mini-version of my “There’s a Graphic Novel For Everyone- Yes, Even You!” presentation since the teachers had been asking about it, to which I of course said YES!!!

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So each day, my colleague starts out the tour, bringing the group around both floors of the library, doing a scavenger hunt, exploring some online resources, and then she hands them over to me for the final half of their visit.

I altered my original presentation for the grade 7 students, shortening it and changing some of the language and content to be a bit more suitable for their age. I was excited to present it, but as I was going through it with the students on the first tour and they were reading out the character cards i’d designed, I really began to realize how advanced some of the vocabulary I had used was. I also noticed that some of the titles featured, while perhaps acceptable for their age group, were not really as thrilling to the grade 7 kids as they were to me. Oof, gr. 7 is a Tough crowd, I couldn’t help thinking for a moment as many of them sat staring at me with glazed faces, picking at their shoes.

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(Examples the slides from the original presentation)

On the second day, after our second tour, my colleague asked if she could talk to me- “I don’t want you to be sad…” she said kindly, “…but the teacher who organized the tours called me, and she said the presentation is too advanced for the grade 7 kids.”

Although I had also been thinking that the altered presentation might still be too in-depth, to hear it coming from the teachers gave me a sinking feeling of anxiety and reminded me suddenly of my hell practicum . 

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However, as soon as I heard the feedback the teachers had given, it became very clear to me what the problem was with my presentation- I was trying to make the kids fit into my presentation and not the other way around. I put a lot of time and effort into the first version of the presentation, including original characters and artwork, and because of my attachment to those pieces I didn’t truly consider them through the eyes of a grade 7 kid like I should have.

Sure, lots of people in other situations enjoyed the creativity of my original presentation, but it was made for an audience of adult library conference goers! Yes, there were a few kids who answered my questions eagerly and were genuinely interested in what I had to say, but those were the kids like me who already loved books in grade 7- if the point of my presentation is that comics are for everyone, I needed to convince the OTHER kids. Yes, I had already edited my presentation a bit for the classroom tours, but it was clear I had to start fresh.

I assured my colleague that I could whip up something different that would be much better suited for the grade 7’s. “Are you sure? The next tour is Monday afternoon…” (this being Friday merely half an hour before our work day was ending). Yes, I knew what I needed to do.


 

So, I put together a completely different presentation- shorter, simpler, with a bright new PowerPoint style and carefully selected title recommendations. I planned a group activity with the help of my colleague that would get the kids’ energy out a bit before they sat down again for my presentation.

I’ve gone through this new presentation and activity with 4 tour groups so far, and I’m very glad to say it is working out much better. The teachers complimented some of the changes we made to tidy up the flow of the tour, as well as the changes to my presentation about graphic novels. Overall the groups have been more engaged. More kids have started coming up to me after presentations to ask about certain books that were featured.

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I’m glad the teachers reached out with their concerns instead of letting me stumble through all of the tours- it’s not often I work with kids in that age group, and the teachers know their students’ interests and capabilities best. I’m also glad that they gave me a chance to alter the presentation and give it another try. Once again my respect for teachers grows, because although I enjoy doing the tours, being in charge of a large group of tweens for only one hour is extremely draining on me- and teachers have them all day for the whole school year!