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Tony Harris is Comics… And So Can You!

This is written by one of my Facebook friends who took the time to write their feelings on the controversy that happened this week. What Liana K. has to say is important and since she doesn’t have a tumblr I asked if I could post it here on her behalf so more people could read it. Liana is the Co-Host of I Hate Hollywood on CHCH and will be starting a new show soon called “Ed the Sock’s I Hate Hollywood.” You can find her features writing on Gaming Excellence and find her on Twitter @redlianak.

Firstly, big thanks to Jill Pantozzi and Katherine Curtis for taking this on first.  I just want to add my perspective on this issue, because, well, I think this needs to be talked about more.

Secondly, for those not familiar with what I’m responding to, here are the basics, thanks to Bleeding Cool:

http://www.bleedingcool.com/2012/11/13/hey-quasi-pretty-not-hot-girl-you-are-more-pathetic-than-the-real-nerds-tony-harris/

Okay here goes…

I’m sure everyone expects me to blast Tony Harris for his recent comments about cosplayers, specifically female cosplayers – yes, Tony, you did go there. No, that’s not okay.  But this has happened too many times in the last year or two alone for me to get really in a froth about it.  This is an opinion that too many dudes have, so it needs some air and light, as opposed to heat.  Tony Harris is right that he speaks for a great many.  Thing is, so do I.

Tony, I’ll give you points for trying really hard to separate the “real” female geek cosplayers from the attention seekers.  Where you went really wrong was that you ventured into the realm of “hotness”, a totally subjective, problematic approach.

Yes Tony, your rant was fearful of women.  You just don’t realize it because huge tracks of your entire industry fear women, and you are likely one of the more enlightened, but it’s a bell curve.  You’ve been in the echo chamber so long that you don’t realize why your words were hurtful and wrong.

We’re talking about an industry where top DC Comics talent tells female fans to “write your own comic” when they complain about the depiction of a female character.  You can’t just write your own comic and get it published by DC.  They know this.  It’s a brush off.  Also, it misses the point.

 We’re talking about a medium with a decent enough dialogue to coin the term “women in refrigerators”, but it’s not stopping those women from getting put in refrigerators to advance the stories of male heroes.  It’s pushed me out of comics almost completely, and into the world of video games, where if a guy acts like an asshole, I can shoot him with my laser rifle.

The thing that guys like you don’t understand about the concept of “hotness” is that the term “Quasi-Pretty-Not-Hot-Girl” is not a rallying cry.  It’s reminding women of who is really in charge in comic book land – Men.  And not just men.  White Men.  In the world of your rant, if women aren’t “hot”, they don’t exist, except for the ones you know and, since you think they’re hot, you get off on.  What you basically said is that women only count if they directly benefit your libido.

But that’s not a fear of women.  The fear part comes from the intimation in your screed that cosplay women who are displeasing to the comic lords are becoming too common, and must be stopped.  Then we get into the hatred, in the comment about these girls not talking to nerds outside of a convention.  There’s a resentment in saying that artists like, ironically, YOU, are the REAL reason for an event.  There is no one single reason for the current success of comic book conventions.

Protip: if the women at comic book conventions weren’t at least somewhat interested in the material, there are lots of other places where they can dress up in skimpy clothes.  Hooters, for instance, where they can make good tips for their trouble.

The painful nerve that you stepped on is the cold reality that in the savage land of women, there is always someone “hotter”.  There is always that woman who is willing to show more and do more, and it is an intense, painful, personal journey to get to the point where a woman can be okay with that.  Every cosplayer on the planet feels, in her regular life, quasi-hot, because most aren’t supermodels or actresses, and those of us who are in the entertainment industry are frequently being pressured to lose weight and have surgery.  Without realizing it, you made every cosplayer out there feel crappy.

I started cosplaying before I even knew what it was.  I was inspired by Michelle Pfieffer’s version of Catwoman when I was sixteen years old, and I loved the symbolism of her tearing apart a raincoat to make something new that defined her.  My comics at that time were Marvel books: Spiderman, X-Men, in the days of feral Wolverine and Black Suit Spiderman.

At that time, the character I most identified with was Beast, because he was this beautiful, intelligent, poetic spirit who was in a body so freakish that no one saw him as attractive.  At that time I was in the middle of a seriously active phase of anorexia.  I was passing out in basketball practices and living on little more than milk.  I was skinnier than I have ever been in my life, but I was a “nerd”, so no one saw me as a girl.  I was a walking brain.

But then I became Catwoman, and that all changed.  Those “nerds” you claim are ignored by girls like me?  Wrong Tony, you guys were the ones who didn’t know I was alive, but WOW did you find my pulse when I showed up in 50 Shades of Meow.  Suddenly, guys who were actively pursuing other, flashier girls turned their attentions toward me… which created a whole different sort of problem but that’s a story for another time. 

A few years later, I wasn’t actively starving myself, thanks to counseling.  But I still FELT grotesque.  As a man, you can’t understand how instantly invisible a woman becomes when we’re not playing the “hot” game, and I wanted to be respected for my mind and ideas and my soul.

I eventually realized that’s a crock of shit.  Respect is something more rare than a four-leafed clover, thanks to men like you, Tony Harris, self-proclaimed defender of real nerds.

That was my Pamela Isley phase.  I understood the rage of being injected by a poison.  To be treated as a lab rat, an experiment.  So I made my outsides look like my insides.  Poison Ivy was my way of understanding the world.  It was my way of saying “screw you.  I still matter.” 

I dove into the JSA-era Power Girl because she was the leader of a team despite having a ridiculously huge chest, something I have been struggling with since puberty.  Her strength was inherent in the way she was drawn.  She was there.  She was substantial.  She had ankles.  She told me that I could still be what I wanted to be.  It was the only hope I had in a sea of jiggle girls, where I was ignored because I wouldn’t coat myself in body glitter and be “likable” instead of passionate and opinionated.  When I was in that costume, people saw me and they liked what they saw, boob jokes and all.  Yes, I have boobs.  And they’re ridiculous.  And I’m very very aware of that.  It was so great to finally be able to express “I have boobs.  And they are ridiculous.”

Until guys like you tell me I can’t, because I’m not hot enough for you.  What gives you the right to do that?  The ability to draw?  Do you have to be hot to be able to draw?  What if you did?

Cosplay is a way for people to tell verboten truths through costumes.  We can make an idea real.  We can be what we want to be for a few days a year.  It allows us to believe in something that’s perhaps a bit silly, but it’s subtly magical.  Comic book women are a different kind of woman than what is normally thought of as beautiful.  I think it’s healthier to try to get positive interactions with people through costumes, instead of liposuction and implants. 

No one tells that guy at the football game all painted up in the team colors that he has to be “hot”.  Why do women who love Wonder Woman get judged that way?  Tony, if your screed had remained confined to what’s in a woman’s head and heart, and didn’t spend so much time focusing on appearance — and what’s in it for male comic book geeks who are OWED something by the world, damn it! — Then, well, people likely wouldn’t have been so pissed at you right now. 

T&A in comics is not a pox, Tony, and you don’t get to say that it is.  What’s a problem is the amount of rape, implied rape, mind rape, infidelity, and an utter desecration of relationship fidelity and the wonderful things that can come out of marriage.  Too many male writers and editors have determined that not only are women not interesting unless they’re a victim of something involving their vagina, but they CAN’T be.

Focus on that, instead of our bodies.  Because some of us may be okay with just being ‘Quasi-Hot’.  We have other interests in life.  Like video games.  I’m so sick of somehow being inherently bad because of the size of my chest.

You yourself are probably not a misogynist, but your rant very much was, and you’re not the first guy in comics to get called out on it.  If you really want to help women who like comics and video games and other Nice Things, then listen when a whole heaping lot of us getting righteously pissed at you.  See us.  Learn from us.  Or what you’re saying is just an extension of your need to maintain male control of comic book conventions.

If you want to say this crap, go write for a Chuck Lorre sitcom.  Otherwise, I’d recommend you listen some more before you continue pontificating.  And don’t insult the work of other pros.  That’s just tacky.  Somehow the artists’ whose work you abhor manage to keep a civil tongue in their heads while weathering the exact same insults you flipped out over. 

To everyone reading this, do I think Tony Harris is a bad guy?  No.  I don’t know him.  Do I think he did something exceptionally thoughtless in what he wrote?  Absolutely.  The real measure of the man will come in what he does next, and ripping on Bleeding Cool for reporting on the story wasn’t a good first step.  This debate isn’t about labels.  It’s about declaring that those of us who communicate through costumes deserve dignity when we’re being silly.

They’re real, and they’re stupidly huge. (I mean my ideas… oh yeah, those too.)
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