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Notes on Creation

Latest thoughts on the creative life

Let's Talk About Guns, Comics

Jennifer de Guzman

Let’s talk about guns, comics.

I went through the new releases on ComiXology today, and these are most of the covers that have someone holding a gun on them; there were thirteen in all. Most comics covers do not have people (or anthropomorphized animals) holding guns on the cover, but there are striking attributes of those that do.

First, 44% of the characters shown holding guns are female (8 out of 18). However, in the United States, men are three times more likely than women to own guns

Guns, as a symbol, are male-coded, so in a culture that equates strength and independence with masculinity, putting a gun in the hands of a woman is a shorthand statement for “Strong Female Character.” The guns on the covers are often paired with a pose that emphasizes the female characters’  breasts, hips, butts, crotches, and/or legs -- as if to say “She’s strong, but she’s still hot!”  I’d say this is true of 4 of the 8 women on the covers. (I am aware that the cover of God Hates Astronauts is satire, but there is a point where satire perpetuates what is supposedly deconstructing.) The pairing of guns and women in the traditional way it is done in comics glamorizes the violence done by these weapons. And the aesthetic requirement is clear: The glamor of the woman must not be undercut by the ugliness of the violence committed with the weapon in her hand.

Second, this is subjective, but I would say that everyone, male and female, holding a gun on the covers are doing so in a way that depicts them heroically -- and the gun is a necessary accessory to that heroism. Comics are often about action, and guns are easy way to depict that the characters are fighting against a foe. Again: Shorthand. But as we see, horribly, daily -- guns in our country are more often the tool of murderers than heroes.

Third, almost all of the covers were drawn by men. The cover of Black Jack Ketchum appears to have been drawn by series artist Claudia Balboni; she is the only series artist in this selection of comics who is a woman. The creative teams on these comics included only one female writer who is credited on ComiXology: Corinna Sarah Bechko, who writes Lara Croft. One woman is credited as a colorist, Marissa Louise on Exit Generation. (I know that Kristina Collantes colors The Humans, but she is not credited on ComiXology.) I will leave the significance of this up to you, but the gender imbalance in comics is always worth bringing up.

I won’t call anyone out specifically, but I saw a few of the comics writers and artists who are credited on these comics speak out on Twitter about the horror they feel about the latest spate of mass shootings in our country. Please be clear: I am not saying that the glamorization of guns in comics causes violence. What I am saying is that writers and artists have control over how the use of guns is portrayed. They are part of our cultural narrative. What stories are they choosing to tell? And what ingrained cultural stereotypes and myths do these stories play upon and perpetuate?