Ball State University adjunct Christina Blanch is a comic book nerd to such a degree that she created the online class Gender Through Comics. Though the class, Blanch explores gender, stereotypes, identity and the changing of roles throughout the history of comics. The class incorporates video lectures, discussions and chats, and interviews with comic book heavy hitters like Mark Waid and Terry Moore.
We recently spoke with Blanch about her course and men and women in her favorite comics.
Nerdy With Children: When did you come up with the idea of discussing gender roles through comics?
Christina Blanch: I was taking a class on women and education, and for the final project, my professor encouraged me to think outside the box and do something besides a normal paper. So, I developed a class on teacher gender using comics. When I presented in the class, one of the other students taught a gender class and asked me to guest speak. After that, they asked me to teach the class on campus and things just snowballed from there. I had been using comics as teaching tools for a few years, but never taught an entire class using them.
NWC: You must have some geeky tendencies … maybe? Were you a fan of comics as a little girl?
Blanch: I have a lot of geeky tendencies much to the chagrin of my teenage daughter. As a little girl I was a fan of a lot of things geeky. The first comic book I remember reading was my parent’s book of Prince Valiant. I thought it was so cool that this adult book had pictures and words. And all of the characters were so awesome and the stories had everything — action, adventure, romance. And I felt very grown up reading this oversized book, which is odd since it was a comic book, I know, but we all know comics are for everyone. At least we should.
NWC: Who were your favorite characters then? Are they still some of your favorites now?
Blanch: Growing up I was really a Marvel girl, and I had so many favorites. There was always Wonder Woman, but that was mostly from the TV show. However, I must admit, when Star Wars came out, it replaced everything for a long time. Star Wars changed my life. I read every comic there was of Star Wars. Actually I read anything that had Star Wars in it.
My favorites now are Swamp Thing, Dr. Strange, Wonder Woman and, of course, Superman. However, I read a lot of comics that aren’t about Superheroes. Locke and Key, The Walking Dead anything by Brian K. Vaughan. And of course, I still love Star Wars.
Blanch and Stan Lee
NWC: Is it common for men to like male characters, women to like females? Or is there some cross-pollination going on?
Blanch: I don’t think it matters. As long as a character is written well, it doesn’t matter. At least to me. That said, I do think it’s nice to have someone that you can relate to. But that goes way beyond gender. There needs to be a lot more diversity in comics — ethnicity, race, disability, age, etc.
NWC: How has the portrayal of women in comics changed since the early days?
Blanch: l think it goes back and forth. Take Lois Lane for example. She started out tough in the ‘30s and early ‘40s. Then turned into a love-sick puppy in the ‘40s through the ‘60s. She was then independent, but has gone back and forth since. I think the portrayal has gotten much better, but there is still room for improvement. But again, it’s much better than the days when women were secondary characters only.
NWC: How has it changed for males?
Blanch: That’s a broad question, and it really depends on the genre, the writer, the time, the publisher. I think it’s changed less for males than females, but there are stereotypes of men in comics, too. Look at the ‘90s, when everyone was hyper-masculine.
NEC: How do you feel about scantily clad female superheroes?
Blanch: I think there’s a place for it as I’m sure it’s someone’s cup of tea, but I guess I approach it from a practical perspective. If I were crime-fighting, I would want as much of me protected as possible. I wouldn’t want to always have to worry about having something falling out or having a wedgie, and I most definitely would not wear high heels. But again, that’s me being practical.
NWC: Is there an underlying eroticism in superhero comics for both men and women?
Blanch: In some yes. In others, no.
NWC: Are comics, in general, good for kids? In what way?
Blanch: It depends on the comic. I mean, reading is good for kids in general, but there are books they shouldn’t be reading. I let my daughter read The Walking Dead or Locke and Key but I wouldn’t want her to read some of the other mainstream books.
NWC: Are there any female artists you point to as examples of people changing the gender roles is comics today?
Blanch: Writers: Gail Simone, Lora Innes, Marjorie Liu, Colleen Doran, and there are a lot more. I think there are a lot of male writers that are changing the gender roles, too. I think it’s happening across the board.
NWC: If you invented a comic book, who would your protagonists be, what would be their backstories and superpowers, and what would they teach about gender roles?
Blanch: Well, I actually am writing a comic, but it’s not about superheroes. It’s called The Damnation of Charlie Wormwood, and it’s on thrillbent.com. I used to teach in prison, and a friend of mine, Chris Carr, and I got together and decided to write about our experiences, but in a fictional way. The art by Chee is amazing. Anyway, gender does play a part in the story, but it’s really just about people. There are the roles like a man is supposed to provide for the family and take care of them, but that gets kind of turned around. And there are no hyper-sexualized characters in this book. Just normal people with no super powers.