I was talking with Ty, and as usual, the discussion shifted to the art of writing, and so many points got discussed that it was only later, after taking time to digest it all, that something emerged that I wanted to further elaborate on.
We were talking about writing, and I was discussing some of the characters I had created and was either working on (Head Above Water) or hoping to work on once I got some other projects in the can. He then pointed out two interesting tidbits about the characters we had discussed:
1) They were all women (or, in the case of one, a teenager, but not a little girl)
2) They were all actually realized characters. One woman is an adventurer character who is pretty banged up with scars and burn marks. She looks like a fighter. Basically, you look at her and think, "If I ever get in trouble, I want her on my side." This is as opposed to Lara Croft And Her Amazing Rack, who is also an adventurer, but guys are too busy fapping to her beauty to care.
It's an old truism about comic book characters who get their own series -- male characters inspire, while female characters seduce. Most female characters get their own miniseries, actual continuing series with solo female leads (Wonder Woman, Spider-Girl) are rare and may last a while, but not forever. Supergirl, She-Hulk...many come and go so often, you need a scorecard to keep track of the issue numbers.
And then, there are the female characters that I create. For example, there's Holly in Stress Puppy, a female propellerhead who will run rings around just about anyone. She is her own woman, she owns her sexuality instead of giving it up at the drop of a hat, she handles her own problems, she has a super genius level IQ (if you read "Keeping Up With The Jones," it is specifically listed as 165)...I admit this is not a typical female character.
Ty asked if there was some specific reason that most of my more dynamic recent character creations are female.
The answer is, "Beats me."
I am not intentionally trying to create female characters, but he is right that that is how things seem to be working out lately. In the case of Holly, for example, when I started creating her, my checklist was simple -- I wanted the Ruler Of The Techies in the strip to be female, and I wanted her to be a vixen specifically to reference the whole "clever as a fox" thing that I see Linux users exhibit. Her personality evolved during the test strips. But it's not like I started off saying, "I want to create a female character like THIS!"
A lot of people will say they want to create female characters to act as role models or heroes. Joss Whedon specifically created Buffy because he wanted to create a blonde heroine who was actually heroic, not some dumb blonde blundering through the story. Now, it worked with Buffy, but then again, she had Joss Whedon writing for her. Most of the time, female characters either are formations of outmoded gender cliches (Halle Berry's Catwoman is Exhibit A) or so much emphasis is placed on making a statement about empowerment that they forget to make a character. The result is a bland, soulless character who won't inspire anyone because she is never really alive, she's just a soapbox for the creative staff.
For the sake of brevity, we are going to completely ignore Mary Sues in this discussion, m'kay?
As for me, I'm not actively seeking to create female characters, it's just how it's working out. What we create, as writers, pencillers, photographers, whatever, is as much a reflection of us creators as what we are seeking to depict. Take two photographers. One works for Playboy and is all about the beauty of the feminine form. The other works for a magazine like Ball or Screw, which is all about women with their fingers in themselves and their tongues sticking out. There's an obvious psychological difference between the two in how they regard women, and it comes through in the pictures they take. No doubt, the many female characters I create, with the emphasis on being their own person and actually having a brain in their heads (in general, I can't write dumb characters. I hate dumb characters. There's a reason Stress Puppy doesn't have a character like Pig or Skull The Troll. When I write, I am basically spending time with these individuals. And I don't like hanging around with morons), paints an interesting picture of me and how I view the opposite sex. But then again, I am just making what I find interesting. I'm not saying, "Today, I'm going to make a female character who does THIS!" In fact, given that a lot of comic books are simply adolescent male power fantasies, maybe it figures that I'm creating female characters just to stay out of what I perceive as a trap.
However, not only am I in the minority in my depictions and goals, but I'm not sure I can get a majority of the audience. Most female characters are...well, let's be polite and call them "nerfed." Lifetime shows tons of movies about supposedly empowered and assertive women (have their own business, etc.) who none-the-less are on the run from some sort of stalker terror (frequently, someone from their own gender) who are saved either by the hand of Fate making the antagonist trigger their own demise or the man they truly love manages to save them in the nick of time. Not very modern and empowered, if you ask me. Power Girl is finally getting a regular series. However, it's not the Power Girl from when she was first created. Power Girl was Earth-2's Supergirl, but she chose Power Girl and the white costume because she didn't want to be known in relation to her cousin Superman, but as her own individual. She was a computer software engineer with her own business. Her form was sexy (it IS a comic book heroine, after all), but it was athletic, not pnuematic. And she languished in relative obscurity for years. Then, they give her her new costume with the cutout circle highlighting her cleavage and seam going over her camel toe (and I'll just bet that rope holding her cape and going under her armpit is REAL comfortable), re-design her physique, and bingo! She gets a series. A character created to be her own woman is reduced to Rule 34 fodder, and is rewarded with popularity.
(Side note: who's at fault, the fans for demanding and rewarding this, or the publisher for going along with it? I'd say there's plenty of blame to go around.)
Sex sells. Women are sexy. And things that ignore the sexiness or downplay it (or don't know how to create and write a woman who is realized but still sexy, incorporating all aspects) are rewarded with career-ending apathy. When a series like She-Hulk gets the axe, no one can explain why it didn't work. They were giving readers what they wanted, after all. But a series with a woman that isn't just eye candy? When that gets the axe, there's no mystery -- they just didn't make the character sexy enough.
Is it possible for female characters who are realized to be a hit? Sure. But how does it happen? No clue. And I'm not really interested in trying. I just want to create good stories and have an audience find me. If they embrace one of my characters, I want it to be because I did something worthwhile, not that I worked off a fantasy shopping list similar to theirs.