Votes and Comics for Women!
| Tidal Wave's Female Force to be reckoned with. |
TidalWave Productions has led the market with political biography titles since about 2008 with their Political Power and Female Force titles. Political Power features past and present opinion leaders in politics, government, and media from the United States and around the world. In 2015, the publisher started a special run of Political Power issues featuring the 2016 presidential candidates – from those that also-ran to those voters wished-had-ran, including Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Elizabeth Warren. They similarly promoted past and produced new issues for 2020 candidates, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and South Bend Mayor Peter Buttigieg, Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Bernie Sanders, and President Donald Trump.
The Female Force series is similar in style and substance, but with a deliberate “female empowerment angle.” TidalWave heavily promoted the series throughout 2020, especially following its release of Stormy Daniels' Space Force and its development into an animation, with the nomination, and subsequent election, of Kamala Harris as Joe Biden's Vice President, following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Overall, the Female Force line - which includes not only politicians and leaders but also celebrities like Cher, authors like Stephanie Meyer, and media personalities like Tina Fey - has been met with mixed, though tepid, reviews. Nonetheless, TidalWave's ongoing efforts to showcase women through Female Force, Political Power, and even the comedic Stormy Daniels Space Force is noteworthy because both comics and politics have traditionally been male-dominated arenas.
The president’s manhood has long been equated with his ability to lead, as first highlighted in the race between Martin Van Buren and William Henry Harrison in 1840, in which Harrison was feminized and thus shown as weak by his opponents. And thus, by 2020, voters were still reluctant to equate leadership with women.
Similarly, the genre of the superhero has traditionally been a male-dominated power fantasy embodied by hypermasculine physicality. Male-domination has consequently carried over into comic book fandom, where the media mostly frame a large and growing group of women fans as star-struck teens, exhibitionists, or the girlfriends of male fans - or what is often referred to as "fake geek girls."
This is what makes TidalWave's "female empowerment" efforts with its Female Force line-up so noteworthy. It's also what sets them up for lackluster reviews; they have so many obstacles to overcome, and they just don't quite make it. The RBG tribute, for example, is a well-told story of Justice Ginsburg's life, with particular attention to the gender inequities and barriers she overcame. But it maybe gives a little too much attention to those challenges, making her life seem remarkable only because of her womanhood, not because of her accomplishments qua her accomplishments. And, as a comic, it's boring visually and narratively. Most pages are laid out in a six-panel grid. The images are primarily the heads and shoulders of people with little to no background and they are overlaid with a lot of text, resulting in limited visual-verbal interplay to tell the story.
Such a comic cannot hold up against the decades old expectations for mighty leaders and daring-dos. The Female Force: Stormy Daniels and Stormy Daniels Space Force, on the other hand, swing too far the other direction with little to distinguish them from the usual hypersexualization of women in comic books and objectification of women in politics.
Stormy Daniels Space Force is filled with images of shapely, barely-clad women and muscular, usually, fully-clad men, becoming just another part of the "problem we have with female superheroes."
Female Force: Stormy Daniels uses a caricaturized art style that not only draws attention to Daniels' ample curves but that also distorts the appearances of other women, especially Hillary Clinton who was often mocked for her fashion and physique, effectively becoming part of the media content that contributes to the objectification of female politicians.
Political Power: Stormy Daniels uses the same art style, again highlighting Daniels' body, this time in particular contrast to Donald Trump's obesity - which many political cartoonists have been reluctant to caricature out of sense of decency.
Despite such weaknesses, Female Force is doing important work in increasing the visibility of public women and women in comics. But there's a lot of work left to be done.
While celebrating Vice President-Elect Harris breaking the Glass Ceiling as the first woman to become Vice President of the United States in 2021, let's not forgot that there was a celebration for Hillary Clinton breaking the Glass Ceiling as the first woman to receive a major party nomination in 2016. Until these women are no longer firsts, no longer exceptions, there is still glass up there somewhere.
~Christina M. Knopf
29 November 2020