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Hone Your Power, Claim Your Voice: Sam Maggs Style
12/06/2013

 

I was excited when my instructor presented us with a project in which we had to interview anyone from the publishing industry. My very first interview, I thought, exciting! Around this time, I was also researching articles on misogyny in comics for another project, and I stumbled upon one of Sam Maggs' amazing articles. Of course, that lead me to look more into Sam and her work. 

Sam Maggs is a comic book and TV otaku who writes for several geek culture sites such as Pop Wrapped, Televixen, Tdotcomics, Dork Shelf, and Geekosystem where she is currently an editor. She was very kind as to sit down with me and talk.

I sat down with Sam to talk about her career thus far, misogyny in comic books and being feminist in geek culture. She also gave me great advice on how to handle a creative career. I think any aspiring writer/artist (or any other profession which enables you to create) can benefit from what she told me. Here's a condensed version of my interview with Sam. Enjoy! 

complex-chan: [You wrote a letter to Tony Harris] What’s up with him?

Sam-chan: He, I think, is not all that unusual in the comics world, unfortunately. It’s kind of an old school point of view where mainstream geek culture has forever been a boys’ club, and the guys feel that they have to gatekeep their fandom so that there’s a proper way to like something, and an improper way to like something, and if you’re not liking it in the way they think you should—which is being a man, and being super knowledgeable of every single thing, then they don’t want you invading their personal bubble which they fought really hard to construct. So they lash out against the fans who don’t fit into that bubble, and often times that’s women, queer people, or people of color.

Are you upset about that? How do you deal with it since you chose to have a career in this industry? Because I had read an article about this girl, also a writer, who stated that if this is the way things are going to be, then maybe she didn’t want to read comics anymore.

I think that’s a very defeatist way to approach things, I understand people who try to get involved in this world and are feeling shunned and just feel like walking away from it all. But if we all do that, then it will never be a safe space for people like me, and if I’m passionate about this form of art—and art and text should be available to everyone— the only way to make that more probable is to fight for it. Somebody needs to put a voice to the fact that people like me like to read comic books, and when I do, I don’t want to see a lot of tits and ass. Last year, 50% of people who bought video games were women, and similarly, a lot more women are buying comic books now. We not only have to say that we like these things, but we can put physicality to our voice by using our money to buy the things that we think are right, and not support the things that we think are misogynist or disgusting, like the New 52 Catwoman: the cover is Catwoman leaning over backwards with her boobs out, spilling diamonds out of a phallus-shaped bag. It was awful! So maybe don’t buy New 52 Catwoman, make a point about it, someone’s going to read it and maybe the right people are going to come into power at DC and Marvel. Or, indie comics are going to get bigger because more people are going to start putting their money there [since] they draw the things that we want to see. So, I think it upsets me. I wouldn’t be so vocal about it otherwise, but the wrong thing to do is shut yourself or be equally as exclusive in another form. Use that anger to try to make a positive change—which is easier said than done, because it’s hard!

Do you feel women need to have a hub for themselves and eventually integrate into the entire geek culture?

The Internet has been great for people getting together to create communities—worldwide communities! So I think it is important to form these gangs, but ultimately if you want to make a change, that does have to disseminate into the greater culture. If you want your voice to be heard, it’s better to be a collective of voices, and I think Twitter & Tumblr are really great places to do that. A lot of great comic artists who I really admire like Kate Leth, Kelly Sue DeConnick, and Gail Simone have very pro-active Tumblr followings, and they can mobilize fans like that (snaps fingers).

Why did you choose writing as your medium to express yourself?

Uh, ‘cause I can’t draw for shit, basically [we both laugh]. No, I’ve always loved writing. I started when I was 7. [I was writing] short stories, then I moved onto fan fiction, which is why I think it’s wonderful even though it’s terrible [blushes]! I’ve always loved writing, reading, and I’ve always loved television. I’ve loved storytelling in an unusual medium, and I never wanted to be a novelist. But I’ve always found screenwriting really appealing, and journalism, which is what I do now. The reason why I think comics are really interesting is because comics are written in the same way that Hollywood screenplays are written: you write them in the exact same format, and then they’re transferred onto a page instead of onto the screen.

So, [writing is] your full-time job now, type of thing?

Yeah, it’s all I do now. So, I write for Dork Shelf where I write about women in the comics industry, I write for the Televixen where I talk about TV shows, and I’m an editor for Geekosystem, where I talk about… everything!

[We laugh]

How do you juggle all those jobs?

When I was working full-time, and doing all those things on the side it was very difficult. Toronto has a very vibrant nerd scene… and I really like to be part of the community, so I like to go to events [and] screenings… but that takes time out of your life, so how did I balance everything? Poorly. It was really hard. I’d go to my full-time job, then I would go to an event, and then I’d come home and write for several hours to make sure that I was on top of my deadlines, then I’d go to sleep, and I’d do it all again.

You’d sleep in?

Yeah, and try to maintain my relationships with friends full-time. It is tough. I think you have to make a commitment in a creative field to really dedicate yourself to it because it’s never going to pay the bills in the same way that [being a lawyer] is going to pay the bills. You have to integrate yourself into the community and get to know people. There are a million other people who want to be in comics. There are a million other people who want to be writers. Everybody can be a writer now because of blogging and in my experience the only difference between people who want to do it, and people who do it, [is that they’re] just doing it. Do you know what I mean?

Yeah.

If you really want to do it, you have to make a commitment to the fact that you’ll probably have to do it on top of your job for a while, it’ll be exhausting, and there probably won’t be a lot of reward at first because no one’s going to read your stuff and you’re going to feel bummed [about that]. You’re going to be self-promoting it to the only 200 people who follow you on Twitter, it’s going to be terrible for a while. But if you’re really passionate about it, you just have to do it, and it’ll work out.

Aside from writing, do you have other hobbies?

I have a YouTube series with a friend of mine called the c_ntrollers, and we [make videos about] playing video games. And I really like to see movies. I just saw Thor yesterday. One thing I will say though is that the women are poorly treated in the movie. In Thor, which I thought was a wonderful movie as a whole, the women are saved by the men in every single instance. Thor’s mother is fridged… you know the term women in refrigerators?

No.

This is a comic book reference. It was a DC comic, and the main character comes home to find his girlfriend chopped up in the fridge. Dead. And that’s what motivates him to go on his grand adventure as a superhero. Gail Simone wrote a piece about women in refrigerators, and how women traditionally serve as the motivation for the male superhero to go on whatever self-fulfilling journey he needs to go on, and it’s usually the female’s death. So, they’re basically objects that die for the sake of the male hero to go on his journey. That happened in this Thor movie.

On my blog, I wrote about one of the characters in Naruto Shippuden…the difference between misogyny in anime and manga, and western comics and animation is that at least the women [in anime/manga] have a really powerful role and have character development.

That’s definitely different. We just die a lot.

[We laugh]

The issue I had with this character, she was the chief of her village. But she was the type of woman [who was a stereotype created by the media], who chooses her career over marriage and children—you know the typical route society wants us to take? She keeps saying that she missed her chance at the altar, and she’s really bitter about being single. I argued that...and I’m sort of questioning my argument now, but I argued that because I really like the fact that Catwoman has sex appeal and commands it…

She’s in charge of it.

Yeah. And I felt if Mei, that’s the name of the character, was going to have sex appeal she could use her sex appeal in that way too.

That’s a totally fair argument. It’s okay for women to be sex workers, it’s okay for women to be strippers, it’s okay for women to wear a bra on the street in the middle of the day. That’s kind of the point of Feminism. Do whatever you want to do, and own it, and run with it, accept yourself and love yourself. Be you, whether that’s wearing a turtleneck and long boots because that’s how you feel comfortable, or you love your size 14 body and you want to do burlesque dancing. No dude can tell you what’s okay and what’s not. You shouldn’t feel [uneasy about] if it’s ok for [Mei] to use her sexuality, and if men are going to be okay with that. When you look at it from that perspective, power is still with the man. 

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  • icon
    Nyome
    I've known a ton about gender issues. lol I've had friends in the past who were transgender and ended up learning a ton of the subject. We went our separate ways over the years. If you ever have questions let me know.
    12/22/2013
  • icon
    complex
    Wow, thanks everyone for sharing your experiences. Perhaps you've become slightly more aware of gender classification & the like, possibly after having read this? And I agree that kids' sitcoms, especially Disney sitcoms these days, are so stupid and teach kids nothing valuable. I remember the last time I saw an episode of Shake it Up & A.N.T. Farm in the summer, and it was so ridiculously dumb my brain felt mostly fried.
    12/22/2013
  • icon
    TheAwsome +1
    Television is very good at influencing kids to behave certain ways. Today I think television is dividing the genders apart at an even earlier age. From shows like "Shake it Up" teaching girls to act a like spoiled and like what the characters like. And shows like "Regular Show" teaching boys well nothing but to act silly and gain odd habits. I can say "Regular Show" is a fun to watch but not at young ages. I'm not being hypocritical as I see the effects of it on my younger siblings.
    12/18/2013
  • icon
    TheAwsome +1
    Today I went to the store with my mother to get character themed wrapping paper and like in Nyo's case it was divided between genders. Today the two largest influences on kids are their parents and television. It is all about what morals and ethics the parents teach their children that will make them grow. And as for the parents of my generation I would say they are not that good as the one that came before. And as for television....
    12/18/2013
  • icon
    Nyome +1
    It didn't help tonight when I went to the store tonight and saw the toy aisle split into a boys and girl section. Was looking for a gender neutral gift for an office party but there was nothing. Saddest part this is common practice everywhere. I don't mind having boyish and girlish toys, but at least have some unisex items mixed in. Seems like it would be smart marketing to appeal to a broad demographic.
    12/17/2013
  • icon
    Ebel +1
    Then the next generation of adults will know what values are important to have about equality and spread that culture to other people. Ideally, we need as a people to think more in the long term of things to change as well rather than always thinking about how to have a short term investment that way we can help the future generations.
    12/17/2013
  • icon
    Ebel +1
    We can all agree here that equality needs to happen; although I will say that equality issue lies at the feet of the current culture of major populations. Therefore, to have a new impact or issues to be solved a culture shift needs to happens to change everyone's views. Otherwise, the current views will remain because the culture has not changed. Likewise for real change to happen, you must teach kids the views that are important through example rather than conversations.
    12/17/2013
  • icon
    complex
    I understand that many feminists nit-pick & go as far as degrading other women & I've read a good portion of articles written by those women. But I believe that stereotypes about feminists, which are all negative, are based on the first/second wave movements, which to me seemed like very angry movements. Many young feminists today aren't those stereotypes. And I found that not everybody stands for the same issues, so I'd like for everybody to drop their preconceived notions of feminists.
    12/08/2013
  • icon
    Nyome +1
    With feminism, it's a bit more complex. I'm for equality, but many of the feminist movements go far beyond equality to the point of being degrading and further segregating females. Which is why feminist are often looked down upon. I'm more for sex and gender rights. If you want to wear a skirt, pants, or w/e you should go for. Be gay, straight, bi, or transgender it's your choice. But don't confuse power with equality. An imbalance of power is a symptom of inequality but not the problem.
    12/08/2013
  • icon
    Nyome +1
    I think celebrating part of a culture is fine. It just depends on the reason behind it. In the black history month example, it's because black history month is often seen as a way to promote equality more so than a celebration. As a result it segregates the community. But celebrating Christmas or Chanukah is intended to celebrate culture and history without having the purpose of promoting equality. MLK day is the same since it promotes the accomplishments of the past and spreading the message.
    12/08/2013
  • icon
    complex
    create these holidays or social groups are not to make things exclusive. They just want to acknowledge a piece of culture that is generally not. And often times, they state that their communities are open to everyone. I think their error usually is give their group a name that makes them seem exclusive. You know what I mean? like 'geek girl club' or something. Anyway, I'm totally rambling. I'm just in deep thought right now. :)
    12/08/2013
  • icon
    complex
    I do have to say, at the same time, it is also necessary to talk about discrimination because someone might be discriminating someone and they don't even know it. But I guess it's like you said, while we're doing so, we have to be careful not to divide each other. And I wonder if celebrating a part of a culture or history that is generally not acknowledged as much is truly segregation, like Mr.Freeman intended to say? Because the intentions of those who...
    12/08/2013
  • icon
    complex +1
    As opposed to being blind to the situation. Anyway! What my brother said, and what you said, and what Morgan Freeman said in that video really put things into perspective for me. And so I won't be labelling myself solely as a Feminist, or a Black Feminist. I still want to do something special with my art & writing, and I think now it's just a matter of finding a way of putting everything I stand for into my work… :) omg thank you so much!
    12/08/2013
  • icon
    complex
    my humanitarian views. I just want to be humanitarian. Personally, I'm not exactly fighting for equal rights, because the way I see things is that equality doesn't exist in this society. I think if we want to attain it, it'll basically require a complete knock down + reconstruction of society, and it would also require that we not be a capitalist nation as well. I just think that if someone is being discriminated against, then we need to do something to help each other out...
    12/08/2013
  • icon
    complex
    I just watched the 55 second video where he state that: http://youtu.be/I3cGfrExozQ WOW. You're so right. You're so, so right. And I never thought about it this way. I just had this huge talk with my brother too about my view on Feminism and all. I thought I wanted to limit myself to this one school of thought (I consider it to be so), but I don't even do that with my spirituality. I borrow lessons from several schools of thought with my spirituality. So I also don't want to put a label on...
    12/08/2013
  • icon
    Nyome +1
    I'll agree with Morgan Freeman's view of "stop talking about it." Until the day we are able to talk to each other as people and not define ourselves by race, sex, gender, or religion the best we can do is to simply not use those terms that define each other. At the same time we must do everything we can to protect those segregated against prejudice or stereotypes. And yes, talking about it in blogs like this is very important to reaching this goal. We just have to unify and not divide.
    12/07/2013
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