Look, the comic book girl's here!

Look, the comic book girl's here!

Most comic books don’t speak to female readers; they are, typically, targeted at men. Shriya Ghate has been working hard to remedy the malady, learns Jisha Krishnan.

Earlier this year at the Comic Con India Awards, she bagged the Best Continuing Graphic Series Award for ‘Mos Queeto’, which appears regularly in Tinkle Digest. Meet Shriya Ghate. Less than a decade ago, she was the lone female member of a comic book club in Mumbai. Today, as the editor of Tinkle Digest, she’s on a mission to create empowering female superheroes that girls can look up to and be friends with. 

Excerpts from an interaction:

Did you expect to win the award?

It was totally unexpected. You know how it is – you write an action adventure and it competes with some seriously grim, grimy graphic-novel stuff. And you think there is no way I’m going to get this. And then suddenly, you’ve won! I felt like I had made a small place for myself in the comic books industry. And I was very happy that Mos Queeto got me there.  

Why aren't there more female 'heroes' in our comics?

There are two aspects to this. One is that a majority of adult comic book readers are male, so a lot of what is out there is targeted specifically to them. And the second is that there aren’t enough writers who can give you well-rounded and intriguing female ‘heroes’ that appeal to women and men alike.

Mainstream comic books have always been about action and violence, so a lot of readers automatically expect heroes with masculine qualities. The few female heroes that we do have are overtly ‘sexy-fied’, buxom bombshells that are pandered once again to male readers. So, although, there are a vast number of women out there, who do want to read comics, more often than not the existing books don’t speak to them. 

Is that something you have been trying to remedy?

That is exactly why I wrote a character named Chiyo. She is a 10-year-old Japanese-Indian girl, who realises that she has hidden superpowers, and is a natural Samurai warrior. She lives in a boarding school in South India, and frequently combats villains, who threaten her friends and family. She is tomboyish, but not immune to having crushes on boys. She is vulnerable, but also steely in terrifying situations. Her biggest arch rival - also a girl - is the supreme leader of the League of Very Bad Children. 

For the first time, after six months of writing this character, I received emails from two girls asking for more Chiyo.  This is what I wanted – for girls to find empowering female superheroes to look up to and be friends with.

Chiyo was also nominated at the Comic Con India Awards 2014, in the Best Writer and Best Continuing Graphic Series categories. 

Is the comic book industry largely a male domain? 

Children’s comic book publishers are fairly down the middle, when it comes to men and women. I would suspect that is not the case when it comes to comic book publishers for adults. 

But I do feel a little out of place when there is an industry gathering. You realise how few of us are actually out there. But when you do find another female writer, you get so excited! For example, when I found out there was another woman in my Comic Con Awards Category, I immediately got in touch with her online, and congratulated her. We both felt some serious camaraderie!

What is the relevance of comic books today?

I think comic books are more relevant now than ever. There is so much information coming in from various avenues. Comics make use of visuals and few words to give you that information/ entertainment in small, digestible packets. Kids don’t want to read books, so comics are the next best thing. They are at the perfect middle ground between books and television.

Also, many more women are interested in comics today. I think a lot has to do with the constant barrage of Hollywood Superhero movies, which automatically feed into the comic books culture. Because you want to live with these characters long after the movie has ended. Ten years ago, reading comics was considered geeky and no one took it seriously. But now, it is considered very cool. 

Who's your favourite comic book character? 

I have so many! But if I had to settle on one, I’d go with Superman. I have loved him all my life. He is so perfect and good, yet there is so much scope for tragedy. He’s the quintessential misfit. And I love that in characters.  

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