Saturday, 11 August 2012

Digital Canvas - A Test Of Character

If you’ve just joined us, in my previous article I discussed my views on female character portrayal in both traditional print-comics and webcomics, and I argued that due to the differing motives of each medium (among other factors), webcomics on the whole portray female characters in a much better, more rounded manner. But you don’t have to take my word for it! I’m willing to test my own theory, and in my last article I set out some basic rules that any Strong Female Characters should adhere to:

  1. Strong Female Characters should be able to pass the Bechdel Test (have two female characters shared a conversation that isn’t about men in some way?). A simple test you think? The recent Avengers film sadly failed this one miserably.
  2. A Strong Female Character shouldn’t exist just to somehow support or orbit a man. No sidekicks or love interests that just borrow their motivation from the person they’re sidekicking to, basically.
  3. A Strong Female Character shouldn’t be overly sexy in their dress sense or body language for no good reason or if it goes against common sense. Sometimes sexy poses aren’t the best option to carry out everyday activities (c.f. Megan Fox the “mechanic“ in the Transformers films).

If my favourite strips can stick to all three rules, I’ll count them as successful. I’ve decided to steer clear of gag-a-day webcomics for this test, as it’s really aimed at strips with more substance and story to them. So lets dive in:

Gunnerkrigg Court. This webcomic benefits from having two female characters as the main protagonists, along with several other female side characters. The strip passes Rule One with flying colours, Annie and Kat have shared conversations about a great many things, some of them involving deep feelings (a particular stand-out being when Annie discusses her childhood and her mother). Rule Two certainly doesn’t apply, in fact I’d say that the male characters were the secondary ones here! And honestly the characters are generally too young for Rule Three to affect them, but even the more mature characters pass this one easily. Even during relationship scenes, more often than not the focus is on personalities rather than physicality, which makes a positive change to certain clichés.
3/3 - PASS

Adventures Of Dr. McNinja. Despite being one of my most beloved webcomics, I feel it suffers the most from having less-than-prominent female characters. Due to it’s lack of front-line females, it fails poorly on Rule One (the closest we ever get to an all-female conversation is a handful of words spoken between the Doc’s mother and his ex-girlfriend) and comes very close to failing Rule Two. Happily the strip is saved from this by a recent arc where the main character is mostly absent, giving us chance to explore the motivations of the ladies that could have easily been described as “Doc’s disapproving mother” and “Doc’s gorilla receptionist” beforehand. And unless you count the fact that Judy is a gorilla without any clothes on throughout the strip, then happily there’s no problem with Rule Three.
2/3 - FAIL

Monster Pulse. The main group in this strip profits from having two female characters that pass all three tests easily, along with some very strong secondary characters to round out the cast nicely. One of the key elements I enjoy about this strip (and nicely falls into the category of Rule One) are the very believable reactions and conversations in response to the situations the characters find themselves in. I’ll always remember how the somewhat naïve West suggests the group uses their newfound gifts to become heroes, and everybody reacts as if he were completely mad, and how that would never happen in “real life”! Also of note in relationship to Rule Three, Julie is a character who has become permanently bald due to a prominent plot point, but it’s inspiring to see how well she copes with having an appearance not considered normal by society. She is consistently the most lively and happy of the cast, and when recently asked if she’d want her hair back she replies “Nah, I’m a rockstar”.
3/3 - PASS

Bad Machinery. This strip may be a fun exploration of pre/mid-adolescence, but that doesn’t stop it having a cast of very strong female characters. And yes, the dialogue does veer towards boys and “pashing” (kissing) occasionally, but happily for Rule One this isn’t all that gets discussed. Now I was going to let this strip pass the other two rules effortlessly, but then I recalled a character who was likely to get caught in the trap of Rule Three: the sultry Mrs Lord, a pastiche of every teacher a young lad ever had a crush on, and also a vehement topic of discussion in the staff room as well! After thinking it over, I decided to let her pass due to the “good reason” caveat in the rule, as she is obviously portrayed for ironic intent.
3/3 - PASS

Todd Marsh is keen to avoid blanket statements, and is now wondering if this test merely reflects his personal taste rather than webcomics on the whole.

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