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Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall (thoughts)

July 27, 2010

Before I started book blogging, I thought that ‘graphic novel’ was a euphemism for erotica. In the years since, I’ve discovered my mistake, begun reading both graphic fiction and nonfiction, and found a few favourite authors. Fables, a series based on the idea that fairy tale characters have been driven out of their world and taken refuge in ours, is definitely on my favourites list, and I’ve been saving 1001 Nights of Snowfall, which is a companion to the series, for a special treat. Last week, I decided it was time, and the day I got it home from the library I also read it (and conveniently for me, it counts towards the Graphic Novels Challenge!).

In general, I really enjoyed the book. It’s modeled on Arabian Nights; Snow White (one of the strongest characters in Fabletown) is sent as an envoy to the ‘Arabian Fable worlds,’ to try to convince them to unite with Western Fables against the enemy (this all takes place long before the stories of the main Fables series). Instead, she gets caught up with the woman-hating sultan we all know from Arabian Nights and in order to save her life must tell him stories. Each short story has a different illustrator, which was really interesting for me, since I’m rather picky about the art in graphic books and don’t much care for the ‘traditional’ comic style. By far my favourite illustrator was Tara McPherson (you can get a taste of her story on her website)), and I’m delighted that my library has a book of her art (Lonely Heart). You could read this one without having read any of the main Fables series too, since Willingham does a short, handy introduction to get you oriented first.

So, keep all of that in mind when I say that reading 1001 Nights reminded me of why almost all of my favourite graphic novels (as opposed to nonfiction) are written and illustrated by women. Nymeth and Jenny have both talked about feeling subtly excluded/included by a book when coming across little reminders that you aren’t part of the audience the author originally envisioned. Both of them were discussing nonfiction, but while reading 1001 Nights I remembered their posts and suddenly it all clicked together.

Every time I came across a female character drawn with a tiny waist and limbs and big boobs, with super-thick flowing hair and full lips, I felt a little twinge. And before y’all start piling on me, I’m well aware that Fables has strong female characters, and my complaint isn’t with Willingham’s writing (well, not usually, but we’ll get to that in a moment). It’s the way the stories are illustrated, with the female characters all looking like Barbies, and it almost feels like there’s a quota of naked breast moments involved. I’m not a prude, I don’t have a problem with nudity, and I don’t think there’s something inherently prurient in women’s naked chests. However, the way they were drawn in most of the stories featuring human characters made me feel excluded, as if the book was really illustrated for guys and that it was impossible for a woman to not be a sex object, even if she was other things too.

I’m finding this difficult to write, trying to articulate such instinctual reactions. I guess I’m trying to say that, in a world full of advertising objectifying women and telling us that we’re only as useful/important/etc. as we are young and beautiful, my brain sometimes has a ‘Et tu, Brutus?” moment when I’m reading a graphic novel whose storyline I love and come across yet another female physical ideal personified.

Remember, this isn’t an indictment of 1001 Nights per se, just something that it reminded me of when I’ve tried to read other ‘traditionally’ illustrated graphic novels.

This next part, though, is specifically about 1001 Nights. Chris recently reviewed Stories ed. by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio, saying that the whole collection was marvelous except for one WTF?! story. I have a similar opinion here. “A Frog’s Eye View” is one of the shortest in the book, less than ten pages. And it’s about a frog prince, who marries a princess and they live happily with lots of children until the ‘enemy’ invades. And then there’s an absolutely lovely moment when his wife and eldest daughter are gang raped by soldiers. The frame makes me too sick to my stomach to simply put on my blog, but I did photograph it so you can see it here (sorry about the poor quality; since my laptop is on the fritz, I couldn’t edit it at all). There was no real warning that the storyline was going to turn that way, and I just felt completely taken off my guard and not in the good way. It really seemed pretty much POINTLESS, and as it was only the third story in the book, I spent the rest of my reading thinking “WHY did that have to be in there?!”. If they wanted to show the tragedy, why not just kill off the rest of his family? Why bring rape into it? Not to be overly dramatic (I’m probably more affected by rape scenes in literature/movies/etc. than some), but it kind of polluted the rest of the book, and rather than having a five-star reading experience, the horridness of those couple of pages reduced it to three stars for me (aka: some things were really good and others were really bad). It’s also why I can’t wholeheartedly recommend 1001 Nights…I think the rest of the stories are definitely worth a read, but if you have any sensitivity to rape scenes, you need to be warned to skip over that one. And it offends me that it would even be included.

So there’s your feminist twist for the morning. Once again, I’d like to reiterate that the vast majority of the stories in 1001 Nights delighted and moved me, and I found several to be simply perfect. So I hope my discussion of bigger picture women’s stuff doesn’t make you decide to boycott Fables: it’s a wonderful series and one that has brought me a lot of pleasure. I look forward to the rest of the series (I’ve only read the first five or six volumes), and I know a lot of bloggers are big fans too! I just think it’s important to talk about what makes us uncomfortable, even if it’s in a book we otherwise love. You know?

Do any men out there want to chime in on how men’s bodies are depicted in graphic fiction? Or women who aren’t bothered by the way women’s bodies are sometimes shown? Anyone want to chime in on how they feel about rape scenes in books (I’m not automatically against them when they’re handled the right way)? Or anyone else out there with an opinion that I can’t foresee but would love to hear about? ;)

62 Comments leave one →
  1. July 27, 2010 7:42 am

    What an interesting post, Eva! I don’t think I’ve read enough graphic novels to comment on the gender thing, but I did notice the lithe figures gracing Bone (compared to the generally rough-and-tumble men). I think you make sense in your comments. I wish I had something more intelligent to say than, “Amen, sistah,” but I don’t.

    • July 28, 2010 4:08 am

      Your Amen sistah was just what I needed! ;)

  2. July 27, 2010 7:53 am

    This post certainly gave me a lot to think about.

    I really don’t enjoy reading rape scenes. They make me squirm and I get really uncomfortable, especially when I don’t see it coming. If the book leads up to it, I can stomach it a little more. I also don’t appreciate it when an author kind of springs it on the reader without any warning, as if the rape is just an afterthought and a way of making their work slightly more shocking. If it isn’t necessary, then don’t have it there!

    With that being said, violent scenes are sometimes key to the story for whatever reason. But then you usually know about it well in advance and can brace yourself.

    Personally, I admire authors who combine that kind of violence into their story and are confident enough to let the scene be brushed over, so that every single detail isn’t there.

    In the case of the book you just read, I would have seen that image (I clicked the link), and I would have set the book down. I don’t know if I would have been able to keep reading after that, thinking that the author was taking advantage of my trust as a reader.

    Anyway, I am curious to see what others have to say about this!

    • July 28, 2010 4:10 am

      I hope that no one enjoy reading rape scenes! But I agree that they are important, and that the best ones don’t include every tiny detail. I wonder if that’s why the graphic novel rape scene felt so awful…my brain couldn’t brush over it at all because it was sitting right in front of me.

  3. July 27, 2010 8:36 am

    Great post Eva! I just picked this up the other day at the store and will be reading it soon. I was browsing the pictures and came across the Frog Prince and just about gagged when I saw those frames. Maybe I will skip that one. I never thought about it being one of the reasons I’ve avoided graphic novels/comics all these years, but the graphic depictions of women certainly hasn’t helped draw me to this format. I would have to say done by men for men. Even found it in Neil Gaiman’s ” … Miss Finch.” Perhaps this is also why I enjoyed “Chiggers” by Hope Larson — written by a woman without distorted female bodies! Of course I adored the story — it took me back to summer camp days :o)

    • July 28, 2010 4:11 am

      Oh don’t get me started on Miss Finch! Those illustrations made me sooo mad! In fact, a large part of why I’ve given up on the Sandman series is that I really hate the way the women are portrayed by the illustrators.

      I read a different Hope Larson book, and it was lovely. I have definitely had more success with graphic novels illustrated by women than men.

  4. July 27, 2010 8:50 am

    You thought “graphic novel” meant erotica way back when? That is hilarious!

    I actually bought this for a friend of mine when I was in high school, to gently remind her that Western comics can be just as good as manga. I remembered quite liking it back then, although that panel in “A Frog’s Eye View” did squick me as well. I did, however, think it accomplished what it meant to do very well- absolutely shatter a sweet fairy tale in the face of harsh reality. But I haven’t read it in a very long time.

    On the issue of comic book illustrators and women, I get peeved too. The only DC title I read right now is Gotham City Sirens where Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and Harley Quinn live together and try to be good. (They often fail.) I groan every time I see that Guilliem March is the illustrator, because he makes these three very different women look exactly the same. Luckily, there are other artists on the series that actually make Catwoman look more sophisticated, Poison Ivy more alien, and Harley more wacky.

    • July 28, 2010 4:14 am

      I think simply killing off the whole family would have had the same shattering effect. Isn’t it awful when certain illustrators are so sexist? I think it’s harder to hide in illustrations than in writing, if that makes sense. It also pisses me off that there aren’t more woman illustrators doing traditional comics.

  5. July 27, 2010 9:00 am

    I can’t think of anything more eliquoent to say then I agree, Eva!

  6. July 27, 2010 10:26 am

    I felt that way to a degree when reading Watchmen – it’s quite violent, which didn’t really bother me, but there is an attempted rape scene which includes punching the woman in the face, and that did. It’s hard watching that kind of thing on film – graphic novels are no exception. It was hard in Safe Area Goražde too, though that was “plain” violence – the rape was behind the scenes, and also entirely a part of the “story”, plus you sort of expect that kind of thing. Watchmen, too – the characters are such degenerates, and suspect, that it’s not at all surprising. This book sounds like a different case.

    One interesting thing about Watchmen, though, is that the big Blue guy was usually completely naked, and was drawn with a very small penis. It seemed mocking, to say the least, but whatever way his penis was drawn would be saying something. The fact that he was often naked spoke more to his supreme confidence and alien nature, so it did fit. I liked that there was a naked man for once though!

    • July 28, 2010 4:15 am

      I don’t think I could handle Watchmen, but of course a book about Osnia would have to include rape; I’m so glad it’s behind the scenes at least.

      That is interesting about the blue man’s penis! Perhaps women are depicted naked more often because no one has to make choices about gentalia size? ;)

      • July 30, 2010 10:28 am

        No doubt – and because Big Tits sell but any kind of penis depiction is too disturbing? How much of it has to do with our (collective, social and cultural) insecurities?

        I’d like to say “yeah I’m proud of my breasts” but I still want to be looked in the eye, not in the cleavage!

  7. July 27, 2010 10:27 am

    (I always do this – I meant to say, first, that I often feel like I’m not the intended audience, and alienated for it. Can’t edit comments!)

  8. July 27, 2010 10:29 am

    I have to say I have only read maybe one or two graphic novels in the last year or so since I got back into reading so I cant really comment though I think that this is a very interesting post and you bring up some important questions.

    I do want to give this a try though. I havent found one that fully gripped me like the Batman annuals used to frankly.

    • July 28, 2010 4:16 am

      I never read comics as a kid, so I don’t have the basis for comparison. But good look finding a series! :)

  9. July 27, 2010 10:45 am

    I don’t have much to add to your opinions on this ;) I’m pretty much with you on the topic. I’m not automatically against scenes like that being used either…but there has to be a reason for them to be used, you know? Like the story in don’t see the freaking point of it!! There’s a big difference between that or between this and let’s say Push by Sapphire. The rape scenes in Push serve a purpose…they’re not there just to be there or even as some disturbing form of entertainment. Great post!!

    • July 28, 2010 4:16 am

      So true Chris! Or like the rape in Tender Morsels…obviously not there for entertainment.

  10. Kathleen permalink
    July 27, 2010 11:57 am

    Really thought–provoking post as always. I wouldn’t boycott the book based on the points you raise here but appreciate knowing what to expect going in.

  11. July 27, 2010 12:23 pm

    I totally agree with your point about “not the intended audience” but sometimes I wonder with graphic novels if that’s even a factor. The artist is expressing something that works for him (or her). It’s their own personal fantasies, their own vision. They aren’t trying to be diverse or realistic. And they will always have an audience because it’s self-perpetuating. These are the images put in front of readers and then become what (most) readers expect. There will be artists who choose to depict women with a more realistic hip to waist ratio and reasonably sized breasts but they aren’t going to reform the industry (sadly).

    • July 28, 2010 4:19 am

      Hmmm…that’s an interesting point Kristen. But I suppose the reason why I feel alienated is precisely because I know that this is a male illustrator’s fantasy directed at male readers who might hold similar fantasies. And it’s just depressing. :(

  12. July 27, 2010 12:24 pm

    Firstly, ‘Before I started book blogging, I thought that ‘graphic novel’ was a euphemism for erotica.’ I thought that too. I was convinced everyone was into these books full of sex.

    Secondly, I cannot do books with rape scenes in.They make me feel ill and play too heavily on mind. I don’t read murders either as they upset me.

    Lastly, I can’t stand the way the women are represented in the Fablee books. They are not realistic. So few women actually look like Barbie dolls. More realism needed.

    • July 28, 2010 4:20 am

      I’m glad I’m not the only one Vivienne! And yeah; I think Fables would be perfect if they changed how the women looked.

  13. July 27, 2010 12:25 pm

    Have not read enough graphic novels to speak with any authority but definitely get you about the way women are drawn sometimes. I think that it bothers me based upon the relation to how the men are drawn. Crazy, right? But if the men are drawn in a similarly simplistic gender stereotype (rippling muscles, small shirts, small waists themselves, etc) it offends me less somehow then when only the women are drawn unrealistically. Need to think this through and look for examples…

    • July 28, 2010 4:20 am

      I don’t think that’s crazy; I feel similarly! That’s why I asked any men to chime in on male illustrators. But even when men are depicted with lots of muscles, they still don’t feel like sex objects. You know?

  14. July 27, 2010 12:28 pm

    I don’t read many graphic novels, but I do relate to this issue of using rape as a lazy shorthand for violence or tragedy – it can be really irresponsible. I’ve read thriller/detective novels where the author obviously just wanted the main character to be threatened with some kind of danger, but because she happened to be female it was rape. Like many other commentors, I’m not opposed to rape scenes if they’re handled well, but this kind of rape-as-violence-default pisses me off. Actually, one of the things I quite respected about Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian was the lack of any explicit rape scene (or maybe there was just one?) despite the INTENSE amount of violence in that book.

    • July 28, 2010 4:21 am

      >>this issue of using rape as a lazy shorthand for violence or tragedy

      You put that so perfectly Emily! Thank you. :)

  15. July 27, 2010 12:33 pm

    “Before I started book blogging, I thought that ‘graphic novel’ was a euphemism for erotica.”

    I had the exact same idea! And I always felt very stupid about it and ashamed, but I’m glad that there’s someone else which makes it more okay to admit to having thought so.

    I also understand your concerns about the image of women. It is something I used to instantly imagine whenever someone talked about comics or graphic novels, it is so common. And I dislike that it is. It actually kept me from reading the genre for a very long time (and I still don’t read it often).

    • July 28, 2010 4:22 am

      Aww; don’t feel stupid or ashamed! I just find it funny personally. lol

      I think part of why I don’t read more graphic novels is the depiction of women too.

  16. July 27, 2010 12:46 pm

    I think seeing women drawn in that fashion is one of the main things that has kept me from reading graphic novels- at least the ones I see at my library, which lean towards comic-book style illustrations. If I found one that had more realistic-looking characters, I’d be a lot more likely to pick it up! (Like Blankets, that one I do want to read!)

    • July 28, 2010 4:23 am

      I’d recommend Alison Bechdel and Hope Larson! :)

  17. July 27, 2010 12:56 pm

    Ha! I don’t have time right now to read your full post (will do so this week! I’m trying to catch up!) but your first sentence made me spit out my tea in laughter. :)

    I need more graphic novels but I am not currently spending money on books (sad!!) so I’m limited to what’s at the library, which actually has a pretty great selection…

    • July 28, 2010 4:23 am

      I’m glad I could make you laugh, and I can’t wait to see what you have to say when you’ve read the whole post. ;)

  18. July 27, 2010 1:08 pm

    Really wonderful discussion here, Eva. Having read and adored 1001 Nights of Snowfall, I do remember shockingly more of this book than most I read. Like you, my favorite story was the one McPherson illustrated because the style was so unlike many other traditionally illustrated comics.

    I do also remember Frog’s Eye View. Now, I have to say, since having Greyson, I am much more sensitive to a number of things. While I used to spazz out if a animal was killed in a novel or comic, I now spazz out over any violence to children, and rape and general violent representations are much harder to take. I think I’m just a softer person on this side of parenthood. Thinking back over this story, it didn’t infuriate me that the rape was included, but it did make me feel that much more for the Flycatcher. Throughout the series he’s always painted as such a wimpy loser; I finally felt like I understood him and what tragedy he’d lived through as a result of this particular moment in his life and how he came to be so far removed from the other Fable princes. While it probably could’ve been left out or represented in a different way, I do remember feeling the sting of it and applying that empathy to Flycatcher.

    Very interesting issues and reactions we have to things like these, and I’d be interested to re-read this collection and see how I react given my life changes in the last year.

    • July 28, 2010 4:26 am

      >>While it probably could’ve been left out or represented in a different way, I do remember feeling the sting of it and applying that empathy to Flycatcher.

      My problem with using rape of a female relative to portray the total breakdown of a male relative is that it perpetuates the rape/honour/shame connection. I mean, there’s a reason only the wife and eldest daughter were portrayed as being raped, and that they didn’t do anything with the children. You know?

      I don’t think I’ve read enough of the series to remember Flycatcher, but at least now I know why the story was included! I still wish it had just stuck with mass murder, though.

      • July 28, 2010 11:54 am

        I certainly see your point of view. He’s the custodian for the Fables basically. Unattractive, timid, etc. He’s referred to as being a prince, but he’s certainly not Prince Charming.

  19. July 27, 2010 2:04 pm

    Ah, the ol’ women depicted have to be gorgeous sex objects thing. Very disappointing, not having much graphic novel experience I can’t comment but it would make sense that women would be more likely to draw us realistically. Also, gratuitous rape and sexual violence definitely turns me off too.

    • July 28, 2010 4:26 am

      I just wish my favourite (male) graphic novel WRITERS would get with the program and use more women illustrators. You know?

  20. July 27, 2010 2:30 pm

    I think that rape scenes when showed in a visual format (graphic novel, movie, etc.) are far more powerful because you don’t have control over the images that are projected in your mind. I’m not saying that written rape scenes aren’t graphic and terrible, because they are, and I tend to avoid writing that includes that kind of graphic detail (you know, there’s a difference between just writing about it or harping on it in gruesome detail). But even if it is written I can skim, or decide not to finish if I find it offensive – you can’t do that so much with images flashed in front of you.

    I haven’t experienced yet the feeling you described of reading a graphic novel targeted to guys, but I’m sure I will run across one eventually. I think you did a good job of describing the experience though.

    • July 28, 2010 4:29 am

      I agree completely w/ the difference between visual and written rape scenes. And that not all written rape scenes are created equal; last year, I read one by written by a man that was obviously a fantasy of his. It was disgusting and repulsive.

  21. July 27, 2010 3:13 pm

    Huh. I have absolutely no memory of the rape scene at all. I definitely had it in my head that we never learned that specifically what had happened to Fly’s family–kinda makes me think I must have skipped that story when I read this book.

    HUGE yes to the thing of the boobs in comics. Everyone has such perfect little figures! I know it makes sense in Fables, because they’re all the fairy tale girls, but it gets depressing. And an even huger yes to the boobs quotient thing. What’s with that? I rarely think, oh dear, superfluous boobs, while I’m reading it, but the cumulative effect is…I don’t know, lots of pictures of boobs in books with not necessarily that much sex in them.

    • July 28, 2010 4:30 am

      Maybe you did skip the story! lol It is hilarious how many instances the female characters tend to be topless in.

      Also, even though the Fables princesses should definitely be beautiful, that doesn’t mean they should all look like Barbies! There are so many forms of beauty. You know?

  22. July 27, 2010 5:27 pm

    Funny, I just dealt with some of the same issues a bit in my most recent post about why I’ve abandoned reading The Painted Bird, by Jerzy Kosinski.

    I basically agree with the other Emily who commented here…I’m not opposed to reading rape scenes on principle, as long as it’s not “lazy shorthand for violence or tragedy.” Couldn’t have said it better! When it is used that way, it’s totally trivializing.

    • July 28, 2010 4:30 am

      I’m off to read your post! And I’m glad you agree with Emily and me. :)

  23. July 27, 2010 7:02 pm

    All day long, I went back and forth–do I read Eva’s post now, or do I wait to read it? All day. Because I haven’t read this volume yet and I didn’t want to spoil anything for myself. Eventually, I just couldn’t take it anymore–I just love to read whatever you write, you know!

    But anyway, I’m really glad I did read it now. Because I always find having a heads up helpful. I may just skip that story altogether, I don’t know. :/ Though it does sound like a good time to pick up this volume, as I just read Arabian Nights (and Days).

    So, as for rape in books, etc. Well, of course, I want it portrayed. I don’t want it hidden away in some closet so everyone can pretend it doesn’t happen. But like you and so many of your commenters have already said, it needs to be there with a purpose. Rape is not entertainment. And I have a hard time stomaching that all too common use of it in books, movies, etc. But rape is real…and survivors deserve a voice. Tender Morsels wasn’t easy in some ways, but what a gift to rape survivors that book is! Anyway, I know I’m not adding anything new to the conversation here, but I did want to thank you for this post, Eva. *hugs*

    • July 28, 2010 4:34 am

      I try not to do the spoiler-y thing! (Although that’s harder when talking about the actual series, lol)

      >>I don’t want it hidden away in some closet so everyone can pretend it doesn’t happen.

      You’re so right Debi. (And I know we feel the same way about Tender Morsels so I’m glad you brought it up!) The thing is, though, when rape is in a book, I want it portrayed as RAPE. Not as generic violence, you know? And yes, rape happens all of the time during war, but somehow that didn’t seem to be the point here. The point wasn’t rape, the point was the Frog Prince’s sadness. Which was a bit frustrating.

      • July 28, 2010 9:01 am

        I’m sorry, if I sounded like I didn’t understand what you were saying, Eva. I did…you said it all very eloquently. (Wish I could have been as eloquent in my comment!) Anyway, I think we both *know* we’re on the same page. Love you, sweetie.

      • July 28, 2010 9:42 am

        I thought you understood what I was saying! My comment was more me thinking out loud, because you made such a good point re: the NEED for rape in literature since it’s in life, and I was trying to decide if the Frog Prince story fit that. :) Love you too!

  24. Mome Rath permalink
    July 28, 2010 12:00 am

    What provocative questions. Only the first and third questions apply for me, so 1) No, I don’t have really have any problems with the way men are portrayed/drawn in graphic novels (and I’m not sure men really care); I have more of a problem with immature writing; and 3) I’d rather not see rape drawn in graphic novels; I’m not against it being implied (as long as it is not glorified) when appropriate to the story, but there has to be a purpose. I’d lean toward the “off-screen” event being more effective than actually showing the full details.
    I’m not against characters being drawn attractively, but if an author shows themselves to be overly sexist in their art, then the plot has to be superb for me to overlook that.
    Of the four graphic novels I’ve read over the past year and a half, I fully enjoyed three of them (Persepolis, American Born Chinese, and Blankets) and was let down by one (Watchmen).

    • July 28, 2010 4:38 am

      I find your answer to number 1 so interesting! I thought maybe the muscular men would bother male readers as a body ideal to live up to, but I guess not in your case. ;) I agree that rape scenes off-screen are preferable!

      I don’t mind characters being portrayed as beautiful either, but there are so many ways people can be beautiful it frustrates me to see women/men in the same mold!

      • Mome Rath permalink
        July 28, 2010 9:14 pm

        The graphic novels I’ve read for the most part haven’t fit into the stereotype of muscular men and voluptuous vixens; I actually prefer a variety of characters, and I haven’t been disappointed in three of the novels I’ve read.
        I definitely agree about your latter statement that it can be frustrating to see women/men in the same mold in graphic novels. Here’s a question, though. When you read, how attractive do you imagine the characters in your books to be (especially from the blank slate phase, when no descriptors have been given)?

      • July 30, 2010 5:27 am

        Most of the ones I read don’t fit into that mold either, fortunately. :)

        You know…I don’t really imagine the characters in my head. I don’t have visual pictures of what they look like, unless the author describes them. Kind of weird, right?

  25. July 28, 2010 12:14 am

    I only just started to read graphic novels and love Fables too. Whether in comics, novels or movies, I’m not against nudity and violence, including rape, as long as it’s crucial to the story. And I mean actually crucial, not tossed in there as a subplot so that nudity is justified. I too react more strongly than others do to rape scenes and I must say that it’s rare that I find them justified. I can’t imagine that they’re justified at all in something like Fables, as you say there are other ways of showing what needed to come across.

  26. July 28, 2010 10:10 am

    I haven’t read Fables (and haven’t really been planning too, despite being a long-time fairy tale lover), but I will say I have to agree with Debi – rape needs to be portrayed. And I think that all sides of it need to be portrayed. I would think in some ways more men writing a serious treatment of rape would be a good thing. In the same way as Lolita with Pedophilia, I can even imagine being a book that tells the story of a rapist from their own point of view, and having it be a really great book. But. Unfortunately, most treatments of rape (and this extends to some female authors as well) aren’t serious – just like most treatments of, say, war and the devastation from it. I think the problem is the same, too: at some level we simply don’t as a culture, always take the subject seriously. People who are intimate with the subject through sad experience, they might take it seriously, but most of us, it is too amorphous a threat, something that happens to other people far away, you know? And so I think some authors make the mistake of going too far in discussing it, and creating sort of the rape equivalent of torture-porn movies like ‘Saw’ – of course you’re not supposed to enjoy the rape, but you’re supposed to sort of enjoy being repulsed by it, if that makes sense. Which of course is horrific – more so for rape, in some ways, since it’s a lot less in the realm of fantasy than weird twisted serial killer stories are.

    As a man, i will say that I don’t like the way men’s bodies are portrayed, but it’s a very different kind of not liking than with woman’s body portrayals. When you look at Superman, it feels like he was written for men to fantasize being – when you look at Wonder Woman it feels like she was written for men to fantasize having, in the worst sense of the word ‘have’. Of course, some of these things have matured over time, but still, it’s there. More troubling to me then the glorification of impossible pectorals, inmen, is the glorification of a way of being and thinking – that evil is the product of villains, that villains must be caught or killed, that the triumph of goodness comes from an individual’s prowess, rather than the compassion of a people.

    At the same time, I have to disagree with one thing you said – as far as I’m concerned a rape (or a sex, or a violence) scene in a book is just as powerful as written ones. I think they just come at it from different angles – writing to me is closer to the way we think, by default, for me, for instance, and I would suggest that when I can feel terror at the thought of rape, it’s as much the mind being raped as the body, if that makes sense?

    • July 28, 2010 11:48 am

      In the same way as Lolita with Pedophilia, I can even imagine being a book that tells the story of a rapist from their own point of view, and having it be a really great book.

      Toni Morrison did a good job of this in The Bluest Eye, I thought. (It was only one narrative thread among many, so the rape victim got her own voice as well.)

    • July 30, 2010 5:25 am

      Thanks for leaving such a long comment Jason! :) I read a book recently that included parts narrated by a man who’d raped and molested a variety of women (Green Mountain, White Cloud), and it was well-written, powerful, and felt important. But we never ‘saw’ him raping someone, just him reflecting on past deeds. And this is why I suddenly realised that frame had such an effect on me…it wasn’t just the visual v. written bit, I don’t think. It’s the perspective. As a woman, I’m used to thinking of rape as something that happens to me (and those like me), imagining it from the perspective of the victim. And most of the books I’ve read that included rape were also written from the perspective of the victim. But in this case, that frame is obviously drawn from the point of view of the perpetrator…if instead we’d see a menacing soldier maybe unbuckling his belt or something, I don’t think I’d have been quite so taken aback. There was something particularly nauseating about SEEING (instead of imagining, so I still think for me at least the visual format did have an impact) what a rapist sees.

      >>but most of us, it is too amorphous a threat, something that happens to other people far away, you know?

      Hmmm….I don’t think my friends and I ever felt rape was something amorphous that happened to people far away. We all knew girls who had been raped, so even if it had happened to someone else, that someone else was very similar to us and thus we certainly felt it was a real threat. This is probably a gender thing; women are raised to be fearful (hello, rape culture), so we tend to always assume something could happen and take precautions accordingly (my friends and I ALWAYS told each other when we could be expected home and would call if something was late, I walked with my keys between my fingers if I was alone after dark, etc.). I certainly think our culture has a twisted relationship with rape, but for me that’s more about expecting women to prevent it, being more concerned with ‘a man in the bushes’ than the man a woman knows despite the fact that most rape victims know their attacker, etc. than about rape seeming too distant.

      >>as far as I’m concerned a rape (or a sex, or a violence) scene in a book is just as powerful as written ones

      Confused about this, so if you don’t mind clarifying, I’ll respond to it. :)

      • July 30, 2010 11:19 am

        (WARNING – This entire comment is brimming over with (possibly very ignorant) talk of rape, child abuse, etc)

        I have to apologize, reading back over my long rambling first comment, I really didn’t explain myself well. So I will try a different way.

        Let me focus on perhaps the stupidest thing I said (stupid to say it without explaining what I mean, anyway): that rape is an amorphous, faraway threat. Part of this is, certainly, the voice of growing up male, though I did consider that when I said it. Part of it is also simply that ‘our culture’ is historically something defined by the dominant forces inside of it – so, historically, rape to ‘our culture’ was something that happened to other people, far away, or I suppose a better way to say it would be, it’s something that we are taught we probably shouldn’t think too hard about, short of a general prohibition to not do it yourself, and not be so ‘stupid’ (I put this in quotes, I don’t want you to think this is my voice, I’m saying what culture would say) as to get yourself into a situation where it might happen. This is changing, of course, but it still exists. Rape is one of those things that comes up very commonly in dispassionately concerned conversations, the same way we usually discuss starving children or war in the middle east – something that is unmistakably awful, but something that it feels as if we spend a great deal of energy making sure we remember that it’s awful, do you know what I mean? We, as a culture, talk about starving kids in Africa, and have to say – these are real children, remember? They are children, they have names, and stories, and personalities. Because, it is easy to forget that. Rape, as a SOCIAL construct is much the same way – and I cannot of course speak for all the people I know, but I’ve had the impression that as a SOCIAL construct, as an issue that we try to understand and grapple with philosophically and collectively, many of the women I have met are the same way. As a PERSONAL construct, this is different (though the construct still ends up pretty skewed, even personally, hence people’s terror at lurkers in the bushes, which are relatively rare as opposed to being raped by someone you know personally). Child sexual abuse is much the same way in this respect – there is the idea of it that we grapple with, where we discuss in a very abstract way statistics and theories and laws. And then there is the personal construct, where we are taught how to be practically afraid fo the phenomenon. I wish, in both cases, that these two extremes more closely approached each other, because I think that’s a great part of the problem – you can sufficiently comprehend something through statistics and you can’t sufficiently understand something through fear, you know? So both of our ways of understanding rape (or child sexual abuse) end up leaving us where we are now – we all talk abstractly and fumble at the idea of fixing a problem we can’t really wrap our heads aroud in public life, and then in private life, we are afraid, and teach our daughters to be afraid of going out after dark, or wearing the wrong clothes, or going out without telling anyone. Both of these things are necessary, as a survival mechanism, butneither is effective, in the long term, in really grappling with the issue, either personally, or collectively, I’d think. The semi-private is the encouraging beginning of a middle ground – like you said, you know people who have been raped. 100 years ago, you probably would have known people who’d have been raped, too, but they would never have said a word about it, you know? Even now, there’s the remnants of that culture of the unsaid, which I think is why rape is such an isolating crime – it puts a woman in a place that society tells her is exceptional and unpleasantly unique, and difficult to understand from a moral point of view. In my small town, for instance, all my dearest friends were girls, and we talked about all KINDS of things – but certain things, like rape, would have been difficult for most of them to say out loud, very difficult – I’ve wondered, in fact, in retrospect, if some of them had those sorts of things to say, and were never able to say them. So, historically, the raped were put into this little box where they could no longer see rape as this collective amorphous ghost, only in the personal – horror, terror, shame, these are individual feelings. The semi-private, where good friends vcan, with effort, at least discuss these things in a safe circle of people who can be trusted to treat the admission with respect, is the road from silence to understanding, in the long term, culturally and individually. At least, I think so. But like you said, I’m a man, I haven’t ever had much threat of being raped (thought I did feel a bit nervous about it, ironically, when I had to cross dress for a job I used to have). I did used to have IRRATIONAL thoughts about it – even when I was a child, and still now. But I have the comfort, I suppose, of being able to realize that, being as I’m a 6’4″ male of moderate build, these fears are MOSTLY irrational.

        Hopefully that makes more sense, and makes me sound less like an insensitive bastard. Sorry.

        As for the last line you asked about, that was a mistake in my typing. I meant to say, basically, a rape that is shown in a visual medium like a comic book and a rape in a verbal medium like a book can be equally powerful (this in response t your comment that you found a visual one more affecting). As far as the written versus the visual – rape is kind of uncomfortable subject to discuss this about, so I hope you’ll let me analogize with a different crime – let’s say being beaten by your parents (I know this isn’t more comfortable for everyone, but I couldn’t think of something else with powerful examples that I could bring myself to think too hard about). A movie or a comic book that has physical child abuse in it can be EXTREMELY powerful (note, that can be power for ‘good’ or power for ‘evil’, but one way or the other, powerful). Seeing a movie where kid is hit very hard by a parent is immediately, guturally affecting. Nauseating. It triggers a very basic, bodily response. And there is a lot of power in that. A book that describes a child being beaten, on the other hand, has a more natural route into the MIND of the victim (or the abuser), and less natural one into the visual effect. So, a book where a child is being abused has an easier time, for me, in inspiring an understanding of the child’s brain being hit at the same time his body is, at the equally horrible, but more amorphous things – the betrayal of trust, the shattering of the child’s understanding of how the world works, the destruction of a tired attempt at building the illusion of a life that makes sense, you know? There is crossover, of course – a book can have a very visceral, guttural description that immediately punches you in the gut, and a comic book can have an image or dialogue that echoes the interior of the mind in ways that words cannot. I won’t argue that – but, the point is, both mediums can be equally powerful as ways of expressing the horror of the crime.

        Again, sorry for the parts of my comment that sounded a bit arrogant and oblivious. Hope this works better.

  27. July 28, 2010 11:46 am

    Great post, Eva! After reading this post, I’m glad that I held off on buying 1001 Nights. It does bother me the way women are sometimes depicted and how unnecessary violence is thrown into a storyline as a way to fill gaps. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t read Gaiman’s The Sandman series. There’s so much violence in the world that it does cease to be shocking. Careless depiction of it is irresponsible.

    I love books written and illustrated by women. I recommend the Wonder Women series by Gail Simone. It’s the only W.W. version that I’m willing to read. The character is illustrated like a real woman who has curves but doesn’t look like a Barbie. She’s smart, compassionate, thoughful. . .

    • July 30, 2010 5:26 am

      I don’t read Sandman for the same reasons. It really alienates me. :( Thanks for recommending the Wonder Women series: sounds like fun!

  28. July 30, 2010 6:52 pm

    I noticed this post quite late and while I understand that the graphic nature of the panels are indeed shocking to the senses, people’s reaction to it practically mirror Ambrose’s in seeing the loves of his life butchered and raped in front of his eyes. That it’s no wonder his mind went off, denying it ever happened, partly due to the fact that he was a helpless witness in everything. It’s tragic yes, but it paints the helplessness involved. And we should react strongly because the scene isn’t made to titillate but precisely to make us feel what Ambrose felt and it was heartbreaking, to say the least. I think it had to be painted that way for us to feel at least an inkling of what Ambrose felt, of why he had to forget.

    I don’t read that much comics now except for BtVS and Angel (and I haven’t picked that up lately) but I grew up reading a handful of them as a kid. Was I used to seeing men and women in tight outfits, yes. Lots of boobs, yes. And sometimes scantily-clad women dancing as props even. Looking back, it’s painful we women are depicted that way in a handful of comics I’ve seen. But back then I was after the story, of how the Shadow would solve the problem, how the Justice League would deal with the villains. A bit of schooling made me see why boys tend to like comics better and why I deviated to the written word instead. Crime-solving by men (and some women) in tights and briefs worn outside tights can be tiring too. But right now things aren’t what they used to be. Well, the stereotypes are still out there and that’s why they are considered as such: tight clothes revealing far too much, barely leaving nothing to the imagination, at least as far as women are concerned. But there are better stories now, better titles for those who read comics not because of the scantily-clad women and a body type that’s even harder to attain. But as far as some publishers are concerned, sex still sells. Wonder Woman has a new costume but let’s make sure her figure is still visible under the new duds. I steer clear of those stuff right now (for a long time now actually).

    I have Y: The Last Man. I haven’t read it yet so I don’t know how good (or bad) it is but I heard a lot of great things about it. I think it’s drawn by a woman artist named Pia Guerra. I could be wrong.

    Sorry for rambling.

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