Anyone who is familiar with my blog will know that I’m a big Ben Percy fan, and have been since long before his website sported these fabulous headings: Novels, Comics, Graphic Novels, Film/TV and Other Works. I honestly think the two publications on his website when I first investigated it were his two short story collections–that’s it! In any case, I’m a Ben Percy fan, have been a long time, and especially since the Tin House Writer’s Conference of Summer, 2011, when Ben was my workshop leader and also critiqued a number of my other stories in an additional mentoring role.
I follow him on Twitter and I think that’s how I got the word that he’d be writing the Green Arrow Series for DC comics. (You can subscribe to it here; it’s cheap and it’s fun and the art is as good as the story.) That’s one thing I learned, Tweeting about each issue after I’ve read it–you have to thank @Benjamin_Percy, @PatrickZircher and @GabeEltaeb (Ben and the illustrator and colorist) for each impressive issue of Green Arrow. They’re a team. The product is a collaboration.
I didn’t grow up with comics (Ben did, see interview here); in fact, my dad was pretty outspoken in his dislike of them. (In retrospect, I’m not really sure if his objection was about quality or cost; he preferred the library, where I don’t recall a comic shelf.) I think the main reason my dad more or less prohibited comic-reading was that he, himself, wasn’t much of a book reader and I know he wanted my three sisters and me to love books. (He succeeded.) My husband, like Ben, devoured comics as a kid (and, he’d like me to note, preferred Marvel over DC, but that is the topic for another day) and he seems to have turned out okay (even my dad agreed with that).
Maybe it’s more of an issue with the previous generation, this wondering where comics fit into the reading echelon. Ben recently Tweeted this somewhat awkward situation with his in-laws, who are hard-working dairy farmers:
In-laws were talking about trucks/football/fishing before asking me, “What r u up to these days?” Mostly comic books, I said. Dead silence.
One thing I (finally) figured out with my own children is that we all should try to meet kids where they are with reading. My son was an early reader, read every book I put in front of him, plus signs and cereal boxes and, well, you get the idea. My daughter was a later and more reluctant reader (she’s got a PhD in Economics and a tenure track position at a fine university, so no “Oh, dears” necessary). If I’d been a better mother I’d have seen sooner that she preferred nonfiction to fiction, and if I were even a better mother maybe I would have bought her some comics.
My comic-loving husband liked to be read to as a child. Like her dad, my daughter LOVED to be read to (my son and I squirmed a little and just made sure we had a hard copy in front of us), and my husband read both of our kids many fantasy favorites, starting with The Hobbit and continuing on to the three parts of The Lord of the Rings. But in case you haven’t noticed (our daughter did), there aren’t a lot of strong, heroic female characters in any of those stories. At least not strong/heroic in the way the male characters are. We found other fantasy series where there were more female heroic types (the Dragonlance series, e.g., by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman) but it took some effort–they weren’t as common as we might have hoped.
Ben Percy has apparently noticed the same, maybe especially since he know has a reading-aged daughter. There’s this Tweet of his from Aug 13:
I think of my 6-yr-old daughter — who rightly says we need “more girl superheroes” — every time I write Emiko.
Who is Emiko? Well, I think if you’re a real comic groupie you might know characters from way back, but here’s a good summary from a recent review of the latest Green Arrow issue, #43:
Although Oliver Queen is the protagonist of Green Arrow, the breakout star of this arc has to be Emiko Queen. Emiko will sit on the sidelines no longer in issue #43 with the disappearance of Ollie and forces the issue in order to go find him. She refuses to be dismissed by Henry (who’s at his best in this issue) and her teaming up with George (the Queens new dog) is wonderful. Emiko is a strong character and I can’t wait to see more of her in the future. The “Emiko Queen for Green Arrow” discussion will certainly be energized now.
Sure, Green Arrow has political overtones and action galore and (soon-to-be, it seems) horror and even a scene of a guy on the john but there’s also Emiko. I don’t know how old she is but she’s kind of flat-chested and doesn’t dress provocatively and seems to be a really smart girl, physically strong and with a hold-no-prisoners attitude. She’s a good shot with that arrow, too.
I can hardly tell you how much I love this.
My daughter would have loved it. Maybe your daughter will love it. And maybe especially if she’s a reluctant reader she’ll love Emiko. Who knows how much of any young girl’s reluctance to read has been a difficult- if not impossible-to-define rejection of weak or overly sexualized female characters?
But now there’s Emiko. Count me in as a member of her fan club–and Ben Percy’s, too.