Planet 'B': How A Feminist Comic Book Found Devoted Fans Through Absurdity
When comic book writer Kelly Sue DeConnick got the opportunity to reimagine Captain Marvel as a blond, blue-eyed fighter pilot named Carol, she made changes to the character that some fans didn't like.
Carol now wears a flight suit — not the sexy dominatrix outfit she used to wear back when she was Ms. Marvel. For that, DeConnick was accused of having a feminist agenda.
"You know, I'm pretty good, I have a pretty thick skin, and I can shrug most of this stuff off," DeConnick told NPR's Kelly McEvers. "But there was some kernel of: 'This is not angry feminist. You want to see angry feminist?' "
So DeConnick started writing another, very different comic called Bitch Planet. The story is about a futuristic world dominated by men, where women who are deemed "noncompliant" are placed on a prison planet.
The first five issues of "B Planet," as DeConnick calls it around her kids, have been collected into a graphic novel, which was released Wednesday.
On what happens to women in the world of her comic
In this world, if you are a woman who does not fit in the box assigned her — if you are too loud or too opinionated, or too quiet or too religious, too atheist, too black, too brown, too any of the things that they don't want you to be — you are labeled noncompliant. And if you are deemed terminally noncompliant, you are shipped off-world to an auxiliary compliance outpost that is colloquially referred to as "B Planet." ... It is a women's prison.
On reimagining the setting of a women's prison
The book is completely absurd, and that's the thing that my co-creator and I, Valentine De Landro, are trying to play with — some of the tropes from women-in-prison movies and exploitation and blaxploitation films from the '70s that we loved but are, as we like to say, deeply problematic.
So we do things like label pages "The Obligatory Shower Scene." And in that scene we turned the camera on the viewer, so as the scene progresses, the guy that's watching from the hole in the wall, the panel that is his peephole continually gets bigger and bigger and bigger until it covers the rest of the scene — because he's our focus.
So it's, how can we take these things that we're all so accustomed to, and flip them in a way that calls attention to what they are and what they do?
On the title of the book
I thought it was funny! And there's a — you know, [bitch] is a terrible thing for a woman to be called, right? That's the thing that we're all sort of afraid of. We so wanna be liked!
And I'm a pleaser as much as anybody else is, and I don't want to be considered unpleasant, but, you know, sometimes, I'm also the boss. And if I am unable to continue for fear of being called a name, I'm not a very effective leader. And so, there's an attempt there to just sort of own it, put it out there.
And that's a similar thing with the noncompliant label that I've seen happening in reaction to the book that's been utterly and completely fascinating.
You know, it is not a good thing in the world of this book to be labeled noncompliant — it means you don't fit, it means you don't belong, it means you are not good enough, you are not right. And in the real world a number of our readers have really glommed on to that label and kind of taken it on proudly. I believe we are at — over a hundred people have sent us photographs of the "noncompliant" tattoos that they've gotten, and the way that they've personalized them and what they mean to them.
And a friend of mine, another comic book writer, said something that is so smart that I wish I had said it: He said, "You don't get that tattoo because you are a fan of something in the book. You get that tattoo because that book is a fan of something in you." And I think that that encapsulates it so much better than anything that I have been able to construct.
On how the comic book industry is welcoming more women
So there are three things that have happened in recent history that have created sort of this paradigm shift in our industry: One is, Image Comics has returned. And Image is the third-largest publisher after Marvel and DC, and they write comics that are not part of a shared universe. So you don't have to learn a new system — you don't have to go to Wikipedia to start reading comics. Just the same way that you would select any book from any bookstore, you can choose an Image title based on your interests, and, you know, you sort of start with No. 1 or the beginning of a new arc, and you jump in and go. So that welcomes a lot of new readers; there's a lot of new women coming from that.
The second thing that happened was the Marvel movies did exceptionally well at the box office, right? And 50 percent of that audience is women, and those women came out of those movies going, "Hmm ... I think I might like to find out more about Iron Man or Black Widow." And so they found a comic book store.
So that was the second thing that happened. And then the third thing is digital comics. So if you have a smartphone — and you have a smartphone — then you have a comic book store in your pocket. So you don't have to get over any social anxiety you have about entering that space.
And those three things have meant a flood of women readers are returning to the industry. And it has changed the way we think about our audience, it's changed the way we think about who we hire to work on these books, it's changed the way we think about who we put on the cover, and how we put them on the cover. And we're at a kind of Wild West time right now where nobody's exactly sure how that's gonna wind up. And it's very exciting.