Jenn Woodall, a comic-book artist and gamer, was sick of how women were presented in comics and video games. She observed that there were usually just two options for female characters: petite and young looking, or other bigger and busty, both scantily dressed and pretty much always adhering to traditional American standards of beauty. So she decided to invite other female artists to contribute to and create Fight! zine, a comic filled with original female fighting characters.
The fighters square off in the pages, mostly by being drawn to face one another, à la video games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter. Fight! zine has a bonanza of women fighters, big and small, black and white (and purple), and all badass. There is a baker named Rye with a loaf of bread primed to be thrown as a projectile to a character named Hun-Lau, an expert martial artist and ghost hunter. The first issue's sold out, and Woodall is taking submissions for future issues now. I talked to Jenn about the reaction to Fight!, the state of video games, and what's comics she's reading.
Jackie Snow: Where did the idea for Fight! zine come from?
Jenn Woodall: I did a fanzine a couple of years ago about Sailor Moon. I wanted to move in a direction of doing a collaborative zine that was an original idea rather than strictly fan art. I've always really loved video games. I grew up playing them. I've always really loved fighting games, especially the character designs. I thought it would be a really fun initiative to invite artists to create their own female fighting characters. I knew that inviting all these really creative people would create an extremely diverse cast of characters that would be really great to look at.
JS: What are the differences between the female fighters in most games and the ones in Fight! zine?
JW: A lot of fighting games unfortunately sexualize female characters too much. You'll have one character who's maybe a very young girl, then the other two female characters will be very busty, buxom-y, hypersexualized women, which is fine, but there's not really an alternative a lot of the time, and that can be very frustrating. I feel like with the Fight! project, there are very few female characters in the book that are highly sexualized. There are some super-sexy characters, but then there's some very tough characters, very modest characters. They're really all over the spectrum.
JS: Are there any newer games that have different types of female fighters?
JW: There's a new game called Overwatch which seems to have a pretty diverse range of female body types represented. Some different sexualities, too, which I think is really great. Instead of traditionally white characters, you see people of different races and different ethnic backgrounds. But fighting games still have a long way to go. You see a lot more diversity with male characters rather than female characters.
I can see it changing for the better, though. There seem to be more progressive initiatives coming up in games, and the success that indie games are having and how they really seem to put a focus on diversity are helping make more people feel represented.
JS: You have one issue of Fight! out. What's been the reaction so far?
JW: Overwhelmingly positive. I've had people buy it for their kids, which is always really cute. I've had people come up to me when I've been selling it at conventions and art festivals and say, "You know, I brought this home, and me and my friends all went through it and we picked our favorites, and it was so great." A lot of people have sent me unsolicited fan art, saying, "Here's my fighter!"
JS: What was your favorite character in the first issue?
JW: Flash Attack, who was designed by an English illustrator named Dilray Mann. Her backstory is really fantastic. It's all about being this fighter-dancer and involved in this underground club scene. The execution is amazing. The character is also a full-figured woman of color. I was really happy to see that being done by some of the artists.
JS: What are some of the comics that you're reading and being inspired by right now?
JW: I just finished reading In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang, and I just finished volume one of Wandering Son, which was really excellent. Before that, I read Jillian Tamaki's SuperMutant Magic Academy. Obviously I've been reading Saga.Paper Girls is also really excellent.
JS: It seems like video games have a little bit further to go before we see male and female characters doing similarly interesting things and being equally unique. I feel like comics are already closer. Thanks to stories like Saga and Lumberjanes, there's just a lot of interesting stuff going on in the comic scene for women writers and illustrators.
JW: Women are just really dominating the scene, it seems. I love it. I definitely feel like comics are definitely farther ahead than video games at the moment.
I do have a lot of female-identifying friends who work in the games industry, and I do think it is getting better, especially in indie games. It just seems it's a bit more of a difficult wall to get over than comics. I'm not sure why. I played video games growing up, and it's weird to me to see the pushback against female developers and people saying video games should be for everyone. Everyone should feel welcome and everyone should feel represented.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Jackie Snow is a New York–based journalist who brought an issue of Saga to her stylist as inspiration for her last haircut.