At the Comics Reporter, Jeet Heer discusses his two recent books on comics, The Superhero Reader edited with Charles Hatfield and Kent Worcester, and In Love With Art: Françoise Mouly’s Adventures in Comics with Art Spiegelman, with Tom Spurgeon:
Strange to say, when I work on a biographical essay, I’m also often writing a type of disguised autobiography. The introduction to the first volume of the Walt and Skeezix books deals with father/son relationships. I wrote it not long after my father died. The introduction of first volume of the Orphan Annie series touches on the fact that Harold Gray never had kids and examines the theme of infertility in the strip. It was written while my partner and I were struggling with our own fertility problems. In the case of Mouly, yes, it’s true that she, like me, learned English as a second language, aided by comics. And in general, Mouly’s experiences as an immigrant speak to my own history (and perhaps even more, the lives of my parents). Mouly’s cultural interests are another commonality. One of the nicest compliments I’ve received is from Mouly herself, who told my publisher that she was happy that I wrote this book because I was someone who not only knew about comics but had a wider cultural frame of reference. One of the attractive things about Mouly is that she understands comics but has a horizon that is wider than comics culture. It might be a form of pernicious self-flattery, but I like to think the same is true of me.
The fact that Mouly is such an anomalous figure in comics makes her story interesting to me since I also feel like I’m an odd duck in the comics world. Even when I was a kid first reading comics, I paid attention to the credits to see if there were other outsiders in the field. I got a secret thrill whenever I saw Ben Oda (hey, he doesn’t sound like he’s white!) listed as letterer. And I took note of the few women in comics as well, not just Mouly but also Marie Severin, or Glynis Wein. Even as a kid, I noticed that the few women in comics were almost invariably colorists. I often wondered why. I wasn’t a particularly politically astute kid but I did notice a few things.