The Parisianer: A (Hopeful) Future of Paris

Fake futuristic magazine cover depicting a man manipulating a hologram display in front a tree which is partially moultingI have to admit, after a particularly awful experience well over a decade ago I have deliberately avoided travelling through the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. As a result, I had no idea about the on-going (and absolutely stunning) art installation/project taking place there. I still wouldn’t if it weren’t for Khoi Vinh.

It’s almost enough to make me want to lift my travel ban (almost). It’s certainly a project that is right up my street, producing beautiful illustrations depicting what the future of Paris (and, by extension, the world) might be. There’s a lot of fantastical science fiction on display, from aliens to integrated hydroponic schemes to space elevators and beyond.

The designs alone are stunning but some of the ideas also really caught my imagination. Take for instance the image above: what’s going on here? Is the tree real but the environment completely micromanaged by the person shown? Is the tree fake, perhaps a hologram being manually ‘updated’ to show the changing of the seasons? Is he administering some kind of medication to turn back the tide of a withering disease? It’s a wonderfully simple image but the amount of possibilities it contains is fascinating. I’m quite tempted to buy my own print. Or possibly pick up the final, published work when it is released.

Where is Superwoman? [#33]

Khoi Vinh recently linked out to an article by Amanda Shendruk looking at the data behind female inclusion in comic books. As both Khoi and Amanda state, it should come as no surprise that the overall trend is that women are under represented in mainstream comics (DC and Marvel being the focus here), but the analysis takes a more interesting approach and dives deeper into the roles, powers and names that female superheroes share disproportionately.

Again, there are clear biases and tropes, most of which are definitely problematic but also not unexpected. Female heroes are more likely to rely on agility than strength, more likely to have emotional or mental manipulation powers and are more likely to be a minority character on teams. It does highlight some factors which are slightly surprising (though again, not when you really think about them) and definitely worrying, like the trend for all-female teams to be defined by their femininity rather than their powers, goal or shared history. For example, DC’s Birds of Prey is a fantastic team name: evocative, clever and iconic; on the other hand, DC’s Female Furies is a terrible team name: dull, boring and telling you nothing about who is involved or why the team exists. All-male teams, on the other hand, are rarely named along gender lines. That’s something I feel comics writers can, and should, address right now.

However, I do feel the article points the finger a little too strongly at female hero names. To be clear, I’m not saying that female characters aren’t disproportionately named along gender lines – they clearly are and the data supports that. But the following conclusion, I feel, isn’t supported as well:

Females are more than twice as likely to be given a name that may make her seem weak, less dangerous, less aggressive and not on equal footing with male characters.

The data shows female heroes are twice as likely to have gender-specific names. But it’s a bit of a leap to state that means those names have been chosen to reduce their standing amongst the other heroes; at least, not because of their gender. There’s clearly a problem here, but I don’t think Amanda has correctly identified the root cause.

The issue, as stated in the article, is when gender-specific names use diminutive forms. In other words, when Superwoman becomes Supergirl. By using “girl” rather than “woman”, the character automatically appears weaker and more immature, which seems to match Amanda’s quote above. However, Supergirl is more immature. Her whole character and respective arc is about here being a young Kryptonian developing her powers. Her name hasn’t been picked because she’s a woman, it’s because she’s a teenager. The exact same logic is the reason we have Superboy within the DC universe as well.

Possibly a clearer example would be to look at two women in the Batman comics with gendered names: Batgirl and Catwoman. Both play the role of supporting heroes to Batman himself, but the gender forms used directly convey their comparative standing to the titular hero. Batgirl is a trainee, an apprentice; she’s young and immature. Catwoman is a seasoned criminal before we ever meet her, at the top of her game, not just for Gotham but for the world. Hence, one is girl, the other is woman.

Now, to be clear, there are definitely instances where diminutive forms are used to take female heroes down a peg. I’ve already mentioned Supergirl, so it would be wrong of me not to address Powergirl, the name she takes when she steps out from Superman’s shadow and becomes an independent hero. The argument can be made that a total name change would have been more confusing, but lets face it: Powergirl is a pretty terrible name, so why not just drop the gender specificity entirely. The issue of these immature names sticking does become problematic. When Superboy eventually take on the mantle of the red cape, he goes by Superman. When Batgirl dons the cloak in Bruce Wayne’s absence… she doesn’t become Batman (or Batwoman).

I’m not arguing that female naming conventions in comics are perfectly acceptable. They aren’t. All I’m saying is that I don’t think these characters having diminutive forms are necessarily writers trying to keep them trapped beneath a superhero glass ceiling. I think they’re chosen for different narrative reasons, most of the time, and whilst biases likely play a role the intent isn’t as clear-cut. I also don’t think it’s necessarily problematic.

What is problematic is the issue of female protégés never managing to take on the mantle of their mentors. Superboy can become, literally, Superman but Supergirl never has. I accept there are issues with gender naming in general if you’re trying to do this, as it never really makes sense for Kara Starr to be called Superman, but the issue persists even for non-gendered names. Artemis, Green Arrow’s teen titan, never becomes Green Arrow. She-Hulk is never simply the Hulk. There are some instances, such as Zatanna, but they tend to be retconned; the female character having been known first before the ‘original’ is introduced. Really, the only big-name swap I can think of is Captain Marvel, who spent years as Ms. Marvel before finally accepting her proper mantle.

At any rate, the article does make note that the winds, they are a-changing. Female character creation is increasing at all publishers and more female heroes are getting their own on-going titles. I think an easy next step would be to have some gendered-names becoming genderless, especially when it comes to teams, but at least we’re moving in the right direction. Still, Amanda’s research clearly shows that there remains a long way to go before female representation can actually be called representative.

Writing with Pollution

Poster on a run down wall with a black circle approximately the size of a tennis ball and the text

The idea of Air-Ink is a very clever one, taking an approach to reducing pollution that I really like. Rather than using guilt trips or absolution, instead the team at Graviky Inc. have devised a way to make the carbon in car exhausts have a value. It may not be as ideal as simply removing car exhaust pollution, but I think this type of “green” thinking has a much higher change of succeeding. Give a waste product a value and you’ll find that scarcity will naturally increase. Definitely a project I’m glad to have discovered.

I am a little disappointed though with the execution. When I first saw the Kickstarter I misunderstood and thought they’d come up with a device you could attach to your car and use the output to syphon off ink. In reality they’re just selling the ink, having gathered it themselves and refined it at industrial scale. Don’t get me wrong, that’s still a great idea, but if they could somehow make the refining process integrated to the capture it would become an amazing idea. Can you imagine driving to work each day and refilling your ink well in the process? Perhaps some people would end up with excess ink, so the next step would be to make printers that could utilise it. Now that’s a truly win-win scenario that I would fund in an instant!

Design Tool Survey 2016

For the second year running, Khoi Vinh of subtraction.com is asking for designers/developers to fill out a survey detailing what tools they use in their day-to-day workflow. I’m probably not the true, intended participant, as it would be hard to argue that I am actively developing anything at the moment (dabbling here aside), but I’ve followed the process and outcome of the 2015 survey with interest and wanted to get a more hands-on feel for it this time around.

If you are at all interested, I’d definitely recommend it and you can do so here. Personally, I was a little disappointed by the lack of scope. The results of last year’s input were both insightful and very well presented, but now I’ve actually seen how those results were garnered I feel they’re certainly a little biased.

My main issue was the lack of personal detail requested. To be clear, the survey absolutely does not require email addresses, personal names, locations (outside of country) etc. and, correctly, refrains from these clear breaches of privacy. However, I would have though that determining the OS or main software environment people use would be fairly crucial. Similarly, asking what software you use right now is great, but I’d personally love to see what people want to use as well.

I’m a prime example of the warped outcome you can get without these details (if you ignore the fact that I’m barely an example, that is). My answers will likely group me in the box of “outdated dinosaur”; someone who is using the same tools now that they were a decade ago. Though this is largely the case (iPad aside), the reality, however, is that this isn’t my choice. I choose to use Windows as my core OS; I would do even if I was still actively freelancing as my main income source. But that means I can’t choose to move away from Adobe – at all. Would I preferentially wireframe in Sketch? Absolutely! But that isn’t an option because Sketch, like the vast majority of tools being surveyed, isn’t available to the vast majority of the world.

The gap between innovation and accessibility in the design world is becoming truly enormous, especially now even the iPad is undergoing large scale price hikes. Unfortunately, I don’t feel it will be possible for Subtraction’s survey to adequately reflect that issue, which I feel is a missed opportunity. Personally, I’d love to see how much of an impact this gulf is having in the West – it scares me to think how negatively impactful it may be elsewhere in the world!