Posts Tagged ‘race’

As a global consumer culture one of the first things we’re introduced to is media. Television, books, movies, and music all contribute to how we perceive and relate to the world around us. The Modern Age of comics has seen the saga-bannerdeconstruction of superheroes, the rise, fall, and rise again of comic book movies and television, and the elevation of geek culture. This has all been in conjunction with the proliferation of the internet where vocality is king and the biggest hot button topics sure to come up when any new movie, television show, or comic book comes out are representation and visibility.

We want to see aspects of ourselves in the media we consume but it’s painfully clear that Hollywood and media in general skew towards the straight, white male demographic. Denying anyone who isn’t part of the preconceived audience doesn’t just eliminate them on a visual level, it eliminates their voices and stories that could be told from the perspective of women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community. This paints an inaccurate picture of our society, which many demand changed. Hollywood has taken some sluggish steps forward, but a Renaissance of representation has occurred in comic books, at least in the smaller publishers. Marvel and DC Comics have made some strides forward, but it’s really in publishers like Dark Horse, Image, IDW, and Boom! Studios that stories not predicated on decades worth of continuity are allowed to flourish under the writings and artistry of creators actively concerned with making their comics relevant to modern readers. One of those books is Saga.

SkishIn Saga, Alana and Marko, lovers from warring worlds, flee the war, marry, and have a child, Hazel, whose future self narrates the story of her family as they’re pursued by her parents’ peoples as well as robotic royalty, bounty hunters, ex-fiancés, and journalists across the galaxy. That’s as simplistic as the explanation gets without going into the complexities of the story, but suffice it to say that writer Brian K. Vaughan (Runaways, Y: The Last Man, Pride of Baghdad) and artist Fiona Staples (Mystery Society, DV8: Gods and Monsters, Archie) purposely set out to make Saga a book without limitations and, by their own admission, difficult to adapt.

First released in March of 2012 by Image Comics, Saga has since received as much critical acclaim as it has controversy. It should surprise no one that the bulk of the controversy concerns the art, which is understandable since comic books are, first and foremost, a visual medium. For all of the critical analysis of Saga’s narrative through Vaughan’s writing, it’s Staples’ art that grabs our attention. The fully realized sci-fi/fantasy landscape of war, sex, magic, technology, and family is as much a product of Staples’ imagination as it is Vaughan’s scripting.

Vaughan’s writing on Saga has received high praise, especially from this author, for his criticisms of art, war, and media, much of which stems from what John Parker of ComicsAlliance refers to as Vaughan’s examination of the anxieties of post-9/11 America where the genre serves as “the delivery system to explore significant real-world issues.” Interestingly enough, Saga is one of the most diverse books regarding gender, race, and sexual oriFiona and Brianentation but never brings attention to it because, in the world of Saga, these aren’t issues.

Vaughan is certainly no stranger to casts of characters with a high female count. Saga continues this predilection, sporting an ensemble cast of at least seven female characters in play, as of the current run, compared to the roughly four or five male characters that appear. It’s the diversity of race and sexual orientation, however, where Saga earns major points with readers. While both Vaughan and Staples have pointed out that race and skin color have no correlation in Saga, Staples was instrumental in the multicultural design of the characters, creating a book where only one of the main characters, out of roughly twelve, who could even be considered white (hint: it’s The Will). According to Vaughan at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con:

“When I was pitching to Fiona, I said, ‘I don’t care how Alana looks, but no redheads. There’s a glut of redheads in comics.’ And Fiona was like, ‘Well, she doesn’t have to be white either.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, right.’” [Source: Hero Complex]

GwenThis revelation from Vaughan shows the importance of diversity amongst creative teams alongside their books. Would the story have changed if Alana was white? Probably not, but by not defaulting to white, Staples gave Saga its own default and a galaxy enriched by diversity. Said Staples:

“Representation and diversity in comics is something that’s important to me, and I also think it just makes a more realistic universe when you’re constructing a brand-new world and you want it to feel authentic. Most of the people on Earth are not white. Why would this galaxy be?” [Source: Hero Complex]

The same is true for the visibility of LGBTQ characters. Though Alana and Marko are the straight couple at the center of the story, the Saga universe is far more fluid when it comes to sexuality. Gwendolyn, Marko’s ex, is most likely bi-sexual since she lost her virginity to a woman named Velour. Upsher and Doff are journalists and a committed gay couple trying to put the truth out about Alana’s defection. And Hazel’s babysitter Izabel recently talked about her girlfriend Windy with whom she loved and lost after stepping on a landmine. Sexual orientation is incidental to upsher and doffthe characters of Saga. The more pressing concern is the struggle for love amidst the tragedy of war.

When asked why he wrote so many strong female characters, Joss Whedon infamously answered, “Because you’re still asking me that question.” The same is true for Saga. We still have to keep pointing out just how diverse it is because there’s a dearth of comic books like Saga for readers interested in anything other than what mainstream publishers think is “diverse”. Thankfully, more comic books are beginning to emerge in the same vein as Saga, giving readers a playground of characters where they can see themselves without having to rely on surrogates due to lack of options. I’d like to be able to say things will change as time goes by, and I’m confident it will, but for now we’ll have to rely on Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples to continue delivering in their gorgeous, poignant, and heart-wrenching space opera.

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This article was originally written for Comics and Human Rights week on Talking Comics and the London School of Economics.

 

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When we look at feminist texts in the category of fiction, brutality and the subjugation of women are common themes in which authors explore how women strive for or gain agency within a world that has no qualms about denying or silencing them. The realm of science-fiction allows for a more heightened realization of these themes through the fears women have about their BITCH PLANET LOGO 1place in society and how institutions of power reinforce those notions. Science fiction also allows authors to take the combination of fear and reality to their most logical, or illogical, extremes; exposing the raw nerve of women as pawns, and sometimes perpetuators, of corrupt, fundamentalist societies intent on keeping them compliant. In this vein, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro’s Bitch Planet strikes the right balance between over-the-top prison movie exploitation and biting social commentary.

In the future, not sure how far off but that’s really not important, Earth has taken great leaps to ensure that society is well-ordered, free of “sin”, and most importantly compliant by shipping criminals and radicals off the planet to a prison known as Bitch Planet. Unsurprisingly, all of the prisoners are women who didn’t exactly meet the compliance standards via the rule of law or the perceptions of society. Among the new batch of prisoners are Penelope Rolle, a large woman unafraid to speak her mind and throw her weight around, Kamau Kogo, the fight-saavy presumed volunteer on the station, and Marian Collins, the innocent caught up in the planetary victimization of women.

The CatholicTo be fair, all of the women in Bitch Planet are victims of society in one form or another. While we know some of the prisoners are murderers, we’re not certain of the circumstances that led them to kill. The rest are referred to as radicals, implying that they are political prisoners, demonstrators exposing the reality of a society enforcing compliance whether through speaking out or practicing good old civil disobedience. There is, however, a third category of prisoner, the women who don’t adhere to what men want. While that could come down to just about anything, this particular type of prisoner is mostly embodied in Marian. We learn through dual conversations, one between Marian and the prison’s “Catholic” construct, the other between Marian’s husband and Mr. Solanza, that the two experienced some marital difficulties, which Mr. Collins resolved by having an affair because Marian didn’t excite him anymore. Marian feels guilty that she drove her husband to have an affair, but we’re led to believe that Mr. Collins is trying to get Marian back because of his own guilt in having the affair. The bait and switch occur when we learn that the Mrs. Collins mistakenly being held in detention isn’t Marian, but the youthful and exciting Dawn with whom Mr. Collins had the affair. It strikes a chord immediately because this is how women are already treated in the real world, viewed as nothing more than a means for men to feel good about themselves until they wear out their welcome and are replaced by a newer, younger model.

bitchplanet1-2-05769What hurts the most is that Marian believes it’s her fault for not being compliant to her husband’s desires. It has nothing to do with what she wants or desires. We get a sense of how Marian would fall into this mire of self-esteem in the opening pages as the voice over artist rushes through an unknown city to her job. In the background are advertisements encouraging women to “Eat Less, Poop More” so there’s “Less of You to Love”, “Buy This. It Will Fix You”, and most blatantly “You’re Fat”. All of these ads are aimed at women, drowning them in expectations to be thin and beautiful, devaluing them through body shaming and not-so-subliminal messages. When the voice over gal gets to work, her job is to pose as the voice of a history teacher with the intention of using the recording to play while the Non-Compliants (NCs) are asleep in transit. It’s revisionist history used to indoctrinate these women into the compliant way of thinking.

The religious connotations in Bitch Planet #1 bring to mind Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in which Judeo-Christian fundamentalism is used to justify and enforce class systems and sexual practices, placing women in the lower classes by virtue of being women. As the “history teacher” speaks, we’re given the “In the beginning…” opening that immediately frames this society within a religious context. Mother Earth is no more. Instead, Space is now the Mother and Earth the Father. The women en route to Bitch Planet are being expelled by their “Father” because of their trespasses of gluttony, pride, weakness, and wickedness, sins revised to specifically speak to gender. They’re beyond correction and so are cast out into the “loving embrace of the Mother”, which further reinforces the idea of women as outsiders. Father Planet is where society thrives, but Mother Space is where the cancers on society go. Their nakedness during transport and upon arrival further shames them as they’re watched over by male security techs and “guarded” by men in masks without discernible features. It’s voyeuristic and uncomfortable, which is indicative of how women feel under the scrutiny of men.

Furthermore, the issue of race isn’t specifically stated, but can be viewed through most of the issue. Marian is the only character referred to as the “white girl” while the rest of the prison is predominantly occupied by black women, which is on point according to Danielle Henderson who states in the back matter that “African American women are three times more likely to be incarcerated than white women, and most often for offenses related to men”. The diversity of the cast, as well as the final BP02twist are done explicitly to show the disproportionate population of women of color who visually represent non-compliance.

Bitch Planet‘s timing couldn’t be more perfect in regards to race and gender issues that are still at the forefront of women’s rights and representation in the media. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro (whose art is amazing, by the way) have hit the ground running with their unapologetic look at society and women through the lens of science-fiction. This is not a subtle book by any means. Its message is loud and clear from cover to cover, ready to hit you over the head in a way that would make Penny Rolle grin with delight.

8007cef6b23ae281bb2242c0f39f9123If you’ve been listening closely on a few of the more recent podcasts of That Girl with the Curls, you might have noticed I’ve been talking a lot about Storm. She’s one of my favorite X-Men and, if you haven’t listened to the episodes linked, her trading card back in the early to mid-nineties was one of my most prized possession. Whenever my mom took me and my sister to the local game shop – we didn’t exactly have a comic book store close by to my recollection – I always asked (or begged) for another pack of X-Men cards. I was in love with the 1992 cartoon and I was infatuated with Storm. More accurately, I wanted to be Storm. Not only did she have what I believed to be the best mutant powers ever, but as the cartoon progressed I became wrapped up in her story. Like many of the X-Men, and villains, featured in the cartoon, Storm was fleshed out as a character, showing a wide range of emotions fueled by her past and her present position as one of the most powerful mutants on the X-Men roster.

Goddess, thief, mutant, queen, leader, friend, lover, and hero; Ororo Munroe, aka Storm, was introduced, along with Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Thunderbird, and Banshee in Giant-Size X-Men #1 (May, 1975) as part of a new diverse generation of mutants created by writer Len Wein and artist Dave Cockram. When Chris Claremont took over writing for Uncanny X-Men from Wein, he established Storm’s backstory and continued to feature her as a prominent character for the next sixteen years. Since her first appearance, Storm has been in every iteration of the classic-x-men-inside-coverX-Men to date; cartoons/anime, movies, and video games have all utilized Storm not just as a powerful mutant but also as a valued team member and friend. However, in the nearly four decades she’s been part of the X-Men Universe, she’s never had a solo book until now and it’s already facing cancellation after only five issues.

Currently being written by Greg Pak with pencils by Victor Ibañez and colors by Ruth Redmond, Storm’s solo book has finally taken the Mistress of the Elements out from under the greater umbrella of the X-Men team to explore her as an individual on her own terms. Yes, she’s still as much involved with the team as ever but Pak uses her relationships, past and present, to key us into what makes Storm so significant and so different. In the five issues thus far, Pak has firmly established Storm as a defender of anyone in need who’s grown tired of working within systems (societal and political) that prevent her from helping others and doing what’s right. As she tells Wolverine, she doesn’t want to hold back anymore and Pak succeeds in making each issue function partially as a one-shot but tied together through the 1398611782000-Storm-1-Ibanez-Coveroverarching theme of Storm’s personal journey to make good on her statement. Much of that journey means going back to her roots in Africa, making her book significant on a cultural level. Africa is a hotbed of socio-economic and political conflicts, so putting Storm in the midst of these problems makes sense and gives her an added dimension of relevance.

But really it’s the diversity angle I want to stress here because it’s at the heart of the #SaveStorm campaign started not too long ago in an effort to keep the book afloat. In the wake of Marvel’s cancellation of Elektra and She-Hulk‘s solo books, the common denominator was low sales. As Brett White at Comic Book Resources pointed out:

According to the October sales charts, “She-Hulk” #9 sold 21,418 physical copies and “Elektra” #7 sold 15,021. You know what series sits between those two terminated ongoings? “Storm.” The fourth issue sold 19,862 copies, which, if “She-Hulk” and “Elektra’s” ultimate fates are to be used as proof, puts it in danger of being cancelled.

StormaProblematic to this entire situation is the way in which copies are being counted. The October sales chart only covers physical copies sold to retailers in North America. Sales from countries outside North America and digital sales aren’t factored into the charts, making the numbers unreliable in their representation of the actual market of readers. But if these are the numbers Marvel is using to justify cancellations, then we have to work within the same parameters.

Are the low sales the result of terrible marketing? Personally, I found out about the book when maybe one or two websites mentioned it, but I can’t recall any huge push from Marvel. Then again, a lot of the solo books have fallen by the wayside mostly due to event books taking precedence. It’s still surprising how little attention she’s received given that Storm is one of the most recognizable characters in the X-Men universe, if not Marvel as a whole. She was Marvel’s first major black female superhero and one would think they’d try to market the hell out of her solo book. Then again, there’s been a lot of speculation about how Marvel has been handling titles with characters they don’t have the rights to for their cinematic universe. Just sayin’.Storm_h622

Is it the readers? I doubt Marvel would give the greenlight on a solo book unless there was enough interest in the character to warrant hiring the talent and spending the money to bring the book to fruition. But, as stated previously, event books are the company’s bread and butter, and with the glut of comics coming out from Marvel, DC, Image, IDW, Dark Horse, Boom!, Archie, and other independent publishers, readers need to decide where to spend their money. This means they often purchase books they’ve always bought instead of opting for something new, especially if they’re working with limited funds.

Is it the character? Popularity doesn’t necessarily mean dollar signs and there could definitely be a bit of mental gymnastics going on in the minds of readers trying to justify not buying the book. Storm, as part of the X-Men, still appears in several titles and she’s a regular participant in the crossover events due to her affiliations with multiple teams. It’s easy to think, “Well, she’s in these other books, so I’m still going to have Storm but also all these other characters.” Then again, Wolverine’s been around for the same amount of time and he was (RIP Logan) in almost every book Marvel could stuff him into. Personally, I don’t think it’s a gender or race issue in terms of the lack of interest or cancellation, but it is important in terms of representation in comic books. Diversity is integral to the survival of the comic book industry, not just in the creative teams, but in the characters put front and center. Storm tumblr_mdcss8EKxX1qzgx3uo1_500is on par with Wonder Woman as a character who inspires others. Her strength, compassion, and wisdom, coupled with her very human flaws, make her relatable to readers of all ages, races, and genders. Featuring her as a major player and representative of the Marvel brand, however, gives validation not just to the character but to those who identify with her yet feel overlooked.

The question then becomes: Is that enough? Marvel is a company and numbers are what matter to companies. If a book isn’t selling, even if the higher-ups love it for all the right reasons, it will eventually boil down to numbers. So, for now, all we can do is support the hell out of Storm. Buy or order it from your local comic book store, buy it on Comixology, tweet about the book with the hashtag #SaveStorm, go on Tumblr, shove a copy of the book into the hands of your friends and families. Help Storm because she’d do her damnedest to help you.

Mabel

Before Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra gave us a glut of charismatic and realized female characters, before Steven Universe brought us diverse, retro-futuristic superheroes like Garnet, Amethyst, and Diamond, and before Gravity Falls and Bob’s Burgers gave us silly yet poignant characters like Mabel, Tina, and Louise respectively (two of which are voiced by Kristen Schaal), there was the first wave of female cartoon characters that influenced a generation of children, girls and boys, and paved the way for the latest Renaissance of animation where more gender and racially diverse casts are becoming the norm. Representation in media may not seem like a huge deal to some, but we often forget (some more than others) that, as children, the media we consume imprints on us in ways we don’t fully understand until well into adulthood. The goggles of nostalgia being what they are, the current generation is benefiting from what my, and the generations before me, lacked.

Animated cartoons as a medium of entertainment have roughly been around since the turn of the 20th century when the 1908 French film, Fantasmagorie, featured the first instance of traditional, hand-drawn, animation. From there, animated shorts began appearing as experimental films themselves or as shorts before features. Walt Disney and Warner Bros. both developed their signature styles and characters through these shorts. But it wasn’t until 1958 that we got the first purely animated half-hour show featured on television, Hanna-Barbera’s Huckleberry Hound. Two years later we got The Flintstones and the rest, they say, is cata_bettyboophistory. But like the history books we read, the figures dominating the scene were mostly male and white – though I have no idea what the racial breakdown is amongst characters like Wally Gator, Snagglepuss, and the cast of Top Cat.

Female characters in early animation and even in the classic cartoons from the 30s on down were largely used as nagging wives, wide-eyed innocent dimwits, or sexual objects. The 60s and 70s gave us some marginal steps forwards with Josie and the Pussycats and Scooby-Doo, but the ad hoc mystery-solving teen plus animal sidekick shows rarely produced memorable, let alone influential, female characters. As for depictions of race in cartoons, yeah we all know why Disney and Warner Bros. keep a lot of those locked away. Though kudos to Amazon and iTunes for adding a disclaimer to the Tom and Jerry cartoons. It’s a necessary step in educating people on how cartoons, like any medium, are the product of their time and what was considered acceptable.

So why am I bringing this up? Why am I adding historical context to what is ostensibly a list of favorite female cartoon characters from the 80s and 90s? Because we need to understand how the cartoons kids and adults watch now got to this point. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still the continuing tropes of the Smurfette Principle and Tokenism in many cartoons airing currently, but now more than ever are audiences likely to voice their opinions and demand change. Furthermore, creators of these cartoons are more likely to purposefully craft these new cartoons because they understand the changing climate and the need for greater representation and character types. And when you start looking at where the seeds of change were planted, it’s only a few decades back when impressionable kids like myself got a taste of what was yet to come.

 

Babs Bunny (Tiny Toon Adventures) and Dot Warner (Animaniacs)

For all intents and purposes, Babs and Dot share very similar character traits. For one, they’re both voiced by the incomparable Tress MacNeille, but they’re also characters who, like their male counterparts, are just as silly, if not sillier. It’s not a case of them being “just one of the guys”, Babs and Dot are active participants in the shenanigans of their respective shows. And they’re funny as hell!Babs

Though Babs is the epitome of the Smurfette Principle on a visual level (right down to being pink), the writers of Tiny Toons made her a character in her own right. She’s obsessed with perfecting her impressions and goes to great lengths to show her mother just how funny she is despite the lack of attention. There was also a very touching episode called “Fields of Honey” where Babs laments the fact that she has no mentor the equivalent of Buster to Bugs or Plucky to Daffy, though she ends up finding a mentor in the made up Honey of the Bosko and Honey cartoons from the 30s. It’s a bit of commentary on the fact that the Looney Tunes lacked female characters save for Granny, Witch Hazel, and the poor cat often harassed by Pepe Le Pew. Tiny Toons may have created some female counterparts to their male characters, but they made sure they were distinctive. Elmira, anyone?

dot and melDot, like Babs, somewhat embodies the Smurfette Principle, but like her older brothers she’s just as capable of being the voice of reason as she is being an instigator of their torturous fun at the expense of others. Adorned in a little pink skirt and a bow on her head, Dot also has the added dimension of acting “girly”, often proclaiming to others how cute she is, but never lacks in hilarity because of it. Her cuteness, the frequent catchphrases of her ridiculously long name, and the monstrous pet living in a tiny box, all create a complete package. And she’s just as prone to exhibiting the “female gaze” on attractive men as her brothers are on women even if the phrase, “Hello, Nurse!” doesn’t apply in Dot’s case, though that makes it even funnier. This was, of course, a play on what male characters in the Warner Bros. cartoons would do when faced with a sexualized female character, but in the case of Animaniacs, Dot could be just as obsessively attracted to someone as Yakko or Wakko. Babs definitely had her moments like this as well, but most of her efforts were put into getting Buster’s attention. Dot had no ongoing “love interest”, she was just interested.

 

April O’Neil (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)april-o-neil

Though she’s gone through as many iterations as her terrapin friends, April is usually the grounding element for viewers in case a title like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles didn’t completely prepare you for what the show was about. It’s through April (voiced by Renae Jacobs) we learn the origin story of the turtles and it’s through April that the turtles usually have reason to get involved with the plot. Saving April from whatever mess she’d gotten herself into was part of the formula of the show, but that formula also showed us that April was the type of reporter who would do anything to get her story. The whole reason she meets the turtles is because her continued investigation into the Foot Clan puts her face to face with Shredder’s goons, driving her into the sewers to save herself. Though Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was considered a boys cartoon, their main source of information and connection to the city above was an ambitious woman willing to put herself in danger because she believed in doing the right thing or getting the best camera angle.

 

Lydia Deetz (Beetlejuice)

LydiaBased, and I mean loosely based, on the movie of the same name, the cartoon version of Lydia (voiced by Alyson Court) was a breath of fresh Gothic air in the cartoon landscape. Keeping the bright, pastel settings of Tim Burton’s suburbia, Lydia continued to stick out with her black hair, pale skin, and purple eyeshadow in comparison to the perpetually tanned and blonde-haired girls that populated her middle school. Her story is not that dissimilar from other girls whose interests and looks deviate from what it considered “normal”. She’s isolated and alone and not even the well-intentioned platitudes of her parents make the loneliness go away. Fortunately for Lydia, she has a place she can go to escape the world that ineffectively forces her to conform where a friend awaits who truly understands her and cares about her for the person that she is. In the Neitherworld, Beetlejuice’s home, Lydia can be herself and through her friendship with Beetlejuice she comes into her own as a girl of intelligence and spirit willing to play along with her friend’s schemes and have fun in her topsy-turvy home away from home. It’s what we all wish for, the ability to escape for a while and spend time with a friend who brings out the best in us. Being Goth, however, though it ostracized her from the other people in her cookie cutter community, was never depicted negatively. In fact, it’s what made Lydia distinctive, an individual with a mind of her own. She paved the way for characters like Sam Manson (Danny Phantom) and Marceline (Adventure Time), showing that Goth girls are more than just heavy eyeliner and an interest in spiders. Though that red outfit…man, do I want that for Halloween!

 

Gosalyn Mallard (Darkwing Duck)gosalyn

By all rights, and I swear I’ll fight you over this, Gosalyn Mallard is the perfect example of a tomboy in cartoons. There’s honestly no other character like Gosalyn (voiced by Christine Cavanaugh), that I can think of, who exhibits the same traits and sports the same attitude. A ball of energy and spunk, Gosalyn is the adopted daughter of Drake Mallard, better known as Darkwing Duck. And while most superheroes struggle with balancing home life with their heroic activities, one of Darkwing’s greatest obstacles is keeping Gosalyn away from danger. This is a girl who thinks having a superhero father is the greatest thing ever and isn’t afraid to jump in the sidecar of a motorcycle and follow him into the fray. Gosalyn is Darkwing’s biggest fan, always encouraging him to take down the bad guys no matter how many punches it takes – to them or to him. She’s smart, quick-witted, and ridiculously adorable when she needs to be, which all feeds into her desires to sidestep Darkwing’s rules and be an active participant in taking down the criminals of St. Canard. Gosalyn has even joined Darkwing as a hero in her own right; as Yucky Duck, the Crimson Quackette, and the Quivering Quack, though never for very long. It’s also the father-daughter relationship that maintains the emotional core of the show, another aspect that isn’t explored all that often in cartoons. Many episodes made sure to show how much Darkwing and Gosalyn love each other, including an episode where Gosalyn’s accidental trip to the future showed a darker version of her father obsessed with extreme order and justice because he thought he couldn’t save her. Without Gosalyn, Darkwing isn’t the same hero, showing how important her presence and her encouragement are to the “terror that flaps in the night”.

 

Gadget (Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers)

gadget2Yet another character voiced by Tress MacNeille, this one you could say is my bias poking through because people probably remember Rescue Rangers for the catchy theme song and its titular characters than they necessarily remember Gadget. But if you do remember Gadget as being more than “The Girl” of the group, then you’re also aware of how a character like her could be inspiration to young girls who might have dreams of going into fields like science or engineering. Gadget is a genius and the resident inventor of the group, always ready to MacGyver a piece of machinery out of what we might consider junk to help save the day. Granted, her inventions didn’t always work as planned, but Gadget was always quick on her feet to repair or alter her inventions when need be. Still, she suffered from the occasional bouts of self-esteem, especially when it came to her usefulness and her place on the team. One of the more well-known episodes deals with Gadget suffering from an identity crisis after her inventions repeatedly fail, leading her to join the Cola Cult in order to find a place to belong. Of course, by the end everything works out. This is Disney. Still, episodes like “The Case of the Cola Cult” are important to fleshing out characters, even if we don’t notice it as much when we’re children. It showed Gadget on another level, a girl who could experience self-doubt yet still find a way to overcome it. Despite her failures, Gadget keeps trying.

 

Detective Elisa Maza (Gargoyles)Elisa Maza

Like April O’Neil, Elisa Maza (voiced by Salli Richardson-Whitfield) serves the purpose of being the human connection between the newly woken gargoyles and the modern world. A detective for the NYPD, Elisa is the second human Goliath encounters in New York, but she proves to be the most influential, showing him how Xanatos and Demona are using him and his clan for their own purposes. Though she often acts as the voice of reason and a source of sisterly comfort, Elisa is just as prone to impulsiveness and obsession when it comes to her job in the police department. She’s not afraid to confront those more powerful than her, especially when she sees them abusing their power at the expense of those incapable of defending themselves. Dealing with the mob, monsters, and her own family are just about on equal footing in Elisa’s world, though she’s never one to back down from a fight. And while it shouldn’t be a significant factor, Elisa’s mixed-race heritage was a huge step in the right direction for female characters and cartoons in general. Elisa is half African-American and half Native American, though she and her siblings seem to favor one race over the other instead of an actual mix. The point, however, is that Elisa being the product of a mixed-race family is important for the greater themes of representation in media. The default for female leads can’t be “white” anymore than it is for male leads and children need to be able to see themselves in the media they consume. We can all identify with a character who’s different from us, but we also need to see ourselves reflected back, to know that we’re just as important. And Elisa got to be that character for some kids.

So, yeah, that’s a lot of words about a few characters but they’re characters I believe shouldn’t be discounted for how they potentially influenced a generation of children who would or will grow up to be the next wave of creators in animation and media in general. Their impact, great or small, is still an impact worth noting.

So, who would you add to this list? I know there are more out there, but these were the characters most memorable to me. Let me know who and why!