Image Comics is celebrating their 25th anniversary in 2017, and among their many forms of celebration are the Image and Skybound variant covers for LGBTQ Pride Month. Available only in stores, the variants celebrate the LGBTQ community and the progress made by the Gay Liberation movement. 100% of the proceeds from the Pride variant covers will be donated to Human Rights Campaign! And Geeks OUT is reviewing them all!
In case you ditched Gender Studies 101 to play Grand Theft Auto V, the male gaze is the way in which art depicts women from a (mostly heterosexual) male point of view, as objects of pleasure. The phrase "male gaze" was coined by feminist film critic Laura Mulvey in 1975. Creator of Grrl Scouts Jim Mahfood was also born in 1975. And that's an interesting coincidence here in 2017.
After his collaboration with Kevin Smith on the Clerks comic, and before his work with Marvel on a few Spider-Man series, Mahfood created a cute and anarchic adventure story, collected into the trade paperback Grrl Scouts: Work Sucks, and this May, Grrl Scouts returned with the six-issue miniseries Magic Socks. A group of girls named Gwen, Daphne, and Rita reunite in a bizarre tale of literally magical hosiery that can be used as weapons. After betraying Gwen and Rita, Daphne fights her little cousin Josie (who just got out of "the loony bin," which is an old fashioned term for a psychiatric ward that might be troubling for readers who have ever needed that kind of mental health care).
In the second issue, the origins of the mysterious Magic Socks are narrated by a character who can only be described as a sardonic hobo. Unsurprisingly, the narration is dialectal, just as every character's dialogue is in some vernacular or another. In a one-panel flashback scene, Hitler is described by a German stormtrooper as being "super gacked out on crystal meth," to which his fellow stormtrooper replies "fo' sho." So verisimilitude is not a thing. Cultural appropriation might be a thing. Who knows, though? Because anything goes.
Mahfood's illustration style is a mélange of psychedelic, punk, hip-hop, and graffiti, complete with Ralph Steadman-style ink spatter, and elements of deconstructed fashion illustration reminiscent of Bill Sienkiewicz (who did the Pride variant cover). Mahfood's work also recalls Ashley Wood, another inarguably talented straight dude born in the 1970s with an aptitude for drawing skinny girls, who worked on Tank Girl after its creator Jamie Hewlett and before Mahfood (so yes, there's an aesthetic legacy). Wood now works as a toy designer, and creates dolls that look something like the head of Henry Selick's character design for Coraline on a ball-jointed body that looks like the hottest girl at the Gorillaz concert (so yes again, Hewlett's influence continues). And like Hewlett's cartoon women, Wood's World of Isobelle Pascha dolls are attractive at-a-glance, but might make a fourth-wave feminist put down her copy of Bitch Planet for a minute to think a little more about whether it's inherently problematic for a character designed by a man to look both fashionable and fuckable. This hypothetical fourth-wave feminist and I would probably agree that it depends on who designed the character, and who their intended audience is. Mahfood's girls bring all of that to mind. It's a lot to unpack, but even in exchange for a few entertaining scenes, it doesn't seem worth the effort.
I stopped being concerned with how judicious my critique might be when another background character dropped a casual (albeit shortened) N-bomb. So much #NOPE in a single panel. This is the kind of carelessness that comes with the kitchen sink zaniness of straight white male creators who seem to think of themselves as unbridled creative geniuses. Grrl Scouts features male characters making threatening references to licking balls on one page, and a full-page spread of women going down on each other on the next. None of this suggests that girls had much influence in the publication of this book. But it doesn't read like the writer really had a female readership in mind.
Visual style is everywhere in Grrl Scouts, but substance is hardly anywhere. Sometimes after a long day, a looks-based comic is the perfect way to unwind. And Mahfood definitely has looks. The problem is that the looks are only really aesthetically pleasing if you don't think about them too much. Mahfood's portfolio includes work for Playboy, Giorgio Armani, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Heavy Metal, and Cartoon Network, and this mix of male-centric pop cultural sensibilities unfurls across the pages of Magic Socks like a Straight Pride flag.
This miniseries might appeal to readers of Tank Girl, Curb Stomp, Motor Crush, and maybe Kim and Kim too. But if the target reader for a comic like Monstress is women with mermaid hair whose ideal date is a stroll to a local bookstore followed by a craft cocktail followed by a big bowl of ramen, the target audience for Grrl Scouts might be boys in ironic T-shirts doing shots of Jeppson's Malört while comparing Animal Collective to Radiohead. Which is cool. "There's an ass for every seat," as a character in the background of an upcoming issue of Magic Socks might say. But like a Quentin Tarantino film, there's something unswervingly heteronormative about this comic. As attractive as the characters are (and as the Pride variant cover is), there is no visible queer content anywhere, all-female orgy notwithstanding.
This is only the second issue in a six-issue miniseries, but so far, Grrl Scouts: Magic Socks is too consumed by its own coolness to be memorable for much else. It deserves a begrudging high five for its overall style, but a big red pen for its lack of narrative substance, its thoughtless use of language, and its low-key male gaze.