Big, bad, beautiful Penny Rolle
This is a revolutionary time in comics for women. Writers, artists, and actual characters are becoming more prominent, and more get-to-the-grit-and-make-it-yours awesome. Someone I knew once told me, “There is a modern ‘golden age’ of comics happening right now.” He also told me he didn’t believe in expiration dates on food too. Haven’t seen him for a while, but that’s beside the point.
There are lots of articles dedicated to comics that involve women, that’s a given. But where are the articles in which the woman OWNS the comic? The ones where she takes that thing, grabs it by its squishy parts, and blows us all away with her sheer grandiose self that leaves us stunned, happy, amazed. Imagine when you found out Santa wasn’t real? Well, imagine that but the opposite. Pretty great, eh? Those are the women I’m talking about.
Each week, I will be picking one of these lovely creatures, and sharing why she is amazing. Now it’s true that women in comics now are more prominent and badass than ever before, but let’s not forget about the ladies who paved the way; my little jumble of letters will also include women from earlier comics.
So sit down, stand up, scorpion pose yourself into whatever position is most comfortable for you and take a peek at my column. By the way, it’s best read upright, but that’s just a helpful suggestion.
The woman this week is big, bad, and beautiful. She’s the outspoken, unbreakable, shining star from Bitch Planet. In case you don’t know much about Bitch Planet, it’s written by the feisty and disgustingly talented Kelly Sue DeConnick and perfectly illustrated by Valentine De Landro. It is named for the main setting of the story, set in a world in which women are slaves without shackles to the men of the world. If a woman goes against her husband’s wishes, is too independent, or basically does anything but obey, she is considered “non-compliant” and sent to live as a prisoner at Bitch Planet.
Penny is one such non-compliant woman off the bat, and we first meet her in Bitch Planet #1, which, by the way, had a print run of around 39,011 which is nothing to throw scones at. Yes, scones, not stones, what kind of person throws stones? In one scene from issue #4, her most notable offenses are “repeated citations for aesthetic offenses, capillary disfigurement, and wanton obesity.” Keep in mind this is a world where you must be skinny and beautiful to be valuable, and Penny doesn’t fit the mold. She is ridiculed for being a bigger woman, and thoroughly misunderstood her whole life. Though it might be interesting to see a walking broomstick, women are no such housecleaning product. Plus, that would only be cool for a second before it got thoroughly Stephen King terrifying.
So why is she awesome? She loves herself, plain and simple. In her own issue (Bitch Planet #3), she is hooked up to some oh-so-nifty technology that projects her mind’s eye picture of what she sees herself as, her true self, as the sadistic men in charge say. The issue comes to a flooring close and climax in one where the image in the mirror is…herself. Sadistic idiots gasp, Penny Smiles, I mentally fist pump because let’s be honest, fist pumping is ridiculous, and the message is classic fantastic. She isn’t broken, she isn’t disgusting, she isn’t dripping with self loathing like a clock in a Dali painting. No, she is self confident, and great the way she is. It is all too relatable to the actual world in which we live. Women and men alike are held to damn near impossible standards, unrealistic and just plain weird. A lot of the time, the best messages are hidden in humor, and this is smack you in the face and take you out for ice cream truth. Sweet and sour is what I was going for there, if you don’t want to use that smushy thing in your noggin too much today.
Bitch Planet is a snarky, humorous, and truly one of the best body-positive comic books that has ever been made, and Penny is an essential component to its key points. She is everything the world in which she lives hates. She’s is not a horror movie broom skinny, she does not say, “yes sir, no sir”, she is not ashamed. And best of all, she questions things, which is perhaps the biggest crime a woman can commit whilst living in a world where being labeled “non-compliant” is the ultimate scarlet letter. Born big, born proud, born herself, I can think of no one more deserving to be my first Woman of the Week.