I just received Chasing Shadows for review and I can’t wait to dive into it because for one the cover is absolutely stunning in person and the addition of graphic illustrations by Craig Phillips adds yet another layer.
Before: Corey, Holly, and Savitri are one unit—fast, strong, inseparable. Together they turn Chicago concrete and asphalt into a freerunner’s jungle gym, ricocheting off walls, scaling buildings, leaping from rooftops to rooftop.
But acting like a superhero doesn’t make you bulletproof…
After: Holly and Savitri are coming unglued. Holly says she’s chasing Corey’s killer, chasing revenge. Savitri fears Holly’s just running wild—and leaving her behind. Friends should stand by each other in times of crisis. But can you hold on too tight? Too long?
In this intense novel, Swati Avasthi creates a gripping portrait of two girls teetering on the edge of grief and insanity. Two girls who will find out just how many ways there are to lose a friend…and how many ways to be lost. ~ Goodreads | Amazon | B&N
Recently, at The Loft’s Second Story Reading series, a friend’s four-year-old daughter was talking about Halloween. She was planning to be Batman (with her baby sister as Robin in their super-cool bat-mo-stroller). Last year, her mother told me, she was Spiderman! I love it. I love the fact that girls are able and encouraged to read themselves into strong male characters, that they are capable of stretching beyond the confines of their gender and into a universal place.
But I’m equally disturbed that to find a strong, passionate superhero, she had to go to SpiderMAN and BatMAN. It reminded me too much of my childhood and why I didn’t connect with the Justice League, too much of how female superheroes have been portrayed historically, from Batwoman’s compact blush and stockings as weapons to Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth. With less than cool powers, derivative names, and weak backstories, women superheroes have always gotten a short shrift.
In my view the thing that comics does the best are the antagonists – Two-face, the Joker, Lex Luther, and Magneto. They are interesting with strong backstories of their own. It is through the antagonist and through there world that heroes are created. By fighting back, they define themselves. But where are the antagonists for the heroines?
I came to superhero comics as an adult. I came to comics for CHASING SHADOWS. My protagonist, Holly, loved comics and so I followed her interest and started reading some myself. I couldn’t really find the hero I was looking for, one I would want to give my daughter, then 7 or 8. I remember going into a comic book store with her and asking for comics that woud be suited for her – Wonder Woman, maybe. The Phoenix perhaps? Batgirl? No, none were right for her age, the store owner told me. The material was “too mature.” When I looked at the comics, I understood why. All the superheroes women today are hypersexualized with what artist Lindsay Hinckley calls “bubble boobs” and “bubble butts”. Take a look at almost any comic and if you find a woman in it she will be: 1) beautiful 2) hypersexualized 3) in some contorted body position and 4) using her sexual prowess as a weapon against her male counterparts – not exactly what I wanted for my daughter, not exactly who I wanted my character to love.
I wanted a comic hero that wasn’t about reflecting men’s desires, but about reflecting women’s strengths. So I invented the Leopardess – a woman who remains clothed, who fights to protect the world from another sicko, whose backstory defines her heroism. And when my editor and I went to find an artist, it was really important to us that we found someone who didn’t objectify women, who could draw a woman with a full personality through the lines and posture, through the attitude and expressions – not through the tightness of her costume and the size of breasts.
And so my editor found Craig Phillips. Together we created the Leopardess:
The kind of hero I wanted on Saturday morning cartoons, the kind that wouldn’t make me read strength across gender but would show me how strong women can be, the kind that wasn’t derivative (There is no Leopard, only The Leopardess).
And, because heroes are defined by their villians, I wanted a great antagonist. In CHASING SHADOWS, Holly fights Kortha – a snake-God who drags Corey in the Shadowlands, across a gunpowder desert.
An antagonist who is undefeatable. Because how do you conquer death?
Well, to do that, I needed more than one kind of hero. Beyond the crime fighting, tough woman who protects the world from death… another kind.
I found myself steering away from Western comics and toward the ones I grew up with: stories from the Mahabartha and the Ramayan, told in comics from an Indian publisher, Amar Chitra Katha. In those comics, I found the women I was looking for – intelligent, kind, loyal. In the original version of Savitri, Savitri saves her husband from death, rescues the man, through her devotion to him and her intelligence.
Because if we really want superheroes for our girls, we need to create more than a token single hero. We need a multitude so that girls can find themselves in their heroes, whoever they are. We need as many types of female superheroes as we can get.
I hope someday I’ll find comics with a multitude female heroes. In the meantime, I’ll content myself by showing my daughter episodes of the TV series Avatar, the Last Air Bender, Moribito, and Kim Possible, and hope that someday soon, we’ll have a whole host of female superhero costumes that girls will clamor for. And maybe, some boys will too.
Swati Avasthi has been writing fiction since she read Little House in the Big Woods at age five. Emily Bronte, Harper Lee, and others furthered her addiction. She institutionalized her habit at the University of Chicago, where she received her B.A., and at the University of Minnesota, where received her M.F.A. Her writing has received numerous honors including a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship, the Thomas H. Shevlin Fellowship, Loft's Mentor Series Award, and a nomination for the Pushcart Prize. She is a creative writing professor at Hamline University and lives in the Twin Cities with her two large-ish dogs, two small-ish kids, and one husband (though he is worth two).
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