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This issue had been bugging me for quite some time. The lack of girl’s programming in the modern American animation industry is an outrage. There hasn’t been an American produced girl’s show since 2001 with Kim Possible and My Life as a Teenage Robot. Since then, the American animation industry has been a wasteland of androgynous “suburban kids at the mall” shows and prime time lazy hero shows. There is nothing pleasant to work on even if you like to to draw boy toons and there doesn’t seem to be anything girl friendly in development–not even at Disney. The animation industry is male dominated to begin with, but what’s worse is that the few women who are in the industry get their show pitches shot down by execs who feel that girls do not watch cartoons.
The fact is, girls DO watch cartoons, but we don’t seem to put our money where are complaints are. Feature films for example mostly have male leads. Women complain about this all the time, but when a “chic flick” is released it fails at the box office. Reason being women are not a reliable audience. Movie going tends to be a group effort and it is very hard to get a circle of friends to agree on a woman’s story. Most women I know won’t be caught dead alone at the cinema, therefore the films fail.
To be fair, there is Nickelodeon’s The Mighy B, but that not the type of girl show I am talking about. Where’s the style, flair, inner conflict, relational conflict, societal conflict–WHERE”S THE PRETTY?!
When I say “pretty” I don’t mean cartoons with girls obsessed with shopping. I mean cartoons with attractive characters in interesting situations. Take Sailor Moon, those girls looked fabulous, but they spent their money on going places and enjoying each others company, not on buying the latest outfit to make each other jealous. Sailor Moon did not promote consumerism. It was about friendship, loyalty. Furthermore, Sailor Moon always tried to reform her arch villains as opposed to killing them.
American advertisers love shows that to so, because the basis for the existence of television is sell products. The Selling Machine in Every Home. However, the shopping girl thing has been done to death and it exactly the sort motif that turns viewers off. There is one genre girls cartoon genre that execs are willing to risk investor money on and that is fighting girl cartoon.
The success of Xena and Sailor solidified this genre and good for them for opening a new door. I can’t say too much against it, because my comic, Superficial, is of the same genre. But what about creators who want to develop relational conflict stories? Where will they fit in? TV is all about ratings and it would be nice to tell a greater variety of stories involving women. There’s much out there if you know where to look. Unfortunately, not many women will leave their hard won boyfriends behind in search of these stories. We need a power girl like Bette Davis to come back and make women drag their husbands to the movie theatres against their will and Murphy Brown to inspire women fight for the remote control and turn on the TV. The property has to pack a wallop, but how can we find the reliable audience who dollars and peepers fund these projects?
Despite it’s tremendous following, Sex and the City dropped to like 4th place after it’s opening weekend. The female audience is just not reliable. A lot of money went into that film, c’mon peoplettes, help pay for production costs! Then again Titanic was considered a chic flick and it was a HUGE blockbuster. The same with the 90’s Disney Feature films.
The trouble may be the archetypal premise of the two genders. All the world’s stories are patterned from two fairy tales: Cinderella and Jack in the Beanstalk. Expansion on this notion goes as follows: Men venture out in search of solutions to solve the great problem, whereas the woman stays home and solves the problem from within. The male leaves the female endures. Another analogy goes as follows:
Male genre stories you concentrate on the villain and fully develop the villain and under-develop the hero
Whereas in girl genre you over develop the heroine and under-develop the villain
Now what happens when the stories reverse genders?
You get The Little Mermaid, Beauty and Beauty and Beast and the blockbuster James Cameron’s Titanic, the story of a girl who ventures away from her home to solve her problems. The adventure being the steamer trip and the great obstacle being the shackles of the society she comes. The ship wreck is the obvious antagonist but it becomes a reversal when the sinking of the Titanic becomes her vehicle to escape her past and make a new identity and be free at last.
Jack was the mentor who dies which is common in most hero’s journey tales. This was a huge hit and Hollywood has been looking for another “Titanic”, an disaster/action film that appeals to women, ever since.
Josie and Pussycats is another girls cartoon where the character did not stay at home knitting and gossiping over coffee. These girls were on a world tour and faced James Bond obstacles along the way. They would always stumble onto international plots as they traveled to their gigs and devise hilarious ways of getting out of them. It was great fun. Even guys reflect on this show fondly. Guys watch girl cartoons too—they just don’t admit it!
I remember Warner Bros. desperately searched among it’s ranks for ideas of a girls cartoon property after the success of the live action film Clueless, but no one had any ideas—and I had already left and was still quite pissed at them for letting me go for reason I did not understand at the time. I understand it now. I was fired for being the wrong genre. I now whole heartedly agree and I feel any girls show I’d develop would be the wrong genre for WB but just right for MTV productions. MTV produced the sharp-witted Daria series which I loved.
An similar genre to the girls cartoon that is missing is the teenager cartoon. The Proud Family is very nice, but for me, I prefer cartoons without parents. So, unless someone can push another “Charlie Brown” past the censors where kids can go places without parents, I will always lean towards the teenager or older character cartoon. You can tell when a teenager cartoon is aimed at girls for even in comedies— the guys are good looking.
That’s also the hallmark of a girls cartoon, a pretty world. I understand how the tween audience is the bread and butter of the animation industry, but as a public service I would like to see older animated characters on the screen again. They prepare a young viewer for the social obstacles that like ahead. Either that, or I grew up with some very adult oriented cartoons.
Jem and the Holograms was a cartoon that was about more than a glamorous rock star who was an music producer by day who supported a house of foster girls. It wasn’t a Josie and Pussycats rip off either. Deep in the subplots there was a message that I didn’t wholly fathom until later: No matter how good you are at what you do, your art will fail or most likely be ripped off by someone else unless the world knows you are the originator. Or in other cases, you’ll starve without good PR.
I like stories like these. I relate to societal conflicts more than cosmic ones. Most guy stories about omega males drawing attention to themselves by saving the world. That theme is SO tired in modern cartoons! Retire it already! A neglected societal conflict leads to a seismic cosmic or situational conflict. Therefore it’s nice to see stories how people resolve their own issues in their own social circles.
The Misfits story arc was wrought with unresolved psychological problems that festered into bad behavior that became the Holograms’ headache. Roxie was a high school drop out who couldn’t read, Stormer was the nice girl who was bullied into hanging out with bad girls. Stormer was also a talented unsung artist who devalued her abilities self worth. The perfect pawn for the Queen Bee Pizazz. Stormer’s character was the most developed of the Misfits outside of the leader, Pizazz. Jetta the newest Misfit was a pathological liar.
These three misfits were held together by the most conflicted mind of the four: Pizzaz. Pizzazz’ mother abandoned the family of this antagonist late childhood thus creating uneven parenting and in effect leaving Pizazz mad at the world. So although Pizzazz developed a brilliant, aggressive and effective business savvy which she learned from her father who himself is a decent human being, Pizazz as Phillis Gabor never developed the heart and the people skills her mother could have taught her has she stayed.
It takes a village to raise a child especially when the kid is in the custody of a single parent who has little time for family. As a result everyone in the industry has to live with Pizzazz’s nature: A monster. True to life, one has to learn how to get along with different personalities in whatever their industry and how to face conflicting personalities and the problems they create.
Jem was very good at portraying relational conflicts. You have to be a real fan of the series and watch it over and over again to get all the subplots. It’s good stuff that does not show up in such detail and subtlety in boys cartoons, but not without trying. Bruce Timm’s writers do a very good job with their action-adventure cartoons with societal, relational and inner conflict that coincide with the big selling cosmic and situational conflicts, but it’s not the same as woman’s story and it shouldn’t be. Vive la Difference. It’s good to be different. My argument is there is not enough “different” in American production now. Thankfully there was Jem in the 80′s and Daria in the 90′s. As a only child of a single working parent and a latchkey kid, these shows helped prepare my psyche for my career.
Thank you Christy Marx, Roger Sefert and Karen Disher.
Generally speaking, guys don’t like the same therapy. Galaxy High is failed girls cartoon with an interesting premise: The male co-lead had everything go for him is his home world comfort zone, but once he embarks on his journey he finds that the negative effects of his past causes are his greatest obstacle. However. Doyle’s schoolmate Amy who was a nerdy outcast in their shared home world enjoys the benefits of her past causes. Amy struggle is balancing her popularity with her grade point average. Doyle is arguable the main character for he has the greatest story arc, but Galaxy High is still labeled as a girls cartoon.
A guy friend of mine confirmed my suspicions by saying that every time he saw the cartoon on the air it was about the girls and then a dorky guy flopping about. #1 dorky guys do not have shoulders like Doyle. #2 Every time I turned on the telly, the guy episode, Pizza’s Honor, was always on.
It was if the network was desperately trying to save the show —or its ratings for the 11:30 am slot! Another thing my guy friend argued is that Amy was too cute to be a geek. He fails to understand that most geek girls are diamonds in the rough. Then again, I choose not to trust his judgment. His past girlfriends had buck teeth and big noses. So we can be confident that all he watches out for is body size and hair color—MEN!
An animator asked if he/she could “push” the following scenes and the director said Go For it! I tried to do “push” a scene when I worked on Futurama tha featured Amy spraying on a liquid bikini. I got shot down for time and overseas communication restraints. If only American TV animation can be done all in house again!
With the recession, Hollywood is going to lean more and more and the current bread and butter: Lazy Hero. Audiences respond to it well, and therefore the Japanese self-improvement stories like Galaxy High is not going to fly well. The practice is accepted with girls: Sprited Away was very successful, however Sinbad which had at the same self improvement theme, doesn’t seem to click at the box office or in television ratings.
Ma and Pa in the Midwest do not like lectures. Pity isn’t it? If art reflects life, then the majority of the population is the Family Guy. Omigod! What happened?! I wonder where men get their sense morals then? The tool shed and a waist belt in the back yard? Religion? Is that why the sky god materialized in Western Civilization? Men would not listen to female deity no matter how force the Creator/Destroyer goddess is? Are women forced to marry immature snot nosed misogynistic boys from hereon? When the feminist movement spoke of women’s liberation and dang of girl power we demanded equal rights, not the Bert and Ernie theory of one character must be toned down in order to let the other shine and take center stage. Ever hear of a power couple? The phenomena does exist, even in the media. Just take a look at J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and Rumiko Takahashi’s Ramna 1/2 and Inuyasha.
Akane and Kagome are not princess helpless characters, they aren’t wallflowers, and they’re not domineering—at least without reprimand in Akane case. I loved Akane, she kicked ass. She was a welcome answer to feminism at the time. Rumiko wisely did not overdo the forceful femme with Kagome. Kagome is very sweet, but has a refreshing real world edge that makes her a born leader and very feminine at the same time. As a woman knows how not to pigeon hole an archetype. As usual Rumiko is brilliant and well deserves to be one of the richest women in Japan.
Harry Potter may have been about a boy, but Hermione was so prevalent in the story as an effective problem solver that I can’t help but think that the story may have originally starred her instead. It’s a difficult choice that a female artist has to make. One must make a totally commercial story to use as a bone to throw their male conditioned readers and make wonderful personal girl oriented fare after she has enough money to buy her castle.
I will be sure to purchase the new Hermione book and treat it with as much revelry as Potter. I’m neither afraid to go to the movies not pick up a hardcover alone. As for being an female artist is male dominated industry, well that’s what going freelance is for. I’ve been an independent since 2000. The catalyst was my time working on Futurama and Dilbert. I noticed that I was being coralled into the prime time loser boy comedy genre. I declared that I had enough and left the studio system to work only on projects that I liked. The road hasn’t been easy but at least for the past 8 years I worked only on projects that fit my genre. During that time I have developed and produced a few projects of my own. With luck, one of those properties is bound to allow me to buy if not a castle, but at the very least a nice loft in Tribeca. There I can keep working on my projects and never have to act for another passel of losers like Fry and Bender ever again.
Other Girl Cartoons of Note that are/were produced in America
She-Ra Princess of Power
Power Puff Girls
Hi Hi Puffy Amy Yumi
Boy Cartoons with Prominent Female Characters
Justice League (Wonder Woman was pitched by Bruce Timm as a stand alone cartoon, but the execs couldn’t foresee a profit in toy sales)
Girls Cartoons that are/were produced overseas
Angelina Ballerina (UK/Czech Republic)
Total Drama Island (Canada)
Atomic Betty (Canada)
Shoujo (Pretty Girl) genre of Japan.
The list is endless and it’s probably the reason why the U.S. no longer produces their girl shows. Why stress all the unwilling male artists in L.A. animation industry when you simply import a shoujou anime? I love anime so much that I am really too biased to criticize them.
Robotech Masters Series