From the very inception of Other Sleep, writing/drawing a female protagonist for a horror comic has been one of those things that’s frequently on my mind, and this great article by Greg Rucka about why he writes strong female characters made me want to write a little bit about my decisions in crafting Ninel for this comic.
Most women in comics are just not much more than eye candy, and are often poorly written. It’s becoming more and more apparent, fans pointing out why there are so few strong female characters and so few female creators in the industry. An overall lack of diversity is a HUGE problem, and not just in comics. It’s annoying, and I didn’t want my work to be a part of the huge slab of mediocrity.
At the same time, there are so many pitfalls to avoid. One of my knee-jerk reactions to female protagonists created by males is how you get this feeling that the creator wants to sleep with his creation, you know? Or they go well out of the way in declaring that their female character is so UNIQUE and DIFFERENT, but she still feels two-dimensional because you focused TOO MUCH on making her different that you didn’t develop a real personality. Am I making sense? I’m not sure.
Anyways, Ninel. She looks the way she does for good reasons. I didn’t want a character who was sexy or even all that attractive. Green hair, somewhat to make her more visually interesting, and yes, I am attracted to girls with colored hair, but I wanted it to kind of emphasize that she is a bit…”different” from other people. Sam is pretty normal looking, I think. So are the characters I’ll be introducing later. Ninel’s the only one with colored hair, and so she stands out. She’s skinny, she has acne. I just wanted to give off the vibe that this girl doesn’t take very good care of herself, at least not at this point in her life. Oh yeah, she gets naked, sure, but it’s not at all for the purposes of titillation.
When it comes to horror, I think it’s easier to empathize with a female character due to some unfortunate stereotypes, but if a guy was going through the same shit that I put Ninel through? It just wouldn’t carry the same weight, I don’t think. There’s just something about seeing a poor girl get terrorized that makes you want to jump in and try to help her, which means you’re more involved. But I also wanted to subvert that a bit, especially in the first chapter. Ninel is stubborn and doesn’t think things through too well, a trait I pulled from my own personality (there’s a lot of me in Ninel), while Sam is sort of her foil, definitely more grounded and practical. I was basically asking myself if readers would still want to invest in a character who would actually walk away from her best friend and go head first into a huge mess with no one to blame but herself. She has no one to turn to now, so if she’s going to come out of this in one piece, she can’t call for help, she has to do it on her own.
There’s more to it, but those are the big points I wanted to hit. I want Ninel to be a fully-developed character who kind of defies a reader’s expectations. But I also don’t want that to be her only characteristic, I want her to change over the course of the comic, because let’s face it, if a character in a story doesn’t change in any way by the end, then it’s just a waste, isn’t it?