Feliza Casano soars as editor of geek culture websiteWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Feliza Casano has loved superheroes her whole life. As a child growing up in Toledo, she simply adored the fantastical adventures and feats of superhuman derring-do presented in the pages of Marvel, DC and their ilk.
“My very favorite superhero when I was younger was Spider-Man,” Casano said in an interview with Toledo Free Press Star. “I thought Spider-Man was so cool. And I thought it was this really cool idea that there was this really smart person, who had this thing happen to him, and suddenly he could do all these amazing things.”
But as she grew up, Casano began noticing a disturbing and consistent trend in the stories she loved — virtually no one in them was like her. Not just that they could fly or stick to walls, but that they were almost exclusively square-jawed white guys.
“The older I got, the more I realized that every single time I saw a superhero movie, or a superhero action figure, it was almost always a male character. And I kind of pulled away from it, because it’s really hard for someone who is female to relate to only male problems, you know?”
So, by the time she attended the University of Toledo’s communication program, with a focus on journalism, Casano found a focus for her geeky passions in other realms — books, anime, manga and so on.
But in recent years, as Casano attends graduate school at Rosemont College in Pennsylvania, her early passions have begun to catch up with her — and what she’s found since her return hasn’t been pretty. When DC Comics revamped its lineup with its “New 52” initiative a few years back, it seemed like many prominent female characters were “revamped” as well — turned into hypersexualized beings designed solely to get a rise out of the male libido.
“DC Comics has made it quite clear that they don’t care about female characters, about female artists and about female creators. They just don’t care. And I’m not sure if that doesn’t indicate certain things about pop culture in general, because in other aspects of pop culture, and geek culture, there’s a lot of stuff being made to be more inclusive, to improve on the relationship of a content creator to the female fans.”
What Casano saw disturbed her, and she wanted to do something about it — but not just about superheroes. She wanted to give a voice to parts of geek culture that felt marginalized, ostracized and shunned. There were female geeks, minority geeks, LBGTQ geeks. They needed — deserved — a place to say what they felt, and to point out how geek issues affected people other than straight white dudes.
“The big thing was that, during my first semester at Rosemont while in the publishing program, I took a course in magazine publishing,” Casano said. “And one of the things was that a lot of new magazines that are coming up are focused on one particular thing. And when we talked about that, I thought that, ‘Wow. What is one particular thing that I would love to explore more about?’ That was women in geek culture. Because I’ve always enjoyed a whole bunch of different aspects of geek culture, but I’ve also been very put off by other aspects of it.”
The result is Girls in Capes — an online magazine that proudly proclaims its focus on “women, men and minorities in geek culture,” especially the discussion of positive female characters that “are not sexualized or dependent on male characters.” As editor-in-chief of the online magazine, Casano’s goal is to bring new perspectives on geek issues to the forefront.
“One of our writers is Latina. And how many Latina characters are there who are well-developed and well-rounded in any aspect of geek culture — or pop culture, really? How many Asian characters are well-developed and not some kind of caricature? How many black characters are there — especially black women?” Casano asked. “That’s where a lot of Girls in Capes came from.”
Casano’s own views on the geek community, and the art that appeals to it, have been shaped by her experiences in academia as well, she said — though her point of view puts her at an odd point in the Venn diagram between the two.
“One thing I have noticed, quite apart from the fact that there really aren’t that many interesting female characters, is that because I spent so much time focusing more on characters in books, I have a very different perspective on, for example, characters in comics. And compared to the people I interact with — both in my graduate program and in the comic community — my perspective is very different,” Casano said.
“Most of the people in my graduate program are not at all interested in comics, because what they see is this hyper-masculine, super-overblown testosterone fuel thing, in which people like them — because I mostly have women in my program — people like them are just things to look at that are pretty and sexy.
“Whereas, in the comics community, people don’t seem to care so much about whether Wonder Woman is a well-developed character or not. People don’t care as much about whether Catwoman is actually an empowering character. What they care about is something different. And they focus so much more on other things. So I think that having another perspective on it — almost as an outsider — makes my perspective on it a little bizarre, I guess.”
Bizarre? Perhaps. Refreshing? Definitely. Each of the writers under Casano’s lead — and yes, there is a guy on the Girls in Capes staff — brings a unique and wildly entertaining point of view to the table.
“One thing that I really appreciate about my writers is that all of them are young, and almost all of them focus on a very particular part of geek culture. For example, our young adult reviewer is from Puerto Rico. And she’s very wonderful, very intense,” Casano noted. “And she does not pull her punches. She just goes straight for what’s great and what’s terrible.”
Other writers have a narrower focus — one deals largely with Joss Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” for example — but the goal of them all is to cast a wide net and be inclusive of fresh ideas and perspectives.
Casano said some segments of entertainment have indeed been broadening their horizons in recent years — she noted how recent surveys indicate that soon there will be more female gamers than male, and how video game companies have been shifting their product to be more inclusive as a result.
“On the other hand, you have DC Comics, in the most recent Wonder Woman — Wonder Woman No. 19 — you see Wonder Woman almost taking the back seat to the development of other characters in her own comic,” Casano said. “Which is very sad, very depressing. And as much of a fan of Wonder Woman as I am, it’s reducing my enjoyment of the series, because I don’t care about all these other people — what I care about is Wonder Woman.
“If DC Comics has no interest in developing Wonder Woman as a character, I’m simply going to have no interest in whatever they do with Wonder Woman.”
The sexism Casano’s site spotlights is not limited to DC Comics, however — or even to comics. “Unfortunately, I do see it as a bit of an industrywide problem. It’s also an industry-wide problem in film,” she said.
“Two of our writers focus on TV and film at Girls in Capes, and a lot of times they talk about portrayals and representation of different groups. And when women are represented in film, they’re always presented as tall, slender, usually shapely to a certain degree. And their characters usually have fewer lines than male characters. And they’re usually not as well-developed. And there aren’t as many prominent female actors — but you can’t have prominent female actors with reputations at being good at their craft if every female character is just eye candy for the male to win.”
Having an outlet to spotlight such incongruities is part of what Casano enjoys most about her work on Girls in Capes — as well as pointing out how issues within geek culture mirror issues in the larger world.
“When the editor’s letter for the April issue came out, it was very popular very quickly,” she said. “It addresses how Asian-Americans have faced discrimination in the United States, and the ways in which some people have overcome the various discriminations that they’ve faced, and the various obstacles they’ve faced, in order to become very prominent and empowering individuals.
“That’s something we don’t talk about in this culture. We don’t talk about how difficult it is for people who are Asian to get a role, when every role is written for a white person.”
And talking about the things society in general doesn’t discuss — either through malice or ignorance — is what makes Girls in Capes such a vital and beautiful part of the geek community.
“One thing I’m really hoping to do is engage younger female fans,” Casano said. “Because they’re there! They exist. They really do. It’s just that they’re hard to entice out of the woodwork sometimes. And if a girl likes Green Lantern, or if a girl likes Spider-Man, she has to say she doesn’t so she doesn’t get made fun of at school.
“I want to have kind of a safe space for people to talk about the things that they love. I want to show other female geeks that, yes, we’re here. We’re vocal. You’re safe here. We are like you.”
Girls in Capes can be found at www.girlsincapes.com.