In the early 1980s, a fan letter lamented the shallow depictions of female characters in DC comics and suggested that they hire female writers or artists to expand on said characters. Editor Dick Giordano casually, and perhaps innocently, replied in the editorial section of a comic that hiring women wouldn’t make a difference. He later received a ten page response from reader Barbara Randall (later Barbara Kesel) who countered his assumptions that women writers were unnecessary. Giordano responded to Kesel with a job offer, and Kesel went on to pen various Batgirl stories, including some mini adventures in Detective Comics, a Secret Origins installment, the Batgirl Special, and later, the wonderfully subversive Elseworlds Finest: Supergirl and Batgirl.I've asked Barbara if she still has that letter, or if it's published anywhere. Meantime, here's an expansion of her response on DC Women Kicking Ass:
DCWKA: I read that you got into comic writing after sending a letter to DC making suggestions about how they could write women better, do you remember what you said in the letter? Any stories that stood out as bothering you?This is frankly the kind of attitude I adore and really needs to be praised, loudly.
BRK: I should dig into my files someday to see if I can come up with the rough draft, but my letter was in response to a letter in the back of one of the Batman comics (maybe Detective?). The letter writer suggested that DC’s female characters were a little shallow, and maybe they should hire some female writers or artists. Dick Giordano’s editorial reply was that he didn’t think it made any difference, so I shot off a ten-page missive disagreeing, with examples. I had no idea he’d call and want to interview me for a job; I just wanted to read comics where the women didn’t embarrass me. When I was a kid, the lesson comics was teaching me was that boys got to keep their powers, but Wonder Woman and Supergirl had off-and-ons (and Supergirl had this OLD and UGLY boyfriend in the seventies! Eeyew!J) when she wasn’t hiding in an orphanage or a tree. I loved the idea of superheroes and being a hero, but not of standing around waiting for permission or instructions from the guy first.
Even saying that, though, it’s not just about having the women be good characters: it’s about ALL characters having personality and distinctive voices. I wasn’t just advising how to make the women better, but the men too. They can all be eye candy; they can all also be interesting on the inside. My point was that if the creators invested a little of themselves in their stories and maybe spent some time in the company of someone who was different, they’d make better comics. I still believe that. Comics, that unique blending of words and pictures that charges up both lobes of the brain, is a medium with incredible power to spark the imagination and touch the heart. I want to see that power used for good.