Headline Little Black Dress, May 2009
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“As the Peregrine-award winner in Julie Cohen’s Girl from Mars, my awe-inspiring influence is pan-global!”
Tharg The Mighty
Fil Brown, the tomboyish artist for cult comic book Girl from Mars, and her two geeky best male friends have come to nightclub The Manhattan Project to try the experiment of flirting and picking up people. Her friend Jim has found a girl to talk with…and Digger has gone off to find a girl of his own…and now she’s all alone.
I fortified myself with another bolt of gin and scoped out the men around me. In an ideal world, I’d find someone who was good-looking enough for me to be attracted but not so good-looking that he wouldn’t even glance twice at me. He should be taller than me, which wasn’t difficult because I was only five foot two and therefore a shortarse, as Jim and Digger were constantly reminding me (Stevo, at five foot five, had stayed out of these arguments). He’d have some sense of humour. Maybe he’d be a comics fan.
I spotted a Spiderman t-shirt and instantly rejected its wearer because he looked about thirteen. I added another item to the list: he had to be over the age of consent.
Right then. I wasn’t being very demanding. I needed an adult male, of normal height and more or less normal weight, who wasn’t repulsive. The room was full of them. In fact, there were two of them, drinking pints, right in front of me. The one with the big shoulders had an Arsenal football shirt on and the slimmer one had ginger hair but he was actually quite cute in a freckly Jimmy Olsen way.
I took a deep breath, walked right up to them, smiled and said, “Hello.”
“I don’t know mate, if you ask me he acted a complete muppet in the last match, he couldn’t find the goal if it was shoved up his nose. I can’t believe we wasted fifteen mil on this guy.”
“Hello,” I tried again, a bit louder.
“You’ve got to give him a chance mate,” Ginger Olsen said. “It’s early days yet.”
“Excuse me, did you see his shot at goal yesterday? Was he trying to hit the moon? No, mate, I’m telling you, he’s bloody useless, we should’ve saved the cash.”
I sucked in a lungful. “Hello!” I yelled.
Shoulders and Ginger stopped mid-argument, their beers poised on the way to their mouths.
“Uh, hello,” I said. They stared at me.
What did I do now?
“Uh, you’re talking about football, huh?”
“Yes,” said Shoulders.
“Oh.” I racked my brain for anything I might have heard about football at some point or other. A sudden inspiration struck me: according to rumour, men loved it when women acted all clueless around them, so they could get alpha and superior.
I swallowed. Girl from Mars would never do it. Girl from Mars would blast these two with her laser ray just for looking at her funny and being a bit too ginger and/or shouldery.
But these were desperate times.
“Uh, the offside rule,” I said. “Will you explain it to me?” I performed the manoeuvre known, I believed, as batting my eyelashes. What with the strobe lighting, it made the room flash on and off very quickly.
When I stopped confusing myself with my eyelids, Shoulders and Ginger were still staring at me. Shoulders took a drink of his pint. Around us, the music thundered and cursed.
Neither one made a move to explain the offside rule.
“Forget it,” I mumbled, and moved off.
Ka-Zam! That was the sound of Philomena Desdemona Brown shot down horribly in flames while attempting to flirt.
And I knew the damn offside rule already.
Okay, before I say anything else…don’t you love the cover? Isn’t it just simply splendid?? It’s by Sharon Tancredi and I nearly fainted with happiness when I saw it.
I had a brilliant time researching comics for this book. I read Batman incessantly (though what else is new), and, thrillingly, visited the editorial office of long-running British action comic 2000AD. Some books I found really useful were Comics and Sequential Art by Will Eisner, Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, and Reading Comics by Douglas Wolk.
The comic Girl from Mars, which I invented for the book, is meant to be a sort of female Dan Dare. One of the really fun things about writing this book was playing with gender conventions. Comics are largely written for and by a male audience, whereas the books I write are largely written by women for women. In this I was writing about a female comic book heroine, invented by a man, drawn by a female artist with a male name, written by a man who usually writes romantic stories—and the comics heroine Girl from Mars becomes the focus of my own heroine Fil’s doubts and fears about her gender, sexuality and emotions.
I also got to write the story for the comic, which involves aliens, an evil scientist, a time machine, ghosts and a talking ant. Awesome.
I chose the title Girl from Mars partly because of the brilliant song by Ash, but also because of the title of the popular book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. Fil, with her masculine job, name, friends and clothes, feels she’s from Mars, an alien in her own world.
I really have a soft spot for her.