Comics has traditionally been a male domain. Now it’s time for change. Finnish Kaisa Leka is one of the renowned comic artists who will update classic male comic heroes to female versions. The work is part of the international Hero(in)es project, which will be launched in the UK in May. It is originally created by Lyon BD (Lyon Comics) and curator Jean-Christophe Deveney in 2014, when JC Deveney invited French artists like to draw female versions of iconic French comic heroes like Asterix and Tintin. We asked Kaisa Leka a few questions about the project.
What made you to take part in the Hero(in)es project?
“The idea was so delicious, I couldn’t say no. In Finland, cartoon is an exceptionally equal industry. We don’t carry a burden of long history of male geniuses on our shoulders, and therefore live in an illusion, that we have achieved equality. Outside Finland, the myth of a lovable bum male protagonist still prevails in comics. Malee characters are allowed to adventure, mess around and mess up and still remain lovable heroes. I want to create laid-back and raucious women.
You decided to recreate Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Why them?
“I have a lot of Turtles cartoons at home, and I used to watch them on TV when I was a child. I used a classical comic book cover as my starting point and placed the characters in one of my favourite spots in New York. I named my turtles after great women in history: Helene (Schjerfbeck), Artemisia (Gentileschi), Frida (Kahlo), and Hildegard (von Bingen). Picking up the names was one of the funniest parts of the project. I could draw a whole turtle army to salute female geniuses!”
The idea behind Hero(in)es is to challenge the male dominance in comics. Why are there so few female protagonists?
“It’s probably because there are so few female comic artists. In my work, there is automatically a female protagonist, because I make autobiographical comics about my travels, and other things that are important to me. In patriarchy, women haven’t got a major role in art. In heterosexual relationship it is the woman who takes care of kids and home, even if both parents have full-time jobs. One has to be very determined in order to take time for making art.”
What can we do to change the situation?
“The key is to share domestic chores and childcare. For example in Sweden the government encourages fathers to spend time with their children. This allows women to pursue their careers, fulfil their aspirations, and create. As Virginia Woolf famously put it, a woman needs money, and a room of one’s own.”
You will also una Hero(in)es workshop for students at University of Cumbria. What is going to happen there?
“I will give my students a task for which I borrowed the idea from a friend of mine, who borrowed it from another comics teacher. It is a mystery task, which sets certain limits for students. Limits make the work easier, and more interesting. For me it is difficult to create a story without them.”
Hero(in)es-exhibition at Vallum Gallery, University of Cumbria, 7.–21.5.2018. Organised by The Finnish Institute in London, Institut français, Lyon BD Association, Lakes International Comic Arts Festival and the General Representation of The Government of Flanders in Britain.