Back in November I did a Guest Post for Bitch about Ways of doing characters with disabilities ‘right’. I think it’s been since November since I’ve had time to consume any media with characters with disabilities (I’m permanently on thesis time now), but I want to go back and talk about the comic I mentioned then, Girls With Slingshots.
As I said then:
I’m not actually a fan of Girls with Slingshots and thus haven’t read the whole run, but I did read the recent wedding-related storyline because it featured two new ‘bit’ characters: Soo Lin, who is blind, and Melody, who is deaf. (Sadly, the strips don’t seem to have a transcript that I can find. I’ve written up a transcript for the relevant strips.) [Soo Lin's first appearance] [Melody's first appearance]
What I like about the jokes in this strip are that they’re all over the place. Some are about how clueless people can be about blindness. Some are disability-related humour as told by people with disabilities. I think my favourite is this joke about getting a bad ‘terp. There are others, of course.
The jokes are all based around disability, sure. But the jokes aren’t “ha ha ha, look at the crippled person having difficulties getting around!” And at no point is the humour about a very special lesson for anyone else. Soo Lin and Melody are part of the joke, they aren’t the butt of it.
One thing has changed: Since then I’ve definitely become a fan of Girls With Slingshots, and actually look forward to Mondays because I know I’ll get a new strip. (The weekends are so long.)
Since November, Melody has also become a recurring character, and I totally love how Danielle Corsetto uses her in the strip. Basically, Melody still isn’t a very special lesson in Deafness, she’s a fun and funny character who’s developing a romance with another recurring character, and is gradually being accepted by the others as just another member of the group.
One of the things I am enjoying about the plot line is the growing romance between Melody and Chris. Chris has had a crush on Melody since the wedding arc, and has decided to learn Sign language. While other writers might go with “And then Chris instantly learned Sign so there could be no communication problems, the end”, Corsetto has shown Chris’ learning curve, in all its glory.
Darren and Chris are talking at the local bar. Both are clean-shaven white dudes, probably in their mid-20s.
Darren: So is that why you’re here? Hoping to catch a glimpse of your beloved?
Chris: I guess. I’ve never seen her here except for that one time, so I don’t know why I’m trying.
Darren: Aw, that’s romantic. And even if she did show up you could only stare at her creepily because you don’t know Sign Language.
Chris: I’ve been learning!
Darren: Really? Let’s see this magic.
Chris: [Signing awkwardly] umm… Hello how much does this cost?
Darren: That will get you slapped.
Chris: I’m only on book one!
Other than Darren pointing out that Chris is still learning (slowly!) Sign, none of the characters in GWS question the possibility of the relationship. The constant match-maker, Jamie, merely encourages him to not keep his feelings a secret [transcript], and Melody’s sister, Maureen, is nothing but thrilled.
As I mentioned before, the humour in people’s interactions with Melody is still focused around the foibles of hearing people who are still getting used to having a Deaf friend, and the assumptions they make about it. In one scene, Chris is horrified to be told that Melody can read lips (I’m not sure if this is true) after he said something embarrassing, and in another a rather drunk Maureen starts shouting for Melody, having forgotten this might not be the best way to get her sister’s attention.
The only flaw – if one can call it that – is that this plot arc is very much about Chris and about his growing as a person in finding a woman he wants to be with. On the other hand, the whole strip is about people growing up and learning about themselves, often through finding romantic relationships, whether or short- or long-term. Characters have tended to be introduced this way (Chris was once a potential romantic partner for Hazel) and then become more fully-fleshed member of the cast.
In short: I really love Melody, and I’m so glad that Corsetto has kept her in the strip. While not everything about GWS is perfect, I’m just happy to see a popular comic strip with a recurring character with a disability. I can’t wait to see where Melody’s story goes.
Commenting note: I am, as I said, on Thesis Time right now, which basically means I’m hardly at all around. If you decide to comment, please keep commenting policies in mind, and I’ll do my best to keep up with them.