When one is looking for nuanced, relatable female characters, the comic book world can be a difficult one to traverse. Women are often props for male protagonists, prizes that need to rescued, adored or ogled. Even when they do get to be the main characters who vanquish villains, they are reduced to “fighting fuck toys,” who are hypersexualized and there to satisfy the male gaze.
That’s why the indie comic book series Pimpkillah feels fresh in a genre where well-written female characters are scarce.
Inspired by ’70s exploitation and grindhouse films, creator Sarah Bitely began writing Pimpkillah five years ago as a screenplay, but it slowly evolved into a comic book series. The gritty noir follows anti-heroine Sloane Stone as she dives into a sordid L.A. underbelly of violent crime to avenge the savage beating of her sister, a sex worker, by her pimp. Dealing with themes of loss and redemption, Bitely uses deft storytelling to make Stone a complex and compelling character: definitely no damsel-in-distress. Ms. recently had the chance to talk to Pimpkillah’s creator at L.A. Zinefest:
Do you consider yourself a feminist?
Absolutely! My very first Internet “hater” called Pimpkillah “man-hating feminazi garbage.” That was also the first time I’ve heard the term “feminazi.” I’m pretty sure that person never even read my comic nor do I know why Pimpkillah is all of a sudden about hating men. I love men and I chose to write positive male characters into Pimpkillah as well. It never ceases to amaze me how threatened people can be by women.
What message do you want people to take away from Pimpkillah?
My main message is that everyone deserves respect and love, whether you are a sex worker or a schoolteacher. I want my readers to empathize and sympathize with my characters. I want them to understand that this comic is not all about meaningless violence and trying to make that acceptable. It’s more about how violence doesn’t always solve the world’s issues. It’s a vicious cycle and it’s about Sloane Stone’s journey in figuring that out.
Pimpkillah seems to highlight the vulnerability of sex workers. Is this vigilante character a way to show sex workers reclaiming power from abusive male pimps?
I think that Sloane Stone shows the women that they are responsible for themselves and teaches them to take control of their lives. She is the catalyst in stripping power away from abusers. And not all the pimps will be male in upcoming issues. I think it’s important to portray both men and women as antagonists in Pimpkillah, because that is reality. There are women out there who take advantage of other women and young girls on the streets all over the world. It’s about taking away control from people who abuse their power, both men and women.
Do you feel a lot of women characters in comic books are overly sexualized and disempowered? Is Sloane Stone a response to that?
The ladies within most comic books are depicted like sex dolls, basically. It’s a big reason I’m turned off by most superhero and mainstream comics because the only type of physical form portrayed is the “buxom bombshell.” I created Sloane’s physical form [as] athletic because I wanted her to look strong and able-bodied to fight all these pimps. I wanted to balance a vulnerable beauty with an innate ability to kill—a dangerous combination.
I also feel like women characters in comic books can be pretty one-dimensional. They serve purposes such as the wife, girlfriend, femme fatale, girl-next-door, etc. I wanted to write Sloane Stone very differently than what I was used to reading and seeing in comics. I wanted to give her a complexity I’ve really only seen in male characters. I love the idea of the anti-heroine. Sloane is unconventional in the way she wants to help the women she encounters. She makes mistakes and she isn’t perfect, but her heart is in the right place.
What is your opinion on legalizing sex work?
I respect sex workers’ rights and their wishes to become legalized. I certainly don’t believe sex workers should be criminalized. I think that if prostitution were legalized, women would be able to report any abuse to police and not get penalized for being a sex worker. I think a lot more abuse would get reported, but it would be up to police to care about finding those individuals. That’s not to say that law enforcement doesn’t care about sex workers, but it is difficult to regulate and obtain information about people who don’t want to be found or want to remain anonymous. Frequently their cases slip through the cracks.