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Act 3, Scene 3 – “And then Jodie Whittaker happened.”

Notes on Rosalind

Anyway, so I went to see As You Like It last weekend, and then Jodie Whittaker happened. This is going to turn into a long and rambling one, I’m afraid, very little of which will be about Shakespeare, but quite a bit about sci-fi, gender, the art of debate, the creative process and my other projects. Basically, I’m going to treat my blog like a blog. Bold, I know.

So, let’s start at the top, it’s the first Zounds in, ooh, ages. There were a couple of characters I thought about approaching this with, but Rosalind pulled ahead with the clearest complete idea, so as a reward, she gets to appear in a dress for the first time. Every time I do an As You Like It cartoon, I always say there probably won’t be many of these, but there’s quite a few now. I think its definitely earned its own slot on the archive page.

Celia is a welcome new arrival, making her first proper appearance outside of a background cameo. I basically designed her to contrast Rosalind. The text of As You Like It dictated that she needed to be noticeably shorter, and since Rosalind is established as a very thin character it made sense to go with a more rounded figure. The curls were a last minute decision, but I’m really happy with her overall look. Her fear of new things makes her an interesting addition to team Mandrag. As the only character who ever really criticises Rosalind’s fun and games, she was the character best suited to go into Twitter meltdown. Touchstone loves a good bearded lady gag, so he’s probably cool with things.

“My stuff is very funny if you do the research.”

Incidentally, one of my favourite Shakespeare factoids is that Touchstone’s references to the girls’ beards may have been an early example of a meta gag. Touchstone is drawing attention to the fact that Rosalind and Celia would have been played by men back in the day, as if he’s aware he’s a character in a play. He’s basically Tudor Deadpool.

 

But, back to Jodie Whittaker. Long time readers may have noticed me sneaking a few subtle nods to my favourite show into Zounds  – and less subtly giving the 11th and 12th Doctors a cameo. (Matt Smith naturally lends himself to caricature, but I didn’t really capture Peter Capaldi.) It’s hard to get a sense of Whittaker from a one minute trailer, but she did paraphrase Smith’s regeneration scene in her first official statement, which I took as a good sign. Time will tell. It always does. (I’m a fan. Quoting is the food of love.)

“I’m subverting the gender stereotypes, and you’re subverting them back again. We’re confusing the gender stereotypes.”

I suppose if I have one misgiving, it’s that if I were to choose a popular male hero to turn into a woman (and we may as well do a couple, there’s loads we hardly play with any more), I probably wouldn’t go for one of the rare non-violent ones. I was very struck by Naomi Alderman’s thoughts on the creation of a feminist utopia, in which she stresses the need for boys to grow up learning to respect empathy and creative problem solving, rather than the use of force. The Doctor as a male hero who embodies these traits strikes me as a very useful role model. Ironically, a female Doctor may shatter some destructive gender concepts while reinforcing others – that thinking and feeling are for girls and men solve problems with their fists.

That said, too often, a drawback is seen as a reason not to do something. The middle ground between ignoring a potential obstacle and using it as an excuse to do nothing feels like an endangered species sometimes. Usually, such things are merely a bump in the road that creative problem solving (there it is again) can fix. In this case, there’s a solution right there in the format of the show – how often have we seen the companion function as the conscience of the story? A male companion with the stereotypical female role of caring about the little people would allow the show to have its cake and eat it. Basically, we need Rory, but with less Hitler punching.

OK, there can be a modicum of Hitler punching.

The news did, however, give me a more personal cause for concern. The reason Zounds has fallen by the wayside a bit this year is that I am currently working on a fantasy novel. More specifically, a supernatural fantasy novel with a female protagonist set in modern-day Yorkshire. Yorkshire being where Jodie Whittaker hails from. You can probably see where this is going.

And while I should be happy about the debut of another Yorkshire superheroine (We get a lot of them round these parts, they mainly come for the cheese), I’m suddenly imagining a thousand scenarios where my pride and joy is made to look like re-purposed fan fiction. What if the Doctor wears the same outfit as my heroine? What if the new companions are too similar to my supporting cast? Is she going to play the part with a Northern accent? Am I doomed to spend the next year trapped in a high school movie where Jodie Whittaker is the queen bee I affect to resent while secretly wishing she was my best friend? I can’t help comparing myself to her! (You can picture me flicking my hair melodramatically, if you like.)

Now, I wouldn’t be as nervous if Whittaker hailed from anywhere else on Earth. (Although, I’m an artist. Anxiety is the food of love.) But the tremendously specific field of Yorkshire superheroines expanding from my novel-in-progress to my novel-in-progress and a BBC marketing behemoth was a bit of a shock. And I think my reaction does demonstrate a reason why the paucity of female heroes in pop culture is a problem. Nobody would suggest that since Superman exists, there is no need for Batman. (For the obvious reason that he’s Batman.) But female heroes are so rare, that Whittaker’s Doctor feels like a big fish in a small pond that I was happily swimming in.

On a random segue, one argument you may have heard this week is that “they” (whoever “they” are) should create new and original female protagonists rather than rebooting established male characters as women. And that’s technically correct – hats off to the likes of Suzanne Collins for creating iconic female heroes from nothing. But unless you create these sought after characters yourself (Or, at the very least, buy books written by those who do, hint, hint…) it feels a lot like a plea for inaction. Still, as an aspiring “they”, I’m happy to pick up the slack if the BBC want to settle for just having a female Doctor…

But getting back to my “Oh my God, I’m going to be competing with the Doctor!” panic. At the end of the day, there’s always going to be someone ploughing similar furrows to you. I remember reading Mya Gosling’s fantastic Peace, Good Tickle Brain in the early days of Zounds, and wondering if I had anything to offer the niche field of Shakespeare-inspired webcomics. But the answer will always be that of course you do, as long as you bring something that’s yours to the table. You might end up nervously comparing your work to others or turn into a pushy showbiz parent resenting anything that dares to tread on your turf.  But It’s not your turf. It’s everyone’s turf, and you just have to play on it as best you can. And accept that some people will have more expensive boots.

But ultimately, a creative work is your baby, it can feel like the most important thing in the world, and you want it to shine. And while I may not get to be Miss Yorkshire in the superheroine pageant, I still intend to find my creation an audience who will love it. As esteemed bloke-shaped creator of female heroes Joss Whedon put it, nobody creates fiction to make something people like. It’s only to make something people love.

Although, since you never know who’s reading these things – Jodie, the blonde hair is a good look. And if you felt like playing the Doctor with an RP accent, I’d really appreciate it…

I’m a writer. Shamelessness is the food of love.