Devin Nuhfer is the creator of Velvet Gloves and Iron Fists: Women in Comic Book History, the first documentary focusing on the history of women in comic books. I have been doing my best to work with Nuhfer on this project (which I admit is not nearly enough for an activity of this magnitude) and I realized that this documentary effort is not as well known as it should be. I deeply hope that by conducting this interview, YOU THE READER will be inspired to offer Nuhfer some help or show enough interests that he will be able to leverage it into receiving funding.
Nicholas Yanes: What inspired you to make this documentary?
Devin Nuhfer: The roots of the documentary stem from conversations I had with Professor Rhonda Matthews of Edinboro about comic books. After a while, a light bulb went off. I wanted to do a documentary on comic book history, but I wanted it to be unique and a story that was worthy of being told. One of the ideas that a few people brought up was a history of women in comic books and I remember watching a history channel special on comic books and how few women were mentioned outside of Wonder Woman and Electra. Over time, it narrowed down to women in comic book history.
(Editor’s note: The history channel documentary is Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked)
Yanes: There are several documentaries on comic books (Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked, Comic Book Confidential, Comic Books Unbound, Tales from the Crypt: From Comic Books to Television, Comic Book Pajama Party: Women Who Love Comic Books, The Mindscape of Alan Moore, and countless mini-documentaries that appear as DVD features). How do you think yours will differ from these works? In particular, what will it add that Comic Book Pajama Party lacked?
Nuhfer: I think that Velvet Gloves and Iron Fists will differ from most other documentaries primarily because of the subject matter. My one professor, Dr. Joseph Laythe, would constantly ask his research classes “What can you bring to the body of knowledge?” That is perhaps the single most important question a researcher can ask and that is what I’ve tried to build the documentary on. I hope that this documentary brings up new information and stimulates discussions.
Yanes: Before you even got into developing the video, what made you believe that you were qualified to produce an entire documentary on women in comic books?
Nuhfer: I felt that it was a topic that needed to be explored. That’s the primary reason that this, and not the other comic book topics that were suggested, won out in the end. I’ve tried to expand my own understanding on the subject, like researching and reading up on the subject, taking a Women’s Studies course, and getting people whose talents and knowledge have greatly benefited the documentary.
Yanes: What was the hardest part about starting the project?
Nuhfer: One of the hardest parts in doing any independent documentary is financing it. There are supplies, travel, room and board, and a whole list of things that need to be funded. Budget restrictions (or lack of a budget), has been one of the biggest problems.
There is also figuring out what story needs to be told, especially if the topic is fascinating and not widely known about like this one. With so many female characters and only between 45 minutes to an hour of time, certain sections have to be cut down or condensed. I’d love to go more in depth with characters like She-Hulk or Cat Woman, but I had to ask myself “does this fit with the story?” Instead, Batgirl, Wonder Woman, and a number of other characters were looked at with more detail because they are central to the story.
Yanes: How did you go about approaching people in the comic book industry? Who was more open to helping you, Marvel & DC or one of the smaller companies?
Nuhfer: Most of my interactions with the industry have been with the individual writers and artists. Overall, they have been very helpful and have been pointing my inquiries in the right direction.
Yanes: In doing research for this project, have you stumbled onto anything completely unexpected?
Nuhfer: At the moment, I haven’t found anything too far out there.
Yanes: From a technical stand point, what has been the hardest part about creating “Velvet Gloves and Iron Fists: Women in Comic Book History”?
Nuhfer: One of the biggest difficulties, from the technical stand point, is getting everything just right. Making sure the picture quality is acceptable, audio is legible, the music isn’t drowning out the audio, and that the pace is just right. The general rule is that for every minute you see on screen, at least an hour or two has been spent just in editing. It is a long process, but it looks good in the end.
Yanes: There seems to be this belief that because comic books are created mostly by men for consumption by mostly males this is the reason women are often drawn in hyper-sexualized manners. Yet, there are many shows produced by women for teenage girls that often objectify women. Why do you think comic books get the sexist criticism, but not these other shows?
Nuhfer: Some comic book artwork, I believe, depicts women very negatively and suggestively, which is why comic books in general are labeled as “hyper-sexualized” material. With that said, your question brings up a good point and, in developing the documentary about a subject like this, it is like walking a tightrope. In creating this documentary, I’ve tried to avoid the two extremes and give a fair, balanced perspective on the subject. I would love to see what your readers think the answer is.
Yanes: To date, besides getting me as a historical consultant for free (I am an egomaniac who loves advertising myself), what has/have been the biggest break(s) for the project?
Nuhfer: A lot of people have been helping with the project at almost every level. Kathleen Zuelch, the voice of Tex in the Red vs. Blue series, has been volunteering her services to the project. So has Nico Audy-Rowland, who conducted the music for the same series. Trina Robbins, who wrote books on the subject, has been a very valuable resource. James Grant Goldin, Producer of Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked on the History Channel, has been giving me advice about how to conduct a documentary on Comic Book History, which has been very helpful. Wizard magazine has also been encouraging. Oh, and we can’t forget Nicholas Yanes.
Yanes: How do you envision this project when it’s done? Solely as a long documentary; a book/movie combo; something designed to be used in the class room?
Nuhfer: Right now, the goal is to get the documentary done and online. If it becomes a success, then the possibilities of doing other projects connected with the subject would be open.
Yanes: Knowing that people will read this interview and be inspired by your goal, what could someone reading this interview do to help you out?
Nuhfer: If they are interested in helping, they can contact me either through the documentary’s Myspace page or email me at [email protected]. Money is especially tight for the project and if you would like to donate send them to Edinboro University Foundation, 210 Meadville Street, Edinboro, PA 16444. (Make sure you specify that the money is for the Women in Comic Books Documentary.)
- Additionally, the facebook group for Velvet Gloves and Iron Fists is Women in Comic Books Documentary: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/group.php?gid=11215881837
- Again the Myspace page is at: www.myspace.com/womenincomics
By Ian M. Cullen