The risks of representation : making gender and violence visible in 'The Ballad of Halo Jones'

Gray, Maggie (2020) The risks of representation : making gender and violence visible in 'The Ballad of Halo Jones'. In: Mickwitz, Nina , Horton, Ian and Hague, Ian, (eds.) Representing acts of violence in comics. Abingdon, U.K. : Routledge. pp. 139-158. (Routledge Advances in Comics Studies) ISBN 9781138484535


Halo Jones, protagonist of a 2000AD strip produced by Alan Moore and Ian Gibson from 1984 to 1986, has been described as ‘possibly the first feminist heroine in comics’. Moore intended the strip to challenge the sexist representation of women in Anglophone comics of the time, and The Ballad of Halo Jones, now promoted as ‘the all-time classic feminist space opera’, has since gained a cult following in the UK and beyond and holds a particular resonance for female readers. However, when it first appeared its reception was lukewarm, particularly because nothing much happened – as Kate Flynn has argued, the comic owes more to soap-opera melodrama that action-packed adventure. Therefore, it stood apart from the other strips in the ground-breaking British anthology, not just because it attempted to contest the way restrictive gender norms were inscribed in both visual and narrative forms, but also because it lacked action, or at least action that was synonymous with spectacular violence. Yet The Ballad of Halo Jones can be read as an exploration of the forms of violence less visible in both mainstream comics and mainstream political discourse, and as such, engaged with the manifold debates about violence taking place within the various strands of the UK feminist movement at that time. This paper will examine how Moore and Gibson’s strip, across its three story arcs or ‘books’, interrogated the violence of poverty, the violence enacted on bodies (in domestic, workplace, institutional and representational contexts), and the violence of occupation and war. As a result, it will analyse how The Ballad of Halo Jones not only tried to break loose of sexist conventions of representation in comics (drawing from British girls’ comics, women’s comix, and alternative comics to address an increasingly marginalised female readership), but also attempted to make visible these non-spectacular forms of violence that disproportionately affected women, girls and trans* people, and intertwined with oppressions of class, sexuality, and race. As such, it will explore how the strip used the science fiction genre to refract key feminist struggles of the Thatcher period, and touched on issues at the heart of the various strands (socialist, radical and pacifist) into which the women’s movement had fragmented by the mid-1980s, particularly as they each contested aspects of Tory government policy - economic, social, domestic and foreign. It will look at how the comic took up critical positions within those feminist debates, particularly by rejecting a unilateral view of patriarchy that effaced the intersection of gender and class oppression, and confronting essentialist ideas of a biologically determined sex/gender dichotomy. In recent years there have been significant debates about the representation of violence against women in Alan Moore’s oeuvre within (and across) fan and academic contexts. This paper aims to contribute to this debate by exploring how the representation of gender and violence in Halo Jones both envisioned Moore’s contemporary intervention on these issues within male-defined fandom (notably with his 1983 ‘Invisible Girls and Phantom Ladies’ article); and reproduced problematic commercially-driven industry standardisations. The contradictions of the way the comic both subverted and reproduced repressive figurations of gender (as well as race and sexuality), not only corresponds to the tensions and limitations of second wave feminism as it fractured in the 1980s, but also relates to wider questions about how violence can be represented and made visible in ways that defy its consumption as reified spectacle, but yet equally refuse what Moore has termed comics’ ‘denial of a sexual holocaust’. This paper will consider the presentation of violence against women as manifest in The Ballad of Halo Jones in multiple forms, in relation to these questions of what should be shown, witnessed, and seen, and how - the politics of spectatorship

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