Faith Shatters Records and Fat-Shaming Expectations


Faith Variant cover, illustrated by KANO

WOMEN IN COMICS might have had a shaky start to 2016, after the Angoulême Festival snubbed female writers and artists entirely in its 43rd annual award, but things are looking up. Valiant Entertainment’s Harbinger spin-off, Faith, broke records in February when it achieved the fastest third print run ever in the history of comics, following its January 27th launch. On the day its third printing shipped, Faith broke records again, achieving a fourth print run! For a comic written by — and about — a woman, this is big. For one about a fat woman, it’s, well, huge.

There’s no doubt that Faith‘s success and the recent diversity movement in comics are related. Marvel’s All-New, All-Different lineup handed over Ms. Marvel’s Spandex suit and Hulk’s iconic indestructible pants to teenagers of color. Archie Comics revealed Jughead’s asexuality, proving once and for all that the beloved crown-wearer loves burgers more than babes — or boys.

But it would be wrong to attribute Faith‘s record-breaking sales figures to a political agenda alone. Likewise, although the character comes with an established fanbase from the two Harbinger incarnations in 1992 and 2012, it’s kind of insulting to say that those fans are the reason that Faith #1 sold so well. Although the fans deserve their due respect for supporting Faith — as do the comic book nerds who demanded and stocked the issue at their local shops — a large part of the Harbinger spin-off’s success comes from the newcomers who were drawn in by Faith #1’s approachable, body-positive image.

FAITH_001_007For comic book fans of size, of all ages and genders, Faith put forward an intriguing and inviting face with its first issue. None of the three covers makes any secret of eponymous protagonist Faith Herbert’s size. She is obese. But she perches on powerlines, rocks cute fashions, and celebrates herself and her powers. Faith-the-character radiates confidence. A fat girl like me couldn’t help but pick her up.

Some might be skeptical of a comic book’s ability to do justice to a superhero of size. Comics have not been kind to their fat characters in the past. Fat people have become accustomed to seeing themselves represented as the lazy, clumsy, smelly butts of jokes, but their prevalence doesn’t mean those slurs hurt any less.

Thankfully, Faith doesn’t hurt. There’s no mention of Faith’s size in the first issue. Yes, she’s big, but we don’t see anyone make fun of her for it. If anything, Faith’s size is an asset; it allows her to move, virtually unseen, among co-workers, neighbors, and crowds of strangers. She accentuates her ability to blend in by donning a curly red wig, glasses, and an assumed name. Despite knowing that Zephyr — Faith’s “psiot” alter-ego — is a woman of size, the rest of L.A. completely ignores Faith because of her size. She’s just another non-threatening fat girl to them.

Our speculations about what Faith — both the character and the series —means for the future of comics are all well and good, but what does Valiant hope to accomplish by featuring a woman of size as a series leading superhero? Series editor Tom Brennan answered that for us:

Remember this character has been around for over twenty years. I love this character, as do Valiant Editor-in-Chief Warren Simons, Chief Creative Officer Dinesh Shamdasani and everyone up here — and have since Valiant came back on the scene. We’ve been looking for the right time and right story for her since day one. But we don’t rush things here at Valiant — we’re very deliberate and wanted to tell her story the right way.  Jody Houser had the right story. Francis Portela and Marguerite Sauvage had the right look. The time was right.
I wouldn’t say we necessarily have a mission with Faith, but I would say we’ve worked very hard to make the Valiant Universe into the world that’s really outside your window, with as diverse a group of people and perspectives as possible in our heroes and villains. Faith is an exemplary character in that tradition. That said, we’re definitely seeing the effect she’s had on any number of new and long-time readers, and we’re very humbled to know she’s made an impact.

Now, I’m a fairly political person, but I don’t like the fact that every purchase anyone makes nowadays is a political statement. Yes, you should be aware of where your dollar goes when you give it to a company, but the catch-22 is that it’s absolutely exhausting to do that. That being said, the good thing about purchasing a copy of Faith #1 — or any of the three subsequent issues — is that you’re supporting positive representations of people of size in comics by and about women. It’s a no-lose situation.

Valiant Entertainment’s Faith has only been green-lit as a 4-issue miniseries. With this kind of demand, however, it’s possible that the publisher might decide to expand Jody Houser’s brilliant new offering. That kind of expansion is risky. It isn’t something publishers do on a whim. The first four issues of Faith are a whim: low-risk, with an anticipated, but uncertain, reward. Whatever may follow will be decided by how well Faith sells.

FAITH_001_006That is to say that the fight for Faith is not over. The record-breaking sales of its first issue are, unfortunately, not enough to guarantee that we’ll see more of Faith, or even another superhero of size. Houser has expressed interest in expanding Faith, and Brennan says we “can definitely expect to see more Faith soon.” Still, Valiant Comics has yet to make any official announcements regarding the series’ future. If the numbers on Faith #2-4 drop, so do our hopes of getting a full series.

Look, I hate telling you to buy things. It goes against my anti-capitalist leanings. I don’t think you should spend your money on things just because someone tells you to buy them, which, I’ll admit, makes this next paragraph a bit hypocritical. But some things are important enough to legitimize the hypocrisy. So it goes.

If you’re a comic book fan who wants to see more awesome fat girls being confident, happy, and content in their own skins, pick up Faith #1 and 2 from your local comic book store. If they don’t have any, ask them to order you a copy, and to please have Faith #3 in stock for its March 30th release. Buy both. Keep yourself up-to-date on Valiant’s publication schedule, and buy issue #4 as well.

Faith needs our support. Let’s give it to her.

All images courtesy of Valiant Entertainment.