The chainmail bikini has long been a symbol of the absurd ways women are depicted in media, but cartoonist Hazel Newlevant has transformed it into something unexpected: the title of a new anthology of comics about women in games.
"Once you've identified something as a 'chainmail bikini,' you've noticed that it's laughably bad," says Newlevant, who is both editing the book and contributing comics of her own. "Since exploring gender and sexism in gaming is our whole deal, I figured the name Chainmail Bikini would be appropriate."
The book is already finished—and funded—on Kickstarter, where you can preorder a copy before the campaign ends on April 2. It features comics from feminine voices both familiar and new, including Anna Anthropy (ZZT), Merritt Kopas (Forest Ambassador), Molly Ostertag (Strong Female Protagonist), M.K. Reed (The Cute Girl Network), and Elizabeth Simins (Manic Pixel Dream Girl), with a cover by Hellen Jo (Jin & Jam).
"It seemed natural to focus on women gamers, because we're considered the exception," explains Newlevant. "These are stories you haven't heard before. Right now, the long-held assumption that games are a 'guy thing' is seriously being challenged, and Chainmail Bikini aims to be part of that challenge. Sharing our perspectives on games and gaming culture can be entertaining, enlightening, and even radical."
The comics also explores the wide range of games their creators enjoy, from Animal Crossing and The Sims to fighting games like Tekken, tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons, card games like Magic: The Gathering and live action role-playing. Many of the comics touch on the personal ways that games can intersect with heartbreak, gender identity, mental illness and growing up.
"All of these games involve taking on a character and entering into some sort of fantasy world," says Newlevant. "That action serves different purposes for different people, but it's hugely significant. Overall, Chainmail Bikini has gotten me excited about the uplifting and transformative power of games."
For many of the women in Chainmail Bikini, it's a power they've had to harness and redefine on their own terms, regardless of whether or not they were accepted by the gaming culture around them. "These worlds weren't meant for us," writes Kopas in her short comic I Choose You. "But we have made them ours."