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The Write Stuff

A column article, The Squeaky Wheel by: Kyrax2

At SDCC this year, a young man asked Dan DiDio why the ratio of female creators on DC's staff had fallen from 12% prior to the introduction of the New 52 to only 1%. As many people later pointed out, the man's numbers were wrong. The 12% included editors and other listed female staff, while the 1% figure only included writers, pencillers and inkers.

To me, the scandal was not that a well-meaning man made an honest mistake. To me, the scandal was that DC's percentage of female creators hadn't been anywhere near 12% to begin with!

The numbers in question came from Tim Hanley, a gentleman who's been doing a fascinating statistical analysis of DC and Marvel Comics since January of this year. Specifically, he's been calculating the ratio of male to female creators, based on the credits listed in each comic for the categories of writer, inker, penciller, cover artist, colorist, letterer, editor and assistant editor. I'd like to take a moment to focus on just one of these categories. Specifically, I'd like to talk about comic book writers.

Why writers? Well, partly because the writer is really important to how a comic comes out -- the writer plots the story and gives the artist an outline of what to draw. The artist is important, too, of course! But the writer is the one that controls the direction of the story, the characters that appear, and, by and large, how those characters are portrayed. Also, there's been a lot of talk about artists lately and not nearly as much about writers. 

Mainly, though, I want to talk about writers because of the path one can take to become a writer at either DC or Marvel comics. 

There isn't one.

If you're an artist and you want to work for DC, they encourage you to go to a convention, or to participate in their "DC Talent Search" program. But their submissions policy clearly states, "This program does not review writing samples (artwork only)." Marvel's submissions policy is even stricter, and applies to both writers and artists: "Unfortunately, any unsolicited material you send will not be read or shared. It will be destroyed, and it will not be returned." They do add, however, that, "If you are an aspiring comic book artist or writer, we suggest you publish or publicly post your material, continue to create, and if you have the right stuff... we’ll find you."

In other words, if you're a writer there is no way to "send in your stuff" to either Marvel or DC and be seriously considered as an applicant. Don't call them, they'll call you. 

This being the case, why are the numbers so skewed in favor of male writers?

Take January of this year, for example. According to Hanley's statistics, out of DC's 89 writing credits, only two of them were by a woman... both titles by Gail Simone. Marvel's numbers were slightly better in January: six out of 87 credited writers were women that month. In February, 3 out of 103 of DC's credited writers were females, while 11 of 118 of Marvel's were women. I couldn't find a breakdown of all of March, but going by his week-by-week numbers, in March DC had 3 female writing credits out of 107, while Marvel had 10 out of 117. 

I don't want to drown you guys with numbers, so here's a chart I made, based on Hanley's data of January through September of this year.

What do these numbers really mean?

They mean that, for the first three quarters of this year, less than 10% of Marvel's writers and less than 5% of DC's writers were women. This was for a position that both DC and Marvel do not accept applications for, but instead seek out qualified individuals to fill. 

In comparison, even professions where women are severely underrepresented have a better ratio. According to a recent report by the Martin Prosperity Institute, women hold 14.6% of the architecture and engineering positions and 27.7% of the computer and math positions in the United States. The same report states that women hold 47.5% of the positions in the combined fields of arts, design, media, entertainment, and sports -- this presumably being the correct category for "comic book writer."

So, as DiDio has asked, who should Marvel and DC hire? There are certainly plenty of women out there they could be approaching:

  • TV Writers, such as Jane Espenson of Buffy and Battlestar Galactica fame (and who's also written comics). 
  • Novelists like Diane Duane, who's proven her range by writing both Star Trek novels and the popular young adult series So You Want To Be a Wizard? or Tamora Pierce, whose strong female leads have an appeal beyond her target audience of young adults.
  • Online comics writers like the husband and wife team of Kaja and Phil Foglio, co-writers of Girl Genius, which has won the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story three years running, or Ursula Vernon, who penned (and drew) the surreal, yet compelling Digger and kept to a strict schedule while doing so.

There are hundreds... thousands of others. It doesn't matter what genre you're looking for; there are plenty of women writing in it. I threw out a few names I knew off the top of my head. Louis Bright-Raven named a couple more in a cogent and beautifully argued comment on Bleeding Cool. 

I have no idea if DC or Marvel have approached any of these people. I do find it very hard to believe that they're approaching equal numbers of men and women to write for them, given that their numbers are so skewed. And it's a huge mistake on their parts. After all, two of the most popular writers of this century have been women. Whatever you may think of Stephenie Meyer or J.K. Rowling, I guarantee you that anything they wrote would outsell all of the New 52 issue #1s combined

Some people have said in response to questions like this, "What does it matter what gender someone is, as long as they are a good writer?" To which I say, if it doesn't matter what the writer's gender is, then why are the numbers weighted so heavily to men? As I pointed out above, in other creative fields, the ratio is far more even. If it truly doesn't matter whether someone is a man or a woman, then one would expect the ratio to be closer to 50/50. Unless you believe, as one person said to me on Twitter, that "only three women have reached that level" -- which is such a ludicrous argument that it requires no reply.

Others have suggested that people should stop talking about this issue, because it will work itself out in time. According to Hanley's own numbers, though, the increase in female comic writers employed by the big two over the past 15 years has been gradual indeed in the case of Marvel (going from 0.8% to 5.5% overall), and negative in the case of DC (dropping from 8.2% to 2.7% overall).

The fact that DC and Marvel have so few female creators on staff isn't just a shame, it's shameful. According to a vital statistics fact sheet at pay-equity.org, women accounted for 18% of the labor force in the year 1900. Even 111 years ago, the ratio of women in the workplace was better than the ratio of female to male creators at DC and Marvel today.

The Final Squeak

At Geek Girl Con, I was lucky enough to meet Rachel Edidin, an editor at Dark Horse Comics. I remember being impressed by how confident, intelligent and articulate she was. It wasn't until afterward that I realized that she'd authored my favorite article on the subject of women in comics, a brilliant analysis of how the industry got to this point and where it needs to go from here. It's not a cute fancomic or video, but it's relevant and well worth the read. Check it out!

You can listen to the audio version of this post below:


Squeaky Wheel Logo by soulfulmanifesto@hotmail.com


 

Kyrax2, in her secret identity, is:

A. A part-time model.

B. An ace World War I pilot.

C. A mild-mannered office manager.

She has a bachelor's degree in:

A. Japanese

B. Zentraedi

C. Kryptonian

Her daughter:

A. Was sent to Earth by her real parents to escape the destruction of their home planet.

B. Is secretly a robot who can remove her own head.

C. Loves comics and reads any she can get her hands on. (I know, this one's pretty farfetched!)

Her husband:

A. Races ultralights for fun and profit.

B. Used to have a crush on Kitty Pryde.

C. Was born during a total eclipse of the sun.

In her spare time she enjoys:

A. Reading (books and comics), writing (fiction and non), gaming (everything from tabletop wargames and RPGs to Cardcaptor Sakura, Tetris, Rock Band, and DCUO) and watching TV (mainly anime, animated superhero cartoons, and Rifftrax).

B. Building emissions-free vehicles out of recycled materials.

C. Alligator wrestling.

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