This week’s first question comes from “Seven-year-old Nick from Christchurch, New Zealand” and the second from my wife, Dawn. The questions are:
“Why don’t chicks dig comics? Why aren’t there more women working in the comic book industry?”
Mike Collins: “Women do read comics. Tons of them. Some female artists (like Lise Myhre) are feted as big as pop stars, their latest volumes getting two-page coverage in national newspapers. They can headline monthly books (Nemi) that sell in excess of 80,000 copies.
Oh, you mean in America?
Ah. Vertigo aside, the mainstream US & UK comics are boys adventures. They appeal to blokes.
Witch (has this made it to the States?) sells phenomenally well with the teen and pre-teen female audience throughout Europe – it’s adventure strips featuring young witches (well, duh). It’s artistically not a million miles away from Humberto Ramos / Carlos Meglia big foot style but importantly… no super heroes! But that’s OK… it’s fine to work in a style that appeals -majorly- to one gender!
(and a note to creators who hedge their involvement in the super hero field- let’s drop the ‘deconstructed’, ‘ironic’, or any other intellectual justification/excuse for doing’em! They’re still super heroes, be proud of doing what you do!)”
Bill Rosemann: “Chicks do dig comics…we just need to concentrate on getting the right books into their hands in order to increase the number of those that do! There’s plenty of great comics that female readers would appreciate–titles such as Optic Nerve, Alias, Sandman, Route 666, Y: The Last Man, Ultimate Spider-Man, Strangers In Paradise–and manga is growing the female readership week after week! So I have to disagree: chicks do dig comics…but we just have to make sure that we make more titles that they’d appreciate (characterization + humor + action + drama), while delivering them in the format they want (graphic novels) in the locations that they frequent (bookstores, libraries, etc.). As for why there’s not more women in the industry, I’ll say that one big factor is that because more boys read comics when they were young, more of them pursued entering the industry when they grew up! But with the popularity of manga increasing, watch for that trend to change!”
Alan Grant: “The most dedicated Strontium Dog fan I know is a woman. Judge Anderson’s biggest fan is a 21-year-old lady. Generally speaking, women found our “Shit The Dog” comic much more amusing than men did. Neil Gaiman has a huge female fan following. My newsagent carries a wide range of girls’ material, from comics about ponies to comics about dating, make-up and soapstars.
I suspect what the questioner really wants to know is “Why don’t chicks dig superhero comics?” I guess it’s because they’re written and drawn by males, for males. Usually the lead characters are male, with females in underdressed secondary roles. Often the plots are exotic–invasions from outer space–rather than the more domestic stories often (though not always) favoured by female readers.
In a way, that answer covers the second question, too. If girls aren’t attracted by superhero comic books, why on earth would they want to work in the business?”
Terry Moore: “They read Strangers in Paradise. More than half my readers are women. They read Sandman when it came out. I think the question should be, why do women read books like Strangers In Paradise and Sandman but not (fill in blank with fave superhero title). And I need to stay out of that discussion. You don’t want to hear the answer from me.”
Devin Grayson: “The second part of the question is answered by the first part. If more females were interested in comics, there’d be more females working in the industry.
As for the first part of the question, as a female who does dig comics, I can only offer a few speculations.
I think this biggest detriment to females reading comics is distribution. Many girls don’t know about or are not enticed by local comics stores. Even if a female happens to wander in to one, the chances of her finding something she’s interested in are slim — not because there’s nothing she’d be interested in, but because she won’t be able to find it. As a small specialty market, comic shops have very unique browsing displays. How is a newbie supposed to know what to make of the rows of long boxes, or the alphabetical listing by publisher?
It’s really bizarre and confusing is you’re an outsider. I remember walking into a comic store early on in my love affair with Nightwing and trying to find books with Dick Grayson in them. Nightwing as a title did not yet exist, and instead of just handing me a few relevant Batman and Teen Titans issues, the clerk started going on about some “wizard” I should be consulting. I left baffled and empty handed.
Another contributing factor, at least where mainstream superhero comics are concerned, is the very nature of the product, which at its inception was a male power fantasy. I was watching Smallville last week with two eleven-year-old boys and a thirteen-year-old girl. The boys were riveted every time Clark used his super-strength, sometimes going as far as to cheer out loud. Invariably, the girl and I would talk through those scenes, or get up to refill our drinks. Clark stammering in front of Lana, however, earned the girl’s full attention, and I wouldn’t let any of them so much as cough when Lex was on screen.
Fight scenes in comics are, to this day, a staple of the superhero genre. I guess it makes sense, but I gotta tell you, if Batman gets in a fight in a book called “Batman,” well, I’m generally not too worried about the outcome. It’s a thrill when a hero or villain does something truly unexpected or brilliant, but as the thirteen-year-old girl commented when I showed her a handful of contemporary comics, “they’re good except for I feel like all that fighting just takes away from the stories. Are there any where people just talk?” She flipped past the fight scenes to get to the subplots. The eleven-year-old boys flipped through the subplots to get to the fighting. Most of my editors will let me forego a subplot or two. The fight scenes, on the other hand, are mandatory.
I do think there are more “chicks” getting into comics, though, and see no inherent reason why they shouldn’t enjoy them.”
Peter David: “Possibly because those in the industry think of them as “chicks.””
Markisan: Honestly, I don’t think I’m qualified to answer the question, “Why don’t chicks dig comics?” because well.. I’m not a chick, Donald. So, I asked my woman, Nicole, to write this week’s answer for me. Here she is:
- Why I like comics, even though I am a girl.
I really don’t know much about comics except for the interesting stories that get filtered through to me by my significant other, Markisan. I read my first comic book during a Holocaust class I took in college. It was Art Spiegelman’s Maus. I remember thinking that there was an innocence and vulnerability to the genre, the way the images revealed more than the words could. This type of honesty was very appealing to me. As it turns out, I became fast friends and spent much of the latter part of my college years hanging out with comic geeks, like my friend, Elisa — a girl! She introduced me to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. For someone studying religion, philosophy, and literature, the Sandman fit in quite nicely to my repertoire of reading material. Neil Gaiman is pretty deep. Of course, when I met Markisan, I became exposed to the wide, wide world of comics. I’ve read the famed Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller, which I quickly learned after spending time around him and his comic buddies is treated with great awe and respect. I can’t say I completely understand why, even though mention of the book among fans can turn into an hour long rant on the subject.
Since then I have had the opportunity to read some interesting comics written by women. Markisan introduced me to XXX Live Nude Girls by Laurenn McCubbin and Nikki Coffman and Cheat by Christine Norrie. These both spoke intimately to the experience and psyche of women. There should be more like this. I would definitely read them. I think the reason most women don’t get into comics is because of the stereotypes that comics are all about superheroes dressed in tight, silly costumes. I mean, come on, little kids adorn themselves in such for trick-or-treating on Halloween.
There’s also the thinking that when women do appear in comics, it’s all about big tits and ass, pornographic eye candy for the man-child stuck in adolescence. And then there is the belief that comics have given new meaning to the words “gratuitous violence.” I have seen some of this nastiness — bodies torn asunder in ways you could have never imagined, mass explosions, genocide. Most women just do not get into that shit! And I know for a fact that women correlate violence with comics because just this summer I was speaking with my women colleagues on the matter. These stereotypes are not altogether fair, as I am told and given multiple examples to the contrary, and I believe it. Comics are a very artful and sophisticated form of storytelling which could be enjoyed by women as well. But the problem is, like with all stereotypes, they have their basis in reality.
You only have to go to Wizard World Convention to see the strange conflagration of the over-sexualized and macabre with the breathtakingly beautiful. And perhaps this is the true appeal of comics, in that they mix the ugly and the beautiful as we see it occur in everyday life, except, of course, in comics it’s on a more magnified scale.
Women’s lives are also filled with the ugly and the beautiful, it’s just of a different sort, and if we could have more women (or men) speak to this we’d have more women reading comics.
Alonzo Washington: “Why don’t chick dig comic book? That’s an easy one. I talked about this in our last panel discussion. The comic book industry is basically the universe of the fantasies of White nerds that are male. Most female characters are just objects of the White male’s ego. That’s why some of the female characters (Lois Lane, Mary Jane & Jane) in comic books just exist to be saved. Other female super heroes are usually portrayed as tough gals that dress like strippers (Vampirella, Witch Blade, Danger Girls, Wonder Woman, Cat Woman, Lady Death, Lara Croft, etc.). They can be good girls or bad girls, but they all dress like ho’s. Moreover, many of the female characters start out as back half’s of the main male characters. Like Supergirl, Batgirl, She-Hulk, Spider-Woman & Spider-Girl. These characters are doomed to never reach the level of their male counterparts. Like most Black characters most female characters have no agenda of their own. The comic book industry is racist & sexist and the characters of most comic book companies reflect this. If comic book creators wanted be less sexist in developing independent female characters they should watch Buffy The Vampire Slayer & Xena. Keep in mind chicks dig those shows.
More women are not in the comic book industry because it has not been promoted to them. Much like it hasn’t been to African Americans you barely see them in the comic book industry either.”
Shawna Ervin-Gore: “I think the first important distinction to make is between the format of comics and the genres of comics that are most popular and in the public eye. In one respect, there’s ample evidence that shows that chicks DO dig comics — as a medium. I know a lot of women who LOVE comics in various forms (mini-comics, syndicated strips, etc.), but
who don’t read comic books very often because they’re not aware of comics that have subjects they’re interested in.
I’ve been a fan of comic books for literally all of my reading life, but I definitely had a few years as a teenager when I was, for the most part, not terribly into comics. The exceptions at that time were Swamp Thing, Concrete, and a few random indie titles. But, at least as far as I was aware, there weren’t a lot of titles widely available at that time that made 14 year-old me want to read them. I didn’t get off looking at big boobs in spandex, and the typical superhero stuff was really wearing thin for me. I know now that there were other, better comics being produced then, but they certainly weren’t carried at the rural comics shop in my hometown.
Fast forward 16 years, and things have changed quite a bit in terms of comics content. But with all the competing forms of entertainment, we’re not getting a lot of new readers period, much less new FEMALE readers. However, I do think the manga explosion has done a lot to woo female readers (there are so many different genres within manga — lots more opportunity to appeal to all kinds of people, but especially girls). Some people note that there aren’t a lot of women working in comics, either, especially drawing them. Again, if you look outside the mainstream, this isn’t exactly accurate. I’d wager that there are just as many female indie comics artists as male. And there aren’t a lot of us girlie comics editors probably because there aren’t that many girls who would ever even THINK of working in comics, much less aspire to help create them.”
Evil Rick: I think for years there weren’t that many female readers because there weren’t too many books that would keep them entertained. Hell, a big percentage of male readers only stuck around on their titles out of momentum rather than because they were enjoying them. I know everyone thinks that Manga seems to be the only thing bringing in female readers, but these days there are so many great titles to capture any readers tastes, male or female, young or old.
Books like Y the Last Man, Fables, Strangers in Paradise, Runaways, Alias, 1602, Sandman, Preacher, Sojourn, Ruse, Route 666, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and so many others are bringing in new female readers every day. We barely carry manga because the chain stores have brought too much competition on that stuff, but try to point out Vertigo or CrossGen books to manga fans with our money back guarantee.
I think the same thing goes for so few female creators. Because there weren’t many female readers, very few female creators realized the unlimited potential of the comic book medium. More readers will lead to more creators who have something interesting to say, so over the next few years, I’m sure we’ll see more female creators as well as readers.
Alan Donald: “Chicks do dig comics but the trick is to get them to read them. I’ve always found Terry “Batman’s biggest fan” Moore’s Strangers in Paradise to be a good one for getting girlies hooked, just one issue, any issue, it works ever time. Of course Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman works pretty damned well too as does most of the output from CrossGen and quite a bit of Dark Horse’s stuff too (especially Sock Monkey and What’s Michael). As for female creators etc… I imagine if you did a demographic survey of comicbook readers you’d probably find that the ratio of creators match up with that of the fans. The same proportion of males, females, homo and bisexuals, white folk, black folk etc. The comic industry needs to expand its fanbase not just numerically but demographically too.
Summary: Get them to try the right stuff, make comic shops less intimidating and generally get people to stop thinking ‘superhero’ when they hear ‘comic book’.
This Week’s Panel: Alan Donald (Columnist, SBC), Shawna Ervin-Gore (an editor at Dark Horse), Alonzo Washington (creator Omega Man and founder of Omega 7 comics and toys), Markisan (All the Rage), Alan Grant (Batman, Judge Anderson), Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise), Devin Grayson (Gotham Knights, Nightwing), Peter David (Captain Marvel, Supergirl), Bill Rosemann (Publicist, Crossgen), and Mike Collins (Star Trek, 2000AD).
Next Week’s Question: ” What is the hardest part about creating a new character, and why is it that these new characters have such a hard time sticking in universe’s featuring older characters?”
Previous Questions: Check out the message board where I’ve put up a list of every question the Panel has faced so far (neatly linked to the column it appeared in) to inspire you and let you know what to avoid.
SBC reserves the right to edit questions for reasons of consistency and inclusivity.