Comics, Women and a Lively Discussion


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Female SymbolDC Women Kicking Ass ran an article on former DC Comics President Paul Levitz‘s comments about women and comic books.  In an interview Levitz stated:

I’m not sure that young women are as interested in reading about superheroes. The fundamental dynamic of the superhero story has historically been more appealing to boys than to girls. There are any number of very successful superhero comics over the years that have had a better gender balance than others, but the genre as a whole has been a more male genre.

As you can imagine a minor shit storm surrounded an idiotic statement like the above.  The problem is no one seems to address the big picture.  Levitz’s comment is beyond idiotic for this reason and this reason only, comic books are more than just superheroes now.  For him to sum up the comic industry with that one word does it and us an injustice and stereotypes what we love to read.  But the DC Women Kicking Ass blog seem to also take Levitz’s bait stating she “likes superheroes.”  The blogger also goes on:

If DC had hard facts, if they had survey after survey of girls, women saying, “I do not like superheroes” or “Yes, superheroes are not appealing to me, thanks I have to go sew now” or “Yes, women who are heroes and super don’t work for me, I’d rather have women who are only heroes or only super but never together” then maybe that would make sense.

And that lead me to recount various discussions I’ve had with some folks in the industry about the above and give my thoughts on this issue.

To begin, let me give you some of my background.  I’m a long time reader of comics, short time blogger about, and most important to this discussion, spent 6 years of my life as a clerk and counter jockey working in game and comic book stores.  Levitz missed the fact of what I noticed in my years behind the counter, some women do like superheroes, but most importantly there’s a lot more than just that out there.

During my time (pre new-fangled technology like Facebook and Twitter) working a register Sandman was popular mostly with female customers.  Flash forward to today and instead of Sandman I’d suggest Daytripper, or Buffy or dozens of other comics to anyone who thought comics were just tights.

But, stating that there’s a lot out there to read still fails to address the issue of why there aren’t more female readers and instead when you think comic books, the image of a prepubescent or pimply socially awkward male kid is what you’d imagine.  There is no one single reason why comics haven’t quite penetrated the female market but here’s some observations as to what I think the issues are.

Demographics

I’m not convinced the majority of publishers, writers, artists or stores have a clue who their customers are.  In the conversations I’ve had with some in the industry about micro-targeting the looks I get back are either blank stares or bewilderment.  Comic is published, goes to distribution, goes to store and is sold, but there’s little mechanism to figure out who really is buying.

At this point surveys and digging into credit card statements would both give an incomplete picture of the actual consumer base.  I doubt any company is really leveraging what info there is to it’s potential and the barrier to entry for stores or small publishers is high in the monetary area.

They’ve tried marketing towards women (in their mind)

Anyone remember DC’s Jinx?  Yeah…. The publishers have done what they think would appeal to women, and it didn’t go anywhere.  Brian Wood‘s New York Four was the biggest success, but that’s not saying a whole lot.  They published what they thought would appeal to young women and it tanked.  You can understand some frustration on the publisher’s part when they’ve gone through that.  I’m not saying it was done perfectly or even well, but they tried in their eyes.

Culture

As a whole it’s just not “proper” in our society for women to read comics.  I’ve had this discussion over and over and talked about works such as Daytripper or even Buffy and it doesn’t even occur to the non-comic reading women I know to even try that as an alternative to reading books.  All they know is the spandex stereotype.  I’ve handed Daytripper to numerous people and they’ve been sucked in for more of that type of work and shown a willingness to explore what else is out there.

Can anyone with confidence say if Twilight was a comic book it would have been the cultural phenomenon it was?  Every woman I know read those books, and I’m confident if they were comic books first they wouldn’t have even thought about it or even considered reading the series.  There is an inherent problem in our society/culture that comic books are for kids and are not legitimate literature and pieces of work.

So it comes down to a couple of things, how do you better market that comics aren’t just spandex stereotypes (not saying women don’t want to read that) to women?  How do you also break the mentality that comics are for boys in our society?

For the answer to that first question, come back in an hour….

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One comment

  • I’m a woman & I love comics. I’ve read comics for years, an ex got me into it (via Sandman) & over the years I’ve read a ton of titles from mainstream DC titles to ONI press & even smaller presses. 
    It has always bummed me out how little regard comics get in main stream fiction. Some of the stories I’ve read were wonderful pieces of fiction, but it seems comics never recovered from their fall in the 1950s. As a writer I think people miss these gems due to the stigma that comics aren’t intelligent. As a female there is a lot more to it than the actual ‘comic book.’
    Being the chick that walks into a comic book store can be awkward, then there is the guy that hands you the Mary Jane lovie dove crap books that I could careless about. Let’s not forget the pasty white hygienically challenged lads in the back playing whatever is the rage in gaming that look at you like you’re either lunch or an idiot. 
    I’ve taken to one store because a woman owns it with her son & they both read everything but I’ve gone other places & ran screaming. 
    Yes, maybe the artists could stop giving every chick Dolly Parton’s boobs & yes, maybe Wonder Woman could wear pants but what does it matter when getting to the goods makes you want to punch something or go home & shower for a better part of a week? 
    The problem is deeper than simply saying ‘girls don’t like comics’. 
    I’d rather order things online than walk into a store I know will treat me like I’m contagious. 

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