Here Come the Girls Part 1: Female characters
Good day folks, after a brief hiatus courtesy of a wonderful honeymoon I’m back with more of my thoughts. For the first few articles I talked a little about launching my own comic and some thoughts from behind the comic creator curtain. Today I wanted to take a break talk about some issues in the comic industry that are getting a lot of attention.
There are things I feel should be said that aren’t and if no one else is saying them I might as well do it.
Something that has been a major issue in comics for nearly as long as they’ve been around is gender and the balance between female characters vs. male characters and female creators vs. male creators. Both are subjects that come up time and time again and I’d like talk about both, starting with female characters and how they are perceived/treated in the past, present and future.
Okay, hands up who can tell me who the character above is? Don’t rush all at once now. That’s right its Wonder Woman who is not only one of DC’s earliest characters (she was created way back in 1941) but is presented as one of their biggest. Indeed it could be argued that Wonder Woman is one of the most recognizable fictional characters ever.
Show an image of the character to most people in the world and would at least be able to identify her as Wonder Woman. This is because she is presented as one of DC’s ‘trinity’ alongside Batman and Superman. She has featured in TV shows, cartoons and a lot of merchandising. She’s also been a fairly regular member of the Justice League even at times when Batman and Superman weren’t.
The reason I talk about her now is that despite the fact she is so recognizable and she is represented by DC as a major character, her past often has her playing second fiddle to her main counterparts. Despite being DC’s third most recognizable character, Wonder Woman has never quite had the same exposure in comics as Batman and Superman.
Almost since their creation, Batman and Superman have had at least two titles each per month and often, a lot more. Usually Wonder Woman has one book that is her own, a title that in the past has had minimal sales success. This is not for lack of trying on DC’s part. The company has tried everything from big name creators to relaunching to even having mainstream novelists take over writing duties to raise sales. To date, every attempt has ultimately met with the same minimal success.
Even today, the Wonder Woman title is coming to the end of a creative run that has not only been critically acclaimed but commercially successful compared to past years. Whether this will continue after the current team leaves is uncertain but the most recent issue’s sales numbers was available were from July 2014, when the title ranked 77, selling 37,431.
The third most recognizable character DC has to offer and she was outperformed by 76 other books that included the likes of Moon Knight and Archie. I’m not here just to talk about Wonder Woman but I feel that she is the best way of illustrating my overall point.
No matter how well known they are it seems that female characters are almost treated as secondary to male leads.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t books out there that feature female leads that sell very well because there are lots of those. However these books generally feature said leads as part of an ensemble cast. Books like Justice League, Saga, Avenger’s, X-Men and Walking Dead all feature great female characters. They are however associated with the overall brand rather than the main stars. Even Wonder Woman’s own book is outsold by one where she is mentioned in the cover but gets second billing next to the books co-star Superman.
Currently the highest selling book that stars a female lead and presents itself as such is DC’s Harley Quinn which in August 2014 (leaving out September due to DC’s wacky 3D variants) number 7 on the chart and sold 71,522 copies on its most recent issue. This meant that the female fan favorite outsold most of Batman’s books, Wolverine, Deadpool and the Guardians of the Galaxy among many others.
Harley Quinn has been a character that has always played against the odds and won. A very good friend of mine and talented creator in his own right, Ray Goldfield once said ‘For every Harley Quinn you get 1000 Poochie’s.’ I agree that a female character with adoring fans like Harley is especially rare The fact that her book is performing so fell on such a consistent basis is a surprise to many.
However, the next female led title is Batgirl which is a whopping fifty-three places below Harley’s Top Ten book at number Sixty, selling 34,590. Below her is where we find Ms. Marvel at sixty-six and so on and so forth. In-between are the books that feature female characters primarily as part of an ensemble cast.
For as long as I’ve been reading comics I’ve been hearing the same thing and I’m sure you have heard it too, ‘There should be more female characters in comics!’ Well there are many that feature in a variety of books but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of support for them.
To their credit both Marvel and DC have made quite the effort to have more female led title’s in recent years. Along with Harley Quinn we’ve also had books like Black Widow, Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, Spider-Woman and more. At the New York Comic Con it seemed that Marvel was intent on announcing a treasure trove of new female-led books because people are asking for them. They’re even giving obscure characters like Squirrel Girl and new characters like Spider-Gwen/Silk their own titles to meet a demand that people insist is there and that the figures achieved by Harley Quinn would indicate.
Yet with the demand not supported by sales, Marvel has already announced the cancellation of She-Hulk after twelve issues and it could be a similar story for Captain Marvel/Black Widow (although either or both could be relaunched).
Title’s that have a female lead are certainly headline grabbers and do get a good bit of buzz initially. It seems like a bit of an event when a new female book is announced…almost a novelty. I think that’s what I find most strange about how female characters are often marketed. No one would bat an eye if a character like say…Cyborg got his own book but if Thor gets a gender switch it’s time to stop the presses.
I have been fortunate enough to be complimented many times on my handling of female characters in Sparks and Living With Death. Both books were created with female leads in mind and almost in every interview I’ve been asked ‘How do you write women well?’ I suppose the answer to this is the same reason that I’m writing this article. I love female characters because I love characters period. Some of my favorite characters just happen to be women, just like some of my favorite characters happen to be males.
Writer of Game Of Thrones (among many other things) George R.R Martin once said something I really liked when asked how he can embody characters like Daenery’s and Ayra with such life and power. He simply said ‘I’ve always thought of women as people’.
I think that says it all. To me we will truly have achieved equal standing for male and female characters when it isn’t talked about anymore. There will be no headlines about Thor being a women or that Captain Marvel is getting her own movie. It will just be considered part of the norm and that’s what I want to see., a comic market where female characters are treated the same as male characters. It will no longer be a big deal that Marvel, DC, Image or anyone has a book with a female lead; it’ll simply be them launching a book like any other. No one raises an eyebrow when Batman gets a new book but if Wonder Woman got a secondary title there would probably be national headlines. That is not how it could, or should be.
In closing, yes things are changing. There are now more female led titles than in the past but it has taken us nearly Seventy years to get to the point where these books are given a chance . I don’t want to wait another Seventy for comics to take the next step.
Next: Female creators
Many thanks to Mary Sheridan for helping me put this together!
Got any comments, suggestions or questions? Let me know! Also follow me on Twitter @glenn_matchett