Must Read: Women Write About Comics

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201207310411 Must Read: Women Write About Comics
As an addendum to the previous post, and for further reading, there’s currently a Women Write About Comics roundtable going on, with interviews with lots of smart people. The most recent is with Alexa Dickman of the Ladies Making Comics tumblr and her indispensable Women in Comics wiki which is doing an amazing job of bringing to light tons of forgotten women in the comics industry. Lots of smart talk, including this gem:

I joked on my blog a few weeks ago how Warner Brothers passed on Joss Whedon’s Wonder Woman because it was too mythological and took place in WWII, while Marvel made Thor, Captain America, and hired Joss Whedon to direct The Avengers– the total worldwide gross of all of those movies is $2.3 billion.


And also this:

It seems like every time I start thinking about that in depth, I end up writing a business plan for a hypothetical multimedia conglomerate!  But I have been working on getting a Zazzle store up and running, starting with public domain Golden Age art by the likes of Lily Renée, Valerie Barclay, Alberta Tewks, and Janice Valleau, and any classic underground cartoonists that I can get a hold of who will give me permission (so far, I’ve got Trina Robbins’s OK!)  There’s a lot of Photoshop clean-up involved there, so it’s moving much slower than I’d like, but them’s the breaks.  


Yow what a great idea! Let’s make this happen, people.

Other interviews include Janelle Asselin who brings up a depressing fact:

I recall, and I hope I’m stating this accurately, that one of the comments you made regarding women writing in comics is that you would love to see more women, but you just don’t receive the sheer number of pitches from women as men. As an editor, do you have tips that would help aspiring women creators to get their pitches to the editor’s desk?  Yep, that’s definitely something I said! In my time at DC, exactly one woman reached out to me via email, and I hired her. I didn’t hire her BECAUSE she was a woman, I hired her because she was good, of course. But in that same amount of time, probably at least two or three men a week contacted me looking for work, some of them intensely pushy and many of them decidedly not good. I think more female creators should put themselves out there. The numbers are growing, we all can see that, especially in indie comics and comics published by traditional publishers, but if there are women who want to work on super hero books, they need to speak up. The question I usually get after saying that, though, is “but how am I supposed to speak up when those companies don’t accept submissions?” And that’s an important thing!


This is true of everyone I talk to — women just don’t submit to most places. That has to change.

Other interviews: Laura Sneddon, Corrina Lawson, Laura Jane Faulds, and Melinda Beasi. And lots of of great reading on harassment, Captain Marvel and much more. A lot of very intelligent talk from people who love comics. And here’s a factoid from Lawson that needs repeating:

Forty percent of the audience for Avengers was women. That’s a large number of women who like superheroes. I’ve seen figures that put the female attendance at SDCC at forty percent. Forty percent of World of Warcraft players are women. GeekMom pulls in half a million pageviews a month.

Comments

  1. Charles Knight says:

    “Forty percent of the audience for Avengers was women. That’s a large number of women who like superheroes.”

    Well they like Superhero movies, it says nothing really about their willingness to seek out some specialist shop to try and navigate the bewildering array of similar sounding titles so I’m always wary of the inference of the idea that this is a massive untapped market given the weird ways in which the direct market produces and distributes product.

  2. Two things:

    1 – I think Janelle nails is, at least for this segment of the overall comics market. As much great speaking out as we’ve seen from female superhero fans and blogging and the like for the past five to ten years, it’s maddening that we haven’t seen a similar number of outspoken women trying to break in on the creative end. I think things like Womanthology help, but in terms of just generally doing the “self publish and then hustle to pitch at conventions” thing, the numbers are skewed towards men to a ridiculous degree and I have no idea why.

    We’ve had similar discussions in terms of finding reporters for CBR. In four years, I’ve gotten one pitch from a female writer to work on the News portion of the site (sadly, she wasn’t the best fit). But I get maybe three or four e-mails a month from dude bros fresh out of college journalism programs.

    Of course, as editors the outreach to women talent is on us, and I’m happy to say that Jonah’s commitment to diversifying our staff led us to the supremely awesome Josie Campbell for starters. But I’d imagine working in the constraints of big corporate comics makes one’s ability to recruit new voices from out of nowhere much, much harder.

    2 – Charles, I get where you’re coming from because, yeah, the DM can be its own massive problem, but really that argument isn’t nearly as relevant here as you think. You’ve got to put the horse before the cart, and in entertainment, content is always going to be the horse. You could fix every problem – economic, outreach, cultural, etc – with the DM tomorrow, and the majority of content made by the Bog Two and similar publishers would STILL be off-putting to women. That’s the A #1 problem.

  3. Mikael says:

    “would STILL be off-putting to SOME women”

    Fixed.

  4. Oh my God, dude.

    Officially retiring from this thread after three posts.

  5. Pink Apocalypse says:

    Bewildering? I’ve known women that figured it out just fine. It was some of the art that put them off to many titles. It’s been said before – all you have to do is not actively repel.

    Setting that aside, I’m curious: what are you ‘wary’ off?

  6. Thanks for posting about Women Write About Comics! It is definitely hitting its stride lately with a lot more exciting opportunities around the corner thanks to editor Megan Purdy.

    Charles – As someone who works in the direct market, I can tell you that the unwillingness to seek out stores has as much (if not more) to do with many women’s comfort level in each store, not the inconvenience and lack of commitment to the product. I also moderate a monthly Ladies’ Night discussion group at Graham Crackers Comics in Chicago and more than half of the women who attend do not buy weekly because they simply prefer to wait for trades / buy digitally. The biggest problem with the direct market isn’t that it relies too heavily on its male customers (though they are catered to often in the content) it is the reliance on weekly readers that diminishes the possibilities of expanding the market. Since the majority of weekly readers are male, then I’d say yes, women are a vastly untapped market as customers that don’t shop on a weekly basis.

  7. arnold rice says:

    OK, could we please quantify page views versus actual readership? How many unique or repeat views does the Geekmom site get? 500,000 views is meaningless in terms of actual audience.

  8. >>>Well they like Superhero movies, it says nothing really about their willingness to seek out some specialist shop to try and navigate the bewildering array of similar sounding titles so I’m always wary of the inference of the idea that this is a massive untapped market given the weird ways in which the direct market produces and distributes product.

    You know, we are not talking about some wildly theoretical, unseen in nature phenomenon here. We’re talking about a verifiable demographic group — women who like nerd stuff and superheroes, as evidenced by Gail Simone’s statement here.

    Maybe this group is at its finite size and already happy with all the products being offered before them. Or maybe it can be expanded and recaptured.

    Would you argue the same way that the vast male audience that went to see The Avengers are not interested in comics? Because by the numbers they sure aren’t.

  9. There are definitely a lot of female creators from the Golden Age who deserve more recognition.

    Do I recall correctly, from reading The Ten-Cent Plague, that Charlie Biro had a female ghost? I believe she worked on Daredevil and some of the crime books (and seem to recall that she was his girlfriend), but I can’t find a name from a quick search.

  10. I was drawn to this part of Asselin’s comments:

    But in that same amount of time, probably at least two or three men a week contacted me looking for work, some of them intensely pushy and many of them decidedly not good. I think more female creators should put themselves out there.

    When I was working a slushpile, I wasn’t at a big publisher like DC, but I definitely saw this, too. I saw a pretty good mix of submissions from men and women, but the ones that astounded me with their… well, not-good-ness coupled with what seemed like the creator’s absolute confidence in his skill were just what that gendered pronoun implies: They were from men. Almost entirely.

    I think this is because men are more likely to see comics as a place where they “belong.” It’s the old entitlement issue. By contrast, women feel like they need to prove themselves.

    I wrote about this just yesterday at my website. Women in comics are often asked for their “origin story” (as Asselin is in this interview). When you’re not viewed as the norm, you have to somehow offer up the details of how you happened to be in a place where you don’t seem to belong.

    I don’t want women in comics to stop telling their origin stories, though. We just need to own the reasons for it. Instead of using it to justify our presence, we should do it to keep our voices out there and show that girls (as most of us were when we got into comics) can be just as taken in by comics as boys.

  11. What-Ev says:

    “Would you argue the same way that the vast male audience that went to see The Avengers are not interested in comics? Because by the numbers they sure aren’t.”

    Yes, I would. They’re not. Here’s the math:

    The Avengers (movie): Estimated Total Tickets sold–77,777,400

    The Avengers (comic): Estimated sales generously rounded up 70,000

    I removed half of the Avengers ticket sales to account for repeat viewings, but I doubt that it’s really that many. So, being generous again, only .02% of the Avengers movie audience buys the Avengers comic. That’s overall. Whether you’re talking men or women, I’d definitely say the majority of the entire “audience that went to see The Avengers are not interested in comics.”

    From there, you could attempt demographic calculations, but with such a small number, why bother. However, I’ll comment on it just the same. I bet that the percentage of female Avengers movie watchers that also buy the comic is way smaller than the percentage of male Avengers movie watchers that also buy the comic. Why? Because women don’t really read superhero comics. Oh, yes, some do, but the reason it’s always so generalized to the point of being irrelevant is when you do the calculations you realize that it IS to the point of being irrelevant. Gail Simone has hundreds of people in her line? Great! But how many does Bendis have? Probably a lot more.

    I’m not trying to diminish the contribution of female creators and consumers. I don’t have to. It’s already to the point of being irrelevant. Obviously, it’s not irrelevant to them, but the lack of numbers means they’re irrelevant to the people making the decisions and spending the money.

    Remember the whole “if only they would put Gail Simone on Wonder Woman, that book would be awesome and sell a ton?” They did, and sales still dropped (after the usual bump.)

    If you want to fight the good fight, go right ahead. I’m just telling you why nobody is paying attention.

    In the event you feel to comment on what I’ve said, please keep in mind that I personally don’t care how many women do or don’t read comics, and I don’t have any interest in superhero comics as they are written now nor how they will likely be written in the future so I’m not trying to keep you out of my exclusive club or any of that bullshit. Thanks.

  12. What-Ev says:

    oops… .2% not .02%.

  13. arnold rice says:

    OK. I like numbers. Gail Simone has 24,000 fans on twitter, but Bendis has 64,000 fans on Twitter. Therefore, women in comics are irrelevant.

    What-Ev.

  14. Johnathan Black says:

    I hope this does not come off as insensitive. It certainly is not meant to be.

    Every time I come across one of these posts on comics and women I think about Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Michael Davis and Derek Dingle. They too were dissatisfied with the status quo in the industry. So they did something about it. They gave us Milestone Media.

    It did not last. But it did have an impact and cement a legacy.

    It was not the only place for people of color in the industry to work and nor was it meant to be. It was also not meant to be the definitive vision of minorities in comics or one that excluded caucasians. It was an example of what could be done.

    There are some things that you may never be able to tackle unless you call the shots. I think a comics publisher of scale founded and managed by women would be healthy. Not just for women in the field and female readers, but for larger industry. Diversity usually is.

  15. @Thad, Virginia Hubbell was Charles Biro’s ghostwriter. She wasn’t his girlfriend, though. Her husband was one of the artists for Gleason.

  16. Also, you want numbers for female comic book fans?

    http://www.ladiesmakingcomics.com/post/26529566161/i-was-playing-around-with-the-lmc-facebook-page

    According to Facebook, we make up over a third of the market.

  17. Arnold: And Katy Perry has 24 million. So?

    What-Ev: uh, that wasn’t my argument. My argument was that pointing out that women don’t go to the Avengers and start reading comics is completely specious becuase MEN don’t go to the Avengers and start buying comics. How you expand this to the risible comment

    >>>>I’m not trying to diminish the contribution of female creators and consumers. I don’t have to. It’s already to the point of being irrelevant. Obviously, it’s not irrelevant to them, but the lack of numbers means they’re irrelevant to the people making the decisions and spending the money.

    shows a lack of basic reasoning. It’s actually a fact that women watch more TV, go to more movies and read way more books than men. They are the consumer. Men must be specially targeted to be reached.

  18. I pointed out in a previous thread on women buying comics, that Buffy: The Vampire Slayer: Season 8 managed to sell over 100,000 copies at it’s peak. I don’t know what the exact breakdown of Buffy’s fanbase is, but I think it’s safe to say that the majority are female. While Buffy doesn’t wear a costume, she fits nicely into the definition of a superhero. So I would definitely say that women would be interest in superhero comics.

    Buffy did have quite the quite the push of extending a tv series. However, you still had a lot of women going into a comic book store for the first time.

    As for Avengers, there was no clear link of what to buy if you liked the movie. The Infinity Gauntlet had a big uptick in sales, with speculation that might be next for Avengers 2. However, if they liked that movie it was hard to then recommend what they might like which was similar to the movie. As current Avengers titles are simply not friendly to new readers. That’s Marvel dropping the ball (again) in pulling in both new female and male readers.

  19. I’ve got to say at the comic shop I buy my comics from it’s very seldom I see any women in there buying comics. Maybe those 40% women are at the superhero movies because of their husbands or kids.

  20. matt fabb said:as current avengers titles are simply not friendly to new readers. that’s marvel dropping the ball (again) in pulling in both new female and male readers.

    hey, i’m all for bringing in new readers, but if it’s at the cost of alienating current and long-time readers by rebooting the current crop of avengers books, what you end up with is a possible short term gain vs. a long term drop in readership. maybe what marvel could have done is produce a brand new ongoing avengers book based solely on the movie, this way long time fans are happy with their books and anyone that dug the movie can continue to read about the movie version of the avengers in their book.

    a couple of years ago marvel put out a couple of card sets called “women of marvel” and “marvel divas” based on all the great female characters (heroines and villainess’) that marvel has. perhaps this idea can be expanded on. why not have a comic book maxi series called “women of marvel”, with each issue focusing on different women in the MU, written, drawn, and edited entirely by women,promote the hell out of it, with women being the target audience (maybe i’m wrong but i think that male fans will pick up the books just because (a)it’s still about superheroes and (b) see “a”), see which characters/creative teams click with the public and start ongoing books with those characters/creative teams. would this idea work, i don’t know, but i think it would be lots of fun and worth a try.

  21. Charles Knight says:

    “Would you argue the same way that the vast male audience that went to see The Avengers are not interested in comics? Because by the numbers they sure aren’t.”

    Pretty much, yeah – I don’t see this massive untapped crossover between mediums regardless of sex.

  22. Im rather tired of this. DC and Marvel dont have to sell comics for women by women. There’s plenty of comics out there to fill this need. This is diverting awareness of the rich industry on to two broken horses that can barely move. Milestone was created to do new things, why not the same for women, but that will just show how special they are, which in turn is also sexist, and if they exclude men, it’s sexist as well, and blabibbity, etc.

    Just make comics, comics, comics. Fuck everyone’s need for Batman to gues star. Really. Shut up, all of you.

  23. @Djm- Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Iron Man and Captain America are more than just comic book characters, more than just superheroes. They are symbols and national icons. They are part of the fabric of modern American society and cultural lexicon. They are American myths and folktales.

    Pardon me for feeling a little hurt and insulted that apparently I and the rest of my gender apparently don’t merit much of any consideration by the purveyors of our national folklore.

  24. Synsidar says:

    They are symbols and national icons. They are part of the fabric of modern American society and cultural lexicon. They are American myths and folktales.

    But wouldn’t that present problems for writers who want to use them creatively? If any attempt to add complexity, develop them, or humanize them collides with readers’ veneration of them, there’s not any point in writing about them in stories for adults. The writer can’t tell a reader anything about the hero he doesn’t already know. The publishers might be just as well off remaking older stories with new art and dialogue.

    The gap between readers who want stories treating the heroes as fictional characters and those who want stories extolling the virtues of their icons shouldn’t be so wide as to be unbridgeable.

    SRS

  25. @Synsidar, of course not. Do you think the stories of the Greco-Roman Gods were forever as Edith Hamilton recorded them? Do you think even the Bible had only one draft?

    We have multiple versions of all the myths, legends, folklore, and holy texts that have ever existed. Those stories were constantly changing and growing in the telling, reflecting a teller’s personal take and the growth of their worldviews and empires.

    Which is exactly what superhero comics are and do. So again, I feel a little hurt and insulted that my gender is not deemed worthy of being a bigger part of that tradition.

  26. @Alexa

    And Im hurt as a human being that you are so devoted to corporate shills rather than the sake of comics. I guess thats where we differ. You don’t seem to care about ladies making comics at all, just just superheroes. Thats very, very depressing.

  27. @Djm Spoken like someone who has never visited my blog, didn’t read my essay agreeing with Heidi that I don’t think the Big Two will ever truly target women and that fine, whatever, women will continue to make comics–great comics– without their help, approval, paychecks, etc.

    However, as a fan of superheroes, and of folklore in general, I’m a little hurt and insulted. Caring about the latter is not mutually exclusive to the former.

  28. What-Ev says:

    Alexa: “According to Facebook, we make up over a third of the market.”

    More accurately, women make up over a third of the number of facebook users that publicly claim to have an interest in comics. There’s no sales data attached to this, so it means nothing. Lots of people claim to be interested in something that they never spend money on.

    Beat: I apologize if I misunderstood your point. You wrote a double negative, so I thought you meant that the male audience wasn’t not interested in the comics. Apparently you meant the opposite, so your answer to your own question should have been “because by the numbers they sure are.” Makes a big difference.

    “How you expand this to the risible comment

    >>>>I’m not trying to diminish the contribution of female creators and consumers. I don’t have to. It’s already to the point of being irrelevant. Obviously, it’s not irrelevant to them, but the lack of numbers means they’re irrelevant to the people making the decisions and spending the money.

    shows a lack of basic reasoning. It’s actually a fact that women watch more TV, go to more movies and read way more books than men. They are the consumer. Men must be specially targeted to be reached.”

    No, you’re the one who misunderstood this time. I thought we were talking about comics, and superhero comics specifically. So from this point when I say comics, I’m referencing superhero comics specifically, which is what this discussion is about. I agree that more women watch and read things, but I’d offer that this is because most men don’t like to sit around watching tv and reading all the time. However, when it comes to comics, this is flipped. More men buy and read comics. More men watch sports and buy sports related items. What you’re asking for is more akin to asking the NFL to target the female audience by getting rid of cheerleaders or allowing more women on the teams and staff. It’s counterproductive.

    I agree that a woman shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand just because she’s a woman. I think most people would agree with that. Having a book that appeals to both men and women is also a good thing. I just don’t think you’re going to find that happy medium in superhero comics. Feel free to keep on trying, though.

  29. @What-Ev, If it’s the case that a significant amount of the women on Facebook “claim to be interested in something that they never spend money on” with regards to comic books, then you know what that would say to me? That the comics industry as a whole sucks at its job. Which is to sell comic books.

    Also, I find it notable that you don’t similarly challenge the number of men claiming to be comics fans.

  30. “I’ve got to say at the comic shop I buy my comics from it’s very seldom I see any women in there buying comics. Maybe those 40% women are at the superhero movies because of their husbands or kids.”

    Or maybe they don’t go into comic shops because they feel unwelcome, are tired of having their boobs spoken to instead of their face, or of being patronised. That would certainly explain why tpb and graphic novel sales are so healthy in comparison to their single issue counterparts…

  31. What-Ev says:

    “Also, I find it notable that you don’t similarly challenge the number of men claiming to be comics fans.”

    It’s not notable. They don’t need to be challenged. It would be notable if I did challenge the male side. I wouldn’t challenge a woman who claims to love Jane Austen books, but I would challenge a man who claimed that same interest. I don’t see any reason for you to have a problem with this concept.

  32. Jonathan L. Miller says:

    My local store is entirely superhero oriented (which can be a problem for me sometimes) and owned and operated by a woman who reads and loves superhero comics. So yeah, there is some space under the “big tent”–but there should be a lot more space made.

    Looking at old letters pages, it really seemed like the Superman family of books had a significant female readership in the 50s and 60s, possibly into the 70s (at least in the case of the Legion). What changed and when specifically, do you think?

  33. @Jonathan L. Miller: The Direct Market. Everyone forgets that Marvel and DC had horror, fantasy, and even romance titles up until the late-’70s and early-’80s, when comics were still on the newsstand. Once they were no longer profitable enough on the newsstand, they curled up into the direct market, and anyone who just kind of liked comics or enjoyed picking them up while out on other errands saw no reason to seek them out– if they even knew they were still being published.

    I worked at a comic and collectibles shop one summer, and I once witnessed a woman come in and say “Oh, comic books! I thought they stopped making those!” I turned to my co-workers in disbelief and the assistant manager said “That happens every couple of months.”

  34. Synsidar says:

    We have multiple versions of all the myths, legends, folklore, and holy texts that have ever existed. Those stories were constantly changing and growing in the telling, reflecting a teller’s personal take and the growth of their worldviews and empires.

    Which is exactly what superhero comics are and do.

    I don’t think you gain anything by referring to corporate-owned superheroes as “mythological” or glamorizing them. At most, they’re fictional characters. The major difference between Superman and Harry Potter is that Potter is Rowling’s character, a product of her imagination, and he’ll be hers as for as long as she wants to own him.

    Superman could be written to completion as easily as Harry Potter could–more easily, actually, and then he’d be done, and the writer who did it might have a claim to fame. Or not. That he hasn’t been written to completion isn’t because he contains a multitude of stories; it’s because his corporate owner hasn’t let anyone do it.

    The themes Superman embodies can generate multitudes of stories, but it’s up to writers to produce them.

    SRS

  35. “I don’t think you gain anything by referring to corporate-owned superheroes as “mythological” or glamorizing them. At most, they’re fictional characters.”

    Well, there’s no “at most” about it; Superman and Harry Potter are fictional characters. What you might have said more correctly is that at most they use the same narrative devices and tropes as myths, legends, and folktales.

    It’s surely a credit to the long-dead Theodor Adorno that so many people, whether they’d read Adorno or not, routinely assert that a superhero particularly can’t be mythic if he’s “corporate-owned.” It was a poorly advanced argument back in its day and it’s still lame.

    If you want to say fiction has no important points of comparison with myth– which I could debate till the cows come home– then just say it of all fiction; leave out the meaningless shot at corporations and attack them rather for the sins they really commit.

  36. Synsidar says:

    Well, there’s no “at most” about it; Superman and Harry Potter are fictional characters. What you might have said more correctly is that at most they use the same narrative devices and tropes as myths, legends, and folktales.

    I was reacting to the perception that Superman and the others are somehow different from other fictional characters, just because of the public recognition and longevity. They’re not. What matters most is how any one of them is used in a particular story.

    Superman, for example, could easily be a tragic figure. He grows up, spends an inordinate amount of time helping other people solve problems, then, when he tries to make a personal life for himself, finds that he can’t. He’s alien. He can’t procreate with a human. His powers decline with age, he develops degenerative diseases, and finally dies in an institution, crippled and mentally impaired. He found out too late that it’s fine to take care of others, but you have to take care of yourself, too.

    If someone wants to make a case for a superhero, in the Marvel/DC sense, being something other than, ultimately, a tragic figure, he has to have him do something besides solve other people’s problems.

    SRS

  37. “I was reacting to the perception that Superman and the others are somehow different from other fictional characters, just because of the public recognition and longevity. They’re not. What matters most is how any one of them is used in a particular story.”

    I’m not sure if that was the argument here, but I would agree that “public recognition and longevity” does not make a story mythic. If that were true, obscure myths told by, say, isolated tribes in New Zealand couldn’t be myths because they’re not recognized by a substantial public. Some real myths even die out within a short sphere of time, but they’re still myths even though they’re not popular.

    What makes fictional stories mythic is when they recapitulate the same content of myths, period.

    “Superman, for example, could easily be a tragic figure. He grows up, spends an inordinate amount of time helping other people solve problems, then, when he tries to make a personal life for himself, finds that he can’t.”

    I believe that story’s already been written by one Philip Wylie. He called it GLADIATOR. Frankly, I think Superman’s a better creation overall, no matter how many toss-off stories he appears in.

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