Stop wondering where all the female creators are, and go find them!

Following on from Heidi’s post about gender issues in the comics industry, the best response seemed clear: I should probably write a post about some gender issues. Which leads me to a question which has started to circulate through t’blogosphere recently: whilst we’re all very quick to leap onto DC and Marvel’s track record with female creators, why aren’t people looking beyond them?

pie Stop wondering where all the female creators are, and go find them!

If I’m to generalise – and I’m prone to – then big companies like Marvel and DC don’t hire new talent: they hire people who’re well well-known and have seen success with their own work. If a Justin Jordan or Jim Zub finds success at Image, they tend to get a chance to pitch to DC. If Warren Ellis champions somebody, they tend to get a chance to pitch at Marvel. Nobody just walks into a creative industry – you have to break the door down. You have to be noticed.

Writer Mairghread Scott addresses this in a post circulating round Tumblr right now. In her post, she mentions that when she took over on IDW’s Transformers franchise, she sent round messages to prominent sites and bloggers, asking if they’d be interested in interviewing her about the series. She even mentioned that she was the first female writer to ever handle the franchise as she pitched herself for interviews. Barely anybody responded to her.

(I’m not sure if she sent an email to The Beat or not).

The more I talked to women (and marketing departments) in comics, the more I found that the media is only interested in promoting women who write/draw the right kind of comics. Women at IDW, Boom, and other working professionals are being ignored in favor of the ultra-established and the ultra-indie.

And I have to say, I haven’t interviewed any of the women who currently work for Boom or IDW. I’d certainly like to, but it just hasn’t seemed to cross my radar. Looking at it from a distance, I’m personally focused on perhaps seven companies, rather than the hundreds that are out there. When I think about comics, I’ve found that I’m thinking about companies like Image, 2000AD, Dark Horse. And of course, I’m thinking about Marvel and DC.

It’s interesting how our attention span barely registers anything beyond DC or Marvel as ‘official’ comics. The complaint that there are no women in comics doesn’t account for any of the women writing or drawing for Boom, for example – a company with an almost 50/50 split of male to female creators. There are plenty of women out there, but they aren’t being given any of the prominence they deserve. Oni Press and Monkeybrain and Dynamite are all picking up on top female talent we’ve never even heard of before.

In any creative industry, visibility is the marker for success. You can’t be hired unless somebody has heard of you. On one level, perhaps Marvel and DC should be scouting for writers (they already scout for artists, as seen by the success of people like Will Sliney, hired off the back of a portfolio submission). On the other hand, perhaps DC and Marvel already have twenty or so writers on their books, writers whose work sells and makes the company money. Why does a new writer need to be hired when Jonathan Hickman and Scott Snyder are still pitching ideas to you?

Unless the case is made that these creators are too good to be ignored.

Pretty Deadly, launching at some point from Image Comics, is a fascinating case in point. Artist Emma Rios made her first steps into the American market through Boom, illustrating the mini-series Hexed. Off the back of the critical acclaim for her work there, she was invited to work for Marvel – and since then hasn’t looked back. Kelly Sue DeConnick is a long-working writer who was noticed by Marvel writers like Brian Michael Bendis, and ultimately invited to pitch for the company as a result.

Once their names were known, they then found themselves championed by an array of websites, bloggers, retailers and fans. To get into Marvel, you have to make your case – and others have to also make your case for you. This is true of anyone – whether it be Five Fists of Science pushing Matt Fraction and Steven Sanders towards Marvel’s direction, or Gail Simone moving from CBR articles to Bongo, and then to DC. Without that direct early support from fans and comic sites, it’s incredibly difficult to make your case at the big two.

Surely people are buying Bongo and Boom and IDW, because otherwise, y’know, they’d go bust. So why aren’t we then paying our dues to the women who write and draw these comics? If we’re enjoying these comics and think they’re good, shouldn’t we be tracking down the creators to see what else they’ve done?

As noted frequently over the past few days, these are companies who not only put out fairly strong comics from talented creators, but also tend to act as ‘feeder’ companies monitored by Marvel and DC. Tom Spurgeon and Jennifer de Guzman have both recently spoken (separately and at cross-purposes to one another) about this idea. It’s not for lack of female creators that we HAVE a lack of female creators. For whatever reason, we all seem to be ignoring companies outside this bright spotlight which we ourselves are shining on DC and Marvel.

Which is the point where I now have to drag in myself and my contemporaries, and talk about comics websites. There are a number of terrific people writing directly about gender issues in comics. Laura Hudson’s article about DC comes to mind, as well as the various pieces Kelly Thompson has written about Marvel. Brett White and Andrew Wheeler have written extensive commentary pieces about female characters and creators. But for all that, I can’t think of a single well-circulated article about female creators at Dynamite…

We’ve got some ways to go, clearly. Even here at The Beat, where we do have writers like Laura Sneddon discussing 2000AD with Emma Beeby or Zainab Akhtar interviewing L. Nichols, there’s more we could do to focus on the companies who sometimes get forgotten. When will Valiant get a female writer? How will Gail Simone impact on Red Sonja? Didn’t Meredith Gran just write a miniseries for Kaboom? It’s not just about writing specific articles (like this one) where we complain about the industry. It’s about acting on things ourselves and reviewing comics we don’t usually stretch to. It’s about me putting down my battered, loved copy of Pixie Strikes Back and buying issues of Transformers, because maybe I’ll like something new.

If we want Marvel and DC to pick up the pace, then we have to do the same. The goal isn’t to shout at DC until they hire a female writer on Justice League: it’s to find a female writer who could have a great run as writer for the Justice League. I don’t know if it’ll work in practise, but in principle it’s pretty sound! As a male human person, I don’t have any experience of the inner working of the comics industry, and the hurdles faced by a women who enters the Marvel offices. All I can do is watch and commentate, and hope that what I say is helping.

Get women into power at the Big Two, and progression will trickle through the industry, is the argument made by many. Start at the top and work your way down. But surely we can view things from the other way round, as well? If female creators are getting hired more frequently to work for hire projects at IDW or 2000AD or Boom (and they ARE), then the battle is already being won. It’s only a matter of time before the best will get noticed by the big two, and asked to pitch for them. If we, as the audience, help them get there.

When Monkeybrain launched, people paid attention. It was a digital comics initiative and we could have ignored it – it could’ve been given no coverage by sites, and flown right past fans without anyone offering them a second glance. But instead people swooped onto several of the comics and found stories they liked, like Bandette. And now Bandette is Eisner nominated, and co-creator Colleen Coover nominated twice herself. That’s the sort of power we’re wielding here!

Whilst visibility is the marker of success in the comics industry, that visibility is decided not by comic companies – it’s decided by the fans. Who decides where the top of the comics mountain is, anyway? Isn’t it, uh, us? In our haste to proclaim Pretty Deadly as the next great advancement for female creators worldwide, aren’t we forgetting that there are plenty of other comics both written and drawn by women? My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic currently has an all-female creative team, and sales are gangbusters on that one. I can’t name a single article I’ve read about either Heather Nuhfer or Amy Mebberson.

Are we hiding behind a select few women, praising them so we don’t have to go find others?

Now, Mairghread Scott’s run on Transformers may or may not be the best run on Transformers ever. I have no way of knowing, because I didn’t even know she was writing for the series. Nobody’s mentioned it to me, and I haven’t taken the effort to go try it out myself. I’m as to blame as anyone, probably moreso. As she says in her piece:

Look at Boom! Valiant, Dark Horse, Archaia, Oni, Dynamite, IDW. If you like their female creators, say so. If you don’t, say so. If they don’t have any, say so. But please please please don’t call yourself an advocate for women in comic books while rendering invisible most of the women who are already here.

So, if you’ll forgive me for a moment, I’ve now got an issue of Transformers to try out. You’ve got my attention, Ms Scott – I’m sorry it’s taken so long.

Comments

  1. To add specificity, Mairghread Scott’s writing the Transformers Prime comics at IDW. She and Mike Johnson have a pretty solid Dinobot mins writes under their belt, and the new Beast Hunters ongoing is solid so far. She’s the first writer in the franchise’s history who’s really given good attention to writing a Dinobot who isn’t Grimlock or Swoop, too.

    If the Prime comics have any flaws it’s that they’re being overshadowed by the OTHER amazing Transformers books at IDW right now – issue one of the Beast Hunters mini she’s writing came out the same day as the heavily anticipated MTMTE 17, which kinda stole the thunder of a solid new book. Which is kinda a shame as the Beast Hunters series is off to a good start so far.

  2. (And this is why I need to proofread more on a phone – meant to say “successful miniseries”.)

  3. Kid Show Business says:

    The Adventure Time spin-off series Marceline and the Scream Queens had an all-female creative team (down to the variant covers). Remember all the articles about that…oh…wait…

  4. Summersleep says:

    You bring up Kelly Sue DeConnick and her connection to Bendis and other nebulous “Marvel Writers,” but fail to mention her marriage to another Marvel writer – Matt Fraction.

  5. Doctor Timebomb says:

    Yes, Steve did fail to mention DeConnick’s marriage to Fraction. Why, it’s almost like she’s a talented individual with a life and career of her own! What a concept!

  6. Because that didn’t influence her standing with Marvel whatsoever – http://kellysue.tumblr.com/post/52061564391/ive-got-three-things-ive-got-to-get-turned-in

  7. The difficulty is attracting the attention of comics media isn’t restricted to women; the comment, “other working professionals are being ignored in favor of the ultra-established and the ultra-indie” is true regardless of gender.

    Attracting the attention of Comics Beat or Newsarama or CBR is incredibly difficult unless you’re way out in left field or already working for the Big Two.

    Speaking for myself, I just released a creator-owned superhero comic through Comixology Submit, starring an original female superhero. I’ve gotten some nice words on the book from the likes of Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, and Joe Kelly…and my work has been pimped out repeatedly by Gail Simone. But getting a nibble from the press is exceedingly difficult. I try to content myself with the fact there are so many deserving low- to mid-level independent comics out there that the press just CANNOT get to them all…

    …but it frustrating nonetheless.

    What I didn’t know was that Boom! has such a significant number of female creators, and it’s a SHAME that a story like that is largely left out of the discussion of women in comics, which is one of the biggest discussions in comics right now. I wonder, are there any companies out there with a significant number of minorities working on books? Does Boom! have more Black or Latin or Asian creators on books than do the Big Two? This is equal concern to me, personally.

  8. Absolutely, Justin. I hope it’s clear in the article that this is a point which can be extended beyond the presented focus of “women in comics”. I have no idea which companies are seeking out Black, Latin, Asian, LGBT creators and giving them work — and it’s something which we should all be considering.

  9. george says:

    “It’s interesting how our attention span barely registers anything beyond DC or Marvel as ‘official’ comics. The complaint that there are no women in comics doesn’t account for any of the women writing or drawing for Boom, for example – a company with an almost 50/50 split of male to female creators. … Oni Press and Monkeybrain and Dynamite are all picking up on top female talent we’ve never even heard of before.”

    Reminds me of the movie industry. I heard on NPR that less than 10 percent of last year’s major-studio films were directed by women. But women directed more than 40 percent of last year’s independent movies. You have to look beyond corporate entertainment to see what’s really going on.

  10. Joe Illidge says:

    @Steve, to address this point “I have no idea which companies are seeking out Black, Latin, Asian, LGBT creators and giving them work — and it’s something which we should all be considering.” – http://www.buzzsprout.com/10132/98349-episode-9-mighty-black-avengers-and-the-legacy-of-milestone-comics

  11. Randy Vicar says:

    Steve, did you actually READ that blog post you referenced? Because of HER, Fraction was introduced into Marvel.

  12. Joe – Thanks, I’ll have a listen to that episode!

    It’s interesting how some of the commenters here immediately try to ignore the post so they can talk about Marvel/DC, isn’t it?

  13. The Beat says:

    Justin — you raise a very good point. It IS very difficult to get the attention of websites when you are in the “self published genre comics” arena. I call these “Artist Alley Comics” — some of them are very good, but many are very very bad, and it’s hard to know which is good and which isn’t right away.

    This is obviously a topic for much more discussion.

  14. ““I have no idea which companies are seeking out Black, Latin, Asian, LGBT creators and giving them work ”

    The only publishers I know of who are actively seeking out LGBTQ creators are those run by LGBTQ people, with LGBTQ audiences. (e.g. Northwest Press)

  15. jacob lyon goddard says:

    And here I was thinking the reason there weren’t a lot of female creators at marvel/dc was because female creators tend to be smarter.

  16. Steve Morris – Very nice article and I accept your challenge. Well said, sir! I love pieces like this at The beat. Informative and invoking.

  17. It just breaks my heart when I see The Beat (and other media sites) try to focus on the new, fringe, alternative talent (or whatever fill-in-the-blank non-DC/Marvel story) and there’s hardly a comment made that shows any interest.

  18. Synsidar says:

    The perspectives on women as creators in comics vary from the perspectives on women as writers in other media, mainly, I think, because the materials produced and the target audiences are different. The working assumption re gender balance in writing genre fiction and literary fiction is that there should be at least as many female writers as male writers, along with parity in editorial positions, simply because female readers outnumber male readers and there’s no reason to think that male writers are inherently better. VIDA focuses on the number of women writing for prestigious publications largely because of that assumption. The gender balances in those publications should reflect the marketplace.

    In comics, a problem as far as creativity is concerned is that producing comics on toys or on corporate characters doesn’t allow women writers to be original or to direct material toward female or gender-neutral audiences. Transformers comics, for example–I have no interest in Transformers comics, and won’t consider paying to get an issue. Whoever’s writing one makes no difference to me. Women writers on Marvel and DC comics are more interesting, if they create characters for their issues or express viewpoints, but their writing is affected by the illusion of change policy, the name recognition factor, and the need to interest largely male audiences. Then there’s the issue of whether to create new characters for Marvel and DC when one won’t own them, or to work with what exists.

    Wanting to see more women working at Marvel and DC is implicitly combined with the desire to see the companies actively try to reach women as readers. That combination might be overly idealistic, since it requires Marvel and DC to have actual marketing programs and to produce OGNs which can be marketed, but from a financial standpoint, reaching out to women is an obvious strategy simply because of the potential audience. Refusing to try to reach them invites an observer to think that the people at Marvel Editorial and DC Editorial are ignorant, or believe that their characters and associated stories are so inherently sexist that there’s no point in trying to reach female readers.

    While a balance in the employment of female and male artists is important, I’m not aware of gender-based differences in styles. As long as a given female artist is as productive, talented, and reliable as a given male artist is, what difference should the artist’s gender make to an editor?

    So, Marvel and DC are more important than other publishers are toward rectifying gender imbalances, simply because their creators have higher profiles than the talents at other publishers do, and are potentially more inspiring. When women regularly work on Spider-Man, Iron Man, Batman, or Superman comics, the gender balance problem will probably have been addressed.

    SRS

  19. Chris Hero says:

    I only read comics I like and the majority of those end up being by women. I think finding good comics is like finding good music. There’s nothing wrong with liking the pop stuff getting radio play, but that music is largely made for and marketed to a very specific demographic. Marvel/DC comics are the same way. To find the real stuff, I had to hit the streets and see what the kids are doing. In comics, that’s Tumblr, MoCCA, picking up mini comics when I see them, checking out the work by students of Tom Hart’s school, Santoro, SVA, etc. I’m not saying this is easy or something everyone would do, but this is how I’m discovering the best comics that are coincidentally made by women.

    I mean, it’s a hard spot to be in for everyone. There’s a sea change out there in terms of gender participation, but it’s way to early to make an impact yet and it will likely never be at the DC/Marvel without a tsunami sized sea change.

  20. Dan Ahn says:

    Yeah, this is a great point.

    There’s a big overlap with people who (often quite rightly) complain about the Big Two and people who complain about lack of female creators.

    So, problem (somewhat) solved: just look more at indie comics. Behold, more female creators — and they’re often creating stories unrelated to familiar superheroics.

  21. Zainab Akhtar says:

    It’s a funny kind of issue, because I don’t feel there’s lack of women in comics -but then I don’t read any Marvel or DC (and I don’t mean that as statement, their books just don’t interest me). The problem for a huge chunk of people (press, audience) is when they refer to comics, they mean the ‘Big Two’. Anything else isn’t even considered comics and is totally cut out of the question, which is insulting. It’s also the reason I find the ‘women in comics’ debate rather annoying: you don’t mean there aren’t enough women in comics, you mean there aren’t enough women working at Marvel and DC and that’s a singular and separate argument.

    But people love Marvel and DC and all the politics and rubbish that come with it, love complaining about it all and a lot of them have little genuine interest in coming out of that zone. A large proportion of it seems to be lip-service to a current hot-button topic, wanting to be involved in that, and expressing the ideal.

    Indie comics aren’t perfect but there’s a wealth of female talent around, if you want to read it, like Steve said, you only have to look for it. It really is that easy.

  22. Serhend Sirkecioglu says:

    Was going chime in, but Zainab summed up my feelings on the matter and i already said that the gender talk(i would like to add across the board) in comics is getting redundant in the Daenerys article.

  23. Synsidar says:

    It’s also the reason I find the ‘women in comics’ debate rather annoying: you don’t mean there aren’t enough women in comics, you mean there aren’t enough women working at Marvel and DC and that’s a singular and separate argument.

    But people love Marvel and DC and all the politics and rubbish that come with it, love complaining about it all and a lot of them have little genuine interest in coming out of that zone.

    Take Marvel’s FEARLESS DEFENDERS. It’s a title with an all-female cast, but it’s written and penciled by two guys, and its sales are terrible. Why are the sales terrible? Is it because the cast is a collection of B-list and C-list characters, combined with a name (DEFENDERS) with a bad rep? Or are the terrible sales due less to problems with the concept and execution than to Marvel making no effort to reach women as readers?

    I’m not buying FEARLESS DEFENDERS because I’m not interested in the characters, or in the series concept generally. The title could be an example of how confining the cast to Marvel-owned characters limits creators. If women were involved as creators, and combined their own characters with Marvel characters, then perhaps the series could be marketed to women. The issue isn’t just having women listed in the credits–as it happens, Ellie Pyle is an editor on FEARLESS DEFENDERS, and a review of #5 is written by Melissa Grey–but allowing women to express themselves creatively. Going halfway, as with FEARLESS DEFENDERS, just ensures poor sales.

    SRS

  24. Pedro Bouça says:

    “She’s the first writer in the franchise’s history who’s really given good attention to writing a Dinobot who isn’t Grimlock or Swoop, too.”

    Let’s be fair here, before her only Simon Furman gave attention to writing a dinobot – and he is a Grimlock guy! Arguably Grimlock is a top character solely because of him too. He also wrote the defining Swoop tales.

    All others writers only use the Dinobots VERY sparingly. Usually when they need autobots to kick some ass – and even for that the position has usually been filled by the Wreckers lately.

    Just look at the Generation One comics. Ever since Dinobot-loving Furman left (and even he used them much less than he did at Marvel), the Dinobots have barely appeared at all! We need more Dinobots!

  25. Joe Illidge says:

    Steve, you’re welcome. Thanks for the article. I find that certain consumers have tunnel vision and think The Big 2 represent All That Is. While I take issue with SpiderMouse’s and SuperRabbit’s hiring choices, I always recommend people check out what companies like Image, IDW, and Macmillan’s First Second Books are doing to see more and more meaningful stories by a diverse group of creators.

    Synsidar, I mentioned FEARLESS DEFENDERS in the podcast as a perfect example of a missed opportunity, and the paradox of that book getting the green light when a year previous, Marjorie Liu proposed an all-female action series to them and was told it wouldn’t sell, so they rejected the pitch.

  26. Zainab Akhtar said it well. I agree 100%.

  27. While I agree that women at non-DC/Marvel comics are often overlooked (I’m a bookseller, it’s beyond frustrating that the minority is seen as the entire industry!) there is a danger in conflating issues surrounding “women in comics” with number of creators alone.

    I’ve spoken to many women working in comics at an indie level for example who have complaints of sexism being alive and well, but don’t want to speak out about it due to fears of being cast out of the comics community and its networking circles. And of course it’s alive and well in the book publishing industry too, in more insidious ways. We live in a sexist society, it permeates everything which means it’s important to remember that “better” does not equal “fine now”.

    There’s also the fact that for many outside of comics DC/Marvel do represent the face of everything, not because of their actual comics but because of their role as keepers of pop culture treasures. So when people go to see Avengers or Man of Steel and then hazard a glance at the comics only to be put off by stereotypical back-breaking covers or just the wall of male names… it does impact on the potential readership of other comics too. It shouldn’t, but there we go.

    The issues with women in both portrayal and treatment of fans surrounding superhero comics is very similar to what is happening in PC and console gaming in the last few years. Which is scary as hell because that industry is but a baby in comparison. But it has the same core problem: for years it was seen as being all about the guys, but now it emerges that half of gamers are women and hey, they actually like action and violent games too. Just without the hardcore misogyny and rape jokes. Some within gaming are listening and adapting but big bosses still make ludicrous statements and bungle their marketing.

    Of course at least with games I don’t have to tangle with a shop miles away that is full of men and suspicious stares… game shops on the high street are pretty cool, and online retailers very accessible. I’m pretty sure that without that same high street and online presence, superhero comics will always struggle to be truly diverse – they’ve cut themselves off from the vast majority of their potential audience, including many women.

  28. Johnny Memeonic says:

    the wall of male names… it does impact on the potential readership of other comics too.

    Of course at least with games I don’t have to tangle with a shop miles away that is full of men and suspicious stares

    I don’t think these industries are the only ones with a sexism problem.

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