Tom Brevoort on Marvel's distaff dearth

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Over on his ever-informative Formspring account, Marvel’s Tom Brevoort was recently asked about Marvel’s lack of a female-led title. And this is what he said:

Q: Do you feel like you have a social (beyond financial) responsibility to feature more female (or other underrepresented minority) headliners in titles? EX: DC has Batgirl & Woman, Voodoo, Wonder Woman, but Marvel has no book named after&featuring a woman. :

I feel like we’ve got a social responsibility to feature characters of all kinds, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that those characters can or have to be headliners. That tends to be defined by the audience and the marketplace. If all of the fans crying for more series with female leads from all of the companies had supported all the ones that were done in the past, this circumstance wouldn’t exist. That said, that doesn’t change the responsibility, but ti may impact on the manner in which that responsibility plays itself out.


There was also a follow-up:

Q: “If all of the fans crying for more series with female leads from all of the companies had supported all the ones that were done in the past, this circumstance wouldn’t exist.” Maybe they did. That’s probably the problem – not enough of ‘em.

That’s a very good point. You may well be right.


We’ve got to try harder, girls.

Comments

  1. The question back to Marvel should be if that’s a market they want to cultivate or only one they will service if it appears and yells? Would be great to see them actually think about cultivating that market and building it. Are they a market leader or not?

  2. The constant excuse of ‘this is what the market wants’ is getting tiresome. At least DC seems to be trying to both give the market what it wants and explore establishing and building new markets.

    Arrrgh! Marvel is really frustrating me these days. I’m down to 2-3 books a month from Marvel and, to paraphrase someone else on a board: It hurts the L’il Marvel Zombie inside me.

  3. What’s amazing is that Marvel has so many good female characters worth a look. And is this concern really valid after their effort in the early part of 2011 with all the “Women of Marvel Comics” one-shots and the limited series. Some of them were really good!
    I’d love to see more Valkyrie (headlining the Fear Itself aftermath), Dagger (with Cloak of course), She-Hulk (tried many times before), Ms. Marvel (had a good go at it!), Spider-Woman (oddly absent from the stands if you ask me). And really, even beyond those obvious choices you’ve got Scarlet Witch and oodles of other mutants to look at too.
    And Marvel, do you need any ideas for what to do with your girls? (Shameless plug alert!) Check out my blog series “Relocating the Marvel Universe” where I make LOTS of suggestions for underused characters! http://soundadvicefortoday.com/categories/Comics%20–%20Relocating%20the%20Marvel%20Universe.aspx (End shameless plug!)

  4. “Maybe they did. That’s probably the problem – not enough of ‘em.”

    Maybe it would help if the publishers and their enablers would stop trying to marginalize the few still remaining and complaining, and CULTIVATE an audience for such material, for once.

  5. Remember the old days when comics publishers would jump on whatever genre happened to be popular in other media at the time? Whatever happened to that?

    I mean, “paranormal romance” is a thing that actually has a section in some bookstores now, and Marvel’s response is to have the X-Men fight vampires for an arc?

  6. If I recall correctly, the last major creative effort for a Marvel female character was Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev’s SPIDER-WOMAN, which lasted all of seven issues. I’d be curious to see how an Ed Brubaker BLACK WIDOW would perform instead of featuring her as a supporting character in the upcoming WINTER SOLDIER series, a Matt Fraction RESCUE series, a Dan Slott BLACK CAT series, or even a Jonathan Hickman MOCKINGBIRD series.

  7. I think Tom’s answers here are honest, well thought out, and heartening. Why can’t the responsibility (though I don’t like that word) be played out on different fronts? Is Voodoo more of a positive female character than Storm simply because she has her own book? That’s an interesting question to think about.

    You cannot divorce corporate comics from market concerns — if people want more female characters, they need to buy them. Or better yet, create them themselves in more independent environments which have less corporate firewalls. Then make the big time and do whatever they want, like Bendis with Spider-Woman.

  8. BryanD says:

    Seems there was some support for X-23 at least, it had better numbers then some things that I still see are in the Feb preview book. =/

    And hey, I bought the TPB the other day, so there’s some support +1

  9. thequestion says:

    With the exception of Spiderwoman, Marvel has rarely invested A-list talent behind a heroine lead.

    I generally buy books based on creative teams first.

  10. Synsidar says:

    Why can’t the responsibility (though I don’t like that word) be played out on different fronts? Is Voodoo more of a positive female character than Storm simply because she has her own book? That’s an interesting question to think about.

    There are several dimensions to the situation.

    One is that Brevoort prefers to let the comics basically sell themselves. No advertising or promotions, beyond the PR efforts seen on Web sites. The fans (market) choose the series they want to read. That attitude promotes the male-oriented series.

    Another is that Marvel has historically put characters on tiers. First-tier characters get their own series; second-tier characters appear in group books or get occasional miniseries. Hawkeye is a second-tier character at Marvel, whereas Green Arrow is a title character at DC. There’s Quicksilver vs. the Flash, the Scarlet Witch vs. Zatanna, et al. One of the reasons DC comics commonly sell more poorly than Marvel’s might be because DC has more second-tier characters as leads.

    Another is that there’s a big difference between the title character and the supporting characters. Few of the X-women, for example, might be able to carry their own series because separating them from the rest of the mutants would be hard. They’re comparable to people in a soap opera: as part of a large cast, they’re entertaining, but they would have to be much different to carry their own series, and viewers only have so much time (or dollars) to spend on them.

    SRS

  11. If it had been a Kickstarter, they would have supported it. :/

  12. Chris Hero says:

    I dunno…it seems like some of the commenters above are on the right track…apply the same successful formula of good creators on books with female leads and make sure the characters are involved in stories that have a strong case for existing. Putting out a half-thought out book with a female lead then saying, “Guess no one wants female characters…” seems like a self-fulfilling prophesy.

  13. Matthew Southworth says:

    BLACK WIDOW had a great miniseries by Marjorie Liu and Daniel Acuna a couple of years ago (it’s awesome, seek it out).

    SPIDER-WOMAN was gorgeous.

    MARVEL DIVAS (despite the awkward title) was also really good–Tonci Zonjic’s art is fantastic.

    It seems to me Marvel has shown good faith putting together good teams on good books, and I know they’d do more of that if those books sold well (I bought ‘em!). And Tom Brevoort’s answers seem honest and well-considered to me.

    So maybe the complaint isn’t that Marvel doesn’t do enough but that the market just isn’t there. And all this talk of “cultivating” a market is vague. How would they do such a thing?

    I’m asking seriously, not snarkily.

  14. Synsidar says:

    . . . apply the same successful formula of good creators on books with female leads and make sure the characters are involved in stories that have a strong case for existing.

    That’s the problem for writers, though. A character-driven story requires that the lead have some connection to the situation he’s dealing with. If a hero is independently wealthy and fights crime because he feels a need to, that requires particular origins and/or personality types. If the heroine has a regular job, how naturally does the job relate to getting involved in critical situations, versus encountering problems randomly? If the heroine’s story starts out with a mysterious origin that has to be solved, what’s her rationale for continuing to fight crime after she discovers her origin?

    One of the bigger problems in writing superhero stories might be that simply having a power isn’t a rational motivation for fighting crime. Unless someone is forced into situations repeatedly, there has to be a need, and making a job out of fighting crime seriously constrains the range of possible stories.

    SRS

  15. “And all this talk of “cultivating” a market is vague. How would they do such a thing?”

    The same as for any other business model, unless there is already a competitive one in existence. For instance, Apple didn’t invent the tablet, but they sure did cultivate a market for it. More than half of the population is female, and most of them love to read. So why won’t comics publishers actively try to tap into this already existing base of readership, unless they have lazily written them off for the overage male gamer crowd they keep pitching recycled ideas to?

  16. Micah says:

    Marvel is double-shipping a ton of it’s line, and that is syphoning readers from the mid- and low-tier books. Not to mention them putting their best creators on those top-tier books. And he points to the market when the books with female leads do not do as well. Marvel was doing their best to undermine DC in the past; now they are doing it to themselves.

  17. Brian DG says:

    “there’s a big difference between the title character and the supporting characters. Few of the X-women, for example, might be able to carry their own series because separating them from the rest of the mutants would be hard. They’re comparable to people in a soap opera: as part of a large cast, they’re entertaining, but they would have to be much different to carry their own series, and viewers only have so much time (or dollars) to spend on them.”

    Great point.

    “Putting out a half-thought out book with a female lead then saying, “Guess no one wants female characters…” seems like a self-fulfilling prophesy.”

    Surely that’s subjective. If a book is running at 5,000 a month in sales every month for more than half a dozen issues then it’s pretty clear that it sank or swam on it’s own merit and that whoever was going to read it, did read it. And who’s saying “Guess no one wants female characters”? Marvel puts out a book, it doesn’t sell, so they put out another book and hope that that one sells. Based on your reasoning, Marvel should have stopped making female led titles after “The Cat” was cancelled after it’s 3rd or 4th issue.

    “It seems to me Marvel has shown good faith putting together good teams on good books, and I know they’d do more of that if those books sold well (I bought ‘em!). And Tom Brevoort’s answers seem honest and well-considered to me. So maybe the complaint isn’t that Marvel doesn’t do enough but that the market just isn’t there.”

    I agree completely.

    “The same as for any other business model, unless there is already a competitive one in existence. For instance, Apple didn’t invent the tablet, but they sure did cultivate a market for it.”

    That is a flawed analogy. A better one would be that Apple tried off and on for the last 40 years to “cultivate” a market and sold 2 tablets. Now, after spending decades trying to sell this product, they’ve given up and the 2 people who bought it feel marginalized as a result.

    There is this school of thought that Marvel should just keep making something that doesn’t sell and just take the loss and file it under the auspice of “cultivating an audience”.

    They’ve been actively trying to cultivate since the bronze age. The Cat, Shanna, Ms Marvel, She Hulk, Spider Woman, Black Widow, Dazzler, Electra, Hellcat, Captain Marvel (Monica Rambeau), Firestar, Tigra. Then you have the “couples” books like Scarlet Witch/Vision and various Hawkeye/Mockingbird series and mini’s. All of which have been given more than one opportunity to carry their own title (I won’t even go into all the women on “teams”. Often women lead the teams. There have been more than 40 female members on the Avengers alone. Which is never acknowledged incidentally. How many female members have been on JLA? JSA?). And since just one or two titles that star a female lead won’t be enough to please the critics who speak for that demographic, then the question becomes how many losses should Marvel take for “the cause”. How long do they have to wait for that demographic to “cultivate”? Forever?

    Marvel makes a book with a female lead, it sells or doesn’t sell. If it doesn’t it gets cancelled. Just like books that star male leads are often cancelled. The point here is that it’s not like Marvel just gave up after their very first title starring a woman failed to sell well. They kept going and they keep going. When asked why more of these books don’t sell or why they weren’t supported, I’ve heard the excuses run the gamut from apathetic shrugs to angry comments such as “women aren’t a hive vagina”. Well, they might want to learn to be because when it comes to comics, fan boys are definitely a hive penis and the companies act accordingly. I think, when it comes to the area of superhero comics specifically, the female readers have already been cultivated. The huge female readership for Manga and certain independent, non cape titles shows that there are lots of women reading comics. When it comes to superhero comics, not so much. It’s been 40 years of this. At some point people have to accept certain financial realities.

  18. “Apple didn’t invent the tablet, but they sure did cultivate a market for it.”

    Apple had a built-in female audience with its other products. Marvel doesn’t. Apples, meet oranges.

  19. Matthew Southworth says:

    Brian DG sort of already made this point, but I’d argue that while there is a large audience of female comics readers waiting to be tapped, there is NOT a large audience of women who want to read superhero comics.

    When my girlfriend and I met, she knew nothing about comics. Now she loves the Hernandez Bros work, Chris Ware’s work, Darwyn Cooke’s work, some others. But I can’t for the life of me get her to read superhero comics, even something I guarantee her is female-friendly (what an awkward term) like Alan Moore’s SWAMP THING run (a deeply romantic book) or CATWOMAN.

    Are fans of heavy metal music making the same argument? “The record companies just aren’t targeting the VAST UNTAPPED FEMALE AUDIENCE!!”

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