About six months ago, I took a victory lap. And I’m gonna take another one. Because I was right, all along. Last’s week’s twin announcements of the revamped DC line-up and Marvel’s all-woman A-Force showed that even the big two have embraced the idea of a diverse readership as a sound business model. It was only four years ago, when the New 52 launched, that there was an outcry about only 1% of the creators being female, and DC co-publisher Dan DiDio got put on the spot and reacted with a less than conciliatory tone.
And now, even gender-cruncher Tim Hanley notes that things improved dramatically with The New 24:
DC Comics made a big announcement today, revealing the post-“Convergence” line up for their main superhero titles. Along with 29 continuing titles, DC unveiled 24 new series and minis, many of which featured new creators and a variety of new and underutilized characters. It was a good day for women at DC across the board as well.
In recent interviews, DiDio revealed that this was just good sense:
DiDio: And there are a lot of first-time attendees there, who are new to the business, new to comics, and it’s for us to be able to grab these people and attract them.
And you know, I get a lot of anecdotal information from our writers and artists, especially when you talk to somebody like Jimmy [Palmiotti] and Amanda [Conner], who are commanding these monstrously long lines because of Harley Quinn right now, and it’s almost all women. They’re even taken aback by that, by this really intense loyalty and love for this character by an audience that includes a lot of women. And we realize that, and we have to really start to gear our product to attract them to more of our books.
So we try to find the trends that are drawing these changing audiences to shows and create product to really build on that interest.
Harley Quinn has consistently been one of DC’s top three sellers for a while, and that is hard to ignore. DiDio is surely referring to observations like this one, from Palmiotti last year:
What we are learning is that the traditional idea of done–in-one stories not selling in comics just doesn’t apply to the new audience buying the books, and believe me, most of that new audience are female. I think the problem right now is we have some people running the companies that just aren’t going out and trying new comics or interacting with the next wave of readers and keep pushing things the traditional way they did years ago. The retailers themselves are seeing this happening daily now and I feel it’s the reason Image comics will continue to grow and eventually outsell the big two, unless they start thinking outside the box and just make superheroes a PART of their publishing plan and not the entire thing and start looking at the different ways a superhero type of book can be done. Harley is one example, Hawkeye is another . The traditional graphics people associate comics with have been changing for years now and the market is embracing different looks and styles that are outside the house style and its pretty cool to see.
It is pretty cool!
The trail of evidence isn’t quite as clear for A-Force, because Marvel has been making sounds about appealing to female readers for quite some time, and Squirrel Girl, but the A-Force news as reported by Mashable supplied a bit more more support:
Though A-Force is its first all-female Avengers team, it’s not the first team title to feature only women. it’s not the first team title to feature only women. In fact, it’s the fifteenth; the most recent was last year’s X-Men run, which was comprised of all women. Marvel says its female fanbase has been exploding recently, and with the emergence of Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, Black Widow and more — and it’s easy to see why.
While DC’s move to the world of modern comics readership is more recent, the rise of the female comics buyer is old news if you’ve been reading this site for any length of time. But what has me sitting back in my recliner here at Stately Beat Manor and enjoying a victory 20-year port is that I’ve been saying that women liked comics for…all my life, really. And I was told I was wrong so many times. So many times.
I know I’ve talked about this many times, but I was given SO MANY REASONS why women couldn’t read comics—women aren’t visual, women don’t like action, women DON’T KNOW HOW TO READ COMICS. The most amazing thing about these statements is that they didn’t come from comment thread trolls but from the men who ran the industry for the last 30 years. That’s right, POWERFUL DECISION MAKERS IN THE COMICS INDUSTRY TOLD ME WOMEN DON’T KNOW HOW TO READ COMICS.
20 years ago, as an editor at a magazine where plenty of girls reads the comics and I had the fan letters to prove it, I was so incensed by this constant nonsense that I joined with a band of like-minded women (among them Deni Loubert, Anina Bennett, Martha Thomases, Cheryl Harris, Jackie Estrada, Liz SChiller and of course Trina Robbins) and we started an organization to show how getting more women readers could benefit the entire comics industry, because who doesn’t like new customers. I have to admit, the idea of greater revenue was more of an enticement for industry leaders to ponder this idea than just “Of course women like comics, they just don’t all like YOUR superhero comics.”
Friends of Lulu did some things right and some things wrong, but like I always say, at least we we started a dialog. And the internet finished it.
A few days ago, an 11-year-old girl wrote to DC Comics asking why there weren’t more comics for girls.
My name is Rowan and I am 11 years old. I love superheroes and have been reading comics and watching superhero cartoons and movies since I was very young. I’m a girl, and I’m upset because there aren’t very many girl superheroes or movies and comics from DC.
And the official DC Comics twitter actually answered her:
Thanks Rowan. We agree, we’re working hard to create more superhero fun for girls!
— DC Comics (@DCComics) January 30, 2015
Yes Rowan, girls read comics too! Wonder Woman movie & Supergirl TV both in the works, with more exciting girl power announcements soon!
— DC Comics (@DCComics) January 30, 2015
What’s that you say, girls don’t read comics because they don’t process visual information? Well I say SUCK IT.
Okay I know there is a long way to do and we need more women in positions of influence WITHIN the industry, and less objectification and for gods sake, can’t we make toys of superheroines, and there are one million other things every day that are dedicated to making sure that women are treated as less than equal, but for today on this one matter—that women don’t read comics—I think the case is closed and we can move on to the next challenge.
Before I got to talking about the next challenge, one more thing. The future of comics is probably going to be even more female. On his tour for The Sculptor, Scott McCloud has been quoted as saying that he expected the comics industry to be female-dominated in every way by 2024. I don’t know that setting a nine-year time frame is exactly right, but as I’ve also mentioned here many times, most cartooning schools are female dominated now, and on the indie scene, female cartoonists seem to be getting the most attention. The Comics Reporter ran one of its Five for Friday reader survey asking for respondents to “Name Five Comics-Makers You Like Age 30 Or Younger and I’ve stolen the entire list because it’s at least 50% female (also a great list, check out the links)
I could do a whole post on how Allie Brosh, Roz Chast and Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki ruled the world of graphic novels last year, but it’s clear that women can not only read comics, they can make them too. And that phenomenon doesn”t show any signs of slowing down.
Now, this could all be a fad, or a marketing trend or someone could put a halt to it tomorrow, because that’s traditionally what happens when women try to take on positions of authority and respect. In the 90s we had Ripley and Xena and Buffy and Scully and we’re still arguing about whether woman can star in action shows and films. In the 80s we had Louise Simonson and Elaine Lee and Christy Marx and people still thought that women couldn’t write mainstream comics. Hell, in the 50s we had Lucille Ball and people still say women aren’t funny. My laurel resting lasts for the duration of this post and no longer. But just this one time: “I WAS RIGHT! I WAS RIGHT ALL ALONG!”
BUT…the battle is still on. Last week, one of my Friends of Lulu fellow soldiers, Martha Thomases wrote a column called The Great Comic Book Lock-Out which talks about girls reading comics, but also the wider narrow-mindedness:
There seems to be a school of thought in which the only fiction available to readers is about the readers themselves. Boys can only read about boys. Girls can only read about girls. African-Americans can only read about African-Americans or, possibly, racial minorities can only read about other racial minorities. Certainly, the thinking goes, white kids are only interested in reading about other white kids.
Let me be clear. I don’t think there is some kind of committee that issues these edicts. I think it is a more subtle form of bigotry.
Comics may have “solved” the woman question for the moment, but they have a lot more problems to solve where diversity is concerned. David Walker writing Cyborg is nice, but we need a lot more non-white voices in comics. People of every race and ethnicity around the world also read comics, and the American comics industry needs to recognize that. Hell, American culture in general needs to recognize that. As a country, we’ve taken many steps backwards in that regard, and it’s this kind of regression that makes me wary of any supposed progress on any front. I do think refuting foolish statements like “Women aren’t visual so they don’t like comics or superheroes” is a step-forward, but it’s far from the only foolish idea running our entertainment industry.
But today, at least for one day, the smart people won.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.