UPDATE: Above, the cover to the Juice cover story (Thanks, Steve Stahl.)
Johanna comments on a particularly dopey “trick your woman into liking comics” article entitled Can women learn to enjoy comics?:

Kate Dacey asks why the most recent of those “trick your woman into liking comics” (as she puts it) columns didn’t include any comics created by women or any manga. There’s a simple answer to that.

Most of the guys who ask and answer “how do I get my girlfriend to read comics?” don’t really mean it. What they’re really asking is “how do I get my girlfriend to like the comics I like?” So of course they’re not recommending manga — they don’t read it themselves. And they don’t want the girl they like to know about comics they don’t understand.

I think there should be a new rule: any such “how do I get a woman to like comics?” column MUST be accompanied by a matching column about “how do I get a man to like knitting/ scrapbooking/ quilting” or other feminine craft of your choice. Yes, it would be about as pointless, but reading about a geek trying to crochet a Transformer would amuse me.

As someone who was encouraged to read comics by a mother who was a cartoonist and a grandmother who also read comics, I’m always amazed by all the “CAN women read comics?” rhetoric you still hear out there. It seems to be such a important belief STILL to a few people that women must read comics differently, or must be TAUGHT to like them, like they must be TAUGHT to drive stick. As Cat Yronwode wrote a long, long time ago, “When you create comics for everybody, everybody will read comics.”


  1. It’s possible that people react negatively to manga-style artwork. That’s the major reason why I don’t read manga. An analogy would be text published in an unattractive font.


  2. I’m a guy, so I’m viewing that column from a different perspective.

    The column is actually pretty good, in that he recommends finding out what the “innocent” enjoys reading in other media, and then “seducing” them with a like-minded graphic novel.

    That’s the technique I use. My mother has read Maus, Perspepolis, and Berlin. I’ve hand sold Watchmen as a Hugo winner, a murder mystery, a Time “Best Book”… If someone tells me what they enjoy reading, I can find a worthy graphic novel in that category or genre.

    Yes, guys are stupid. I don’t want a girlfriend who enjoys the same comics that I do… I want her to enjoy comics I don’t normally read, so we can share different books, explore other genres and styles, and, most importantly, save some money by reading her books!

    (Manga is almost as cult-y and requiring of secret knowledge as superhero comics. It reads a different way, there are visual conventions that are particular to manga, the sound effects are in the original kanji, fan service can spoil a story…)

  3. Sometimes I wonder, though, is the goal really to get women to read/like comics or just get them off the guys’ back about liking them. Perhaps it’s not so much of a shared interest thing as a tolerance thing.

  4. Hey Jen, I wrote that article, but in my defense I would like to point out that I did not write the headline. I’m never happy with my headlines, and too often leave them to the copy desk to be written. In this case it was clearly a mistake.

    When I brought the article home to show my wife, she had two comments: “Did you write that headline?” and “You didn’t mention ‘Fun Home!'”

    While my column did focus on women, largely because I was discussing my experience with my wife, I had hoped it would apply to non-comic readers in general. I’ve also used a similar method to get my father to read a few comics.

    I don’t think I’ve tried to force my wife to like what I like. Some of my favorite comics (Invincible, Savage Dragon, several Alan Moore works) will never end up on her nightstand because I know they aren’t her thing. I tend to put a lot of thought into any book, album or movie I suggest to everyone. It’s not like I’ve been stewing about “How can I get my wife to read ‘Blackest Night?'”

    When we were brainstorming this cover story as a whole, I told the editors and designers that I didn’t want any “Bam! Pow! comics aren’t for kids anymore!” headlines for fear that I would see blog posts about it another one of “those” stories.

    So of course I still managed to do it. But at least I got Sean Phillips to comment on my story.

  5. I think the article is still a bit base and pandering, but that might not likely be all the writers fault. Most of the hack factor lies in the title of the article. Personally, I have never, ever, been able to choose the title of an article I’ve written, and I’ve seen articles on almost everything from comics to global warming to zebras with terrible titles some overly clever editor slapped on it that completely, utterly misses the point of the story. I thought the writer made a decent point in the article, writing:

    “Women will read comics. I’m married to proof. But fans of comic books too often try to push their significant other into the genre they enjoy, which is usually superheroes. There’s nothing wrong with superheroes, but fans of those comics often focus on the genre at the expense of the medium as a whole. My advice for comic fans who want to get a female to read comics: Know what she likes.”

    He doesn’t bother to spell out what those other genres might be. And he should have spelled out to say that guys might need to step out of their comfort zones (he does imply that comic’s readers are somehow a broadly read lot able to talk on everything from Green Lantern wardrobe to Hutch Owen’s facial expressions). His driving point does seem to be that you have to take the time to listen to your partner if you want to bridge the gap.

  6. Most of the guys who ask and answer “how do I get my girlfriend to read comics?” don’t really mean it. What they’re really asking is “how do I get my girlfriend to like the comics I like?” So of course they’re not recommending manga — they don’t read it themselves.

    Well, yeah. But isn’t that the way everything works? When you’re enthusiastic about something, you want to share that thing, or at least I do–not other things that are like that thing in some categorical fashion. I’ve never gotten really excited about a particular TV show or band, then turned to my wife and recommended some other television show or band. I also think some nebulous allegiance to comics as a medium is weird–no one’s ever like “I want to get my significant other into film,” they’re like “I want to get my significant other into The Godfather” or whatever the case may be. I’m certainly not going to be like “Honey, there are a lot of comics out there I don’t read and/or don’t like but I’d love for you to read and like them,” I’m going to be like “Hey, I really loved this book, check it out.” To do otherwise is strange, like a Mets fan trying to get their beloved into baseball by recommending the Yankees.

    And they don’t want the girl they like to know about comics they don’t understand.

    What a sinister way of putting it. I very much doubt there’s some sort of conspiracy of silence at play here.

  7. I think I agree that when guys are asking how they can get their women to like comics they aren’t really asking that question. Rather, they are asking, how can I get my girl to dress up as wonderwoman, tie me up with the golden lariat and force me to tell the truth.

    (thanks RD)

  8. Joe, of course you read this blog every day — haven’t you been helping me out in my quest for photos of butter statues from the Iowa State Fair for years?

    Anyway thanks for showing up and taking your lumps. I think it was the headline that really set us ladies off — there was a Tweet storm about it yesterday, too. I’m curious though — cover story? For what? That’s actually really good placement for what would once have been considered an esoteric topic.

    And yeah I know YOU know better, but the idea behind the article was still totally 1998.

  9. Joe, while I appreciate the fact that you did not write that incredibly ridiculous hed, your article was indeed very specifically focused on getting women to read comics, and not on getting a general non-comics reading audience interested in the superhero genre. If you intended to write the latter, you did not, and frankly I would take more care in generalizing about all women and their interest in comics based on your wife and her reading habits.

    Leading off your second graph by dropping the revelatory knowledge on readers that women CAN read comics(!) personally strikes me as about as insulting as informing us that “women CAN do math” or that women are not in fact always terrible drivers. I’m sure there are some people who maintain those stereotypes as well, but I can’t say I would applaud you on any count if you attempted to debunk them in such a hamhanded manner.

    You essentially just wrote an article that could have very easily been titled, “Bam! Pow! Comics aren’t just for guys anymore!” And somehow that would still have been preferable.

  10. If I wanted a “guy” comics fan to get into reading manga, I’d tell him to try any of Urasawa’s series (Monster, 20th Century Boys, Pluto) to find out that not all manga is about big-eyed giggling schoolgirls. Just sayin’.

  11. I see that Johanna also thinks of comics as a medium:

    The best way to introduce anyone to a new medium is to figure out what other entertainment they like and go from there. Consider what movies or TV shows or books someone enjoys, and then target your individual recommendations appropriately.

    That’s easy to do, though. What reason is there to recommend (proselytize) comics to someone who reads prose genre fiction? There isn’t a reason to think that people who read literary fiction would take to comics generally.

    If people ask for recommendations, though, based on movies or TV shows they’ve seen, one should be able to suggest comics with similar subject matter. There is the problem with the story content and artwork being separate elements in a story. If the reader dislikes either the content or the appearance of the artwork, the story will fail.

    Fans of superhero comics enthuse about the shared universe aspect of the stories and get attached to individual characters. That enthusiasm is hard to transfer to someone who has a different mindset and just wants some fairly quick entertainment. That requires a close-ended story. If superhero comics were published as graphic novels, with GNs about a particular character coming out once or twice a year, they wouldn’t be harder to recommend than SF novels would be.


  12. I guess I’ve never understood this whole debate.

    My wife is a reader, and when we moved in together she took one look at the boxes of my paperbacks (mostly Science Fiction & Fantasy) and started flipping thru them looking for something that looked interesting.

    Next thing I knew, she was flipping thru my weekly comic purchases and trying things that looked interesting to her. Or coming along to the comic shop to see what else there was that she might like.

    And it works both ways. I can thank her for watching Buffy reruns enough times while I was within earshot and getting me interested in that series which I’d never even considered before.

  13. Heidi, it was the cover story for the young readers publication I write for, Juice (and yes, I have provided some butter sculpture assistance as well). The news peg for the story was the Comic Book I-Con happening in Des Moines last week. The bulk was four profiles, a sketch collector, a cosplayer, a writer and an artist.


    That headline aside, I’m pretty happy with how this issue turned out. We had the artist we featured (Ant Lucia) design a cover for us with the cosplayer as a model. For some reason I can’t find that cover online.

    Laura, sorry for the letdown.

  14. I’d be interested in knowing what Joe Lawler thinks of STRANGE #1, since I see that as an example of genre fiction material being written for superhero fiction readers, and being distorted in the process. What Strange and Kinmont do in the issue isn’t sorcery; it’s using gestures and a few “magic words” to activate a power. If sorcery as a discipline is so cerebral and abstract that it’s not suited for comics, then why use it in stories? Write about other things.


  15. Superhero stories aren’t for everyone. I think we all know that and I don’t think it’s dismissive at all to say that just like it’s not dismissive to say police dramas aren’t for everyone. The question is – what *is* for everyone?

    I think that’s the larger question. Not, “what comics are for women,” or “what comics are for latino midgets raised in China.” And I think that point is largely lost in all the scuffle between the superhero evangelists and the evangelists of any other genre.

  16. And I think that point is largely lost in all the scuffle between the superhero evangelists and the evangelists of any other genre.

    The thing is, other genres don’t have evangelists. If someone likes a particular mystery or romance author’s stories, he or she will talk about that author and recommend the novels to others, based on their merits. He’ll have support in the form of reviews and informed criticism.

    When someone has to defend his choice of reading material based on virtues that aren’t apparent to an uninitiated reader, or are based on possibilities rather than on what actually appears in print, he’ll have a hard time turning those people into fans.


  17. i don’t see what the big deal is. my wife has never ever been interested in comics and without a doubt will never be interested in comics. it’s cool.she doesn’t look down on comics, or thinks that people that read comics are in some way enjoying an inferior form of entertainment. quite the opposite.she does appreciate the artwork . it’s a medium she’s just not all that interested in.she’s a stephen king fan (loves the books, loves (some) of the movies), but has no interest in reading the comic version of “the stand”(for that matter neither do i). the closest she comes to being a comic fan is watching sci-fi/ fantasy shows and movies like buffy, angel, heroes, indy jones, star wars, etc, which we both dig and she also enjoyed the last couple of seasons of the justice league unlimited animated series (that i turned her onto). i guess the bottom line is the fact that i have been a life long comic book reader and she has never, ever given me one iota of crap over reading comics (which i have heard horror stories from and about guys whose wives do everything in their power to get them to stop reading and sell said comics), so she ain’t interested in my hobby. so what. no big deal. so if your wife enjoys comics, cool. for the guys out there that pine over their wives not reading comics, take comfort in the fact that she ain’t busting your huevos over reading comics. believe me , after twenty-five years of marriage, it’s all good.

  18. I don’t want my partner to start reading comics, it’s my hobby! In a relationship, you have to have something that’s just yours – otherwise you end up as one of those creepy couples who don’t have any separate interests.

  19. “Most superhero comics boil down to male power fantasies (keep in mind that I own thousands of them), and that might not appeal to everyone.”

    I think that Lawler was speaking to a specific demographic and re-instructing THEM in this article.

    He is obviously aware of who he is speaking to – the guys who make up the bulk of any comic con outside of NYC or the West Coast – it’s Iowa. I’m sure the variety of comic choices outside the typical American genre of superheroes is slimmer. The variety at JIm Hanley’s Universe, as an example, is supported by a high traffic area of NYC that is difficult to replicate outside of major urban areas.

    I think the tone of the article fits the readership that is most likely to visit a Con in Iowa – I say this strictly from a marketing perspective.

    Now, if you wanted to introduce new reading choices to the demographic you are speaking to, you would have insisted on sub-titling it “How to Trick Guys into Reading More Sophisticated Comics” and would have provided web addresses to publishers like Fantagraphics, pointing to alternative resources

    What companies and distributors make up the bulk of an Iowa comic con offering?

  20. I guess I sort of feel like people of both genders need to be tricked into reading comics because it’s still (though less and less) a medium that is not taken seriously. Even in this more tolerant age people still use the false divider between “comics” and “graphic novels” but that rant is pretty played out.

    I think women are particularly difficult to trick into reading comics because it is a medium that has been traditionally uncaring of them as an audience and even hostile in some cases. In the same way I would attempt to cajole a terrified sheltered suburban friend into the inner city chinese restaurant I love so much, some people just need a little push.

    And I don’t see why I can’t sell ladies on the medium AS WELL AS comics I enjoy. Surely we can’t say that the attempt to find shared interests is sexist, it’s practically the basis of most of this culture’s socially alienated interactions!

  21. The question is – what *is* for everyone?

    Damned few things, actually – in ANY medium.

    There’s a reason the term “narrow-casting” was coined in the ’90s – there is no such thing as “general interest” entertainment anymore, because now, whether it’s TV or movies or books or magazines, unless you’re highly conscious about pitching your product to Tween Fans Of Magical Realism or Middle-Aged Male Fans Of Military Intrigue or some other such category, your story simply will not find an audience, period, the end.

    And quite frankly, the idea that we should feel obligated to promote a medium rather than simply the genres within a medium that we like? Is idiotic, because aside from librarians and teachers, you don’t see anyone just saying READ BOOKS, and aside from corporate advertisers, you don’t see anyone just saying WATCH MORE TV – it’s ALWAYS a specific novel or show or series or movie or something.

  22. Screw the comics –

    If only I could shack up with a chick who loves progressive rock as passionate as I do – then I’d be a happy Coatney.

    I hide my comics from the chicks. Look at what happened to Bob Kane’s second wife. She took his comics and threw ’em all in the fire.

    Actually, that sounds like something my mom would do.



  23. . . .they read Persepolis and loved it.

    But where do they go from there? Bringing up PERSEPOLIS at Amazon.com and checking the “Customers who bought. . .” section reveals Alcestis by Euripides, Steiger’s The Rise of the Global Imaginary, PERSEPOLIS on DVD, Satrapi’s EMBROIDERIES, and Green’s Comparative Politics of the Third World.

    One of the nice things about the mystery genre is that novelists tend to write series of novels, so a fan can read stories that are fairly close-ended, but still be able to anticipate more. That’s a far different experience from being attached to a superhero character, suffering through lousy serialized stories by various writers and spasmodic changes, and hoping that good stories about him will eventually come along.


  24. Maybe there could be a series of Persepolis books where young Marjane solves crimes with a talking cat named Khomeini.

  25. I’m a girl who reads comics – I can’t say that I’m a huge comic fan, but I do have a fairly reasonable collection mostly consisting of Jhonen Vasquez comics (which were the gateway), The Maxx, V For Vendetta and a fair amount of Batman-related stuff (Batman, Batwoman/Detective comics, Gotham City Sirens) and a teacher at my school has been lending me Preacher, which I’ve enjoyed hugely.

    I think that comics have been a bit of a boys’ club until recently, and to an extent it still is. The thing is, comics are much the same as any medium. There are genres to choose from, and some people never fully enjoy a medium.
    To use music as an analogy, I love music and yet some people I know are just casual listeners who dabble here and there, and different people like different genres. I could listen to Billy Talent and The 69 Eyes until the cows come home, whereas some people can’t stand them and listen to say, The Arctic Monkeys or Michael Jackson.
    Similarly, I find it hard to get into most manga, and my friend can’t get his head round The Maxx. It’s a case of finding your niche, be it grunge music or superhero comics or romcom films or horror novels. Whatever you feel you can relate to.

  26. You can actually read books on ‘what women like’ that explain the demographic in general and in segments. You might have to spend money in order to figure out where these segments divide and what they like – they are not one size fits all.

    Women come in a variety of lifestyle situations like age, religion and social stature.

    See, if you look at how the male markets in comics are divided, you will start to understand how to start writing and illustrating for females.

    Males understand the variety of tastes among their ranks. Females might be the best resource to articulate the preferences and divisions among female readerships.

    There are plenty of comic products directed at females ages 0-13 in the general market place that are established, acceptable money makers, from comics to hardgoods and fashion.

    Then there was that media uproar when Dora the Explorer suddenly became ‘sexualized’ because she looked like a tween – on the verge of mature sexual development. But that is a natural occurrence for females. Why is that controversial?

    Then we enter the realm of the mainstream comic I believe we are debating here.

    The realm of the over-sexualized female. Mainstream superhero-tinged comics is that ‘devil’s playground’ – the Brokeback Pose territory. There females remain in a retarded growth pattern from here on out, with few exceptions. It’s not a natural world for women. At least males can have an intellectual life there. Females are only problem solvers if they are buxom.

    It’s fun, novel and appealing, but it doesn’t hold females’ attention for long. It’s a repetitious punchline.

    This it is mostly a visual puzzle. Once you put a sexually mature female in a skin tight outfit, anything she says has gravity – to males.

    But that also happens in the massive fashion and beauty market that females generally are plugged into… so what does that mean? Do you know? Somebody knows…

  27. “Yes, guys are stupid.”

    No, they’re not. But it is kinda stupid to assume that they will recommend books/movies/tv programs that they haven’t watched. Sean T. Collins kinda said it already, but this is how most people recommend things.

    If guys shouldn’t be recommending superhero comics (or whatever they like), then women shouldn’t be allowed to recommend “Titanic,” “Ghost,” or whichever chick flick is popular today.

    I spent New Year’s Day with some friends, watching two episodes of DOLLHOUSE. It was a favorite among the women. Someone suggested, “Let’s watch another show that Rich has no interest in.” I didn’t take them to task for not automatically choosing a show to my liking — now I realize that I should have.