by Tim Hanley
The New Year did not get off to a great start when it came to female creator representation at DC or Marvel. The publishers were heading in different directions as 2018 closed, with DC’s overall percentage of female creators hitting some relatively strong highs and Marvel’s starting to dip a bit. But they’re both on the same page now, with monthly totals this winter that matched the lows of the previous year.
On the one hand, the drops are disappointing. It’d be nice to see more stable female representation at the Big Two. On the other hand, it’s a useful turn of events for the second installment of this series here at The Beat in that it illustrates the volatility of the numbers. While representation has slowly improved over the past decade, it’s come in fits and starts, with sizeable drops along the way. Commitment to breaking up the male hegemony in superhero comics waxes and wanes, and we seem to be in a bit of a downturn right now. Expect many more ups and downs in the months to come.
There were big changes afoot at DC to start the year, and the most notable was the reduction of their comic line. January was busy with a week of holdover books from December, but in February and March they put out 60 books per month, a noticeable drop from the mid-70s they averaged last year. In winter 2019, DC released 204 new comics featuring 1797 credited creators, 1509 men and 288 women. Let’s take a look at their numbers:
DC had 16% female creators overall, more than a full point down from the latter half of 2018. There were several losses across the board, including a three point drop in female letterers, a five point drop in colorists, and a nine point drop in editorial. The only category that rose more than one percentage point was female assistant editors, which gained three to land at just below 50%. Editorial remains a stronghold for the publisher while the creative side of the chart is starting to languish, especially with female pencilers and inkers remaining in single digits yet again.
The monthly numbers tell a fuller story:
The creative categories were generally steady apart from a drop off in female letterers and a step down for cover artists. The latter is especially significant. While DC doesn’t have the massive volume of variant covers that Marvel does, they still have a lot and it can be a disproportionately weighted category. Still, the cutbacks to the line haven’t shifted things too much creatively yet, nor has the debut of the new “Wonder Comics” imprint.
Meanwhile, editorial moved in very different directions. The December holdover books gave female editors a decent January, but that quickly declined, and assistant editors steadily rose to perhaps the highest level I’ve ever seen at DC (I had to add an extra row to the chart!). I think it says a lot about a publisher when the female assistant editors vastly outnumber the full editors, and DC is very much moving in that direction.
The Past Year at DC: The drop from December to February was stark, and January was only that high because of the remaining December books that carried over:
The February and March totals tied September for the lowest overall percentage of female creators at DC in the past 15 months, an inauspicious beginning to the year. Perhaps the spring will bring a resurgence, but it doesn’t look like there’s many new books on the horizon to mix things up.
While DC’s cutting back, Marvel’s still churning out as many books as ever, with all manner of variant covers, too. This is not a publisher that is concerned about over-saturization. In winter 2019, Marvel put out 239 new comic books with 2394 credited creators, 2039 male, 353 female, and 2 non-binary. Here are the numbers:
Alongside these numbers, non-binary creators accounted for 0.08% overall and 0.7% of writers. Marvel’s 14.8% female creators overall marked a one and half point drop from the latter half of 2018, and there was little growth across the board, with only female writers moving up to any noticeable degree with a three point gain. Female cover artists fell a couple, colorists were down three, editors dropped five, and everything else had less than a point of difference. The dedication to female writers is worth mentioning, since neither of the Big Two rarely ever get this high. At the same time, the penciler and inker numbers are still embarrassingly low and, given how many covers Marvel puts out, dropping into the single digits there is a big blow to the overall total.
Let’s see how things shook out month by month:
Wow, that’s a lot of assistant editors! Seeing it laid out like this is always surprising. They’re carrying a considerable amount of the load for Marvel’s overall total. Female cover artists are on the rise, though. It didn’t add up to much overall this quarter, but the trajectory could bode well for Marvel if it continues. And that’s a very solid run of female writers, some of the highest numbers I’ve ever seen at either publisher.
There are a lot of small numbers elsewhere, though. Still zeroes across the board for female letterers, but that’s nothing new. Colorists took a big dive in March. And editorial hitting double digits only once, and barely at that, is a paltry showing. Remember what I said about female assistant editors vastly outnumbering the female editors? That’s been the case at Marvel for a long while now, and I think it shows on the other side of the chart.
The Past Year at Marvel: They’re on the rise, at least! I mean, sure, they dug themselves a deep hole in January, but hooray for momentum, I guess?
The January total matched Marvel’s 2018 low, and February and March ranked in the bottom four for this 15 month period. But Marvel’s got a lot of new stuff coming this spring, including War of the Realms and a sea of tie-ins. There’s opportunity for the slight growth we see here to continue and bring them back to their previous highs, if anyone at the publisher is inclined to take it.
Tim Hanley is a comic book historian and the author of Wonder Woman Unbound, Investigating Lois Lane, and The Many Lives of Catwoman. You can visit Tim at Straitened Circumstances, follow him on Twitter @timhanley01, and see all of the former stats here.