PRO-GIRLS Pt 1: Where Are the Working Women in Comics?

PRO-GIRLS Pt 1: Where Are the Women At?

While public eyes have recently focused on rebooted comics, people within the tightly knit fan community have been buzzing about a different subject:

The low percentage of women on the creative side of the comic book industry.

The conversation has become particularly heated over the last three months. Comic writers have publicly argued about it. Comic conventions have been disrupted by it. Bloggers have analyzed it. And even comic book companies have responded to criticism about it.

Hopeless Savages,

written by

Jen Van Meter

"There seems to be this sort of 'boiling up from the bottom' interest in talking about women working specifically on superhero comics," said Jen Van Meter, the writer behind comics like the upcoming Marvel title Avengers: Solo.

Judd Winick, who's currently writing two comics for DC, said it's also something that's been a topic of conversation among publishers. "This was a behind-the-scenes discussion over the last many months," he said. "Out of Comic-Con, believe me, it's been discussed."

There's no doubt the subject has gotten a lot of attention. Yet what is the truth behind all the outrage and discussion?

Today, Newsarama begins a series looking at women in comics, examining different sides of the issue, looking at the past, present and future.

Does it matter?

Even among die-hard comic readers, there are constant disagreements about the whether it's important to consider the issue of female creators.

"There are a lot of readers who care passionately about female characters and creators and want more," said Tim Hanley, a writer who regularly compiles statistics about women in comics on his blog. "There are also a lot of readers who think talking about women in comics in any way is a total waste of time."

Christina Strain, a colorist for Marvel Comics, believes the topic has gotten too much attention recently, because it furthers the perception that comics aren't for women.

"Right now there's this swell of ill will towards men in comics, and while I understand that it's a charge lead by good intentions, what's really happening is that it's furthering the stereotype that comics will be incredibly hostile towards women when that's just not at all the truth," she said. "Comics are about skill. If you're talented and you're able to work with a team to create awesome comics, you will get hired."

Yet others think the attention to the subject can benefit the industry in the long run.

Batwoman image,

by Amy Reeder

"Bringing more women into the industry can only help business," said Amy Reeder, the artist who'll be providing interior work for an upcoming arc in DC's Batwoman. "I realize things have been shaky for comic books lately, and I think this can make people fearful of really investing in diversity. But it’s an unfounded fear, because female creators generally have a better idea of what women want and know how to create books that provide that."

Saga, drawn by

Fiona Staples

"I think [publishers] just need to become more self-aware," said Fiona Staples, a comic artist who's working on Done to Death for IDW and the Brian K. Vaughan comic Saga.

"I think it matters a lot," Tim Hanley said. "The industry's audience is shrinking. It's white men building comics for white men, and it's just not sustainable. Diverse creators leads to diverse stories leads to a diverse audience, and I think if the industry wants to grow creatively and financially, involving more women would be a smart place to start."

Are percentages the problem?

Much of the recent discussion about the lack of women working in comics came out of the highly publicized relaunch of DC's comics’ line. When the publisher announced its line-up of comics for September's launch of its "New 52" initiative, a look at percentages of women among the creators showed there were fewer now than there had been before the change.

But Newsarama recently looked at those statistics and discovered that a lot of the women who went "missing" after the relaunch were merely scheduled for later comics. In other words, they weren't missing at all.

Bob Harras, editor-in-chief for DC, told Newsarama the efforts at recruiting a more diverse talent pool is something his company is always doing. "I hope to see us foster an even more diverse group of artists and writers--across all gender and ethnic lines," Harras said. "We are constantly meeting with new talent, talking about new projects. Just because we haven’t announced things doesn’t mean they aren’t happening."

Tom Brevoort, senior vice president at Marvel Comics, said the way this issue was raised by using percentages made him wince. "I get uncomfortable when the question is boiled down to something like that pull quote that was going around a few months ago. You know, at that one DC panel, the guy asked Dan DiDio about the new DC launch, and how before it they had X percentage of female creators and now we're down to a lower percentage of female creators," Brevoort said.

"Anytime we start thinking of it as a percentage or quota, I get a little bit widgey," he said. "I don't like to think about the nuts and bolts of what we do in those terms. I want to hire, on any assignment, the person that I think will execute that assignment the best."

Yet there is definitely a disparity. Hanley's examination of the percentages show that women make up barely 15 percent of colorists, "nearly no letterers," he said, "and female writers and artists are sporadic at best."

"[There's a] mathematical reality to that," Brevoort admitted. "The world is 50 percent female; it stands to reason that there should be a significant representation by women creators."

What's causing the disparity?

A page from

Marvel's Runaways,

colored by

Christina Strain

One of the most obvious reasons that fewer women work in comics than men is that fewer women read comics than men. "I know this is an answer that makes some women angry," Strain said, "but as someone who's been in portfolio review lines and signed comics for fans, I can tell you first hand that I've seen more men interested in comics than women."

But that's not because comics can't appeal to women, creators said, but is instead the result of the comic industry's history.

"You don't get patterns like that overnight," Van Meter said. "There are all kinds of things that happened over the history of American comics that caused the situation we have now."

Several creators and editors pointed toward the introduction of the "Comics Code" as an important factor in the industry becoming more male-oriented. The Code's censorship discouraged adult-level material that once attracted female readers.

Van Meter and Brevoort also pointed toward the growth of the direct market system of comic book stores as something that played a role.

"As we moved from the newsstand mass-market model to the direct market specialty store model... superheroes became more and more of the dominate genre published within comics, because it was the one that could most readily survive these changes," Brevoort said. "Superhero comics are more directed at a male audience than a female audience. They are more boy-centric than girl-centric, in terms of who they appeal to. It's kind of the nature of them."

Karen Berger, DC Executive Editor for the Vertigo imprint agreed. "Superhero comics as a concept are always going to be male-dominated, just by the very nature that the genre is dealing with adolescent-male power fantasies," she said. "Female readers generally don't respond to that kind of material, but that doesn't mean that girls and women don't read comics."

Terry Moore is a self-publisher whose comics not only star female characters, but also tend to attract female readers. Yet even he realizes there's a plethora of male-oriented material. "The comics medium has material for everyone, but there's certainly a lot more material there that is aimed toward male readers," he said. "And unfortunately, most of the public thinks comics are only about superheroes and action-oriented characters. Those of us who read them know different."

And Van Meter pointed out that, not only do people within the comics industry realize there are stories aimed at women within the genre, but that there actually are a lot of women working in the industry. That's something she said gets lost in this discussion.

"To a degree, most of us who are in comics know better," Van Meter said. "The perception that women don't read comics, or women don't make comics, is kind of the same as the perception that leads to, 'Bif! Pow! Comics aren't just for kids anymore!' headlines showing up every time there's comics news that makes an ordinary paper. There's that groan of, jeez, are we still dealing with this?"

Is it changing? Should it?

Despite the fact that yes, there are women working in comics, there's no doubt that statistics scream that a low percentage of women are creating comics. And Hanley's latest blog shows that while there are more female editors now than there were 15 years ago, there's little change among creators.

Yet the growth of female readers is encouraging many people in the industry to think those fans will just naturally become creators as time progresses.

"I think the female fandom has grown in the past few years because of the reintroduction of comics related to other media, particularly books, TV shows, and movies," said Louise Krasniewicz, anthropologist and lecturer for the University of Pennsylvania who studies fan culture.

Brevoort and Van Meter pointed toward the influence of manga on young girls in recent years, and Berger said graphic novels like Persepolis and Maus have also attracted more women.

Moore said there are also a lot of women who are writing the type of adventure and action material that works well in comics, but they're writing in novels. He believes those writers might migrate to comics if encouraged. "There are plenty of women who can write terrifying action stories. Women can write this material just as well as guys," Moore said. "It's not a guy-only genre."

Van Meter said there is already "an amazing, great amount" of comics being produced that "speak to" young girls, and once libraries and youth publishers get the books into the hands of young people, those girls will begin thinking of careers in the medium. "[The books can] engage them in terms of 'this is something I could do,' or 'I want to do,'" Van Meter said.

"I think it's very possible, that it could happen. Women can come into comics and start writing whatever story they want to, and it can make a tremendous difference in what a comic book is," Moore said. "It's just that they haven't come yet, in a large way, to this medium. But I think that can change."

Newsarama will be continuing its discussion about Women in Comics, looking much closer at each of these topics. Stay tuned for our discussions about this hot-button topic over the coming days.

[top image from left to right: Fiona Staples, Amy Reeder, Jen Van Meter, Christina Strain]

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