Comics for Girls?

Interesting oddment today, brought to my attention by Abaddon & Solaris Books editor Jenni Hill on Twitter.

Maura McHugh noted on her blog today that Mark Millar’s upcoming UK comicon, Kapow!, has no female guests listed–out of a roster of 40. I’m not liking those odds. Of course, who’s to say that the line-up won’t change between now and the event–but really? Forty confirmed guests and they can’t holler up one woman who works in comics?

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying anything negative about the guests who are on there–there’s some excellent people listed–but it seems a shame there isn’t space for at least one woman too (yes, I know. One is merely something akin to tokenism, but you see where I’m coming from).

Comics are all too often still seen as a male province when it comes to readership (something which recently led Gail Simone to write this blog) and I can only imagine it’s worse on the inside. I looked at my own comic collection and this bore out the theory: although I’ve got some by female artists and writers, they’re vastly outnumbered by men. And this made me curious.

Enter Wikipedia, stage left: List of female comics creators. It’s mahoosive. Alright: “creators” covers many sins. So split it out into artists and writers. Even allowing for overlap between the two and the fact that (let’s face it) this is Wikipedia, that’s a big old list. Too big to register a 0% representation at what’s obviously intended as a UK version of Comicon.

After I subjugated my initial feminist rage (sorry. I was given a book on the Suffragettes at an early age. It stuck.) I thought about it. Should we be making an issue of “women in comics”? There’s an interesting article here in support of a gender-neutral approach–that in shouldn’t matter who wrote or pencilled or coloured the comic, as long as they’re good; that talent shouldn’t have a gender-bias. And to a degree, I can go with that. To a degree. Because shouldn’t girls who want to get into comics have clear and obvious female role models, too–shouldn’t they be visible at every level? Where are the Nellie Gaimans, the Michelle Careys, the Becky Templesmiths… and am I ever going to get these slightly disturbing images out of my head?

And if they genuinely aren’t out there (which I find hard to believe–honestly, I do) then why aren’t they?

I’m going to open this one up to the floor: any ideas? Will this change, maybe as comics continue their march into the mainstream? Does it matter? Should it matter–and why?

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7 comments

  1. Interesting points there. I’m a huge comic fan and reader (although nearly exclusively of DC Comics) and a quick tally in my head shows some of my favourite writers and artists are women – Amanda Conner, Gail Simone, Nicola Scott, Leah Moore, to name just four. Certainly Gail Simone is up there (to my mind) with the greats of comic writing – my three favourite comic writers ever are Alan Moore, Kurt Busiek, and Gail Simone.

    However, I’m a supporter of the gender-neutral approach. I don’t like these creators (and others) because they are women, I like these creators because they are good at what they do. Gender has nothing to do with it, and I don’t think it should have anything to do with it.

    I guess there is a larger issue here of comics being a male-dominated industry with a male-dominated readership, and there are various theories as to why this is. However, just to head one argument off at the pass: female superheroes may be ridiculously sexualised in comic art some/most of the time, with impossible busts, musculature and figures, but then equally (and I really mean equally) so are male superheroes. But perhaps that argument has (hopefully) gone out the window a long time ago.

    Female comic readership is strong though, even if a minority. I had heard that most of the complaints about the new Wonder Woman costume actually came from female fans who wanted the traditional Amazonian warrior look maintained. And speaking of impossible busts, the new series of Power Girl was drawn for the first 12 issues by Amanda Conner, who also specialises in Wonder Woman, Batgirl, and other female superheroes.

    But I digress. Women in comics (behind the scenes) are a minority but a very powerful one. Yes, it is male-dominated, but I do believe in gender neutrality. Having said that, if one had to come up with a list of guests for a convention (or the table of contents for a fiction anthology, to use a recent example) and the initial list was all-male, it wouldn’t be too hard to take another look and pick some female creators just as talented and worthy of inclusion. I would just hope that more guests will be added to Ka-Pow, including some female ones.

    1. There’s some great points there, Adam, and things I’ve been thinking about myself.

      Certainly, in the case of comics in particular, I don’t think it’s possible to talk about any gender-related issue without at least paying lip-service to the portrayal of female characters and the impact this might (or might not…) have on female readers / creators / potential members of both groups. For instance, I was reading Deadpool: Head Trip over Christmas, and that really does have some classic stereotypical female characters… but, you can argue, this is Deadpool – and when you’re dealing with a character notorious for breaking the 4th wall and commenting on his creators to the audience, all bets are off. Anyway, I’m rambling.

      So. Item: does the portrayal of women in comics put women off both reading and writing them? Not sure. Can… open. Worms… everywhere. Next?

      I can only assume when you mention a recent anthology, you’re referring to the BFS debacle: in a roundabout way, I hope so – because it’s the first thing I thought of too. That’s ground already well-trodden, but it’s still a valid comparison.

      In essence, I agree with the gender-neutral ideal. But here’s the thing that concerns me: imagine you’re a teenage girl.. or a woman, for that matter, who’s interested in comics. You read them, you want to draw them or write them. You’ve already had to negotiate places like Forbidden Planet or an independent comic store–and helpful, passionate and friendly as they may be (particularly in the case of the latter), they’re usually heavily man-centric: last time I was in FP, for instance, I was the only woman in there. Bearing this in mind, where are the visible female role models within the comics industry? You’re spot on when you say, “Hey, there are great writers and artists out there” – why aren’t they being held up for girls to see, to show them that this is a place for women too? We’ve had that in genre fiction for years now (the odd hiccup aside, of course…), so why not in comics? Where are the female superstars of the comics world: why don’t we get to see them, to hear about them in the same way we do the men? I intensely respect a lot of those men–as I said in my post, I have absolutely no desire to take anything away from them, or from their talent: I just want to see the women working in the field get the same kind of recognition.

      Gosh, that was long, wasn’t it? Eeep.

      To sum up: yes. What you said, Adam. More guests for Kapow!, and let’s have a couple of ladies in there while you’re at it!

  2. If we’re talking about just mainstream comics (and by that I mean Marvel, DC and probably Dark Horse), then no, there’s not a ton of women writing or drawing comics (although there are plenty in editorial/support roles, which I also think are incredibly important). But outside of that, there’s an amazing number of women making comics right now. (Check out the amazingly long list Raina Telgemeier offers up in this interview.) And the success of more “literary” creators like Marjane Satrapi and Alison Bechdel in the past decade have shown women are making comics.

    Do I think more female creators should be in the mainstream? Sure, if that’s their goal. Do I think more should get invited as guests to cons? Absolutely. But I think that’s a different discussion — not so much “Why aren’t women making comics?” and more “Why aren’t people paying more attention to women who are making comics?”

    (Cool blog, by the way.)

    1. Thanks!

      What you’ve said is certainly true – looking at the lists of “Women In Comics”, there does seem to be a tendency towards the indie, and literary, as you say… and again, a part of me’s wondering why that is. Is it an industry issue, or do women want to tell different kinds of story to the ones available via the mainstream, and in different ways?

      I find it very hard to split out the different parts of the argument (it’s that Patented Feminist Rage thing again, isn’t it?). I suppose I’ve been trying very hard to avoid breaking it down to that final question–that of why people aren’t paying attention–because I can only see the answer as making me sad…

  3. There used to be some who were my absolute favourites. Topping the bill was Donna Barr (Stinz and Desert Peach), then Vicky Wyman (Xanadu) and Carla Speed McNeil (Finder/Mystery Date and occasionally Shanda the Panda). Yeah, used to collect Furry comics. Not seen any from these for a long time though I gather Donna’s got a new Stinz collection out (loved her work on the Lace and Steel RPG- Centaurs, Satyrs, magic and musketeers, how can you go wrong, and I didn’t realise until recently that she did illustrations for the old Traveller RPG journal).

  4. Lou, I have many thoughts on this that I have not time to type out just now, but at some point I shall brain fart a lengthy thing onto this page… just to give you fair warning.

    In the meantime, Laydeez do Comics – http://www.laydeezdocomics.com/ – is of the awesome and being as how you are more Londony based than I you might be able to actually get to some of them.

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