This post is born out of a conversation I had with Dawn Griffin of Zorphbert and Fred (http://www.zfcomics.com). What basically started out as me talking about scrambling to get ready for Emerald City Comic con turned into a discussion about just where women stand in comics, not only in the industry itself, but as a member of it’s massive fanbase.
Now before I jump firmly on my soapbox, there are a few things I should probably point out. First, I am not a woman. I would have hoped that was obvious at this point but it’s worth mentioning in this context. I can’t at all claim to understand what it’s like to be a woman in the comics world, but I do have eyes and ears, and I can hear the amount of hurt that comes from the female side of things. Second, I don’t pretend to know all of the answers to this, all I know is what I will try and do to address it. With all of that being said, here we go.
On the surface my disgust comes with the lack of products, namely shirts, available to women. As a comic creator, we certainly want all the women we can get reading out work. Every set of eyes counts, regardless if those eyes connect to a uterus at some point. With that in mind, maybe someone out there can explain to me why 99% of the merch available to women are pink babydolls with Princess Peach or Domo on the front? I know there are exceptions, but even those exceptions tend to reinforce stereotypes. A Batgirl shirt is awesome, but that doesn’t mean women shouldn’t have a fair shot at owning an Iron Man or Batman shirt ( just because there is a male character on the front). Or what I think is even worse, when they DO put these characters on the shirt, but feel it necessary to justify it by saying something like “Batman is so Dreamy” or whatever. There is a market for this sure, but I’ll let you know that through Gin and Comics I have come in touch with alot of women in webcomics and I assure you, they are just as crude and smart-assed as the boys. You don’t have to “cute-ify” something to make it available to women.
Another thing that really makes me scratch my head is the notion that “girls just don’t read comics.” In order to prove this fact, companies like Marvel will release something like Marvel Diva’s, a book that is a complete joke when it comes to story. Then when the sales numbers come in Marvel will takes it’s poor performance as proof that women just don’t want to read comics… NO. That is not logical. Women don’t want to read crap. Hell I don’t even understand the whole notion that companies need to pander to the female demographic at all. They don’t need “special books” to get into the hobby, they just need to feel like it’s not a boys club.
And the sad thing is, in many shops, it still is a “boy’s club.” I will never forget the stares that Casey got when I took her into my local comic shop for the first time. The guy behind the counter stared her down like she was going to steal something. In fact he followed her around and examined every book she picked up and browsed through to make sure she didn’t screw it up somehow. After that, she never wanted to go back to the comic shop, and I can’t really blame her. The sad thing is, she would still sit at home and flip through the books I picked out for myself, she just didn’t feel comfortable to go and get her own. When you compound this kind of treatment with a lack of merchandise for women, how can they feel it is anything BUT a boy’s club?
Now to stand up for the guy’s a bit, it would be naive and short-sited of me not to acknowledge that there is some truth to the nerdy comic guy stereotype. Comic fans aren’t always the coolest cubes in the tray, that’s just a fact of life. So maybe the staring and unwillingness to talk to women ( as well as all sorts of other bizarre behavior) comes from some sort of anxiety when it comes to talking to women? This may be the case, but it is not an excuse.
The comic industry is suffering. If you want to save it, how about we invite the other half of the species to the party? Comic fans know that inside these brightly colored books with scantily clad women are some fantastic stories. It doesn’t matter what set of reproductive organs you have, everyone can enjoy a good story. The Dark Knight didn’t sell 50 bazillion tickets to just comic guys, I’m pretty sure there were some women in those theaters as well.
In the world of web comics, there is some more diversity, creators like Danielle Corsetto are at the top of the food chain, but the problem there is most female web comic creators are called just that, FEMALE comic creators, not just comic creators. For some reason, people still feel like it is necessary to preface everything these incredibly talented people do by listing their gender first… Honestly, when was the last time something was introduced by stating “today we have this panel of male comic creators…”?
Now look, when it comes right down to it, I’m pretty small cookies in all of this, and whatever change I can merit will be small at best. However I know this, some of the best comics on the net are made by women. Hell some of the best covers on the comic shop shelves are either drawn or colored by women. In my very own city there is a group of women trying to organize a “GeekGirlCon” a convention geared towards women that features everything from gaming and comics to Dr. Who. Women do care about this stuff, and if we can all just stop treating them like second class citizens who knows what we can accomplish. To all of you fellow creators out there, this isn’t supposed to be exclusive, so how about we let everyone come and play. There is some pretty cool stuff going on this side of the fence. And for all of the women who may be reading this. If you want to read comics, play Halo or dress up as a Stormtrooper, don’t let any jerk stop you. It’s more then OK.