For the past two weeks, Ive been deep in the final research stages of my major research paper, which is a feminist analysis of comic books and comic book adaptations. Once this is done (hopefully by next week *fingers crossed!*) and provided all goes well mark-wise, I¹ll have my MA in comic books.
So, tonight, when I was reading up on women and comic books, I came across this little quote by Douglas Wolk (from his book Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What they Mean): For a few decades, mainstream comics were so overwhelmingly male-dominated that the industry had not the faintest idea of how to connect with potential women customers. Now that got me to thinking. Its kind of like the chicken and the egg and which one came first. I mean, in the past, have comic books always thought to be a masculine medium and so the producers never thought to produce comics for women? Or, were the majority of women just not interested in comics and so publishers and producers never bothered to publish books for what few female audience members there were?
Well, I believe it’s a little of both. Part of the reason why I stopped reading comics when I was younger was because they were for boys and I felt
alienated from my beloved superheroes. Tales of their adventures ceased to speak to me. Don¹t get me wrong, I was never really a girly-girl (I know, you’re all shocked!) but I felt like those stories (as awesome as they are to read now) were apart of a club where I wasn’t welcomed.
When I got back into comics by this point, I had fully embraced my sci-fi/fantasy geekery as well as a healthy dose of feminism (it does a body
good!) I still felt like an outsider but that was more because I had been away for so long and had yet to get acquainted with what I missed over those years. (As much research as I¹ve done and no matter how many hours I spent working at a comic book store, I still feel that way sometimes and am in awe of those comic book geeks who can quote issue and verse on any bit of random trivia.
I’m glad to see that there are so many more (superhero) comic book geekettes than in the past internet fandom had a lot to do with it. There are a lot more female comic book (and graphic novel) fans period. Most were attracted by the increasing popularity of manga as well as the success of a number of non-superhero texts across a number of genres.
The DC/Minx imprint hoped to cash into the increasing number of (teenage) girls and women and released a number of excellent alternative-comic texts that failed to not only attract but also sustain this burgeoning market. There wasn’t enough interest and the project was canceled. This was a profound blow on two fronts: it reinforced the notion that, even if comics/graphic novels were created for and marketed to women, they still weren’t interested in them; and, consequently, why should mainstream comics producers like DC and Marvel both producing content for them when the resources could be better allocated elsewhere?
So, it all goes back to what came first, the chicken or the egg?
Shelley Smarz is a life long comic book fan. She’s currently attending the presdigious Ryerson University. Her Master’s thesis is on Jean Grey.