I’ve talked to quite a few non-comics and comics people about the events of the past couple of weeks. I talked to them about a Teen Titans cover, subsequent rape threats, a coffee t-shirt, and the reaction that followed. In short, non-comics people were shocked and amazed that our cuddly little hobby had such a dark side, and comic book people were not surprised at all.
Comic books are a medium. They are method of conveying information in artistic expression. They are not intrinsically more for boys or more for girls in the same way that movies, or books, or opera are not more for boys or more for girls. They are stories, and last I checked stories were for everyone, and not owned by any select group.
Yes, historically somewhere along the line superhero books became the dominant product and was primarily marketed to boys, but that isn’t the case any longer. The fastest growing customer base is now women.
I worked in a comic book store for years. I started around the time of Pokemon cards and while many readers might have a negative opinion of the game, selling these cards had a positive effect on many local comic books shops. That is, it brought mothers and young children (boys and girls) in the stores. Savvy store owners saw that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to have a dirty, dungeon of a store. Maybe it should be cleaner, family friendly, and have a wide variety of product. And maybe, just maybe women should be hired to work in these new comic book stores of tomorrow!
With more women customers and employees we needed to adopt a harassment policy. Harassment wasn’t to be tolerated. If people said something stupid or offensive they were asked to apologize, leave the store, or in a few cases, were banned outright (this went for sexist, racist, and homophobic remarks). The point was that this was supposed to be a space where all people felt welcome. I worked in this shop from 1997-2001. I get that change takes time but I thought we’d be further along 13 years later.
I love this industry. I think that comic books are a great artistic medium. But how is it even possible that we need to shine a light on the fact that if you disagree with someone’s assessment of a comic book cover you should not threaten them with rape? Or threaten them at all? Or outright dismiss their argument because of their gender? It is so ludicrous that I need to type these words.
But I guess if you think it is okay to threaten someone with rape I’m not really talking to you because no amount of discussion would convince you of how wrong you are. Quite frankly if you think that this sort of behaviour is okay I don’t want you in this industry in any capacity. For the rest of us we need to stop being quiet.
The myth of fake geek girl and the pervasive methods of exclusion and harassment are not okay. Belittling comments are not okay. When you think of someone as less than simply because of their gender, or race, or sexual orientation you are committing a grievous error, and our society is worse off because of it.
If you saw someone talking to your mother in this way would you stay quiet? What if someone dismissed your wife’s opinion because she was a woman? Or your daughter? Your niece? Your cousin? Your friends? Would you stay quiet then?
Janelle Asselin used a comic book cover to make a larger point about target audiences in the comic book industry. Namely, that when you have a very large younger audience that includes females you might not want to make books aimed at 18-34 year old men. No one is saying that you can’t have your “sexy” superheroes boys, but what companies need to think about is how they market what is supposed to be a PG-13 universe. I’m not sure that it is your right to have a sexually explicit Batman comic because “readers are older” and “want adult stories”. You can have your sex comics. They just aren’t in a universe enjoyed by children and pre-teens. This is a point that I have talk about before and yet, to the best of my knowledge, I have not ever been threatened because of this opinion.
Comic books seem to be selling fewer and fewer copies each month and it will certainly stay that way if the targeted audience is the same (ageing) demographic. If you drive out new readers your hobby will crumble and you will be left with nothing.
Comic books are for everyone. Star Wars is for everyone. Lego is for everyone. Dressing up is for everyone. Conventions are for everyone. And everyone means everyone, not just 30 year old men.
Finally, here is a list of those far more eloquent than I who have talked about this matter and you should follow them on Twitter: Janelle Asselin, Jill Pantozzi, Heidi Macdonald, Kate Leth, Jordie Bellaire, Allison Baker, Andy Kouri, Andrew Wheeler, and Greg Rucka.
I’ve followed these stories and can’t get over the fact people need to be told it’s not OK to threaten other people. This is a much larger issue than comic fans, as it seems society is spiraling out of control and common sense is now completely uncommon.
And it’s worth noting, that 13 years later, that shop where you worked currently has seven female staff members out of 16 total (including two store managers and one primary buyer for two major departments). It took one pioneering young woman — who had to put up with more than her fair share of boorish behavior — but, once the dam was broken, it became the new normal.
And while you’re absolutely correct to highlight the importance of Pokemon — both in terms of bringing a different audience into comic shops but also for its gender equity — let’s not ignore MANGA too! Probably nothing did more to bring young female readers back to comics in North America than that. Part of what we’re seeing now, particularly on the creative side, is the consequence of that generation now being 20-somethings interested in telling their own stories in a medium they love.
To end on a positive note: for all the depressing impression that the last few weeks on the comic internet (rightfully) creates, I’m firmly convinced that what we’re seeing now is the last death throes of an old cultural paradigm. The good folks are winning, and it’s that friction and fear of change that’s creating the problem. The problem couldn’t even be perceived a decade and a half ago because women were, by and large, excluded from mainstream North American comics (and “store” culture). Now that they’re not, the remaining bastions of the old ways are having a hard time adapting.
That IS progress, and reflective of what happens during most periods of social change. We’re getting there and more and more, more than they have been in decades, North American comics ARE for everyone!
I covered this topic a bit with Pete in the last episode of Pop Porn. As you said, women are becoming one of the largest markets for comic retailers and the stores and people running/working in them need to clean up their act. If you haven’t yet, take a listen to my opinion on the matter.
I completely agree with you, comics are for everyone, as movies are as any of the medium you wrote about in your article. There are some books marketed towards one sexual demographic or the other, but in general it’s a pretty balanced market.
And, I do have to point out that I am the token girl on the site. I would love to see this site represent the market more, so if there are any women reading this, we want you (or at least I want you) to help represent the true market of comics.
Good article Anthony!