Data! Glorious data! I love finding real numbers (or ANY numbers) about comics and graphic novels for kids.
Hope Larson (Chiggers, Mercury, A Wrinkle in Time) recently conducted a nonscientific survey of 198 girls and women who were self-described comics readers during their tweens/teens. Some highlights of the results:
- Most common age to become a comics fan was 12 years old; major drop-off after 14
- Male relatives (often Dad) or male friends introduced many of them to comics
- X-Men most popular comic
- Biggest draw: "relatable, realistic characters (like the misfit X-Men) or 'kick-ass' wish-fulfillment characters"
- Story and artwork were of nearly equal importance (slight edge to story)
- Almost half attended fan (mostly anime) conventions
Hope also asked, "What can authors, publishers, retailers do to better serve teen/tween girls?" Some responses:
- More and better female characters, especially protagonists. Girls want to see strong, in-control, kick-ass women calling the shots.
- A welcoming atmosphere in local comic stores is key. Many respondents reported feeling uncomfortable in comic stores. They were stared at, talked down to, and generally treated without respect.
- Pink, sparkly cutesy comics about boyfriends, ponies, cupcakes and shopping are widely reviled. Condescend to female readers at your peril, writers and comic publishers.
- The hypersexualization/objectification of female superheroines makes female readers uncomfortable, and sexual violence as a plot point has got to stop.
- Make comics for boys and girls. Comics with dual male and female protagonists. Comics with large casts that offer something for everyone.
- Availability is a problem. Get more comics into schools. Get more comics into libraries—especially school libraries. Get more comics into bookstores, especially large chains.
- There need to be more women creating comics and working in the industry as editors and publishers.
"Pink, sparkly cutesy comics about boyfriends, ponies, cupcakes and shopping are widely reviled. Condescend to female readers at your peril, writers and comic publishers."
Ouch. Is that directed at my pink, sparkly, cutesy comics about cupcakes? (Not about boyfriends and shopping ... only occasionally about ponies. Or unicorns.) My reactions:
- Were these particular readers teen girls (or adults thinking back on their teen years), who are past the Babymouse age (i.e., elementary/early middle school)?
- Since these are self-described "comics fans," are they much more into Direct Market (i.e., comic book publishers) comics and less into book-publisher-produced graphic novels?
- Are they just reacting to cheap, hollow filler comics churned out by evil corporations looking to sell plastic dolls, and not to our own loveable, sincere, witty little mouse (who does not condescend to readers)?
- Is this is a small, nonrepresentative sample size?
- Does Babymouse, indeed, condescend and offend?
"There need to be more women creating comics and working in the industry as editors and publishers."
This is one that I don't quite know how to address. With the recent growth of graphic novels for younger readers, I feel like there are many different worlds colliding, and so perceptions differ widely depending on your own trajectory.
For example, you don't have to be a genius to recognize that the comic book field, especially the DC and Marvel traditions, is, um, OVERFLOWING with guys. Not so much with the girls. I didn't come up through the whole Comics Convention scene like so many other comics artists, but having attended a few (and having shopped in some of the non-girl-friendly comic book shops described earlier), I can imagine that it could be an intimidating scene for women (both as creators and as attendees).
But coming, as I do, from other areas of publishing—magazines and books—that gender imbalance is not universal. Quite the opposite: At my magazine, I was one of 5 men (at the peak! it was sometimes less) on my floor, among some 25 women. That seemed to be a pretty average ratio (at least at Hearst). Likewise, the vast majority of children's book editors (I can't speak for adult books) are women. In fact, I've only ever worked for (and largely with) women.
Female creators of graphic novels (particularly for young readers, the area with which I'm most familiar) are likewise in good supply. Off the top of my head, I can think of:
- My sister
- Raina Telgemeier
- Cherise Mericle Harper
- Jill Thompson
- Shannon Hale
- Ursula Vernon
- Eleanor Davis
- Cecil Castellucci
- Jane Yolen
- Jane Espenson
- Alison Bechdel
- Laini Taylor
- ... and Hope Larson herself.
So, taking the comics field as a whole (including DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, and Image, with their vast and vastly influential output), yep, we definitely need more women in the workplace. But considering, at least in my opinion, that the Direct Market publishers have barely been bothering to serve young readers at all in recent decades, that leaves the lion's share of young people's comics to traditional book publishers, who have a nice gender balance.
... so, really, the complaint might be better framed as, "Traditional comic book publishers need more women creators and editors." I think those of us on the book side just need to make sure the current ratio doesn't slip. And to keep bringing more creators into the fold; we need more comics for kids!
Thanks again to Hope for compiling all of this! And I will say this: If there's one thing we DO need more of, it's more data about comics for younger readers, and about those readers themselves! Keep it up, folks.