My post last week about the new Kevin Smith show Comic Book Men and the comments it generated, both on the site and Twitter, got me thinking about the role of women in comics. Not just female characters in comic books themselves, but the place of female fans, writers, artists, and creators in the notably male-dominated realm of the comic book world. I dove into discussions of women writers and read scores of “how to get your girlfriend to like comics” posts, talked to bloggers on all ends of the gender spectrum, and am no closer to finding a consensus on the problem: deliberate sexism or coincidence of interest?
How do you get women to read comics? Well, why do they need to? I read comics because I find that they bring together the visual stimulation of television and film, with the expansive imagination inflation of literature.
But the world of comics is a big and scary one, and it is hard to make recommendations for any new reader, gender aside. What is detrimental to a happy introduction into comics is immediately separating comics into “girl comics” and “boy comics”, which happens all too frequently. I can’t even say that there are titles which girls “generally” like. Instead, recommendations should be made based on a reader’s other interests. For example, I read Batman because I like police procedurals (and rasping “I am Batman!” when I have a sore throat). I read shojo-ai manga because I like fluffy romance novels.
Honestly, I read Catwoman because I am a red-blooded dyke. And because it’s damned entertaining.
There is so much variety in story and art, especially now, that anyone with an interest in comics should be able to find something to recommend to a newbie friend, regardless of gender.
One of the blogs I now follow whole-heartedly is Girls Read Comics, which not only showcases strong female characters in the books, but also spotlights the women who write and draw for the big houses. Gail Simone immediately comes to mind as the powerhouse behind the woman-centred Birds of Prey and the decidedly masculine Deadpool, as well as artists and writers like Adriana Melo and Devin K. Grayson, who have both contributed to many of the new titles from DC and leading titles from Marvel. The infamously dark horror title Hellblazer (the basis for the Keanu Reeves film Constantine) was being penned by Scottish crime writer Denise Mina for a year. It’s amazing how many influential titles now have female creative drives behind them; not only women, but male writers who can rock a female-driven storyline and create fully-realised female characters. I will just say the amazing J. Michael Strazynski deserves a shout-out here; he was writing kick-ass female characters for television before Buffy changed the heroine landscape. Alan Moore, the creator of such iconic titles as Watchmen, has been interviewed repeatedly on the importance of female-driven stories.
No Girls Allowed
I had a driving instructor named Fred. He taught all his students about Fredland, a magical place where everyone obeyed the rules of the road and no one was a dumb driver. I like to think that there is a place called Dland, where women feel comfortable hanging out in their local comic book shops, and more conversations are held about whether Batman or Superman would win in a sexy pillow fight. Unfortuantely, I think that’s still a ways off. The times, they are a changin’, what with more women involved in the creation of comics and more retailers and publishers trying to make their product more available to a wider audience. The head of Marvel’s social media team is one of the fairer sex! But we are only at the beginning of that sea change in comics. For the moment, it’s still a boy’s club because it has been a boy’s club, and there has been no reason for that to change. But there is a new class of reader now, a discerning reader who demands a higher quality in their comic books and the stories they tell.
Comic Book Men are turning into Comic Book People at a more rapid pace every day. The progress is steady. There are no legal or ritualistic barriers to the participation of women. Only the fear of the previously unknown.
What brave new world, with such comics in it!
Bloodstains on the Looking Glass (Gail Simone’s blog)