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10 May 2006 @ 12:15 am
Comics and attracting female readers  
Some musing inspired by the discussion following this post by heykidzcomix.

The question of how to attract female readers to comic books is the source of much debate and hand-wringing in the industry. The major publishers both, on occasion, decide that they're going to make an effort to get girls into comics. They know that girls like manga, so they try incorporating anime/manga styles and tropes (e.g. Marvel Mangaverse, which is generally terrible, and Mary Jane, formerly Mary Jane Loves Spider-Man, which is charming and fun). They push titles with female heroes beating up baddies. They succeed marginally if at all.

I think the problem is not necessarily one of methodology (although those attempts at anime-fying superheroes can be pretty hamfisted), but of scope. When a publisher decides to attempt to woo female audiences, it's usually its own little thing, set apart from the rest, like one or two titles devoted to the purpose. Meanwhile, the rest of the editors, writers, and artists continue to operate under the (safe) assumption that their audience is primarily young men, and produce accordingly. They know their audience; it just isn't the audience they want to add. So the peace offerings to the female contingent drown in a sea of testosterone, and as a result female readers don't get a significantly better impression of American comic books as a whole.

People tend to repeat the assertion that the problem is that many male writers attempting to write "strong female characters" end up writing macho men with breasts. To some extent this is true, but they also point to the "bad girl" comics as examples. This is a red herring, I think. While "bad girl" creators were fond of claiming that they were promoting "images of strong females", this was never more than an excuse. The central premise behind the bad girls, which I'm certain all of those writers understood, was to have a adolescent wank-fantasies for protagonists, while giving them "macho badass" personalities their adolescent male readers could grok (many boys would have a hard time letting themselves identify with a character who worries about her appearance or is otherwise "girly", but punching people in the face is much more in their comfort zone).
 
 
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Amber "glych" Greenleeglych on May 10th, 2006 07:11 pm (UTC)
I once was asked by Platinum Studios (in a deal that eventually I said no to because it wasn't for enough money for me to quit my job and continue school) if I could make a character of theirs "sexier" in my drawings. I drew up a few more versions of the character, making the breasts larger, the general feel more streamlined to her physique, and, what I thought, more sensual and sexual without being unbelievably thin or stylized in form. The editor loved it! He asked me why my artwork looked "right," and I told him I wasn't opposed to drawing women with big boobs, long legs, and small waists, I was just going to draw these realistically. He asked why I was "opposed" to going the unrealistic route, and I told him the "A." in my name (I was going under the name A. Greenlee at the time, and this communication was through e-mail) stood for "Amber."

He was shocked.

"That a girl was drawing comics that guys would want to buy."

...

My relationship with most editors have been positive, but usually when I go by the name "A. Greenlee." When I started using my first name, I usually only get coloring jobs and the like. I like comics. I don't care that the characters (male AND female) are unbelievable...It's part of the nature of the superhero genre that the US comics industry is composed of. So when someone in or out of the industry either finds out I'm a girl or sees me only as a girl starts to tip toe and babyhandle my opinions about comics I get a little pissed.

What sells comics, good comics (Japanese, French, US, Russian, UK, Etc.) is the STORY and the ART. In that order. Manga art may be the gloss on a story, but it's the story itself which will push readers to keep buying and reading a title after the first issue.

Once publishers realize that they need to start with a good story then find an artist which fits it (not the other way around) only then will more women read comics.

When I hear a girl say "all comics are sexist milestones to geekboy whacking-material" I'll hand them something by Daniel Clowes, Harvey Pekar, or I'll show them Gun Street Girl, or my own work, or even Bendis' and Maleev's run on Daredevil. I'll hand them Blacksad or Blueberry, Asterix, or Little Lulu. I quote to them the words spoken to me by a Holocaust survivor: "Not all Germans were Nazis and not all Nazis were German."

I quote to them words from one of my own stories "You cannot judge and entire group by a chosen few nor a chosen few by an entire group."

The comics "girls would read" are THERE, they're just few and far between in a US market. And the concensus from US publishers that girls need to be lead by the hand to the gut of the superhero genre is bullshit. It's a genre, not an industry. And it's a genre that doesn't appeal to most girls...so find one that does. I know lots of girls that read JTHM by Jhonen Vasquez because they think it's funny. I know a LOT more girls that read webcomics because they might cater to things they know about. I showed one of my friend Justine Shaw's "Nowhere Girl" and she said that THAT would be a comic she would buy.

I don't have much hope for the mainstream superhero publishers.

-glych
Virtue and wineocarina on May 10th, 2006 10:25 pm (UTC)
I am astonished that editors are still of the mind that a woman drawing comics that guys can enjoy is shocking. Wow. I know many women my mother's age that have used a false first name or an initial, but they've all been able to "out" themselves and say women in their fields don't have to do that anymore.

Superhero comics need to get with the times, seriously.

Girls can certainly draw and appreciate sexy female characters. Some of us happen to like girls in the first place. We all just want more variety, like that one article linked from what gwalla linked to. Variety and multiple characters of a certain "type" (whether it be gender or ethnicity) keeps that character from having to represent an entire group of people.

And i'd like to remind people in comics that one reason that Dove campaign for real beauty is so talked about is not just because of women's reactions to it - I don't know how many guys have seen the ads and gone "Yes! Finally some hot women on TV!" Guys like variety, too.
Amber "glych" Greenleeglych on May 10th, 2006 11:54 pm (UTC)
Red Dahlia is about a size 10. I based her body type after Marilyn Monroe who during her career was anywhere between a size 8 and a size 16, depending on the year (Just watch The Misfits sometime where she was at her heaviest).

Despite her weight changes, Marilyn was and will always be beautiful because she had an inner glow that shined through.

Like a good story in comics, it's what's INSIDE that counts.

I once drew a commission of Lady Death for someone at Comic Con; I spent a long time on it, shading it with Copic Markers in different tones of grey. One thing that Adam Hughes understands, is that -if you draw a woman with huge breasts, you draw the body to support them.. That means a slightly wider shoulder width, a little bit more meat around the stomach area than you'd expect, and a little bit more girth in the booty. It evens out the form, making it seem more sensual and soft rather than looking like a twig with bubbles. I've nothing against Michael Turner, I'm just not fond of his liberal use of anatomy.

-glych
Amber "glych" Greenleeglych on May 10th, 2006 11:58 pm (UTC)
I accidently hit "post" before I finished my point.

Anyhoo, this commission I had finished gave Lady Death a realistic body type. When the guy got it, he paid be an extra $50 (on top of the original $30 commission) because it was "the best one he'd ever gotten because she looked like a "real beautiful woman."

It was one of the nicest things anyone ever said about my work...And the $50 went towards several decent meals after the main floor closed for the rest of convention. ^_^

-glych
Derakonderakon on May 11th, 2006 06:08 am (UTC)
May I just say...

Holy shit, your work has gotten better! I last saw your artwork when you were doing...um, the autobiographical comic whose name I now forget. *cough* Very nice work on the Red Dahlia stuff.
Amber "glych" Greenleeglych on May 11th, 2006 05:16 pm (UTC)
*blush*

Thank you.

The semi-autobiographical comic was called "Glych's Experiment."

Check out the rest of the site (Especially the Other Vomics Section) to see some other stuff. I'm still doing to Experiment as well as No Stereotypes (A new version I've been working on since 2003 that was on Modern Tales for a time) and NonPersons (which used to be on Graphic Smash for a time) is there too, though not being updated.

-glych
gwallagwalla on May 11th, 2006 01:01 am (UTC)
That's a good point. Neil Gaiman never had any problem getting women to read Sandman.
Amber "glych" Greenleeglych on May 11th, 2006 04:25 am (UTC)
The character Death became kind of a particular fashion for a lot of goths and punks too, to add to your point.

I see tattoos of her on girls all the time.

-glych