Geek. Pirate. Mom

The Life and Times of Whitney Drake

Girls and Comics.

I wanted to write a long post about how the comics industry fails women as an audience. But then I realized that I don’t have a lot of the scans I’d saved over the years anymore. (Yes, this is the short version)

The big part of why a lot of girls (and for this, I do mean girls 8-17) don’t get into reading comic books is because most of the series are marketed towards men. Batman and Superman are cool, but Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Batgirl and Lois Lane are relatable.

Kate Beaton illustrates the impossible pose often seen in comics

But look at any comic book cover, and if there’s a woman on it, she’s likely to be scantily clad, contorted in a way to show off all her assets (see the image at right for an example). I’m not saying that female superheroes can’t be sexy- but at the same time, upskirt shots of Supergirl and exposed cleavage down to a belly button probably aren’t going to make teenage girls comfortable with even buying the issue. And forget convincing a mom that it’s okay.

Then once a girl/woman has started reading a mainstream comic series, it’s sort of easy to fall out of love with them. Either the female characters start to do all the cliche “girl” things (like being more concerned about their appearance than what they’re there for- which I seem to recall happening in a Supergirl book not all that long ago) or they’re engaging, entertaining… and get killed off/tortured/raped simply to further a male character’s plot. Yes, that happens. It’s been dubbed Women in Refrigerators syndrome after the ’94 Green Lantern story in which Kyle Rayner returned home to find his girlfriend dead and yes, stuffed in a refrigerator. (Admittedly, in an RPG game of mine, I pulled one stunt which was WiR-esque and I’ve regretted it for years. I really wish I hadn’t been talked into it.)

Yes, a lot of women and girls read manga. They tend to read a lot of indie comics as well. And why? Not necessarily because some of them are love and romance- it’s because the characters presented in them, male and female, are usually well written and seem like real people. You don’t have to worry about whether or not Character A is suddenly going to seem as though they’ve been lobotomized and drool over a boy, when it’s unlike anything they’ve done before.

Dean Trippe posted a pitch he’d put together for a YA illustrated novel for DC, titled Lois Lane: Girl Reporter. Knowing his writing, it would have been clever, smart, and great. On Twitter, someone complimented him on his work and said they hoped it would help others do female characters justice. He said, “i’ll tell you my secret to writing female heroes as well as the dudes: i just use female pronouns. :P ” If you have a few minutes, take a look at what DC wasn’t interested in. And then be a little sadder because LL:GR doesn’t exist beyond that pitch.

But the fact that DC wasn’t interested in it? Shows me that they really aren’t interested in having girls (again, actual girls this time) start reading comics. So please, comics community at large- stop writing women as plucky heroines or mere love interests. Just write them as characters that happen to be women. Give them things to do, people to save, and yes… it’s okay to let them get hurt, but don’t make it just to solve a problem you had with someone else’s storyline. But don’t treat them like the mandatory T&A for a cover.

Oh, and learn the difference between skimpy and sexy. Women don’t have to be dressed like strippers to be sexy. Wonder Woman’s original outfit? Sexy. Witchblade? Skanky, and uncomfortable. Poor Sara Pezzani must have gone broke from losing her clothes all the time.

So what do you think, internet? Am I totally off base in thinking that this is what’s keeping girls and women from being a bigger demo in comics?

(Also, Kate Beaton’s website may be found here: Hark, a vagrant. Her hilarious drawing was posted to Twitter, which is a must-follow if you remotely are a fan of her art)

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  • Bill H

    To be fair, Witchblade has been very different to the “skanky” you mentioned since Ron Marz took over a long time ago. Then again, this is the same Ron Marz that created Kyle Rayner and the whole Women in Refrigerators so you probably haven’t been looking at it. The cheesecake element has been gone for years. But your point stands, I guess. It’s just the example you picked to demonstrate it is years out of date. Bomb Queen, Hack/Slash or those Grimm Tales books do skanky still.

  • Anonymous

    Honestly, I just brought up Witchblade because I’d recently come across some old issues that I own. So she just popped into my head when I thought of stripper-esque initial character design. Because usually, it’s hard to add clothes to a character after she’s debuted.

  • Dr. Skipper

    I have two girls and I take them to the comic store all the time. I would love for their to be a comic that they could read that would be a good role model for them. The comic genre has been dominated by men for long that the current situation is only natural I guess.

    Somewhere there has to be an artist, maybe a female artist, who would address this issue. It seems like a huge untapped market to me.

  • Anonymous

    I will say that there are lots of wonderfully written books out there these days (which I realize now that I neglected to mention), that are thoughtfully done and empowering to women. But generally not so good for girls.

    However, when they’re a little older you can track down the Baby sitter club graphic novels by Raina Telgemeier. As well as her GN Smile. Also wonderfully sweet, but better for tweens is Amy Kim Ganter’s Sorcerers and Secretaries. The truth is, it’s out there- but you’re better off looking at indie artists and in manga for a way to get them involved. Mainstreams labels are apparently decades away from realizing that they’re missing the boat.

  • lavode

    “Women don’t have to be dressed like strippers to be sexy.”

    What I still don’t understand is the assumption that female characters *must* be sexy. Many writers, artists and other creators seem to think that the audience will happily plow through lengthy stories about male characters even if they don’t find them sexy – but apparently a female character who isn’t sexually interesting isn’t interesting at all.

  • Anonymous

    You make a great point. And that is an inequity that I feel silly for overlooking… though admittedly, my stripper comment was thrown in at the last minute as I wrote the post. I could write another lengthy blog post about that one, too.

    For the most part, however, you do have to concede that most of the major mainstream male characters in common are good looking- it’s part of the idealism that they embody, I suppose. And the more murky the antihero’s behavior,