Are women and comics risky business?
"Has Boobs Reads Comics" blogger Jill Pantozzi.
October 24th, 2011
02:39 PM ET

Are women and comics risky business?

Editor's note: Christian Sager is the creator of "Think of the Children" and "Border Crossings." He has also written essays about the comics industry, punk subculture and national identity.

This summer, “Womanthology,” a hardcover comics anthology made entirely by female creators, raised a staggering $109,000 on the fundraising site Kickstarter.

Also this summer, the comics community argued ad nauseum about the lack of women creating mainstream comics. The accusations culminated at San Diego Comic-Con when several people, including a woman dressed as Batgirl, went to panels about DC’s re-launch and asked why only 1% of their creators were women.

In these events lie an incongruity between the support for women making comics and the gaping gender disparity between mainstream comics creators.

Why is it that mainstream publishers don’t hire as many women? Why don’t they target female readers? Why do they often portray female characters with hyper-sexualized bodies?

"They think it's important because it's what's "known" to sell the best... and not a financial risk," Renae De Liz, comic book artist and project manager for "Womanthology" said.

Cash rules everything around comics
"Women are going where they're being paid, and where they're sought after," said MK Reed, writer of "Americus," and the creator of the web comic "About A Bull."

Since not all female creators want to make super-hero comics, they turn to other publishing avenues like manga, webcomics and small press. Jill Pantozzi, a comic blogger, agrees, adding that female creators also want to go where they’ll see the most growth in their career.

Women have "certainly carved out a lucrative niche industry," in manga,  G. Willow Wilson, an author and graphic novelist, said. She believes the creative teams in manga are likely close to 80% female.

Amy Reeder, one of the few women currently illustrating for DC Comics, started her career in manga, alongside many other female creators. But it's  much harder to find work in that realm today, she said, especially for Americans.

Mainstream publishers have many women working for them now, but in editorial, production and administrative positions, rather than creative ones, said Corinna Bechko, writer of "Heathentown" and the upcoming "Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes."

But, "It's not like you sit in meetings and hear 'we can't hire so-and-so, because she's a woman,'" Janelle Asselin, a former DC associate editor said. "That just doesn't happen."

Editors at mainstream publishers hire creators who they know will deliver, she said, either by selling books through name recognition or because they are reliable. "Trying new talent is a risk," she said.

There are less women self-publishing or working on independent comics, which makes it harder for DC or Marvel to find female creators that can deliver quality work in a decent time frame. Asselin said having those creators reach out to editors is rare.

"In my time as an editor, I've been contacted by exactly one woman looking for work.  I hired her, because she was good and I happened to have a spot to see what she could do.  But if I hadn't known of her, would I have gone looking for a woman, or hired one of the men I know that can do her job?" Asselin said.

For this very reason, Wilson thinks the scarcity of women in the industry never occurs to those in charge. "They're just hiring people who write and draw comics they like," she said. "They honestly didn't understand the magnitude of the problem. Which is both sad and telling."

Because the comics industry is so small, Bechko said, a lot of its hiring depends on networking. "So how does a woman who doesn't know anyone at the company break in?" asks Pantozzi.

Young men are safe investments
If it's a financial risk for mainstream publishers to hire female creators outside of their conventional circles, it's also a risk to produce comics with women as the target audience.

"Think about it from the publisher's point of view," Asselin said. "Say you sell 90% of your comics to men between 18 and 35, and 10% of your comics to women in the same age group.  Are you going to a) try to grow that 90% of your audience because you feel you already have the hook they want and you just need to get word out about it, or b) are you going to try to figure out what women want in their comics and do that to grow your line?"

Comics are a business and publishers are unlikely to take a chance on building female readership, Asselin said. Reeder confirms that there's uneasiness within the industry about taking chances.

“Tender waists and huge mammary glands”
In addition to the risks in hiring female creators and targeting more comics to women, it's also a financial gamble for publishers to change their hyper-sexualized portrayal of the female body.

"The reason the ideal body type is a big deal is merely the fact that it has sold so many books in the past 70 plus years," Jen Vaughn, a blogger and cartoonist said.

"Ideal body types have been selling dolls, make-up and clothes for decades, centuries. The ideal merely changes with society and comics are the weekly proof of the current ideal, smacking you in the face," Vaughn said.

Idealized body images of both men and women are integral to mainstream comics as products, Jeffrey A. Brown, an associate professor of popular culture at Bowling Green State University, said.

"Superhero comics have always been rooted in an adolescent male power fantasy for the traditionally young male readers to identify with. It comes down to the pleasure of imagining yourself as achieving our cultural ideal of masculinity," he said.

Wilson agrees. "If superheroes were just like us, they wouldn't be super. So you get idealized bodies, both for men and women," she said.

The problem, Wilson said, is that since these body types are already aggressively marketed to women, the hypersexual bodies of female super-heroes only add to our culture's existing body image crisis.

For example, "instead of getting Hulk-like muscles, they get firm bodies, bigger breasts, and perfect hair," Brown said. "She-Hulk does not get big and veiny, she gets sexy."

"I'm not sure the tender waists of many lead characters could possibly hold up their huge heads of hair and mammary glands," Vaugn said.

Female characters can be both strong and sexy, Pantozzi said, without having breasts their torsos can't support. "Regular size female characters would be fantastic," she said, "but what would be even better would be if we could just see some female characters who weren't so unrealistic in their body shapes."

Women don’t want puppies and rainbows
And what of “Womanthology” and its incredible success? Pantozzi thinks publishers should be scanning the credits in the book to scout for new talent. Asselin however would rather see an increase in the amount of women working for mainstream comics.

Even though projects like “Womanthology” are successful, Asselin doesn’t think they push women into the industry enough. “Doing specialized projects for women only is putting us all in a corner of the playground together instead of letting us play in the sandbox with everyone else, and that’s not fair,” she said.

“Comics fans are an educated bunch who are socially aware and take an active interest in what they consume,” Reeder said, “and they hold publishers accountable.”

This is where publishers seem to get hung up. “They seem to have this image that we want puppies and rainbows,” Pantozzi, said. “All we want are stories that are entertaining, don’t demean women and don’t turn women off by needlessly sexual art.”

At least 30% of the attendees she sees at comics conventions are women, Reeder estimates. “If they aren’t all reading comics,” she said, “we are obviously doing something wrong.”

Asselin has been researching how to increase sales of comics to women for her graduate thesis in publishing at Pace University.

78% of the women she’s surveyed say they read super-hero comics. Most of her respondents also thought comics publishers were bad at marketing to women. “At some point a comic publisher will realize that they can grow their audience by quite a bit by targeting women,” she said. “As long as they go about it in an intelligent way.”

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  8. maxwest

    Some of the best artists and storytellers I've met are actually women. I personally think female artists are better off with the independent scene; mainstream superhero comics are much too cliche. But that's just my opinion.

    I do wonder why the issue of female bodies and costumes in superhero comics are only an issue now. This has been going on for decades.

    October 29, 2011 at 8:12 am |
  9. KajinPL

    This does pose a good argument. Most of the super-powered females are shaped like that. It seems that mostly just the supporting female characters have regular shapes like Mary Jane, Gwen Stacy and others.

    October 25, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
  10. Julie S. Anaheim, CA

    Geez, after all the "Women in Power" Panels we used to hold with Janette Khan back in the late ‘80s – early ‘90s, I thought this junk was over. Now I see, it's rebooted up again? Guess all the time the editors told me I was a "Woman Pioneer" in comics was all lip-service.

    I've definitely got something to say: We are here, just as talented as the men, and can write stories around many, probably before they can figure out what a "Jovian Orbit" even is (without Googling it). And I don’t mean just for “Scooby-Doo and the Mystery Machine.”

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken both my writing and my art, and handed it to many of the editors. You know what I’ve received at the SD Comicon? “So, you’re the writer, and he’s the artist, right?” After I tell them he’s a friend I’d get, “But-but, you’re such a nice girl, and you drew this!?” That’s the type of response I’ve received, over and over again. Then I’d get scolded and told, “Girls should draw cute fuzzy bunnies.” This is AFTER being in the business my entire adult life. So, you mean because I’m female, I’m not ALLOWED to draw horror, or anything other than cutesy junk? What about all the violent comics I’ve already worked on that have been published!?

    I’m a woman creator, not a bloody doll. I work hard, even have given comic book scripts overnight when editors desperately needed them. Then, I see this. Back when I moved to CA from Chitown, we were at LEAST 5% of the creative force. What happened? In the ‘90s in Artist’s Alley, I saw fathers bring their wives, mothers bring their daughters. The little girls would say, “Can I grow up and be like you?” It brought tears to my eyes; I’d thought this mess was over then.

    Where are all those girls now? I know they’re reading their parents or brothers comics. Perhaps some have kids of their own, and are geeking out, reading this.

    Because if anyone had bothered to REALLY read their comic history, they’d know this: Before the comic book burnings, before the Comic Authority, women were reading comics! You had fantasy, sci-fi, horror, western, etc., you name it. When EC was taken down, our nightmare began with many comics stopped being published almost overnight. Those outside of the superhero lines, were the ones girls and women were interested in, were suddenly chopped for being “Outside the Comics Code.” Thus began the dark years of comics, which we were finally able to strip away, around 1990.

    Just like then as today, women like more than a man running around in spandex, come on! We also don’t like cookie-cutter women, either.

    This is why many of us have been working on our own creations. If the Big Boys won’t take a chance on us again, we already have: ourselves.

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    October 24, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
    • Pam Harrison

      Totally right, Julie! Last year at Mid Ohio Con a fan REFUSED to allow Lora Innes to autograph her books for him because he was convinced her husband had done all of it. She finally told her husband to sign the books so he would go, but I told Lora, "Never again. From now on, you tell those bums to take a hike!" I hate seeing female artists go thru that crap.

      October 24, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
      • Nora

        Safety bid? You mean a shill bid? And he's like NO! A SAFETY BID!I couldn't bevliee that I had just been shilled on one of my own pieces, only to have the guy turn around and try to sell it back to me. For a, you know SAFETY BID.If you don't want a piece going for a low price, it's no big thing to put a reserve on it. What, it costs about 50 cents or something.Sheesh.I wonder how many safety bids this guy had placed on his own auctions before! Holy cow!

        July 1, 2012 at 7:50 am |
      • Shary

        Crazy violence may ensue if you don't sell one of each to me! Or, more likley, I may just begin weeping silently.Either way, why risk it?

        July 3, 2012 at 3:45 am |
  11. D-Pres

    Give me a break! Comics are fantasies about superheroes and superheroins. Who wants to see pictures of the girl next door crime fighting or the guy at the bar for that matter? It's an escape, a fantastic fantasy and the visuals should look as such. There's nothing realistic about comic books, nor should there be.

    October 24, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • Valerie

      Part of the fantasy is the desire for the abilities and the character traits to fight evil. Readers want on some level to actually be the characters. Character can be cultivated. Physical fitness can be nurtured. But the average girl cannot identify with a plastic surgeon's masterpiece who can fight crime in six inch stilleto heels without ever breaking an ankle and wear next to nothing without ever having a wardrobe malfunction.

      October 25, 2011 at 12:59 am |
      • Pantagruella

        I'd be crazy to generalise about women. There's never enough anecodtal evidence. However I'd say about one in twenty young women are more than ready to echo these impossible characters. Psychologically many women live their lives as victims, not wishing to draw attention to themselves. Some women enjoy a spell of confidence where they will defy convention, until something goes wrong.

        October 25, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • Rocio

      thing is, most times I do that I find something comaarpble/same thing only better quality/cheaper/more bells and whistles shortly thereafter. Especially in books and games. Usually the rare used/abused games are high price and bad condition but there's always some guy liquidating his personal collection who took care of it and sells it for a price below extortion because he wants a good home for it, not a speculator or reseller. But with the current art auctions, if I'm bidding on your art it's half because it's yours and half the subject matter. Like that LM page I bought from you? My max bid would have been MUCH higher if it had gone to auction. But for a piece of FF? Not so much XDI did make the mistake of declaring interest in something early though. That's a surefire war magnet right there. Next time, no warning.

      July 1, 2012 at 5:03 am |
      • Ronak

        We're confident that our srevers can handle as many folks as you can throw at us so bring it on Bet your regretting those words now right. Next time try actually planning for the worst but hope for the best ya numpty.

        September 12, 2012 at 6:22 am |
  12. Stewart Tyler Francis Umbridge

    That stuff is seriously painful to read and a great argument as to why there are so few females creating mainstream comics.

    October 24, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  13. Perv

    Looks like the chick in the picture his hiding some nice jugs behind that comic book.

    October 24, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  14. Pantagruella

    One aspect of American comics over the decades has been its subversive nature. The comic makers pumped in in ideas and images which took many young people on a swervy ride away from the straight and narrow. Many comic book femmes could not exist in real life but paradoxically called such creatures into existence.

    October 24, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  15. LadyBlue

    Really don't see what the deal is here. I'm 39 and have been an avid comic reader/collector since I was 4. There are female writers and artists, but not as any as there are guys. I honestly don't care about the gender ratio as long as the artwork and story is of high quality.

    October 24, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
  16. sdred

    I love comics. I bought my first one in high school, Witchblade # 25 – cover by Micheal Turner. I am into art, specifically comic book drawing and I take a weekly class focusing on this. I love the style, I love the color, I love the imagination. I woulnd't change a thing just to market to more women. I am a woman and I love comics as they are. If I could I would love to be a professional comic book artist and would not change anything.

    October 24, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  17. Will

    Some of the best indy creators are women. The hero comics are missing out, is all I have to say.

    October 24, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  18. CM

    I wanna see Captain America nude! Now that's an improvement!

    October 24, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  19. Keith Bowden

    By all means, the publishers should continue to market to the exact same demographics that are not buying the books now. Comics sales are way down. A series issue selling under 100,000 copies a month used to be ripe for cancellation, but now that's usually an unreachable goal without resorting to tired retreads, reboots and "events". And sales are still slipping year to year. Maybe that bizarre mindset and 18-34 male demographic aren't working out so hot, guys. (I'd hoped that DC's "new 52" would inspire long-term growth rather than hype and an initial boost. Most of what I've seen is boring, but there are a few really good series in there. We'll see how things shake out in 6 moths to a year and sales have leveled. (Seriously, I wonder how many people are buying multiple issues again, artificially inflating the sales? They aren't going to keep doing that..)

    October 24, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
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      February 1, 2012 at 5:36 am |
    • lmkedc

      iSfOOV ysrvqzyhlkyt

      February 4, 2012 at 5:12 am |
  20. Tha Chikin

    I have BOXES of comics! Been hooked since the 80's! A friend of mine gave me an Uncanny X-men to read and that was all she wrote. To this day, I have several subscriptions. I know there aren't very many women into comics but, we are out there!

    October 24, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • Jenny

      Hell yeah we're out here!

      October 24, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
      • Manoj

        Great, I've been looking fwroard to this.Also, will we be seeing more of the heroine from Methods to Madness?Maybe her own series in the future?Best wishes, and keep up the great work. (:

        July 3, 2012 at 3:01 am |
  21. Boogiepop Phantom

    Does this hold true for other countries or is this only an American cultural thing? Thinking specifically of CLAMP – the very successful all-female group of manga writers and artists.

    October 24, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  22. Uvaldog

    Comic books and pro wrestling are the soap operas of boys and men. Of course there should always be equality in hiring practices. No one should be discriminated against. However, at the end of the day you gotta keep your core audience happy to makes the money!

    October 24, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • boobsanon

      That's why the industry is in the toilet. Because that "core" keeps buying, right? No, either that core doesn't exist or men don't pay for comics as much as women. DC deserves to be flushed.

      October 24, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
      • Stewart Tyler Francis Umbridge

        There is absolutely no logic in your reply. You must be female.

        Comics need to pander to women like harlequin romance novels need to cater to men.

        October 24, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • gah

      the core demographic is probably unemployed with no spending money living with their parents

      October 24, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
      • Dudhyala

        Love these!! ealiceslpy the one with the halter with pleated loops around the neck. You must have had a great time!Twilablog.twilasvintageclothing.comtwilasvintageclothing.com

        February 1, 2012 at 12:52 am |
      • Pantagruella

        I once lived in Italy and in that country it's no stigma to live with your parents. As for being unemployed, there's a lot of unemployed people in Spain.

        February 1, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  23. Eliza

    Have been reading "comics" since the early 60s – fighting my brothers for who got to read them first. Now that I'm older, I get to fight my nephews and niece! My mother always had the philosophy "As long as they're reading I don't object." TV? That wassn't allowed. Build your niches by writing for yourself, your friends and sharing in ways we never even dreamed of when we were little. It'a great time for comics – because they're coming true! :)

    October 24, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
  24. Sparky

    I object to the use of the word "gaping" in a family-oriented website.

    October 24, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • phearis

      Gaping (Verb) – Stare with one's mouth open wide, typically in amazement or wonder.

      So what were you thinking of? Ya perv.

      October 24, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  25. Doc

    But the way that men's bodies are portrayed in superhero comics is realistic?

    October 24, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • Guest

      Maybe as far as The Penguin is concerned

      October 24, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
  26. Mikel

    "Most of her respondents also thought comics publishers were bad at marketing to women. " That statement is entirely true. I worked at a comic book store 15 years ago and the local newspaper did an article like this. In interviewing another store, the owner commented that women like comics like Lady Death because she is a strong character. She is big chested and wears skimply clothing. When I read the article I shook my head in shame, the reporters did some terrible research and it showed.

    It really isn't hard to market comics to women, people just need to be smarter about it.

    October 24, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • SilentBoy741

      It just really hard to market a comic that's 289 pages of Batman "talking about his feelings".

      October 24, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
      • E

        Oh I get it, you believe every stereotype about women! That enables you to be both stupid and condescending. It will also help you to never ever have to worry about seeing a real girl naked without paying for her time.

        October 24, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
      • HappyMadison

        Women don't really have feelings. It's just a ploy to lure you in. You apparently don't have a lot of female experience.

        October 24, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
      • Jenny

        OH MAN BUDDY. Don't be a jerk. I friggin' love Batman, but it wouldn't kill them to draw their female characters with a bit more depth.

        October 24, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
      • Stewart Tyler Francis Umbridge

        If you're complaining about the femal proportions in comic books you are not the target audience. Instead of trying to insinuate your unwanted opinions, go make your own art and do it the way you want. And don't whine when the current comic book audiences don't flock to your stuff because it's not what they want.

        October 24, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
      • Rafael

        How much would i get at gamestop for this stuff?CODmw1-xbox 360 Star wars the force unleeshad-xbox30 COD world at war-xbox360 A nintendo dsi Pokemon platinum soul silver like 3 other cheap dsi games about 20 ps2 gamesA ps2 with two controllers one of which is wireless a psp 1000 with scrathces and no battery case with two psp game (nfsmw idk wat its called that car game were the cars shoot each other)(its metal mayhem i think) i know its off topic IDC

        August 2, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  27. phearis

    Jill, will you marry me? ^_^

    October 24, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  28. Doug

    The main thing is,you can't draw in readers with bad stories. Personally I will read a few issues of a new comic with an "ideal" looking female to give it a chance. If the story is good I'll stick with it. If not, I'll drop it, regardless of what the character looks like.

    October 24, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  29. ProperVillain

    “Tender waists and huge mammary glands”

    I totally agree with this assessament of how women are drawn in comics. Decades I go I don't think this was the case. Now I swear to you not a single artist has ever taken a life drawing course and drawn an actual, real woman. It's like they get their body styles from modeling shoots and Playboy.

    Booorrriiinnnngggg...

    I say we get back to drawing women with "real" bodies the likes of Frank Frazetta. You know, women that actually have hips, thighs and b00bs that weren't bolted on by a doctor in Beverly Hills....

    October 24, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • Mikel

      That's right, it shold be like Frank Frazetta, where the women wore skimpy outfits. Or the women should be like what was written many years ago when Wonder Woman was a secratary and many female characters had no opinion. There is stuff wrong in every time frame and every artist.

      October 24, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
      • ProperVillain

        Also, in defense of Frazetta's women. They may have been scantily clad but they were almost always portrayed as strong, independent "warrior women". Most Frazetta women could kick anyone's a$$, male or female!

        October 24, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • ProperVillain

      I'm not saying Frank's "skimpy outfits" are the pinnacle of feminism. Franks costumes (or lack thereof) to me are more evocative of classical art where everyone was scantily clothed. My point was that the way he draws the bodies of women is based in reality as far as general proportions and shape then what we see in comics today. Frank's women have hips, their stomachs aren't "gym six pack" flat, the bums are rounded and shapely. Like a real woman...

      What we see in comics today is the fantasy of someone who has no clue what the body of a "real" woman looks like.
      Again, all the reference is from models that are far too skinny or playmates that are 60% (or more) silicone. It's not only unrealistic but, to me, I find the body style tiresome and boring. I do agree with another poster on this thread, the men are no different as far as being based in any sort of reality (unless we all look like we should be on the cover of "Muscle and Fitness")

      October 24, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • 1nd3p3nd3nt

      i just want to point out that most men in comic book history are also portrayed unrealistically. That being said, i do think there's more pressure on women when it comes to looks and attraction.

      thing that upset me the most, in regard to women, was in the toy section of a target store, and as a 'toy' for girls was a pink broom and dust pan. I'm a dude, but even I was offended.

      October 24, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • Guest

      Because I sure have a rock hard chest and a chin you could cut glass with

      Its a comic book.You are looking for realism in the wrong place

      How about a comic where all the characters whine and nag? That could be realistic

      October 24, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
      • ProperVillain

        Ok, granted. However, my point is the bodies of the women they draw aren't even close to being based in any sort of reality. so much so that in my opinion they don't even look appealing.

        October 24, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • Pam Harrison

      Yeah, I lllluuuuuuuuuvvvvvvvvvvv Frank Frazetta.

      http://houseofthemuses.com

      http://houseofthemuses.com/adeviantmind

      October 24, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
      • Pantagruella

        Well, there's the Golden Line. Thins work until you cross the line and then you're driving towards something awful. Clearly something is happening with the breasts of some women. They seem bizarrely to follow the enormities of the media. But where it stop?

        October 25, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  30. Pam Harrison

    I noted this to be true in a lot of instances. Independent comic creators WON'T approach the mainstream editors nine times out of ten because in most cases they've been made to feel it's out of their grasp.
    On the other hand, we Independents have our own platform to build our niche and our readership on our own terms. My science fiction series A Deviant Mind is very popular, almost more so than my first series House of the Muses. My readership is about 75%-25% (and I'm betting you can guess how the scale tips), and the more I work, the better I enjoy it.
    We're on the fringes of a new frontier, really. Ten years from now we women might just be leveling the playing field just a little bit. ;)

    http://houseofthemuses.com

    http://houseofthemuses.com/adeviantmind

    October 24, 2011 at 4:44 pm |