Superhero Comics Aren’t for Girls

What this girl is is unusual or non-standard or atypical or whatever adjective you’d care to use. (She reads superhero comics and wants to know what that makes her, since they “aren’t for girls”.)

“Superhero comics aren’t for girls” is true the same way “romance novels aren’t for boys” or “action movies aren’t for girls” are. They’re gender-identified genres. The people who make them and the majority of the people who consume them know who their audience tends to be. Recognizing that doesn’t make you sexist or invalidate anyone’s tastes; it’s just realism. “Chick lit” and fashion mags are aimed at women; Mack Bolan books and gun and car mags are aimed at men.

That doesn’t mean that they’re 100% enjoyed by only members of that gender, but it does make the cross-gender participants exceptions. It’s great that those oddballs (said lovingly, since I’m one too) have used the net to find each other. I’m reminded of a blog that does hilarious gay-themed interpretations of famous movie musicals. They find a lot of subtext (and just text), and obviously many of their readers have a love of the genre in common, but that doesn’t mean that musicals were made for that audience or that they would have been more successful if they’d put in more content aimed at that demographic.

I’m sure there are occasional males who read romance novels, too, but if one started blogging about how the genre needed to be overhauled to be made more attractive to men, they’d be giggled at… and rightly so. Everyone wants to think that they’re a reasonable model to use to represent the general public, that everyone else is just like them down deep, but in some cases, it’s just not so. As an old friend once told me, “weirdness is a compliment”. Be glad you’re unusual, and realize the “mainstream” will rarely suit you.


89 Responses to “Superhero Comics Aren’t for Girls”

  1. Anun Says:

    To me, there’s a difference between being a unique individual and completely invisible. Accepting the status quo is all well and good when it’s not an arbitrary one, but things like superhero comics are only for boys because too many people have said so for no discernible reason. I can’t think of a girl who doesn’t dream of having powers or believes in heroic ideals or neat costumes — or who hasn’t punched something ever. Those qualities of superhero comics seem universal, not gender-specific, and there’s no reason why women can’t wish for the status quo to shift and acknowledge them too. I mean, a bad status quo isn’t worth settling for. However, a good one is totally worth fighting for.

    Just like superheroes would!

  2. Lyle Masaki Says:

    What comes to mind for me, though, is that there used to be superhero comics for girls, but now a Supergirl or Spider-Woman comic has to succeed with male readers primarily. Girls had other genres they could read, too, so its not like they were forced to find superhero comics they liked, as was the case before the manga boom.

    Even with other genres that appear to have a single-gender audience, there are niches that go the other way. For example, I’ve seen some popular books that strike me as a guy version of the chick lit book, a subgenre of romance novels. Sure they don’t look anything like what we think of as a romance novel, but I think they bring to romance novels what girl superheroes once accomplished.

    Superhero comics lack that niche nowadays. Most superheroines used to be for female readers to identify with but now the market is at a point where they have to meet the approval of male readers first.

    As a marketing geek, I tend to look at this situation as a sign that their positioning got stuck on a downwards spiral at some point. Superhero comics used to find multiple audiences, but not anymore.

  3. James Schee Says:

    Sniif, darn you Johanna! Here I was about to start a new blog reviewing romance novels. Asking for just a a little less description of “quivering members,” or at least an equal share of descriptions “for heaving chests.” :)

    Seriously though I do actually realize that while I’m not the target audience, I have found some great reads in the genre when I look hard. (Wendy Holden and Jennifer Crusie are very entertaining)

    I like stories where quirky people find each other, in usually fun and interesting ways.

  4. kalinara Says:

    I don’t necessarily think there’s anything ingrained in superhero comics to make them a single-gender genre. The companies certainly focus their marketing attempts on men more than women, but honestly, if you look at audiences of the X-Men or Spiderman movies, I’d imagine you’d find a lot more of an even gender dispersal.

    There is definitely, IMO, an appeal for women in this stuff, (power fantasies are pretty universal, and if you consider the many similarities between the Big Two’s continuity heavy shared universes and long running American soap operas…), I really think it’s just that no one really seems to know how to market to them.

  5. Karen Healey Says:

    I don’t mind that comics are mostly marketed to men or that most of the audience is male; I do mind that this is frequently used as an excuse for the vile misogyny that has appeared in most superhero titles to some degree.

  6. Livia Says:

    “Superhero comics aren’t for girls” is true the same way “romance novels aren’t for boys” or “action movies aren’t for girls” are. They’re gender-identified genres. The people who make them and the majority of the people who consume them know who their audience tends to be.

    And yet, just recently, Eddie Berganza published a special editorial in “Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes” practically begging for DC comics’ female readers to start reading “Supergirl,” and Marvel hired Tamora Pierce, a YA author popular with teenage girls, to write “White Tiger,” a female superhero. Sounds like they actually *are* trying to attract women and girls to their titles.

    See, the problem with your argument is that it doesn’t make any sense from a financial standpoint. Why would DC want to throw away millions of readers by restricting their comics to males only, when it’s clear that both males and females *are* capable of enjoying superhero stories?

    Sexism is *not* an essential ingredient in superhero stories. There are many, many great superhero books, comics and movies free from the kind of rancid misogyny that goes unremarked in so many of DC’s titles.

    If they don’t want to clean up their act, fine– it’s their right to shoot themselves in the foot. I’m perfectly happy buying indie superhero comics instead. But they have no right to say “Women just don’t like superheroes.” That’s like saying “Karen doesn’t like spaghetti” when all you’ve ever served her is spaghetti with rat poison in it.

    As Karen said– women like superheroes fine. They just don’t like misogyny.

  7. Nenena Says:

    …but that doesn’t mean that musicals were made for that audience or that they would have been more successful if they’d put in more content aimed at that demographic.

    I don’t want content aimed at my demographic. Especially because I’m a woman, and most people’s ideas of what I want to read (romance! and feelings!) isn’t what I’m always in the mood for.

    I just want good stories. Sometimes I want good stories about superheroes. And I don’t want misogyny and sexism in those stories. Misogyny and sexism are BAD, especially when being marketed toward male readers.

    I agree with previous comments that superhero fantasies are pretty universal. There’s nothing that strikes me as inherently gendered about the core superhero archetype. And I really don’t care whether those books are marketed toward women or men. What I do care about, however, is whether they’re sexist, misogynistic, and/or needlessly alienating half of their potential audience.

    Please note that marketed towards men =/= alienating women. Or it shouldn’t, if your editorial board and marketing division have any idea what they’re doing.

  8. Livia Says:

    Please note that marketed towards men =/= alienating women. Or it shouldn’t, if your editorial board and marketing division have any idea what they’re doing.

    Exactly. I mean, we’re not talking about “Maxim” here, are we? We’re talking about stories about people with special powers who fight crime. I don’t need there to be a special GIRL POWER message in the story. I just need there to be capes and giant robots and possibly things exploding. If you can’t manage to write a story about defending innocents and fighting for justice without degrading women along the way– you’re doing it wrong.

  9. John Says:

    things like superhero comics are only for boys because too many people have said so for no discernible reason. I can’t think of a girl who doesn’t dream of having powers or believes in heroic ideals or neat costumes — or who hasn’t punched something ever.

    I can’t think of a guy I know who doesn’t want to romance a woman. Or at least another man. So does that mean Romance novels are for girls for no discernible reason?

  10. Livia Says:

    I can’t think of a guy I know who doesn’t want to romance a woman. Or at least another man. So does that mean Romance novels are for girls for no discernible reason?

    Define “romance,” John, and you might find yourself an answer. (And actually, there are tons of m/m romances out there, some written by men, some written by women, so you’ve kind of already got an answer there, too– no, romance doesn’t just *appeal* to women.)

  11. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » May 10, 2007: Cancer cancer cancer Says:

    […] “I’m sure there are occasional males who read romance novels, too, but if one started blogging about how the genre needed to be overhauled to be made more attractive to men, they’d be giggled at… and rightly so. Everyone wants to think that they’re a reasonable model to use to represent the general public, that everyone else is just like them down deep, but in some cases, it’s just not so. As an old friend once told me, ‘weirdness is a compliment.’ Be glad you’re unusual, and realize the ‘mainstream’ will rarely suit you.” – Johanna Draper Carlson […]

  12. T Campbell Says:

    Right on.

  13. Johanna Says:

    Anun, I’m not saying superhero-loving women are or should be invisible, or that people should accept the status quo. I’m just saying that they’re not the target audience (a statement that some of them apparently read a lot more into). They’re not the majority of readers, and they’re not a significant component of the audience in terms of sales in the eyes of the producers.

    It’s not the case “because people say so”; it’s the case because most girls (looking at the population as a whole, not just comic readers or some other subset) want to read about fairy princesses instead of superheroes. Women aren’t the audience for fashion mags “because people say so”; they’re the audience because many are interested in them and that’s who the publishers target.

    The powers and heroic ideals and and costumes you cite as being desired by girls are satisfied for most of them by other sources, like the fairy princess stories I mentioned.

    Just because the net has allowed a subset of fandom to find others like them doesn’t make them a majority. And it’s not an excuse for the genre including elements ANY thinking person of whatever gender should be repulsed by.

    Lyle, superhero comics don’t have to satisfy everyone because there’s so many more types of comics out there visible and easy to find, a change that I celebrate.

    Livia, the convulsions of confused publishers (the “why don’t girls like Supergirl?” example you cite, for example) aren’t really compelling. Of course Marvel thinks everyone should read superheroes — that’s all they’re good at. The big three TV networks think everyone should be watching their shows, but that ignores the growing diversification and fragmenting of the modern media market.

    Some women like superheroes fine. The majority? I don’t think so, and that hasn’t been demonstrated. And that’s my point. The bits about justifying sexism have been read into my comments by those who have other soapboxes.

  14. I’m Not One of the Gang » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] Oh, good, the overreaction to my comments about the audience for superhero comics has already begun. […]

  15. Livia Says:

    The powers and heroic ideals and and costumes you cite as being desired by girls are satisfied for most of them by other sources, like the fairy princess stories I mentioned.

    …… AHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAA….

    …. Wait, are you serious?

    Seriously?

    AHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA.

    Oh, *man*.

    Yeah, there’s certainly *nothing* justifying sexism in *your* opinions.

    FAIRY PRINCESSES?

    *wheezes with laughter*

  16. Johanna Says:

    Yes, Livia, I’m serious in thinking that most young girls would rather read Sailor Moon than Batman. (That love for the stereotypically “girly” would be why Disney Princesses is such a powerful, money-making brand aimed at that demographic.) We could talk about whether that’s innate or society-formed, and whether that’s worth trying to change or needs to change… or you could continue trying to ridicule opinions and facts you don’t like.

    We could also talk about how the net, especially in its early years, selected for the non-typical female and against the typical gender role, which might explain why so many women of unusual tastes have gathered there.

    Also, you might consider that recognizing gender-determined societal factors doesn’t necessarily mean liking or agreeing with them. It’s a subtle distinction, I admit, and so might not be suited for online discussion.

  17. Karen Healey Says:

    Joanna, I think Livia was laughing at the idea that she, an adult woman, would find the ideals of princess stories fulfilling. I know that personally, I’m much more interested in the ideas explored in Morrison’s New X-Men than in Beauty and the Beast.

    As it happens, I agree with you that the marketing and reading demographic of superhero comics is heavily slanted towards men. It’s just that I’ve seen the “superhero comics are for boys” argument employed almost exclusively to justify continuing slime. I want superhero comics to cater to women to the degree where they no longer *denigrate* them, and I don’t think that’s an unworthy cause because romance novels objectify men.

    “I’m sure there are occasional males who read romance novels, too, but if one started blogging about how the genre needed to be overhauled to be made more attractive to men, they’d be giggled at… and rightly so.”

    I’m not sure if “more attractive to men” is something I’d get behind, but I’d be all in favour of romance novels getting into gear with less stereotypically sexist tropes.

    And “giggled at” is an interesting anticipated response. I wonder if they’d get threats of rape or other violence for daring to challenge gender stereotyping in art? Because I’ve had both.

  18. Livia Says:

    Yes, Livia, I’m serious in thinking that most young girls would rather read Sailor Moon than Batman.

    But your original post is not about “young girls in general,” it’s about comics fans specifically. You’re clearly talking about the teenage and adult female audience for DC comics, hence your reference to the bloggers who are asking DC to be less sexist– none of whom, to my knowledge, are “young girls.” Dragging in what “young girls in general, not just comics fans” prefer is a red herring, and yes, it’s *completely* laughable. “Hey, comics fan, are you female? Why not put down Watchmen and try Cinderella! You might like it better!”

    also, you might consider that recognizing gender-determined societal factors doesn’t necessarily mean liking or agreeing with them. It’s a subtle distinction, I admit, and so might not be suited for online discussion.

    “Girls like princesses, boys like heroes. Anyone who thinks outside the box is a freakish outlier. Oh, but I’m saying that in a nice way.” That’s the entire substance of your post, seems like. When you so strictly and uncritically reproduce such silly old-fashioned gender stereotypes, what other conclusion can be drawn except that you agree with them?

    When you call people “oddballs” (no matter how lovingly) for not conforming to ultra-stereotypical gender roles in every detail, and suggest that a correct response to such people would be to laugh at them (“and rightly so”) — yeah, I guess if you actually disapprove of the way our culture enforces such strict gender roles, you’re not conveying that. At all.

  19. John Says:

    Superhero comic books were traditionally aimed towards “boys” – at some point, the mantra “comics aren’t just for kids anymore” got applied to them, as well as the parts of the genre that it made sense for. Now you have “boy” mentality stories with “man” mentality restrictions – the result is an utterly bizarre mix of psychological weirdness, as near as I can tell. It’s perfectly natural for a “boy” to be so confused about girls and for him to drift towards entertainment that is male-centric. It’s part of a boy’s biology. It gets sketchy when that is extended into adulthood and the entertainment is adapted for that age group.

    Given all that, I would argue that sexism is inherent in superhero comics and probably inescapable. As with much of pop culture, you often find yourself in the position of ignoring uglier aspects of the things that attract you in order to maintain a level of enjoyment.

    I mean, even female superheroes that might be meant for girls to read have still historically been stacked and leggy, visually aimed towards boys.

    I never knew any girls who gave a damn about any comics until the alternative explosion in the 80s and 90s. In the history of comics, I think large-scale female fandom is a recent thing – and a very good one. But I don’t think the misogyny of superhero comics will ever be totally overcome so long as there is a male audience for it. Thankfully, there are great comics out there that just ignore them and female readers are not dependent on them for their enjoyment of the medium.

  20. Johanna Says:

    Karen, ah, thank you for elucidating. No, I wouldn’t expect a grown woman to find a fairy princess story fulfilling — but I don’t expect grown adults to find most superhero stories fulfilling either. Escapism, yeah, that makes sense (and it’s why I still read Archies), but both genres are aimed younger.

    And I sympathize with the inappropriate responses you’ve received — I too have had threats and stalking because I, as a woman, had vocal opinions about comics. A man, in the opposite position, would likely receive slurs about his sexual prowess instead, I’m guessing.

    To get back to the main point, what you term an “argument” I would more properly term an “analysis”. I’m stating the way the world is, not what it should be.

    I don’t think you can fix a problem, especially one that depends on the cooperation of those you have no power over, until you can agree on the parameters of the situation. Women who insist that there’s a large number of those like them who like or will like superhero comics aren’t anywhere close to agreeing with those who can make the changes they want.

    There’s a fine argument to be made that repulsive elements should be eliminated from superhero comics for reasons other than “more women will read them if you do”. I don’t know that the latter is factually supportable. (Just as for years comic fans insisted that the general public would pick up superhero comics if they only knew that they existed and where to find them. Recent events have shown that the public wants other kinds of comics instead and has no problem buying them.)

  21. Karen Healey Says:

    There’s a fine argument to be made that repulsive elements should be eliminated from superhero comics for reasons other than “more women will read them if you do”.

    Oh, the possibility of increased readership has always been incidental to my arguments against repulsive elements in comics. I’m opposed to sexism on the grounds that it’s wrong.

  22. Johanna Says:

    Livia, no, I’m not talking about “comics fans” — I’m talking about “superhero comics fans”, and the distinction is an important one to maintain (although one too often glossed over or ignored by the “more superheroes for women” brigade).

    And I was talking about females, not a particular age group, although I agree that which age group is significant in terms of making recommendations. As I said to Karen, I consider most superhero comics for boys, so in terms of what adults of either gender should be reading for substantial content, I usually point them elsewhere.

    Again, “freakish” is your term, not mine. There is a significant difference between trying to accurately classify something and making value judgments on it. I’m not surprised some conflate the two, though; it frequently happens in genre conversations, because many people consciously or subconsciously look down on genre works. And there’s a confusing line between demographics, target marketing, and stereotypes. You persist on seeing the latter in my comments, regardless of my clarifications towards the former, so perhaps we should just agree to disagree.

    If you think most girls don’t like princesses and most boys don’t like heroes, and that relatively few girls like heroes and few boys like princesses in comparison to the whole group, then we’re further apart than I feared.

  23. Livia Says:

    If you think most girls don’t like princesses and most boys don’t like heroes, and that relatively few girls like heroes and few boys like princesses in comparison to the whole group, then we’re further apart than I feared.

    I’m not sure you entirely grasp the basis of my objection; let me state it this way. If you feel that young girls are *naturally*, biologically programmed to be fulfilled by stories about fairy princesses, and young boys are naturally, biologically programmed to be fulfilled about superheroes, and that such preferences are not, in fact, a result of cultural programming, then you and scientific *fact* are actually further apart than you may think.

  24. Johanna Says:

    But, see, I don’t. I even said that above. You’re assuming and then bashing me for it. I’m describing effect, not speculating as to cause.

  25. Livia Says:

    the “more superheroes for women” brigade.

    This gets its own comment, because really, could it have been made *more clear* in the comments to your post that nobody here actually wants comics to be changed, altered or overhauled in any way except to rid them of dangerous and harmful stereotypes about women? Where exactly is this “more superheroes for women” brigade? What does that even mean? More female role models for young girls? More scantily-clad male superheroes for adult women? The same amount of heroes and heroines as before, but more realistically drawn? More superheroines who are overtly feminist? I guess I’m just not sure what your straw man is actually even referring to. Could you actually describe the goals of the “more superheroes for women” brigade?

  26. Johanna Says:

    Livia, I hate to trot out this old canard, because I understand the connotations in which it’s often used, but: it’s a humorous reference. You’re overreacting to an attempt to lighten the mood.

    All of those things you list could be neat. And what any particular person wants is up to that person.

  27. Livia Says:

    Livia, I hate to trot out this old canard, because I understand the connotations in which it’s often used, but: it’s a humorous reference. You’re overreacting to an attempt to lighten the mood.

    Understood. For your future reference– referring to everyone you don’t agree with as “the more superheroes for women brigade” does not come across as amusing. First, because it misrepresents and trivializes a lot of different goals, at least some of which you claim to think are important. And second, because it misrepresents the wider feminist superhero female blogosphere by conflating a wildly diverse group of individuals with often ragingly different opinions into a faceless mass with a single goal– “Feminism is not the Borg,” ever hear that one?

  28. Johanna Says:

    I thought it was funny. (shrug) I liked the image of people marching with flags, like early suffragettes.

  29. Pete Says:

    Things that have and/or are also considered “gendered activities”:

    1. Having a job (men)
    2. Housework (women)
    3. Driving (men)
    4. Voting (men)
    5. Giving a crap about your kids (women)
    6. Enjoying comics of any variety (men)

    Gender, and thus “gendered activities” are socially constructed and are thus mutable. And nobody ever changed anything by saying, “Oh, well, that’s just the way it is, why worry my pretty little head about it?”

    (As for romance stories, did you totally miss the dust-up a few months ago when some yaoi manga-ka said something about how she wrote for women, and yaoi was not “for” gay men, and a bunch of gay male comics bloggers got upset and took issue with the manga-ka’s statements? It’s not just silly little girls who want to enjoy superhero stories complaining about being an ignored demographic.)

  30. Johanna Says:

    The yaoi comparison is one I was just thinking about this morning, actually, for another example of a group not being targeted wanting more consideration. I’m not sure I agree with that one, either (i.e. I don’t think yaoi creators should start writing for gay men), but I don’t know as much about yaoi as I do about the superhero genre.

    I’m sorry you don’t want to worry your pretty little head; me, I’m saying “let’s be clear on how it is so we can better figure out how to make whatever changes we want.” Although I guess I shouldn’t be saying “we”, since Livia says we’re all individuals and can’t be grouped. :)

  31. Matthew Says:

    Superhero comics aren’t for girls?

    I dare you, look at NARUTO, look at Sailor Moon and Bleach and Inuyasha and FMA, and tell me those are not superhero comics.

    Becuase I can tell you, in the Full Metal Alchemist fandom, there are tons of superheroics. There’s a character that’s obviously a homage to Deathstroke the Terminator. Maybe cause the creator of FMA is an avowed Star Wars fan. And she’s a woman. And FMA has a very large female fandom.

    So don’t say superhero comics are for girls. That’s just means you’re giving up on changing it.

  32. Anun Says:

    Oh well, this has blown up nicely. Jeez. Anyway, I believe boys are for superheroes and girls are for fairy princesses mainly through societal reinforcement, not through being hardwired that way. So I want to see the existing paradigm changed. I don’t think we can properly judge what women like and don’t like until societal pressures are removed. I’m one of them “gender is just a social construct” feminists, and I think the rising number of visible female readers/creators/editors supports the theory that there are more female readers than is generally suspected, and therefore, a really huge potential to tap into.

  33. Adie Says:

    Lies!
    There are plenty of super hero comics that predominantly women read and like. I would argue Inuyasha, Sailor Moon, etc, ARE “superhero” comics. Or are they not about super-powered people saving the world?

    No, wait, let me guess, they “don’t count” because they’re “girly”. :D

    Just like videogames. Girls tend to play thinking/puzzle games, boys tend to have more tolerance for repetition to “level up”. So games like quake are “real games” and games like tetris and puzzle pirates “don’t count”. And thus “girls don’t play videogames” except for the “weirdos” who like boyz games. DX

    I’m tired of this.

  34. John Says:

    I think Johanna is on very solid ground in this largely because the discussion is centered around a commercial medium that has a history of catering toward males. There is little reason to believe that superhero comics will become less misogynist when you consider the examples of the same in music, television, and film, all of which are reflecting a societal view towards commercial viability. You may fight to change superhero comics, but that is just one small part of the picture and largely one that is a symptom.

    Furthermore, perhaps there is biological imperative for boys to like adventure and girls to like romance or perhaps there isn’t – that’s really not important. What is important is that there are hundreds of years of cultural imperatives toward the same and it’s only been in the last several decades that gender roles have begun to affect popular entertainment – even still, there are movies and television shows that are sold as “female friendly” just as there are comic books.

    The best way to prove that superhero comics don’t have to have misogyny in them is to create such comics, the same way female rappers must do the same in hip hop, the way women have had to do in the mystery and crime genres in literature and film, the way women had to in rock and roll and earlier in jazz. At the same time, there are going to be people who just don’t care enough or see the point, who see that there are other outlets within the medium, far beyond genre and classificiation. Frankly, I don’t see that either reaction is invalid and I don’t see the point in one getting miffed at the other. To each his/her own path.

  35. Flerg Says:

    “Be glad you’re unusual, and realize the “mainstream” will rarely suit you.”

    THANK you.

  36. T Campbell Says:

    Matthew, I’m giving up on changing superhero comics.

    I’m happy to improve them. I’m happy to refine them, do my best with them. But if you look at history, every change that comics have undergone has come about by an intersection of individuals’ creativity and larger societal forces. I want to create things that will interact with societal forces in positive ways. But I have to face facts. The societal forces are not in place to make the teenage daughters of America love Green Lantern more than they love Twitter.

    “Girls read comics and they’re pissed!”, says a blog. Maybe so, but how many girls, and how many comics? Do they represent a large enough segment of the Marvel-superhero-comic-buying population that they can keep a Marvel superhero book afloat by themselves? Signs point to no. (Mary Jane, a romance comic with superheroes in it, has survived only because its true aim is the bookstore market.) Some comics-reading guys are offended by pornface. I sure am. Has that offense significantly lowered sales of Ultimate Fantastic Four? We have limited data outside of direct sales figures, but it doesn’t look that way.

    No matter how erudite your blog post is, unless you represent thousands of dollars in revenue, you’re not going to end Michael Turner’s career.

    I don’t mean to tell all comics feminists to give up and kill themselves. I do mean that the first step toward affecting real change is being realistic about the world in which we actually live. And realism isn’t just cynicism. It’s widened horizons.

    The direct market will continue to resist change until economic forces conspire to make change imperative. But there are many comics markets, many comics genres, and most of both are a lot more friendly to “comics for girls” than the Venn overlap between superheroes and the DM.

    For instance, Tokyopop and Viz actually have young, impressionable female readers. Coverage of gender issues in manga might not be as popular, because it’s still considered gauche to criticize manga. It might not attract the eye as well as a blog post entitled “POWER GIRL’S BREASTS! …are bad.” But it might make a whole heck of a lot more of a difference.

    (The idea of “superheroes for women” has always seemed like a bit of a stretch. Wonder Woman began as a psychobabble-encrusted BDSM fantasy, for God’s sake. The first incarnation of Supergirl had a relationship with Superman that could be charitably described as entrapment. And that was BEFORE the superhero audience was polled as 80-95% male.

    But I don’t think anyone is seriously arguing that the direct market is friendly to teen girls at this point. What I don’t understand is how, exactly, rants on blogs are supposed to change that. If somebody organized a gigantic flash mob of teenage girls through Myspace, MAYBE that would be SOMETHING, but I’m guessing teenage girls aren’t the primary audience for most blogs, either.)

    As for DC-Marvel superhero comics, I enjoy the good ones because of nice characterization, interesting science-fictional ideas and plots, and the largest and longest-lived shared universes in fiction (shared universes open up special vistas in my imagination). Sometimes I’ll wade through the art to get there. If the artist actually seems to have a girlfriend, that’s a bonus. But when I want a comic that I can show my youngest cousin, I don’t yell at 52 for not being that comic. I look elsewhere. Maybe the blogosphere should, too.

  37. T Campbell Says:

    Dear Reader:

    The above is not directed at you, personally. I think I’m joining Johanna in criticizing not people, but a behavior pattern… one that I fell into myself, not so long ago.

    And Johanna, this is why I don’t participate on these threads all that often. Once I pop, I CAN’T STOP. :-)

  38. Superhero Comic Reader Stats » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] Let’s keep beating the horse: When I worked at DC Comics in the mid-90s, I had access to reader studies they’d commissioned.[…]

  39. Lyle Masaki Says:

    Lyle, superhero comics don’t have to satisfy everyone because there’s so many more types of comics out there visible and easy to find, a change that I celebrate.

    I guess where I disagree is that the last time there were plenty of different types of comics for different audiences, there were superhero comics for girls. I don’t see what’s changed so much about the times (aside from the marketing of superhero comics gotten into a bad cycle) that prevents that from happening today when there are, once again, comics for all audiences easily available.

  40. Tintin Pantoja Says:

    “No, I wouldn’t expect a grown woman to find a fairy princess story fulfilling — but I don’t expect grown adults to find most superhero stories fulfilling either.”-Johanna

    Oh, SNAP!
    As someone who has enjoyed both, I love this line.

  41. T Campbell Says:

    Aaaaaand as soon as I finish this, I realize Matthew and I weren’t using the same definition of “superhero comics.” Matthew’s dead right about the floating definition of “superhero” (don’t tell me about DC and Marvel’s shared trademark, I don’t want to hear it), although Naruto has certain gender issues of its own. Matthew, sorry for skimming and misunderstanding your argument… but I think you mischaracterized Johanna’s. As long as “superhero” has mixed definitions, we’ll probably still have this problem.

  42. Johanna Says:

    Lyle, the big difference is the different markets, I think. (Which superhero comics for girls are you thinking of, by the way? In the mid-80s, I was enjoying Captain Carrot and Blue Devil, myself.) Then, the savvy comic reader relied on the direct market. Now, you’ve got bookstores and Amazon so a lot of direct-market-based business is running scared… which I think explains a lot of the “nostalgia porn” approach, trying to coalesce around the core audience.

    T, thanks for saying a lot of that better than I did.

  43. Lyle Masaki Says:

    Johanna, I was thinking even further back to the silver age when girls had a variety of genres they could read but superhero publishers still wrote stories for girls. They may not have been the main market, but I don’t see anything (except for mountains of poor marketing judgments all based on focusing on the biggest short term gain) that made the genre wear the “He-man woman haters club” attitude it currently sports.

    I think the 80’s were the point where it all began to change as women were mostly reading titles that guys also enjoyed while titles that were strictly aimed at female readers were canceled and not replaced. I think an attitude similar to UPN’s launch philosophy happened, “We don’t need to care about what women want to see because they’ll just watch whatever their boyfriend puts on.” is at work and I think any brand that thinks it can dismiss an audience segment that way is heading down a path to irrelevancy.

    Yes, you’d have to build back to the point when books created with female readers in mind can be commercially successful, but in all honesty I think superhero publishers have been doing the opposite. They’ve been burning the bridges and their audience has become more narrow. I think the current state of superhero comics also alienates men who are uncomfortable with sexist attitudes. (Speaking as someone who’d like to think of himself in that category.)

    As for YAOI, there’s an additional cultural complication since those books are being translated and the way we view and discuss sexual orientation seems to be very different. The stories are being changed by the translators and some translations seem to change (from what I’m able to gather anyway) the way the characters sexuality is viewed because the translators pick American terms for gay issues, bringing specific connotations.

    Plus, even though YAOI creators don’t see the stories as gay, the biggest potential audience will look at it as gay (and I don’t mean gay men, just people interested in male/male romances who haven’t gone through the YAOI fan filter). I don’t think YAOI should be catered towards gay men, but I think there can be a middle ground between the genre changing its focus and telling guys that they’re not welcome browsing the YAOI section.

    (IMO Shojo Beat often takes this middle ground. It’s clearly focused on things girls would find interesting but they also frequently acknowledge their male readers, even in minor ways like including letters from boys who enjoy SB comics.)

  44. Lyle Masaki Says:

    By the way, I think our disagreement is a matter of perspectives. You’ve been in the sausage factory and have seen the pressures that get people to make those marketing decisions. When I worked in marketing, it was for a food service franchisee who was trying to recover from a value menu that bumped sales in the short term (long enough to get that marketing manager a better job elsewhere) but damaged our reputation (customers saw our food as cheap junk because we priced it like it was cheap junk) and forcing us to rebuild our customers’ respect. I was lucky, too, in that I worked for managers (in marketing and operations) that knew how to dig us out of that pit.

    Anyway, I just wanted to note that I think we’ve disagreed this way before and we just have different perspectives. Yours, of course, actually applies to the items we’re discussing.

  45. Catnik Says:

    It isn’t about “superhero comics FOR GIRLS!” – it’s about wanting superhero comics that aren’t egregiously misogynistic. I don’t need the Punisher to mouth Fabio lines, but it would be nice to see female characters written and depicted as people, instead of -only- T&A/Damsel in Distress/Saucy Nymphet/Femme Fatale/Blow-Up Dolls. “Female” is a gender, not a character template. I’m actually kind of saddened to see T’s reaction on this thread, since I’ve long been a fa(a)n of his work.

    Would it be okay to wish for comics to cease being misogynistic if I had a Y chromosone? Since then, you know, they’d be “for me.”

  46. Johanna Says:

    Lyle, I appreciate a different perspective expressed with intelligence and respect. Thanks for being clear about it.

  47. John McClain Says:

    Johanna, interesting topic! First things first, I have to say if DC is trying to gain female readership with Supergirl, they probably shouldn’t do things like write semi-child-porn scenes with her and Green Lantern (in the recent Brave and the Bold), or maintain her character as so completely stereotypically “dumb blonde”. Honestly, I can’t think of a female character with (in this male’s opinion) LESS appeal to females than Supergirl. I mean seriously. I’ve asked women to read it, and the result is a big thumbs-down.

    As to examples of female superheroes, in an earlier comment, “Adie” mentioned Inuyasha and Sailor Moon. I think adding manga to the mix sort of skews the argument, or in another sense, confirms it. Skews in the sense that we’re now talking about an entirely different cultural mileu, which takes us away from Marvel/DC/Image/Dark horse “mainstream superhero” publishers in the US. Confirms in the sense that if we have to look to other countries for evidence that there are strong female superheroes, the argument that they don’t exist in the mainstream US publishing world is pretty much made. Caveat: We ARE talking Marvel/DC/Image/Dark horse (and other major comics publishers) right? Once again, I am speaking on behalf of a sex I am not, but I’d venture to say there are some exceptions to the rule that mainstream US publishers don’t have good female superheroes, Powers springs immediately to mind, as does BPRD, Catwoman, and Fables.

    But yeah, are most superhero comics *meant* for boys? I’d probably agree. I’ve probably only read a few “chick-lit” novels (Jane Austen counts right? Right??) and if given the choice between Die Hard and The Princess Bride I’d opt for the former 19 times out of 20. What kills me, though, is the extent to which sexism permeates superhero comics. Even when there’s a strong female character (take Power Girl for example), the art is bound to emphasize her physical attributes, and no amount of writing like “I don’t need a mask, the costume I wear guarantees no one is going to look at my face” can cover the REAL reason her costume looks like that. If the target demographic IS boys, I’d say that puts something of a burden on publishers to think about what they’re portraying, to whom and why. Like that EVER happens, eh?

    Thanks again everyone for an interesting discussion.

  48. Matthew Says:

    T Cambpell: I see your point…and thanks for your apology, which you didn’t really need to give.

    To the “realist” argument: This sounds suspiciously similar to “why not blog about something more important” argument, which I think Karen Healey has refuted.

    To the “the companies won’t change” argument: All the more reason to complain about it. We have the right to criticize a company’s policies and stupidity over and over just as other people have the right to criticize our criticisms over and over. What’s the harm in doing so? Especially if we like the characters?

  49. Kitty Says:

    To me, saying “superhero comics aren’t for girls, that’s the way it is” just accepts the crummy status quo and dismisses any attempts to alter it. Times and cultures change and can be changed.

    It’s like saying “computer science isn’t for girls.” Maybe that’s the way it has been in the past, and maybe that’s the way some mainstream dinosaurs are still thinking. But there is nothing inherently gendered about the field, and in the meantime there are women in that field, and everyone knows it. So since it’s a fact, even if they’re in a minority, they shouldn’t be written off as oddballs if they pipe up asking for respect and looking for a little more representation.

  50. Karen Ellis Says:

    I’m never quite sure what genre my comics fall into on any given day of the week, but I do know I have lots of male readers and I have lots of female readers.

    Which half of my fanbase should I tell they aren’t supposed to enjoy my work?

  51. david brothers Says:

    I don’t think Johanna is saying you aren’t allowed to enjoy gender-specific work or that you shouldn’t bother trying to change it. In fact,

    I’m saying “let’s be clear on how it is so we can better figure out how to make whatever changes we want.”

    I don’t think anyone (rational) honestly believes that liking something that isn’t aimed at you is somehow wrong or not allowed or whatever.

  52. Bruce Baugh Says:

    I’m going to guess that few of the guys – and maybe few of the gals – in this thread are much aware of the contemporary romance market. I’m not an ace in it myself (I’m not the target audience and sure enough not much of it is really entertaining to me), but thanks to online bookstores like Fictionwise it’s possible to get a good sense of trends, at least. As it happens, developments there strongly reinforce Johanna’s point.

    Modern romance fiction includes a lot of action, a lot of horror, a lot of fantasy, some science fiction, a bit of this, that, and the other. The stuff that J. Random Guy is likely to think of, the heaving alabaster bosoms, the Regency etiquette procedurals (as a friend calls them), and the Christianoid frontier tales, are all still there. It’s just that there’s so much else all around them. But what’s noteworthy is that the genre has added all these things without becoming any less female-oriented. Romance writers tend to use genre tropes I’m familiar with for (to me) unfamiliar ends, and the results are, like I said, seldom all that entertaining to me.

    A superhero genre without the grotesque misogyny could quite easily be a superhero genre that isn’t one bit more appealing to female readers, since the solid precedent exists.

  53. arielladrake Says:

    Since the comment seems to have disappeared, if anyone wants to see what happens when an industry takes new market segments seriously rather than continue telling them they’re unusual and atypical, take a look at male readership in romance novels.

  54. arielladrake Says:

    Bruce – as referenced in my other comment, your conclusion on romance fiction doesn’t mesh with actual readership trends. 7% to 22% in three years is pretty damn significant, I’d say.

  55. Bruce Baugh Says:

    Arielladrake: It’s fascinating info, to be sure. I’m going to have to hunt around for those of my friends in RWA to see how much raw data is available, because to be honest, a tripling of that sort in three years doesn’t strike me as just remarkable but downright implausible. My day job is in tabletop ropeplaying game publishing, and I’ve designed one audience survey and commented on the design of others, and I know that it’s fiendishly easy to end up with unintentional skewing. But I don’t wish to cast aspersions here, merely to expres bogglement and a great desire to learn more.

  56. Bruce Baugh Says:

    (As an example of what I mean about design problems: How do you define a customer unit? Is anyone who purchases one or more of the items in a given year a customer to be ranked equally with all others? Can you measure enough folks to find out how many units the average customer buys, and if you can, should you just worry about the median, or define a range, and should you grant variation for different kinds of customers? If some of the items are cheap and basically disposable while others are expensive and collector-oriented, should this matter in your math for units per customers – that is, should the luxury items be considered N basic items for this purpose? How do you draw the boundaries, if so? Do you want to distinguish someone who buys a few items per unit of time faithfully and is an informed customer possibly active in a fan community for the field from someone who buys one or a few items per unit of time purely on impulse and knows nothing of fandom? If so, can you collect enough info to make the distinction without casting out from your sample pool those who choose not to give extensive demographic information?

    (And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s no insult at all to RWA – which I respect in a lot of ways as an organization, and most especially for its generosity with the summations of its studies – to want to know more, and I really hope not to be coming off as insulting in this.)

  57. arielladrake Says:

    Bruce, all pertinent questions, which can (and should) be asked of both the RWA data, and the data Johanna has posted.

  58. Bruce Baugh Says:

    Agreed. It’s just that Johanna already supplied enough methodological context for the DC info to get me started – I can tell that it’s much like a lot of efforts at surveying audiences in gaming, and can hazard educated guesses at a bunch.

    I have some further thoughts about motives of my fellow guys purchasing romances for the first time, but they’d wander far afield. If I do them up for my LiveJournal, I’ll leave a link here.

    And once again: thank you for the super cool tip! A whole new toy to play with! Things to learn and think about, relevant to my work and my hobbies! I love it, and appreciate your sharing it.

  59. arielladrake Says:

    No worries, Bruce. :)

  60. M Says:

    I’m not saying superhero-loving women are or should be invisible, or that people should accept the status quo.

    FWIW, that may not be what you intended to say but that’s what I read you as saying. And I was a little surprised by it since it didn’t seem like something you would say.

    I’m guessing that it was implying that women who want to change superhero comics, because they like them and would like to like them more, should be giggled at. Just give the girlie a pat on the head and send her on her way.

  61. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » May 11, 2007: Freakish outliers Says:

    […] most fascinating about the comment thread to the Johanna Draper Carlson commentary quoted here yesterday — about modern superhero comics not being written for women […]

  62. Johanna Says:

    M, just because you infer something doesn’t mean I implied it. I’ve clarified multiple times already (although my clarifications have mostly been ignored, possibly because it’s more fun to get up a stream of righteous anger at me).

    The key point I am left with is that contrary to their vocal presence online, women who are fans of superhero comics may be even more of a minority than I previously suspected. If someone seriously wants change, they should consider addressing that instead of attempting to handwave it away or discredit the messenger, because I believe that the companies are proceeding based on that assumption.

  63. Kaylan Says:

    Wow.

    For a post that only has four comments, two of which are mine, I must confess to some surprise at finding such a discussion.

    Not to mention a good measure of facetiousness at actually asking the question in the first place. I know I’m not a part of the majority. But I also know that I’m not alone.

    I never argued that women should be the majority, or the target demographic, for readers of superhero comics. Your post seems to imply that I’m arguing for a complete overhaul of the genre – but I’m not.

    I’m arguing that women shouldn’t be alienated. That girls shouldn’t be steered away from superhero comics. That people should stop dismissing the very idea of female readers of superhero comics. Because I see people asking why there aren’t more female readers, I see companies seeking – actively asking for! – more female readers. It seems to be a very self-defeating cycle, to be asking women to read a superhero comic while the idea that superhero comics just aren’t for girls is still being perpetuated.

  64. arielladrake Says:

    Johanna, it’s not that your clarifications are being ignored (at least not by me), it’s that I, at least, have been trying to point out that given how much you know of the sexist tropes used to silence women talking about sexism (since you’ve mentioned having them levelled against you in the past), you seem to be taking the typical non-feminist to anti-feminist tactic of “well that’s not what I meant, you’re just oversensitive”.

    You claim that you think the internet is about discussion. Part of discussion is actually considering the context of your words, and when you trot out “superhero comics aren’t for girls” without the obvious clarification from the outset, that’s a problem.

    If you’d said “Oh, right. I possibly should’ve been clearer that I’m not parroting the same line the anti-feminist types use all the time. Sorry about that. I actually meant [xyz],” you may not have gotten agreement, but you most likely would’ve gotten less argument than you did, given your primary response was “you’re all being oversensitive” (which is yet another typical anti-feminist trope).

  65. John Says:

    I’ll say when I first read this post, I was surprised. I know that when I first started reading this blog quite awhile ago, you were doing a regular feature listing the women writers/editors on DC and Marvel comics. I made an assumption that there was only one reason to be doing this. A desire to change the industry.

    Then your comic reading was refocused, you stopped reading DC and Marvel as much, and the regular ‘column’ stopped.

    When you say that it would be right to giggle at men who wanted to change the romance industry — I wondered — were you implying it was right for people to giggle at you when you wrote that column? Because I didn’t giggle. I think I got the point. And though I had no power to change the industry either, I was a guy who read that column. (Of course, I am also a guy who read a lot of Judy Blume’s books as a kid…so I’m a bit messed up.)

    I think you’ve clarified yourself a bit more in the comment thread, but that was my initial reaction.

  66. Johanna Says:

    John, my motivation then was the same as it is now: to clearly understand the problem, to agree on the facts before charging into battle. Maybe it’s years spent watching software development projects go wrong, but I believe it’s necessary to understand root causes before proposing solutions… especially when you’re trying to convince others.

    I quit doing the chick checks because it was boring watching nothing change. There seemed to be better ways to spend my time.

    The only change I think I can accomplish is twofold: showing people good books they may not be aware of, and trying (and often failing) to convince people to stop buying what they themselves don’t enjoy. It saddens me that people are tying themselves in knots over books they want to like but don’t when there are many better ones out there that they might enjoy more, and without the “if only…” caveat.

    I still read DC and Marvel, some, and talk about them, but being more selective has made me much happier.

  67. On gendering & comics... « Blurred Productions Says:

    […] by Smith Michaels on May 12th, 2007 I can’t believe I missed this exchange until this morning. Much of what I’m going to say here has been covered by […]

  68. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » May 14, 2007: Fangirls Attacked Says:

    […] knee-jerk outrage and reactionary herdthink with which the Attacking Fangirl contingent has gotten embarrassingly comfortable in recent months — sort of a distributed John Byrne Forum for she-nerds every bit as engorged […]

  69. Two Quick Links » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] goes further than I did: Like it or not, superhero comics are made by and for men. That doesn’t mean that’s all they […]

  70. Dan Says:

    It’s not that “superhero books aren’t for girls”, it’s more Sturgeon’s Law than anything else. It’s not like any creature with a penis shows an instant interest in superhero comics either, y’know. People react better to work of quality and bluntly that can be pretty hard to come by in superhero comics, if we’re talking an absolute scale. Badly-written books + intimidating continuity = lack of interest.

  71. John Says:

    Actually, Dan’s comment raises a very interesting point that has been largely overlooked – it’s not as if a majority of males really like superheroes or even comic books. To the wider fraternity of males in the world, comic books are still looked upon as weird and stupid, especially in adulthood. Many of the guys who create superhero comics are looked upon as “retards” by other guys. To imagine where the offensive images of women come from, imagine a whole subculture of males acting out in public in order to prove to their contemporaries that just because they like comic books, that doesn’t mean they are pussies. In this way, it’s really a massive act of self-loathing. Comic books are the prime woman-hating outlet for guys who don’t like sports much . . .

  72. Dan Says:

    An LJ comm I used to be in summarized it thusly: “OMG! Women are stupid and weak and why won’t they touch me?!”

  73. Blog@Newsarama » Don’t you want more than my sex? Says:

    […] starts it all by saying superhero comics aren’t for girls. “Superhero comics aren’t for girls” is true the same way “romance novels aren’t for […]

  74. Once More Into the Breach » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] portrayals — I’m looking at you, Rachel Dodson — what does their gender matter?), marketed to men, sold to men, sold by men, and read by […]

  75. mickle Says:

    I’m sure there are occasional males who read romance novels, too, but if one started blogging about how the genre needed to be overhauled to be made more attractive to men, they’d be giggled at… and rightly so.

    Might that be partly because “romance novels for men” already exist and either get shelved in the “general fiction” area or in the “sex and sexuality” section of the bookstore? Or maybe I’m just weird for failing to see the how Julia Quinn’s novels and How I Met You Mother are fundamentally different. As for girls not wanting action heroes as much as boys do, I rather think the popularity of Tamora Pierce’s novels alone puts a major dent in that idea.

    You are arguing apples and oranges – shelving and public perception versus actual content.

    I’d also like to add that some of the rising stars of YA fic did argue something quite similar to “romance needing to made more attractive to men” at the recent LA Festival of Books.

    John Green made a comment to the effect of teen books being geared towards girls not just in terms of pov but that the boys are all perfect and idealized (ie – romance for girls). He argued that there need to be more books out there for boys that are like those for girls.

    The authors all concurred – with Nancy Werlin adding that it’s not so much that there aren’t books for boys, but that the books for boys tend to cast them all as action heroes – and be shelved in SciFi – and that the books for girls tend to cast them as romantic leads.

    All authors agreed that kids of both genders need idealized action heroes and more vulnerable and realistic characters available to them.

  76. Abbi Says:

    Well First of all There are both male and female super heroes and emediatly that shows that both male and female readers are targeted. It just so happens that boys like the gruesome comics more than us girls but as said all the new super hreo movies about an even number of men and women go to them.

  77. Male-Targeted Manga Doesn’t Sell? » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] on the issues faced by male-targeted manga. It’s quite eye-opening to someone used to the male domination of the American comics industry. In this case, the tables are turned, and the books aimed at older males don’t seem to have […]

  78. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » July 6, 2007: King Goofball Says:

    […] simply aren’t numerous enough to influence the bookstore manga market. Given the reactions the last time someone mounted this kind of argument, we can now expect such manga fans to begin flaming and […]

  79. philippos42 Says:

    Been neglecting my livejournal, so I just noticed your response here: http://philippos42.livejournal.com/1510.html

    Fair enough. I think superheroes as currently constructed are both decadent & moribund. I also think that they’re only in worse shape when they’re put into a narrow box, where they’re only written to feel like American pro wrestling with more weird powers.

    I think the problem is that superhero comics historically encompass a wider range of genres & concepts than the stereotypical idea of “what a superhero comic is” acknowledges.

    Spider-Man is really a soap opera where one of the main characters is a superhero. Legion of Superheroes has large dollops of space fantasy & romance. Batman is a crime comic with superhero & horror. X-Men is dystopian horror in superhero drag.

    Any statement that claims that all things called “superhero comics” are somehow necessarily archetypal adolescent male power fantasy superheroes–is missing the diversity of the “genre.”

  80. Johanna Says:

    Superhero comics “encompass a wider range of genres” because of their historical domination of the American market. For years, you had to have a superhero to get published, so yes, they made comics that blended soap opera and superheroes or other things. But now, you can do a real crime comic or romance or science fiction, so the superhero drag isn’t needed, resulting in “purer” genre examples.

  81. philippos42 Says:

    Well, yeah, but it seems like the new costume to hide in is “Japanese” styling. Which is at least the opposite of restrictive, if the artist has the right attitude.

    Anyway, my point is, characters in tight, colorful costumes, with weird powers, aren’t necessarily a “boy” thing at all. A lot of boys & men find them effeminate & ridiculous. So it’s really because people at DC insisted for the last 15 years on writing all superheroes as “adolescent male power fantasy” strictly for an audience of male adolescents that suck up cheap melodrama & idealized human forms–& that Image & Marvel were no better–that their market has turned out that way.

    It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy to some degree, & it’s a response to the pre-existing motley weirdnesses of the direct sales market, but it’s not the fault of superheroism per se. Violent boy comics, including crime comics, sci-fi, the gross-out comics put out by 2000 AD (the UK farm team which DC has drawn its “best” writers from), overlap with but are not the same as “superheroes.”

    Boy comics are for boys. But there really did used to be superhero girl comics in America, & technically that’s what a lot of “Magical Girl” manga are now.

  82. Karen R Says:

    I agree that most of the major superhero comics are not female-friendly – and that’s fine. There are enough indie and “different” superhero comic books out there to please me.

    I’ve just started a blog for women who are interested in comics, but are novices like me. I didn’t grow up reading comics (unless you count Hanna-Barbera and Mickey Mouse comics), but I’ve come to really like them. And I do find that the superhero comics that are meant for adults, not prepubescent boys, do appeal to me as well.

  83. Bunny Mazonas Says:

    Okay, slightly OT but…

    Following on from your comments re: fairy princesses, you stated that you wouldn’t expect grown adults to read comics, what with comics being for younger people, just like fairy princesses.

    I would accept that comment, if it weren’t for the fact that, if comic publications were classed as magazines, a significant proportion of them would be 16 or 18 rated due to the sexual content and visceral, violent content.

    ***

    And while I totally agree with you that companies market things towards certain genders for a reason, I do think part of the separation is due to how much they often foul up their attempts to appeal to the other gender.

    Look at computer games, as some one stated above. Girls, apparently, don’t play games. Or, at least, they don’t play games like Doom, vice city or total war in large numbers.

    But they do play tomb raider, the sims, wii games and mmorpgs. And in significant numbers, too. So the market is there, and yet, whenever games companies try to produce a “game for girls you generally end up with some godawful, bright pink ponies-and-kittens-and-fashion OH MY! extravaganza, which doesn’t sell well, and so people continue to say “girls don’t play games”.

    And even though I know loads of girls and women that play games like the ones listed above, none of them, if asked, would call themselves “gamers” or admit to being into games”. Even those that play games more than they watch TV or engage in other hobbies.

    So I guess what I’m saying is that the “girls don’t read superhero comics” thing may well be part of the same. Comic shops don’t require their customers to sign a form stating their gender when they make purchases, and online comics attract readers of all sorts. But while girls may be attracted to the ideas behind superhero comics, they maybe put off by the rampant sexism and may find the few girl-marketted superhero comics about as well thought out as those pink-n-giggly games. Even then, of those girls that do enjoy superhero stories, many of them probably don’t consider themselves part of the community or advertise it.

    A large amount of the fanbase a product attracts is down to how it is marketted and perceived. Personally, I love playing the total war games, and some shoot-em-ups but, if it weren’t for my partner playing them and showing me what the games are really like, I would never have wanted to buy them from the way they are marketted.

    And, yeah, I don’t want comics to suddenly be marketted as girl-friendly, considering how often that can ruin a good thing, I just want to pick up a comic without wincing when I see how the heroine’s spine has been twisted to show off her T and A. Even if no girls ever read comics, and especially if comics really were just for young boys and not adults.

    Oh, and apologies for the length- was going to be a quick one but I sort of rambled. Sorry :s

  84. Cuzzino Says:

    The comment about getting behind a campaign to remove “stereotypes” from romance novels raises some interesting questions.

    For years, comics and romance novels and other forms of popular entertainment have walked the fine line between art, commerce, and trashy, escapist, mindless guilty pleasures.

    With that in mind, where is it written that romance novels must not have stereotypes (like Prince Charming or the damsel in distress)? And where is it written that a woman can’t be drawn like a pin up girl on a comic cover? Isn’t that part of the reason people READ THEM??? So they can indulge some of their less noble fantasies? To release some of their pent-up desire to see things play out the way they don’t play out in reality? (Prince Charming sweeps princess off feet, Spider-man gets the supermodel wife, etc.)

    I’m sure there are some psychologists who would argue (and have argued) that comics, horror movies, and whatever else act as a harmless release for some of our less enlightened impulses.

    People have all kinds of fantasies and desires, it doesn’t mean they’re going to act them out. And it doesn’t mean that a medium like a comic book can’t indulge some un-pc fantasies (like viewing cheesecake) while STILL saying something important about the human condition.

    Where is it written that pulpy, fun forms of entertainment have to be the moral template for the real world? I’m not personally responsible for the cretin who reads comics and expects “real women” to look like that.
    Likewise, I can listen to and enjoy
    a “sappy” love song on the radio and know that the real world doesn’t work that way.

    Yes, there should be art that informs us, guides us, enlightens us, and uses realism or aspires to better things. But are comics really supposed to be on the forefront of that movement???

    Amd yes, outright sexism of all kinds is bad. We should do all we can to reduce misogyny and sexist behavior. But since the world will NEVER be perfect, shouldn’t we distinguish between “soft sexism” in comics (an image of cheesecake which is not the most enobling thing a man will ever see) and what most people would recognize as “hard” misogyny? (i.e. a comic book where women are beaten, raped and called whores every month)?

    To say “they’re all the same” or they “all tie together” or “they’re all interconnected” is unhelpful. That is the response of someone who doesn’t want to work toward positive change because the world will never be 100 percent perfect or meet their expectations of what it should be.

    I know it’s hard to quantify these distinctions, (hard and soft sexism) but we need to be realistic about what is worth fighting over(at least in the present) and what isn’t. Translation: Let’s get blatant, rampant misogyny out of our entertainment and the real world. Let’s not worry because of a cheesecake shot on the cover of “Birds of Prey” this month.

    I reject the premise that just because I enjoy a cheesecake picture in a comic book, I can’t treat women with respect and treat them as equals in the real world.

    And I don’t feel every romance novel, comic book, or other form of entertainment has to serve as the beacon of morality showing our culture which way to go.

  85. drang Says:

    Okay, the thread of comments has sort of degenerated into a discussion of feminism rather than a discussion about comics. Bad soapbox preachers! Bad!

    For girls who want to read comics (or even superhero comics) – they have existed in Japan for a long time now. There is an entire category of Japanese comics specifically targeted towards girls, romance comics, superhero high school girls, etc. There are also many genre-breaking comics that are cross-gender.

    Comics are more mature creative field in Japan because they are not meant to be for children (let alone being just for adolescent boys) – there is a smooth continuum of manga from those catering to children to those that are straight pornography to those that are thoughtful, intelligent stories about, say, World War II, or about a cook trying to make his way through tough times, or about sports, or murder mysteries… Unlike in the US, where comics are either aimed at boys, or they are porn, or they are ‘indie’ comics aimed at various intellectual micro-subcultures.

    So for women frustrated with American comics, just pick up translated manga. There will be one for any interest you might have.

  86. Leandro Says:

    You’re grumpy.

  87. "L" Says:

    For YOUR imformation, superhero comics CAN be for girls!!! Why u ask?

    1.I have a friend you is a 10-year-old-girl and LOVES D.C. Comics! In fact, she has a whole BOOK about the heros and villains in them.
    2. I happen to have a favorite show on H.PBS(Channel 8)called “WordGirl*”. She is a 10-year-old superhero from the Planet Lexicon! She can fly at the speed of sound, bend steel, has superhuman strength, and knows a LOT of vocabulary! She fights for ‘Truth,Justice,and use of the right word!’ Sound boring? Well, she’s just as exiciting as any other superhero*!
    So, therefore, I decree that that superheros and their comics CAN be for girls! HA HA!! TAKE THAT!!!
    *go to PBSKidsGO.org to find out more.She’s funny, too! She also has a monkey sidekick: Captain Huggy Face!

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