Superhero Comic Readers Still Mostly Male

Valerie reports (link no longer available) that “More than 90% of the readers of mainstream superhero comics are male” based on “demographic information from a publicly-traded comic book company.” She doesn’t say how recent the stats are, but they’re in line with those I reported from 1995, where 92% of DC readers were male. She’s surprised by this:

Yes, the male/female percentages on the readership shocked the hell out of me. I expected a male majority but not to that extent.

Which I guess means she didn’t believe me the first time. :) But I like her conclusions, listing positive actions women can take if they don’t like the figure.

# Examine why female readership is so low for this genre.
# Make our own polls and put this information to the test.
# Make our own comics.
# Establish dialogues with comic book companies and let them know specifically what we want to read.

That last one’s going to be a little tricky, since it’s hard to talk to someone who doesn’t want to talk to you. The first one, well, self-fulfilling prophecy: “girls don’t read superhero comics, so let’s make superhero comics they won’t want to read.” With the second, it’s possible to get a wider view of overall comic readership (not just superheroes) by doing convention polling or in other outreach venues. That and the third, giving women readers a real option with an authentic point of view, sound like great ideas.


25 Responses to “Superhero Comic Readers Still Mostly Male”

  1. John Says:

    I think make their own is the best choice. It’s simple economics that the large companies won’t change product to court a segment of the audience that, for pure dollar value, is tiny. There’s plenty of money to be made on smaller scales, though, and I think plenty of companies have figured that out.

    Here’s the thing – at a certain point in my life, I realized that as interested as I was in westerns, no one makes westerns that cater to what I was looking for in them. I moved on and found art and entertainment that I did speak to me. I think a lot of female readers approach superhero comics the same way and why wouldn’t they? Why fight for entertainment when you can be handed it somewhere else?

  2. Dwight Williams Says:

    From 92 to 90 %?

    Sounds like progress is (slowly) being made on the readership balance front. Now if this is happening while the overall pie’s still expanding in fiscal size and readership total numbers…?

  3. ADD Says:

    I know my son and daughter both were equally interested in, say, DC’s animated comics at one point; now that she’s 14 and he’s 12, he’s all about Spider-Man (the movies, cartoons and some old comics, no interest in the current ones) and she’s all, and I do mean ALL, about the manga.

    So are all her girlfriends.

  4. Paul O'Brien Says:

    I’m not sure I accept the implied premise that an overwhelmingly male audience for superhero comics (as opposed to comics more generally) is a Bad Thing. Of course there are elements in superhero comics that would be likely to deter female readers -that goes without saying. But the assumption that in the ideal world the audience would be approaching 50-50 is highly questionable. Does anyone seriously argue that romance novels have a structural problem because their audience is overwhelmingly female?

  5. Johanna Says:

    Dwight, she said “more than 90%”. Maybe it’s 92 -> 90, or 92 -> 91. Dunno. It is slim improvement, but hopeful. I suspect that these figures were gained from surveys placed in individual comic issues, as I talked about here. If surveys could somehow include collection-only purchases and/or bookstore shoppers, the numbers might change.

    John, I think the age of respondents might play a factor here. The older say “life’s too short, move on”; the younger still have passion for change and the fight. :)

  6. Johanna Says:

    ADD, of course. With all its diversity, manga provides stories that hit the same kind of excitement and adventure buttons as superhero comics do without being so gender-unfriendly.

    Paul, I brought up that comparison last time, and it didn’t go well. Although someone showed up claiming male readership of romance novels has been growing until men are now 20% of the readership. Dunno about the basis for that. (And other readers found it implausible.)

  7. bizarro Says:

    Why would any smart independent grown woman want to be part of the market for silly adolescent power fantasy?

  8. Johanna Says:

    Oh, now, some superhero comics transcend that. If I didn’t read any superhero comics, I’d never have enjoyed such great titles as Superman: Secret Identity or Love & Capes.

  9. Sarah Says:

    Paul, romance is a strong and thriving genre. Western and especially superhero comics are, sad to say, still pretty damn marginal. In a world of plummeting readership (it blows my mind how low sales are compared to just twenty years ago, in my first round of engagement with comics), can superhero comics afford to ignore half humankind? In other words, it’s not just proportion we’re looking at here: it’s the size of the pie, and the pie is in serious need of growth.

    There’s nothing inherently male about the genre. There’s nothing about it that requires elements that would be repellent to a self-respecting female readership. Anyone who says otherwise is basically conceding that he can’t enjoy something unless it’s founded on oppressing some nasty other group to make him feel better, and I’d like to think most grownups would hesitate to make that admission. Maybe not in the sadly amateur boys’ club of the two major superhero publishers, though.

  10. Johanna Says:

    I found Kurt Busiek’s comment at the Beat interesting:

    “If they are talking superhero comics, though, the gender proportion shouldn’t be a surprise — it’s like being surprised that the audience for action movies skews male, or that the audience for romance skews female. I’m a big fan of the superhero genre and of exploring what else it can do, and there’s certainly superhero comics that are capable of attracting and holding female readers, just as there are romances that attract guys (CASABLANCA, for one). But at heart, superhero comics are a boy-appeal genre, and if publishers want to attract female readers to comics, the answer is to publish material that target audience will be attracted to, not to assume that comics equate to superheroes, so let’s try to sell more superheroes to women.”

    I like it because I agree with it, of course, but I don’t think the point changes whether you assume superhero comics are doing well (in which case, what’s the incentive to change?) or doing badly (in which case, better they stick to what they know and their core audience).

    Maybe it’s just time for superheroes to go away for a while? Westerns dominated TV in the 1950s to the extent of having their own Emmy category. Then tastes changed, and they went away, only to return fresh in 80s films. If a genre doesn’t hibernate, it’s harder for it to refresh and try new things.

  11. mordicai Says:

    I think the Big Two are starting to learn that they have to pay at least SOME attention to the feminist community. Of course, it takes the form of “A memorial for Stephanie Brown– Can’t Do!” but whatever.

  12. Paul O'Brien Says:

    “There’s nothing about it that requires elements that would be repellent to a self-respecting female readership.”

    That goes without saying. But it does not follow that, if you removed those elements, the genre would be of equal interest to both genders.

    The point can be put as simply as this. I do not accept that everything is of equal interest do everyone. I do not accept the premise that, if you removed the sexist elements, superhero comics would necessarily be of equal interest to both genders. (At the very least, I do not regard it as a safe assumption.) Therefore, I do not regard the audience split as a safe measure of whether superhero comics are hostile to women.

    I’m not saying that superhero comics AREN’T hostile to women – merely that this isn’t a convincingly valid measurement of that hostility because we don’t know what the audience split would be like even in the ideal world, and there is no logical reason to assume that it would be 50-50.

  13. Pedro Says:

    Well let me see superhero comics are all about action and I mean over the top action, big fights,big guns and cool gadgets, tons of property damage, off or on panel death of bystanders if that add to the story otherwise who cares, hot hero babes dress like strippers, the plots with more holes than swiss cheese, no wonders women avoid them.

    I think some reader maybe able to add more to this small list

  14. Joel Says:

    Removing that element would probably not make them of equal interest to both genders, but there’s a good chance it would increase the interest of one of them, which is the whole point. Finding ways to increase sales.

    John: “It’s simple economics that the large companies won’t change product to court a segment of the audience that, for pure dollar value, is tiny.”

    Yeah, but we’re not talking about changing the product to appeal to the 10% or so female readers already in place. They’re already reading comics.

    They may or may not be complaining about the contents, but they’re buying them.

    The point of talking about these numbers is to suggest a change to gather NEW readers. New readers and increasing the audience is absolutely vital to the continued health of the industry in the face of increased competition from… well, practically every other form of entertainment that’s out there.

    And since the current readership is overwhelmingly male, the best way to do that may be to find ways to get women to buy superhero comics. To ADD to the total, not just shift the demographics. If it ended up being 50-50 because 100,000 brand new female readers bought “Mighty Avengers” or “JLA” alongside the 95,000-100,000 male readers and 5,000-10,000 or so female readers who already do, then that’s what they need to be going for.

    You know- to try and nab the dollars of all the numbers of women who enjoy reading say, Japanese comics, or TV shows like “Buffy” or “Xena” and buy them on DVD who might be inclined to try superhero comics if elements perceived as off-putting were either lessened or eliminating.

    That is, non-comics readers who have an interest in fantastic genres. Given the popularity of those old TV shows- and the numbers of women who watch some of the current ones like “Battlestar Galactica”- it seems like the superhero publishers are stupid to keep pandering to the dwindling numbers of readers they have now and really need to cast their nets further out to see if they can’t snag new audiences.

    They don’t have to do anything to alienate the current readership. They definitely DON’T need to do that.

    In fact, I don’t think they need to do anything particularly revolutionary to do so. I think simply telling more compelling stories that feature female characters in roles beyond simple girlfriends or damsels in distress or sex objects would go a long way towards 1) keeping the current readership happy, 2) enticing new readers to try superhero comics and 3) lead to an overall improved product.

    Stop retelling the same formulaic stories, drop a lot of the cliches and tropes and see what happens. Make female characters who break the current molds and defy the current limitations.

    Who knows- they might even end up finding larger untapped markets of MALE readers who wouldn’t be caught dead reading superhero comics the way they stand now. Or who just dabble in an embarrassed way without fully embracing the medium’s possibilities.

  15. Johanna Says:

    You’re assuming that those changes wouldn’t lose readers as well. Not because “those boys who read superhero comics love the boobies”, but because the majority of people left reading superhero comics fear change, of whatever kind.

    Especially since, to attract a new audience, the company would have to advertise to attract that audience, which reinforces that they’re doing things differently.

    Readers who don’t like the way things are done in superhero comics — whether it’s because of sexism, convoluted continuity, overreliance on formula, whatever — are reading other kinds of comics. Why should companies spend a lot of money and risk losing part of the core audience when those readers are happy elsewhere?

  16. John Says:

    Joel – I agree wholeheartedly in theory, but you know as well as I do that the big two aren’t interested in bringing in new readers, just maintaining the income base they’ve had for the last 20 years. They get the wider world in toys and movies and TV – comics are a niche market . . . kind of. When you forget about the monthlies, there’s a whole wide world of readership and coverage for graphic novels – and in the real, wide world, people like Chris Ware and Dan Clowes get the exposure, which accentuates that this whole conversation is not about comics, but superheroes. Hence my statement about westerns and Johanna’s comment after yours which I entirely, completely, totally agree with. It’s very simple in my – as Johanna charmingly pointed out – OLD eyes – if you like a medium but don’t like a genre, go find a genre in that medium you do like. It’s not as if there aren’t any female-friendly science fiction and fantasy comics out there. And if that’s not good enough for you, make your own. Direct the energy towards positive forward motion and actually do something.

  17. Paul O'Brien Says:

    Johanna is right. Here’s the basic point. Everyone basically agrees that you’re not going to attract female readers simply through better promotion of the existing product. So if you want to attract women readers, you have two options: you can modify the existing product to appeal to them, or you can create a new product.

    DC have clearly gone for option 2, while Marvel have decided they don’t care and they’re happy with the demographic they have. A strong case can be made that both of these are more attractive routes than option 1, which involves trying to sell an audience a known product that they don’t want.

    There is, I think, something strangely conservative in the notion that the way to attract women (or any new readers) is to sell them a modified version of a product they clearly aren’t interested in. A well-rounded comics industry would not be churning out one-size-fits-all comics, it would be making a wide range of products for different audiences.

    Even if you can convert superhero comics into a product that was potentially of interest to a mass female audience, is that really the simplest way of getting their custom? Equally, if Marvel are passing up the opportunity to pursue a viable customer base, is that actually a bad thing for anyone other than Marvel shareholders? Plenty of other publishers are willing to try, after all.

  18. Johanna Says:

    John, I didn’t say “old”, I said “oldER” — and I’m part of that category as well. :)

    As for the “make your own” — I wish the American equivalent of doujinshi was more acceptable. I would LOVE to see a bunch of female-written and -drawn Supergirl or Wonder Woman fanfic. It’d be neat to compare and contrast with the official versions.

  19. John Says:

    I tend to be on the same page as you about all this stuff, Johanna . . . probably because we’re both so . . . um . . . oldER.

    I plead ignorance on this though – is there any female written and drawn American comics fan fic, good or bad? It’s not something I’ve ever explored. If there isn’t, I do wonder if it’s because girls by and large, when they create their own comics, they don’t do superhero fan fic. (That’s just speculation on my part – like I said, I’m ignorant on this particular part of the issue and I’m hoping you might be able to offer guidance/insight that will clear things up for me!)

  20. Johanna Says:

    The only one I’m aware of is that manga Wonder Woman thing.

    There’s a ton of prose fanfic out there, but I suspect most people beyond the age of 12 don’t bother drawing it out because of copyright concerns meaning that nothing can come of it.

    (And that’s not a slam, just that kids do draw their own comics because they don’t yet know “better”.)

  21. Kurt Busiek Says:

    >> And since the current readership is overwhelmingly male, the best way to do that may be to find ways to get women to buy superhero comics. >>

    Why not sell them other comics?

    This is the central error, it seems to me. The desire is, “We want to sell more comics,” the target audience is, “Well, we’re not doing as well with women as we’d like,” and then the assumption becomes “Let’s figure out how to sell them Batman!” instead of “Let’s figure out what we can sell to them,” regardless of what it is.

    It’s as if, when Marvel was publishing westerns, monster comics and teen humor, they saw DC’s success with superheroes, and decided, “Dang, we’ve got to find a way to sell PATSY & HEDY and KID COLT to superhero fans!”

    As it happens, they did market the westerns more toward superhero readers, by rebooting the cowboy heroes to give them secret identities, and it can certainly be argued that books like the Hulk were an effort to cross monsters over into the superhero field, but they didn’t just think, “How do we sell what we already have to people who aren’t buying that genre?” They made up new stuff that they thought would reach that target audience. And astoundingly, that worked better than putting a mask on Kid Colt.

    Similarly, the big strides in getting female readers to buy comics have not come by figuring out how to sell them what’s already being published, but by publishing new stuff aimed at that audience.

    “Sell more comics” doesn’t have to mean “sell more superhero comics.” The assumption that it does is a logical fallacy; it’s thinking inside the box.

    kdb

  22. Joel Says:

    Hi Kurt- Wow! Longtime reader, first time caller.

    Kurt: “>> And since the current readership is overwhelmingly male, the best way to do that may be to find ways to get women to buy superhero comics. >>

    Why not sell them other comics?”

    Yeah, I can get behind that. That’s what the publishers are already trying to do, right? With things like Minx over at DC and various attempts at Japanese comics imprints? Wasn’t Vertigo pretty female-friendly at one time?

    Maybe it still is. I have a close friend who won’t read comics but boy does she love that “Y the Last Man” comic they put out.

    I’m totally behind that, even as a male reader. I want more genres and avenues for storytelling. More choices can only be a good thing, right? And I personally do read lots of other stuff.

    Except in this case these numbers are specifically addressing superhero comics. That’s why my specific focus on the superhero genre.

    Also doesn’t the idea that publishers should “just sell them other comics” play into the superhero comics are a strictly boy’s genre therefore girls should find their entertainment elsewhere? For example… girly-girl comics?

    Since superhero comics are DC’s and Marvel’s bread and butter and the medium’s most representative genre at least in the North American markets, it seems like that’s pretty audience-reductive. It just seems like what you’re saying there is another “boy comics strictly for boys, girl comics strictly for girls.”

    You got a girl in my superhero comic! You got a superhero comic in my girl! Two great tastes that… don’t taste great together?

    Why can’t superheroes comics be more inclusive demographically?

    I know from reading lots of blogs that there are women who want to read superhero comics- and to a certain extent do (our 10 percenters)- but not without qualms and mixed emotions. It seems there are women who potentially would embrace this specific genre but really can’t because the content is frequently offputting to them. I may be wrong, but I’m extrapolating from the greater population of female science fiction and fantasy fans who don’t read superhero comics for just that reason. Or even those who already do read Japanese comics with themes that veer achingly close to superheroics (“Naruto,” for example) but who wouldn’t pick up even “Catwoman” because the covers look like something off “Maxim” magazine, while the interior stories might actually hold some appeal.

    Possibly.

    And I won’t back down from suggesting that the way to get these new readers- be they female OR male- is not to radically alter the super-genre along the lines of “putting a mask on Kid Colt.” Beyond being a silly, failed idea, that’s just an attempt to exchange one genre group for another and just seems miscalculated to annoy and confuse both.

    I didn’t suggest nor do I believe there’s any need to perform similar invasive surgery on Batman, Superman, Spider-Man or whoever.

    That’s why I still suggest the best way to get new readers to embrace the superhero genre is simply to do what… oh… butt-kissing time… YOU’RE already doing so well.

    Which is write compelling superhero stories that don’t rely on cliches and tropes that are frequently construed and cited by female readers and potential readers as anti-woman. I’d love to see the male-female demographics on “Astro City.” Those are books I’d recommend to anyone of either gender who’s fence-sitting or seems interested in similar genres.

    I’m a male reader with a love-hate relationship with superhero comics myself. I want to read them. When they’re good, I do and happily. But all too often when I try, I’m put off by the cliches. So like a lot of former readers, I’ve moved on to other genres but not without a wistfulness for what could be. Do superhero comics need to be childish and cliche-ridden and so bland? Are superheroes innately a teenybopper format? Not that there shouldn’t be teen-oriented and youth-appealing comics but what about the adult reader who also has a literature degree but still wants to commune with Spider-Man?

    I don’t think readers like myself are asking more much. Just drop the same-old same-old. I mean, jeez, Spider-Man makes a deal with the devil. That’s the best they could do to reset his continuity? That’s like something I came up with in summer camp 30 years ago. It getts us a classic style Spidey, but pisses off almost everyone to do so. Why?

    And I think the potential female audience feels similarly- keep the fantastic elements, keep superheroes true to their essential appealing nature, just stop relying on demeaning imagery and storylines to sell strictly to the boys. And story elements that were old hat when Mozart was making operas about them.

    Kurt: “‘Sell more comics” doesn’t have to mean “sell more superhero comics.’ The assumption that it does is a logical fallacy; it’s thinking inside the box.”

    I totally agree. I live in Japan and the breadth of genres represented in comics goes way beyond the scope of anything DC or Marvel have been willing to attempt for years. Sports comics. When was the last time DC had a sports comic out there? And people of all ages, all socio-economic levels here openly and happily read comics… as opposed to the States where it still seems a niche or even furtive pasttime.

    Actually, despite the reaction to these numbers addressing female readership of the cape books, that’s the model I’d most want our publishers to mimic- comics with a broad-based appeal to people of all walks of life. As wonderful a medium as comics are- and I’d point to the ones specifically written by you as an example for just how appealing they can be- they should be a more mainstream entertainment choice like here in Japan.

    But, like I wrote, we were specifically addressing superhero sales and how to increase them.

    It seems more like the publishers are the ones thinking inside the box and if they’re not careful, they’re going to be in that box all by their lonesome.

  23. Kurt Busiek Says:

    >> Yeah, I can get behind that. That’s what the publishers are already trying to do, right? >>

    Some of ‘em, at least.

    >> Also doesn’t the idea that publishers should “just sell them other comics” play into the superhero comics are a strictly boy’s genre therefore girls should find their entertainment elsewhere? For example… girly-girl comics?>>

    No. For one thing, you added the “just” — I didn’t say it.

    For another, what I said doesn’t suggest that there’s something wrong with selling superhero comics to anyone who likes ‘em, male or female, just that the answer is not likely to be trying to make superheroes all things to all people.

    >> Why can’t superheroes comics be more inclusive demographically? >>

    Who said they can’t be? I’d argue that they have been, in the past, though when they didn’t fetishize women quite as much, they still didn’t reach a significantly large proportion of women.

    But that’s still not necessarily the solution, because making them more inclusive probably won’t get to 50/50 anyway, and focusing on one thing blinds you to other possibilities.

    Look at it this way: You make and sell Oreo cookies. You do well at it, but you’ve noticed that you don’t sell many to dieters. So which is the better solution to the problem of expanding your business? Making diet snacks too? Or making Oreos lower-cal and healthier? The latter might bring in more dieters, but it might chase away your prime market at the same time. Diversifying your line allows you to sell Oreos to Oreo fans of any stripe, including dieters who like them for what they are, and sell other things to other audiences, rather than trying to make Oreo cookies into a one-size-fits-all thing.

    >> I know from reading lots of blogs that there are women who want to read superhero comics- and to a certain extent do (our 10 percenters)- but not without qualms and mixed emotions. It seems there are women who potentially would embrace this specific genre but really can’t because the content is frequently offputting to them.>>

    And if what you’re trying to do is make superhero comics appeal to as many people as possible, that’s not a bad concern, though I don’t think it’ll have the results you imagine. If you’re trying to make _comics_ appeal to as many people as possible, starting out with the assumption that you’ve got to do it with superheroes limits your options unnecessarily.

    Also, there’s the question of whether having the broadest possible appeal is the best way to go — most genre fiction tries to hook a particular target audience hard, rather than trying to cast the net ever wider. The publishers cast that net wider by offering other genres, not by trying to universalize one genre.

    >> That’s why I still suggest the best way to get new readers to embrace the superhero genre is simply to do what… oh… butt-kissing time… YOU’RE already doing so well. Which is write compelling superhero stories that don’t rely on cliches and tropes that are frequently construed and cited by female readers and potential readers as anti-woman. I’d love to see the male-female demographics on “Astro City.” Those are books I’d recommend to anyone of either gender who’s fence-sitting or seems interested in similar genres.>>

    I thank you for the compliment, and I think Astro City gets a higher proportion of female readers than more trad superhero books, but I don’t think it’s bringing in a lot of new readers. There’s a difference between being something female readers won’t dislike and being something they’re attracted to, and ASTRO CITY looks on the surface like a superhero book, which is a hurdle that a lot of people who might like it aren’t going to overcome. I knew that going in, so I’m not complaining about it — it is what it is. I wanted to explore the superhero genre, and hoped to attract an audience big enough to support me doing so for as long as I care to. I’ll take any audience members I can get, but if I wanted specifically to reach out to women, I’d do something else, something without so many hurdles. [Buffy, for instance, is a series with a lot of superhero tropes but it hides or buries the hurdles, so it doesn't _look_ like a superhero comic.]

    ASTRO CITY, by and large, appeals to people who already like superheroes and are looking for something that takes a different tack from what they’re used to; it doesn’t rope in a lot of first-timers. [Anecdotal experiments indicate that if you try ASTRO CITY out on first-timers, they stand a good chance of liking it, but that doesn't mean they're going to flock to it naturally...]

    I also don’t want to see lots of other books trying to do what ASTRO CITY is doing — not because I want that field all to myself, but because ASTRO CITY is at heart an alternative, a “what else can you do with it” book, rather than a prescription for what superhero books in general should do. Its strength is that it does something the mainstream doesn’t; if the mainstream did it, then there’d be no point to doing ASTRO CITY too.

    More, though, ASTRO CITY is one of a number of examples of “why can’t superhero comics be done for grownups?” The answer is that yes, they can, and it’s a delightful thing that some of them are, but that they can be doesn’t mean that all the others should be, as well.

    For my part, I think there should always be a lot of superhero comics that are attractive to kids. More of them than we have now, by a long stretch. The fact that I do a book aimed at older readers doesn’t mean I want to see most superhero books follow that lead, merely that I think there should be room for superhero comics with adult sensibilities, along with the other stuff. So I don’t think ASTRO CITY’s the answer — I think it’s an interesting alternative, but shouldn’t be the mainstream for superheroes.

    I can translate a lot of that to the question “Why can’t superhero comics be more welcoming to women?” They can be. I’m glad some are. It would be nice if more were. But I think the question of “Why can’t these appeal to other audiences” buries the idea that maybe superhero comics would be better off if the mainstream was going after their core, natural audience, one I think we’ve largely abandoned — kids. If there are enough superhero comics for kids, then “why can’t they” questions are fine; there’d be room for lots of alternatives to go along with the “mainstream.” If there aren’t enough superhero books serving the natural base audience, then maybe the focus shouldn’t be so much on “why can’t they” questions, and more on what the hell happened to the base?

    Similarly, when you’re talking about reaching out to female readers, I think the first question should be about reaching out to female readers with whatever the strongest material to accomplish that goal is. Figuring out how to reach out to them with superheroes is a secondary question at best, at least to my mind.

    >> I’m a male reader with a love-hate relationship with superhero comics myself. I want to read them. When they’re good, I do and happily. But all too often when I try, I’m put off by the cliches. So like a lot of former readers, I’ve moved on to other genres but not without a wistfulness for what could be. Do superhero comics need to be childish and cliche-ridden and so bland? Are superheroes innately a teenybopper format? Not that there shouldn’t be teen-oriented and youth-appealing comics but what about the adult reader who also has a literature degree but still wants to commune with Spider-Man? >>

    I don’t have a love-hate relationship with superheroes, myself. I love the idea of them, and enjoy writing them. But I don’t want to cling to them, or ask that comics that were aimed at me when I was 14 be still aimed at me today. I’ll enjoy the ones I enjoy, and seek out other stuff to replace the ones I don’t enjoy so much any more.

    It’s often an unpopular stance on the ‘net, but I think that adult readers of superheroes should be a secondary concern too — which is not the same thing as being not a concern at all. I think it’s nice that there are so many books aimed at you and me, but we’re back to Oreos here — if Spider-Man should be aimed at you, because you don’t want it to be childish, then who’s supplying the comics that are aimed at the people who are the age you were when you fell for Spider-Man? Because Spider-Man’s a really good concept to do that with — it worked on you and me, didn’t it?

    Are there a lot of Nancy Drew projects aimed at adults who still want to commune with Nancy? Or, if those readers like plucky female sleuths, do they go on to Kinsey Millhone, Carlotta Carlysle and V.I. Warshawski?

    To my mind, the question of “why can’t Spider-Man be aimed at other people” gets answered with “Well, let’s make sure it’s aimed at the people most strongly attracted to the concept, first. After that, we can make it something that other people can enjoy _too_, but first things first.”

    Or to put it another way — if you’re having trouble selling romance novels to women, then rather than figuring out how to sell more to fifth-grade boys, you need to figure out why you’re not reaching your prime target audience.

    Spider-Man being aimed at grownups isn’t the same question as “why can’t _superheroes_ be aimed at other people,” of course — ASTRO CITY is aimed at older readers, Buffy is aimed in a different direction from Spider-Man, and so on. But usually, when people talk about wanting superheroes to reach out to different audiences, they’re not wishing for new characters who are designed to appeal to a different group, they’re talking about taking books that used to sell to hundreds of thousands of kids and selling them to tens of thousands of adults, instead.

    That may make those adults happy, but it’s not the healthiest tack for the industry. I think the industry would be better off if they were finding ways to reach hundreds of thousands of kids — and doing other kinds of books for other audiences, rather than trying to stretch the Marvel and DC stable into something that’ll absolutely fascinate a smaller and smaller and older and older group of people.

    Oddly enough, the manga boom shows that other kinds of books can be more effective at bringing in those other audiences — and even more effective at serving the core audience than books that used to be aimed at the core audience but are now written and drawn for a shrinking number of adult men.

    [And yes, just to throw it in -- by saying that superhero comics aimed at adults should be a secondary concern, I'm including ASTRO CITY. I don't think the industry will rise or fall based on my book; it's an extra, not part of the foundation.]

    >> And I think the potential female audience feels similarly- keep the fantastic elements, keep superheroes true to their essential appealing nature, just stop relying on demeaning imagery and storylines to sell strictly to the boys.>>

    I don’t. Even when superhero comics were less demeaning, they still sold overwhelmingly to boys.

    I have no problem with the idea of making superhero comics less demeaning, less fetishy and more. I think that would be good. I just don’t think it’ll get you the boom in female readership you’re imagining. The women who like superheroes to start with (or used to like them) will like them better, but the main reason most women aren’t interested in superheroes isn’t because they’ve tried the books and they’re too fetishy, but that they’re just not interested in mainstream-style superheroes. You’ll attract far more of them with Buffy or Sandman or Fruits Basket.

    >> I live in Japan and the breadth of genres represented in comics goes way beyond the scope of anything DC or Marvel have been willing to attempt for years. … And people of all ages, all socio-economic levels here openly and happily read comics… as opposed to the States where it still seems a niche or even furtive pasttime.>>

    Sure, but those people aren’t flocking to nonexploitative superhero comics. They’re reading whatever they’re interested in, rather than the publishers trying to make one genre reach out to everyone.

    >> But, like I wrote, we were specifically addressing superhero sales and how to increase them.>>

    I suspect that a better way to increase superhero sales would be to try to appeal to the largely-abandoned base, rather than reaching for alternative audiences when your base isn’t buying the stuff. Back when SUPERMAN and BATMAN sold millions of copies a month, they sold mostly to boys. It was humor comics that sold hugely to girls as well.

    Along the way, we lost the girls, and then lost the casual reader, and kept cranking up whatever appealed most to those readers we had left, and lost the broader distribution, and lost the kids, and wound up with crack for the committed superhero fan. I just don’t think the answer to making superheroes sell better is in trying to figure out how to make the crack palatable to non-addicts. I think the answer is to find a way to reach kids again.

    And the way to reach women is to reach out with whatever will work, rather than trying to figure out how to do it with Batman, which has never been a big seller to women, even when it was booming.

    If you’re reaching lots of kids with stuff they like, and lots of women with stuff they like, then books that straddle the gaps are just fine; they’ll serve the audiences that like ‘em, even though those audiences are smaller than the core audiences for a big stuff. But they won’t be the core of the industry, they’ll be fun extras.

    Back in 1947, there was a survey done that revealed that something like 95% of all American kids read comics. Most of them casually, but it’s still an astoundingly bigger audience than today. And they were doing it when comics cost the same as TIME magazine. And half the audience was girls.

    But even in those days, the girls were reading ARCHIE and UNCLE $CROOGE and LAFF COMICS and things like that; they weren’t drawn to superheroes. So the real question might not be “Why can’t superheroes be aimed more at women?” but “Would it really accomplish a lot if they were?”

    No reason that superhero comics can’t be less fetish-y, of course. And no reason that there can’t be comics like BUFFY (though I’d bet BUFFY is still read overwhelmingly by male readers). But no matter how Buffy-like you make Spider-Man, he’s still going to appeal more to boys, because at the core of the concept is a boy learning to be a man, and those stories resonate more with boys.

    In the end, if you’re selling lots of SPIDER-MAN to kids, and you’re selling lots of other comics to adults and to women, then the answer to the question “why can’t you do superhero comics for women?” will still be the same. You can.

    But if you’re trying to sell comics to women, or if you’re trying to sell more superhero comics, there are probably more rewarding strategies on both fronts. You _can_ try to do both at once, but there’s no reason that’s the place to start.

    kdb

  24. John Says:

    Kurt said “For my part, I think there should always be a lot of superhero comics that are attractive to kids. More of them than we have now, by a long stretch.”

    I say “Bravo.” I wish there were more new comics I could buy my kids. They have to settle for Showcase collections.

    Kurt said “Along the way, we lost the girls, and then lost the casual reader, and kept cranking up whatever appealed most to those readers we had left, and lost the broader distribution, and lost the kids, and wound up with crack for the committed superhero fan.”

    You know, when I was a kid, I bought all my comics at 7-11. Comic books stores were few and far between. Nowadays, I’m amazed when I see them in a non-specialty store (other than graphic novels). And that, I think, is the biggest market reason for this girl conversation we’re having.

    Rachelle at Living Between Wednesdays has a refreshing female attitude to superhero comics . . . but I think she is in the minority of consumers.

  25. Diary of a Comic Book Goddess: Will Apple’s iPad save the Comic Book Industry? (Part Two) « Comic Book Daily Says:

    [...] Draper Carlson, J. (2008, January 24). Superhero comic readers still mostly male [Blog posting]. [...]

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