Thought of the Day: Getting Girlfriends to Read Comics

Kate Dacey asks (link no longer available) why the most recent of those “trick your woman into liking comics” (as she puts it) columns didn’t include any comics created by women or any manga. There’s a simple answer to that.

Most of the guys who ask and answer “how do I get my girlfriend to read comics?” don’t really mean it. What they’re really asking is “how do I get my girlfriend to like the comics I like?” So of course they’re not recommending manga — they don’t read it themselves. And they don’t want the girl they like to know about comics they don’t understand.

I think there should be a new rule: any such “how do I get a woman to like comics?” column MUST be accompanied by a matching column about “how do I get a man to like knitting/ scrapbooking/ quilting” or other feminine craft of your choice. Yes, it would be about as pointless, but reading about a geek trying to crochet a Transformer would amuse me.

Update: I forgot to say, although it shouldn’t need saying, that the main reason those articles are silly is that there is no magic comic everyone female likes. Some read Sandman, some read Witchblade, some read Strangers in Paradise, some can’t stand any of the above. The best way to introduce anyone to a new medium is to figure out what other entertainment they like and go from there. Consider what movies or TV shows or books someone enjoys, and then target your individual recommendations appropriately. In other words, think of them as a person, not a gender.

29 Responses to “Thought of the Day: Getting Girlfriends to Read Comics”

  1. david brothers Says:

    The difference between “reading comics” and “reading comics I like” is a good distinction to make.

    My mom didn’t want to read comics until I was 22, 23 years old. And even that took some doing. And instead of giving her X-Men or Sin City or something I loved, I looked at what she liked in other media and picked accordingly. I gave her Cairo when she was stationed in Egypt and learning Arabic, Aya just recently after a conversation we’d had, Fables and Essex County on a lark, Ex Machina because she likes politics, and so on. Now she requests books, asks about others, and I have to tell her that I seriously can’t afford to support her comic habit and mine.

    So, I found success by doing the proper thing: treating a human being like a person with varied interests and tastes, rather than being someone to validate my bad taste in comics.

  2. Cari Says:

    As a Teen Librarian, I have a teen knitting group. I have 2 guys who have been coming to every meeting for about 2 years. Both actively knit and one also crochets. I got them hooked on these traditionally feminine crafts by saying, “It’s a good way to meet girls.” Oh, and I give them candy. =)

  3. Johanna Says:

    David, I see you and I were thinking the same things in parallel. What great examples!

    Cari, that’s terrific! I’m glad you’re breaking the stereotypes I was engaging in. :)

  4. Lyle Says:

    Wouldn’t showing you can knit a Transformer be one way to get your guy to take up knitting? ;)

    I’ve actually tried to get my guy to read any comics. The only one I’ve gotten him to read was Barry Ween, but that was the most important one for me since he reminds me a lot of Barry.

  5. Prankster Says:

    I would extend this principle to getting any non-comics fan, male or female, to read comics. Superhero fans in particular need to grasp the fact that not everyone is going to dig your particular fetish. Which ties back into the weird fact that such a culty subgenre is so dominant in comics, while genres and works that would be considered far more mainstream in other media are pushed to the margins in comics. But that’s a whole other discussion.

    There’s a bit in Scott McCloud’s excellent “ZOT!” where a nerdy comics fan takes his girlfriend to the comics shop, and (in the narration boxes) talks about how she was drawn to “that cartoony Bean thing” and he had to steer her towards Batman: Year One. So clearly this has been a problem for a while.

  6. James Schee Says:

    It isn’t just in comics though. Most guys/girls want their partner to like the same music, movies, TV shows and such they do too.

    I’m not saying its right, but its a conversation that has been had on many occasions over history. Comics are probably a special thing though, since so much of it at one point (and still is in many shops) dominated by a certain thing.

    Its really just an immature thing, that goes away once the two realize that its okay not to like all the same things. In fact, its probably good in the long term if you don’t.

    once you know your partner you probably can make much better choices then some random stranger, or generic series that is supposed to be targeted for a certain section of the populace.

  7. Thad Says:

    David has a good point. Trying to get friends, male or female, to read comics has been a longtime interest of mine; the question of how to get girls to read comics is a good sentiment looked at from exactly the wrong perspective. It’s equivalent to “What are some good comics that I’ve never read?” (Or even may have no interest in reading — I admit to mostly skimming your reviews, but I’m glad your perspective’s out there.) And “What are some good comics that I’ve never read?” is a perfectly good question.

    I’ve gotten both my mom and my girlfriend interested in Fables. But it’s not because they’re women, it’s because it’s a great comic that also just happens to suit their tastes.

    And I don’t think it’s even a question of genre. I don’t think it’s capes-and-tights books per se that put casual readers off comics, it’s a very specific (and unfortunately vastly overrepresented) subset of the genre — bogged down by continuity, big events, women in refrigerators, and so on. Certainly superheroes haven’t had much trouble gaining traction in film and TV in recent years.

    (I’d also argue that superheroes represent the same universal heroic archetypes as the fairy-tale figures in Fables, but that’s a rather lengthy discussion in and of itself. Hell, Joseph Campbell literally wrote volumes on the subject.)

    I haven’t gotten my girlfriend to check out Sandman yet because I loaned my volume 1 to another friend of mine awhile back and he still hasn’t gotten around to reading it. It’s a great book to recommend to people who don’t read comics, regardless of whether their reproductive organs are innie or outtie. Doesn’t mean everybody’s going to love it, just that it happens to be a pretty damn good book which doesn’t fall into the average fanboy’s inaccessible and stereotypical purview.

    This post’s already gone on far too long, but just to add one more related point: I noticed this morning that CSBG is doing a vote on the top 100 comic storylines of all time, and my immediate reaction was that, hey, that’s a great idea, pity most of the stuff on there is going to be terrible. (I’m still compiling my own top 10, but I think my first 3 will be Heartbreak Soup, Maus, and that Spider-Man arc where he starts college, meets Harry and Gwen, and then gets trapped under the rubble as Doc Ock’s base collapses — all while Aunt May’s in the hospital from a radioactive blood transfusion. I like to think I have eclectic tastes.)

  8. Johanna Says:

    Thad, what an intelligent analysis. But then, I’m lucky to have such smart commenters on this site.

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  10. Chad Says:

    I find these articles as annoying as the rest of you (the headline on this one is particularly lame and insulting), but as far as these things go, this guy is far from the worst offender. He essentially advocates David’s strategy:

    My advice for comic fans who want to get a female to read comics: Know what she likes. Glance at her books and DVDs. See what shows she watches. If you find “The Complete Stories” by Flannery O’Connor and nothing but Drew Barrymore DVDs, maybe “Marvel Zombies” isn’t for her.

    I’m lucky, because my wife already had a few comics when we started dating (“The Maxx” and “Johnny the Homicidal Maniac”). When she wanted to read more, I took her interests (horror, dark comedy) into account and suggested the zombie series “The Walking Dead” and the hilariously profane “Preacher.” She’s been raiding my bookshelves ever since.

    And to your point, Johanna, his wife hated Sandman:

    I’ve had good luck with the books I suggest to her, and a few surprises. After she loved the Vertigo series “Y The Last Man” and “Fables,” I thought Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman,” which has a large following among women, would be a natural fit. She quit before the end of the first book.

  11. THE BEAT » Blog Archive » What do women like? Part XLVIII Says:

    […] Johanna comments on a particularly dopey “trick your woman into liking comics” article entitled Can women learn to enjoy comics?: Kate Dacey asks why the most recent of those “trick your woman into liking comics” (as she puts it) columns didn’t include any comics created by women or any manga. There’s a simple answer to that. […]

  12. Joe Lawler Says:

    I said this on The Beat and thought I would share it here too: I’m never happy with my own headlines and left this to the copy desk.

  13. Torsten Adair Says:

    Manga can be just as bad as superhero comics when trying to seduce the innocent.

    “I have to read this backwards?”
    “Why is there a teardrop on his head?”
    “Why did he get a bloody nose all of a sudden?”
    “What are these weird squiggles? Japanese sound effects? So I need to know Japanese to understand this story?”
    “Why did that character become all cartoony and small all of a sudden?”

    Aside from Tezuka and Nekazawa, what other manga would appeal to the general public? (I’m not being evil, I’d like to know… I read lots of manga, and am always looking for stuff to read and recommend.)

    There are many superhero graphic novels which can appeal to “innocents”. Many people know the basic mythology of popular superheroes. I’ve hand-sold copies of “Superman: Red Son” just by asking the question: “What if Superman’s rocket ship landed in Soviet Russia instead of the American Midwest?” Or “It’s a Bird…” for those who are literary. Or “Secret Identity” for a different take on the character.

    Watchmen is a murder mystery, a superhero story, a Hugo Award winner, a Time Best Book…

    As a professional Seducer of the Innocent, the Des Moines Register article is rather good. I use that technique frequently… “What do you like to read?” With so much diversity and excellent graphic novels available, it is rare that I cannot recommend a title which might appeal to a reader. (Except for “how-to”… not many GNs on knitting, but I’d buy it in an instant! ooops… spoke too soon: )

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  16. Journalista – the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Nov. 12, 2009: An affront to human decency Says:

    […] “I think there should be a new rule: any such ‘how do I get a woman to like comics?’ column MUST be accompanied by a matching column about ‘how do I get a man to like knitting/ scrapbooking/ quilting’ or other feminine craft of your choice. Yes, it would be about as pointless, but reading about a geek trying to crochet a Transformer would amuse me.” – Johanna Draper Carlson […]

  17. Stuart Moore Says:

    I’d just like to point out that I began my professional career as an assistant editor on knitting and craft books, and I’m currently writing a run of TRANSFORMERS for IDW. So I’m living proof that You Too Can Live The Dream. Or something like that.

  18. Johanna Says:

    Bwa ha ha! If you can dream it, you can be it! I half suspected someone would post a picture of such a thing, because I can’t be the only person who would find it cute.

  19. Stuart Moore Says:

    Yeah! Here’s 100% of what I remember from the knitting books: Remember to check your gauge before you start. Otherwise you could wind up with a Transformer that has one giant wheel and one tiny one.

  20. iola Says:

    Thank god some people are commenting about the stupidity of that article. Reading it put me in the foulest of moods yesterday. None of my comic-reading male friends are stupid enough to write an article like that, so it just baffles me when I see it.

  21. Joe Lawler Says:

    I take full responsibility for my stupidity. I like to think that I’m not stupid in general, just while under deadline.

    It will probably be awhile before I write anything about comics (the opportunity doesn’t come up much in Iowa), but trust me that I have learned my lesson the last few days.

  22. Johanna Says:

    I feel a little bad now. Of all the versions of this article I’ve seen, yours wasn’t all that bad. You made some mistakes, but you meant well, and the headline, not your fault, was a large part of the problem. I hope this doesn’t discourage you too much.

  23. Joe Lawler Says:

    Thanks, and believe me that I caught plenty of flack for the headline when I got home that night.

  24. Nicolas Papaconstantinou Says:

    Funnily enough, just clicked here from Journalista while listening to us covering similar ground – albeit much less succinctly/more awkwardly – on a comic-related podcast we do.

    It’s a pet peeve of mine, that Joe Lawler tapped into – as you’ve rightly said, with the best intentions, but I suspect paper-editors probably love them a battle-of-the-sexes article and he does need to get paid – but it’s a behaviour that isn’t limited to gender, or comics.

    We talk about it for ages, but the upshot of my input is that you attempt to get your significant other to read comics the same way you try to get ANYone to engage in ANY media as broad or deep as comics – you talk to them, you listen to the sort of things they like, and you try to select things that fit.

    Like, you want to get a child to enjoy reading, you read them the sort of stories they engage most with.

    A good friend of mine asked me to choose him some comics to read recently, and I had to think hard about what to lend him – the stuff on the comic shop shelf didn’t suggest anything – because superhero continuity porn isn’t going to appeal to an airplane obsessed guy with a yen for military history. To assume that women are any easier than other men who aren’t indoctrinated in the medium is to make a major boo-boo.

    (I kind of ran out of steam by “boo-boo”, sorry…)

  25. Johanna Says:

    I agree with your main points, so I’m just going to respond to a throw-away bit: there are some true military history comics out there. The one that comes immediately to mind is Cleburne, which is a bio of a Civil War general, but I know others have done more modern stories.

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  27. Nicolas Papaconstantinou Says:

    Johanna, thanks for the heads up on that…

    I should have clarified that on that particular Thursday, looking at the shelves of comic monthly issues, I didn’t see anything that suggested itself for that friend in particular, despite finding plenty for me.

    It was a moment of personal failure for me – I used to work in comic retail and knowing the gn stock well enough to find an item for any individual in an instant was something I prided myself on, so not being able to parse the shelves of current stock vexed me!

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