The Struggles of Female Fans: Prudes Who Read the Same Two Books

Bless ComicsGirl! She wrote a post about a subject that has long been a pet peeve of mine: well-meaning male fans who think that if you’re female and interested in graphic novels, you must want to read Sandman or Strangers in Paradise. Those are fine works (although I don’t care as much for them as other readers do), but
a) they came out over a decade ago
b) many women may want to read something with less violence, in another genre, or maybe even something recommended with their specific tastes in mind
c) they’re, as ComicsGirl puts it, “incredibly lazy recommendations and basically say to me ‘I stopped paying attention to what comics women may like about 10 years ago because we only need those two.'”

Note, also, that availability is a huge factor. As Faith Erin Hicks recently wrote, in a charming history of how she started reading comics, she began by checking out graphic novels from the library, because she could try a lot of material without a financial commitment. Then she found the right kind of store:

an easily accessible, female-friendly comic book store with a knowledgable staff is so, so important for reaching out to those who are interested in comics, but unsure of their particular entry point into the medium.

Plus, manga, “because unfortunately the comic book industry, even though it has made great strides, has not caught up with Japan in providing the depth of diversity required to get someone like me reading.”

Speaking of manga, sometimes it’s tough to be a commentator — if you express distaste at stories that pointlessly wallow in poop, for example, the editor of the book you’re evaluating might respond based on your gender instead of your points. (Although apparently he’s thought better of it and removed his comments.)

Kate Dacey has an excellent answer to those who find such criticism prudish:

Call me a fuddy-duddy, a neo-classicist, or a pain in the ass if you must, but I’m a big believer in craft. I don’t have a knee-jerk reaction against avant garde material, but I often find that there’s a big gap between conception and execution. … the ones I liked best were the ones that actually had something to say, that were more than just phantasmagorias of excrement and sex and crudely-drawn bodies. … that’s exactly what’s missing from some of the stories in AX: they’re all shock value and noise, manga’s own answer to punk rock. I can appreciate their raw energy and urgency, but they have all the staying power of a tuneless, two-chord song.

It’s about what the story says and how well-done it is. Pointing out something is trying to be shocking for its own sake, and how immature that approach is, isn’t a female response, it’s a grown-up one. Melinda Beasi puts it more succinctly: “I’m over forty. I’ve seen it all. You can’t shock me with your content. But there’s an excellent chance that you’ll bore me if you don’t have something more to offer.”

9 Responses to “The Struggles of Female Fans: Prudes Who Read the Same Two Books”

  1. takingitoutside Says:

    Can I add a corollary to the problem of editors responding based on your gender instead of your points? I hate how when I tell men that I don’t want to see/read something because of negative issues related to the depiction of women in it almost all of them immediately claim that I am “boycotting” it. Because obviously I see every movie and read every book ever made unless I am involved in an organized boycott aimed at getting consumers to agree that it is a horrible film/book which should fail in the market. If you disagree with someone’s opinion that’s fine, but ignoring or dismissing it because the person who holds it is female is immature.

    Another thought on the accessibility of manga: the way manga is divided into genres more obviously than comics probably helps newbies. I don’t necessarily like the categories of shoujo and shounen, but if you want an action story about a perpetual loser getting his act together and winning out over the cool kid it’s pretty clear where you’ll find it, and the publishers have started separate imprints to help you as well. Websites like Anime News Network and AniDB have databases that let you search by category, too, so it can be relatively easy to find new series once you’ve found a couple that you like. I wish comics had something similar. I would like to read more than I currently am, but I don’t have money to invest and I don’t want to jump into any of the crazy superhero storylines.

  2. Johanna Says:

    Some people think that picking entertainment based on whether it has a significant female character is political or unfair. They are wrong. It’s a perfectly valid reason to choose what to spend your time and/or money on. They just don’t understand because most of them have never had to seek out entertainment that includes people that look like them; most of what they read/watch is already full of characters like that.

  3. Ralf Haring Says:

    “Comics women like” is an unrealistically broad target. It always depends on the individual to whom you are recommending a book, regardless of gender. I’ve successfully recommended anything from Noble Causes to 300 to Fables to Red.

  4. Johanna Says:

    Oh, yes, the best recommendations are the most personal and specific.

  5. William George Says:

    …seek out entertainment that includes people that look like them; most of what they read/watch is already full of characters like that.

    If that were true every movie, TV show, and comic would star Jack Black.

  6. James Schee Says:

    You know I agree with the point that people should recommend stuff that is based on the tastes of the person. Not just something generic based on gender.(though oddly the poster who recommended Strangers in Paradise on the original thread is a girl apparently)

    I also find it kind of striking to see things recommended that haven’t even been active for years either.

    Oddly as I was looking at that original post that sparked these discussions, I found myself some what flummoxed. I have no idea based on the GNs she’s listed as read what I would recommend to her. I’ve only read two of the ones she listed, and heard of one other. The others are outright mysteries to me.

    I’m a little surprised, instead of just listing peoples personal favorites, no one asked what she likes in other mediums.

  7. Mireille Sillander Says:

    Doesn’t every comic book/GN conversation online eventually turn into a list of personal favourites? XD
    Generalisation, but you know…

    I know manga is currently a massive pull for a female audience to get into comics, and I suppose I should be grateful for that, but as a female who doesn’t read manga, I often find it really frustrating trying to connect with women who read comics, but only read manga. That seems more often than not to be the division. People who draw comics are a category all on their own, but in the general audience who only enjoy, don’t produce, there seems to be a gap between the type of people who read western comics and the type who read manga and there isn’t much ground to connect. That’s over here in Europe. I couldn’t say if that’s true everywhere. So I wouldn’t necessarily recommend manga titles for someone who has previously enjoyed western indie comics and I wouldn’t even know which to recommend.

    This comment: “For girls? Strangers In Paradise. I hear Love and Rockets is pretty good, though I haven’t read them.”
    Holy facepalm. -_-

  8. Randall Says:

    I certainly hope my fondness for SiP isn’t going to peg me as “lazy” to a savvy reader, though I’m glad to bear it for a work I enjoy that much. Still, I’m with you in that it makes me ill to see “Comics women like” and “Comics women have written” presented as genres, and I’m saddened that our best plan to get the audience too often neglected more engaged by the medium is so… artless. It also shows more of that “us and them” thinking. Which if anyone doesn’t think is pervasive, they need only to look… at this site, where the reviewer’s gender was challenged instead of their points.

    I really like Hicks’s account, as it brings up something neglected in ComicGirl’s article, which is who you ask is important too. The problem is, there’s a lot of talk that the comic book shop may be a dying institution, meaning less shops, less staff, likely less understanding staff, and even the place I shop has more or less admitted to just being interested in holding on to their existing, mostly male, clientèle from now on. So finding helpful folks, knowledgeable in comics, may be getting even harder in the future.

    Great post, lot to chew on. I don’t comment often, but I just want to say how much I like the work done here.

  9. Johanna Says:

    Excellent reminder of one of the benefits of a good store (or friendly librarian) – to build new readers and recommend expanded reading.




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