Counting Women in Superhero Comics: Ratios Still Terrible

Back when I ran a separate blog, around 2004, I used to post “chick checks”, counts of how many women were working on DC and Marvel titles weekly. The numbers were horrible, for the most part, especially if you were looking at the big roles, writer, penciler, and inker.

Marvel percentages

Now, Tim Hanley is conducting a more rigorous count. His Women in Comics Statistics project aims to track counts more vigorously:

Women account for half of all human beings on the planet, but in terms of making comic books they are seriously under-represented. … for all of 2011, I will examine the comics released each week by the industry’s two biggest companies, Marvel and DC Comics, and chart the credits along gender lines. Each issue will be analyzed in terms of the total number of people working on the book, and then further broken down

I’m not trying to call out publishers, or suggest they go start hiring women just to look better or anything. I’m just trying to provide numbers for something that we all know is anecdotally true. Frankly, comic books have been aimed at males for decades now, and most of the people working on them today were the boys to which they were marketed. The industry hasn’t created an environment where one should expect a fair number of female creators… it’s very much a boy’s club.

DC percentages

Due to his methodology — he pulls credits from the Grand Comics Database — the latest posts count comics released the week of February 23 for Marvel and DC. The results are about as expected (images taken from Tim’s posts). Most women in comics are colorists or editorial assistants. And DC has a worse track record than Marvel, with no women in roles that get your name cover-featured.

I do quibble with his assumption that comics = superhero comics, since there are lots of women making careers in graphic novels, webcomics, and other areas, but I agree with his major point. It’s tough for a woman to make a career in the DC or Marvel clubhouse.

Update: If you think just one week isn’t enough to make judgments on, Tim has now posted monthly figures for Marvel and DC Comics. In that summation, DC does slightly better than Marvel, with 11% of its credits going to women.

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14 Responses to “Counting Women in Superhero Comics: Ratios Still Terrible”

  1. Chad Says:

    And DC has a worse track record than Marvel, with no women in roles that get your name cover-featured.

    It’s worth noting that these stats are for a single week, so I dunno about the use of the phrase “track record.” (Gail Simone, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Nicola Scott will pop up in future installments for DC, as will Felicia Henderson, the writer of the new Static ongoing, for example.)

    And simple numbers don’t tell the whole story. For example, no credit given for the fact that the head of the whole magilla over at DC, Diane Nelson, is a woman? And is there a single female editor at Marvel with the track record or staying power of Shelly Bond or Karen Berger?

    In both cases, neither of the “big two” is doing that well, but I don’t know that I’d give Marvel any credit for being a much better, especially if we’re talking about their track record over the years. For example, has Marvel ever let a female writer anywhere near their flagship characters, à la Devin Grayson on Batman and Gail Simone and Louise Simonson on Superman? The closest I can think of is Louise Simonson on X-Factor and Anne Nocenti on Daredevil — and those characters aren’t in the same weight class. (And of course, all of those examples are from years ago, sadly enough.)

    Which isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy, to pick one example, Marjorie Liu’s writing over at Marvel — I just look forward to the day when (if she wants it) she gets a crack at Spider-Man or Wolverine (the non-dark version).

    Of course, she’s already got her own successful things going outside of comics, which probably just reinforces your last point.

  2. Johanna Says:

    That’s true, Chad, that this is just one week, but I regularly found the same thing when I was tracking. And while there may be more than “simple numbers”… I think when those numbers are so atrocious, one needs to deal with them directly — maybe hiring more female artists, across the line — instead of trying to make excuses or distract attention by pointing elsewhere.

    We definitely agree on the importance of seeing women work on “non-girl”, big-name books.

  3. Erica Says:

    > instead of trying to make excuses or distract attention by pointing elsewhere.

    This is what I notice the most in conversations of the sort. As soon as someone says, for instance there are few /fillintheblank/ people pull out the exceptions to the rule, as if that proves the rule isn’t a rule. Not really sure why that is, but I see it time and again in these “women in comics” conversations.

  4. Chad Says:

    I think when those numbers are so atrocious, one needs to deal with them directly — maybe hiring more female artists, across the line — instead of trying to make excuses or distract attention by pointing elsewhere.

    Not trying to make excuses, just pointing out that, to my eyes, Marvel is still just as bad as DC, probably worse. Looking at things historically, I’d probably give the edge to DC, even just based on Jenette Kahn’s existence, but maybe I didn’t make it clear enough before that no matter which “big two” publisher you think is better when it comes to hiring female creators and editors, it’s still a lot like being the world’s tallest little person.

  5. Chad Says:

    One more thought: Given the history at the “big two,” coupled with the wealth of options for female comics creators and female comics fans outside the superhero system (at least compared to the past), it’d take a pretty sustained effort for DC and Marvel to turn those numbers around. And other than for one-offs like Girl Comics (how I hated that title), Bizarro Comics or Strange Tales, I don’t see a lot of my favorite female creators, like Carla Speed McNeil or Linda Medley, having any interest in hopping aboard the superhero train. (Though I’d love more Kate Beaton Batman comics.)

    And honestly, I’d rather have more Finder and more Castle Waiting than another created-by-committee superhero book.

    Which isn’t to say that there aren’t talented women out there interested in creating great superhero books, I just wonder if their numbers have diminished in recent years, given that superhero comics haven’t been the only game in comics town for a while, what with the rise of manga, webcomics and what used to be called alternative comics.

    Heck, I’ve been pretty tired of most superhero comics for years, and I’m the target audience.

  6. Johanna Says:

    I’m agreeing with most everything you’re saying here. Although I do think that many creators would welcome a regular paycheck for a while — look at Andi Watson or Dylan Horrocks working for DC temporarily — or some might find it fun to play with the characters. If nothing else, they might like the option to consider it.

  7. Heidi M. Says:

    I’ve been impressed by Marvel hiring several newish female artists like Sara Pichelli and Emma Rios — Pichelli is drawing Ultimate Spider-Man with Bendis, a high level assignment. Fiona Staples has been a star at Wildstorm, but she’s only doing covers in the DCU so far. Off the top of my head there’s also Adriana Melo. There are many more women drawing superhero comics these days. I’d like to see DC get a leetle more adventurous in their assignments, though.

    And Chad, women in executive positions does not mean more women creators. Not to take anything away from the women you named.

    I think a bigger question is why Marvel and DC are not taking more advantage of fresh, modern talent — many of whom happen to be women.

  8. Johanna Says:

    Excellent point, Heidi, that women at the top doesn’t always have the effect one might think. And interesting connection, that perhaps doing things the old-fashioned way is a bigger problem at those companies than just using the same names over and over.

  9. Chad Says:

    And Chad, women in executive positions does not mean more women creators.

    Agreed. (Nor does it always mean more female-friendly content, to judge from some of the excesses of the DCU in recent years.) But if we’re talking about the totality of “women in comics” at the big two, I thought it was worth mentioning.

    Although I do think that many creators would welcome a regular paycheck for a while — look at Andi Watson or Dylan Horrocks working for DC temporarily — or some might find it fun to play with the characters. If nothing else, they might like the option to consider

    Again, I agree. Of course, Dylan Horrocks immediately comes to mind when I think about mainstream work being a poisoned chalice for some creators.

    Bringing up Horrocks makes me think about something else: For a while, there, DC’s Bat Books were giving a fair number of indie creators a chance to write mainstream stuff — Horrocks, Jon Lewis, Terry Moore, Ed Brubaker, Gilbert Hernandez — I wonder if they reached out to female indie creators in the same way.

    I know she’s done work for their animated titles, but I always wondered why no one ever snapped up Sarah Dyer for a higher-profile assignment. (And for all I know, they offered and she turned them down.) I really enjoyed Action Girl Comics back in the day.

  10. Johanna Says:

    The editor of course has a lot of influence in seeking out talent, yes. Unfortunately, women in a male-influenced environment may feel pressure to act more like “one of the boys” and fit in, which might influence hiring decisions. (There’s also “I want to be the only girl in the room” syndrome.)

    On another note, one of the major decision-makers in DCU Editorial used to say that women couldn’t do superheroes. Which probably affects these results we’re discussing. :)

    My main takeaway from this is “I had hopes things would have gotten better six years later”, but that seems to be going slower than I would like.

  11. Chad Says:

    On another note, one of the major decision-makers in DCU Editorial used to say that women couldn’t do superheroes.

    Ay yi yi.

  12. Dee Says:

    I agree with both Erica and Johanna here
    just because their a a few doesn’t excuse the rule.

    and from what I’ve been noticing the big two seem to be losing readership that is both young and women at a rapid rate.

    I could be wrong though.

  13. David Oakes Says:

    Having rune the numbers on your original Check Check in 2004, I would say these are pretty much the same:

    All DC Marvel
    Total Issues 695 369 326
    Writer 5.32% 6.78% 3.68%
    Penciller 1.87% 1.90% 1.84%
    Inker 1.44% 1.36% 1.53%
    Colorist 10.65% 11.65% 9.51%
    Letterer 0.86% 1.63% 0.00%
    Asst. Ed. 37.27% 18.97% 57.98%
    Editor 15.83% 20.05% 11.04%
    Total 10.46% 8.90% 12.23%

    (Man, I hope that formatting works…)

    Marvel has made some gains in the upfront talent, but lost a lot of ground upstairs. (And still no female Letterers.) Conversely, DC lost upfront, but gains upstairs.

    It will be interesting to see how the numbers evolve through the year.

  14. jacob lyon goddard Says:

    speaking only for myself, i’d be pretty saddened if all of my favorite female web/indie/alt cartoonists all got “the call” from the big two in an attempt to look better. from where i’m standing, comics have never had more talented female creators, the vast majority of whom are working outside corporate editorial restraints. hate to see the golden handcuffs thrown on them for public relations.

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