The Comics Journal Should Hire More Women Writers. And Write About More Women.

(No, I’m not bucking for the job. More on that later.)

Heidi MacDonald had an excellent piece a couple of weeks ago on how the Comics Journal isn’t doing a very good job at including women.

A long time ago, I received the new (#302) edition of the Comics Journal and noted that not one page of it was written by a woman. Considering that there were 670 pages, this was quite a definitive shut-out.

Was this just an aberration? A mistake? I decided to dig through the last THREE issues of the Comics Journal, and found not only maybe five pages written by women, but exactly ONE article devoted to female cartoonists.

She goes into much more detail, with page counts, about how the Journal‘s focus ignores a lot of the most significant female-driven developments in modern comics, summing it up as

1578 pages of comics scholarship where, literally, the sex life of Robert Crumb’s lawyer gets as much attention as the contributions made by female cartoonists in the last amazing decade of comics.

(By the way, my thanks to the commenters at Heidi’s site who mentioned me when the question of female critics came up, although being referred to by my site’s name instead of my own struck me funny. Also, to the one commenter who thinks I’m too old to have anything relevant to say, I’m going to respond in the most annoying way possible: you’ll grow out of that attitude when someone says something similar to you.)

Editor-in-chief Gary Groth later said, “I have to admit I’m gender-blind when it comes to good writing. And to subject matter.” That’s the usual excuse, which can be read as “oh, the girls just aren’t good enough.” Except what really happens is that the editors reach out to the folks they already know, who are usually people like them, and the cycle perpetuates itself.

That’s how I came to write for the print Journal twice, several staff changes ago. The editor reached out to me, and I greatly appreciated it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have realized that they were interested in the kind of material I wrote about (manga), which wasn’t typical of their coverage at the time.

Kristy Valenti, Fantagraphics editor (and woman), responded to the mini-controversy by saying

Feel free to pitch me pieces by and about women (and of course we’ll hold them up to the same standards we always do). Haven’t received a single pitch yet.

That’s the lazy way out, of course, and a way to blame women for not working harder. Why would women pitch to the magazine, anyway, when they don’t see women as subjects or writers of the articles? The magazine has a history that suggests they’re not interested in women’s viewpoints, and there are so many more options and outlets these days, many of which are easier and reach more readers.

Actually, I did pitch to them when their site was revamped (and featured mostly male contributors). I was told that they’d get back to me, and they never did. Now, that was a while ago, and if I really cared, I’d have followed up, instead of waiting for a message that never came. And I’m not writing this to get approached, because I don’t have time to write for them when I’m working hard on my own site. I hope younger, more energetic women do take her up on the offer.

Then again, having once been part of the editorial staff of a comic magazine (anyone remember Comicology?), I know that often, you make compromises, so I don’t want to lay too much blame on Valenti or the guys running You need to get the issue out or the website updated, and so you go with the people you know and the articles you have instead of seeking out potentially lesser-known quantities.

People in publishing are generally willing to let people come to them, because they do get lots of pitches and there aren’t enough people working the jobs (compared to other, similar sized publishers and magazines) to handle everything expected of them. But if you agree that neglecting women’s viewpoints is a problem, I would hope you would be more proactive about doing something about it.

4 Responses to “The Comics Journal Should Hire More Women Writers. And Write About More Women.”

  1. Tara Tallan Says:

    Ever since I had kids I’ve wanted to read an article about female comic creators who manage to have children and a career in comics as well. So many of the female creators I grew up admiring seem to have, for whatever reason, not had children, and for a while (as I struggled with temporarily abandoning my own comic to raise small children) I wondered if this was some kind of warning. Do women and comics and families not mix or something? I really wanted to read about and be inspired by how other women have handled the balancing act. I don’t think I have the journalistic chops to write this article myself, though.

  2. Ray Cornwall Says:

    To be fair, that article on “the sex life of Crumb’s lawyer” was an incredible read about a guy who did a lot of good work for the underground comix scene in the 60s and 70s. I’m absolutely fine with the notion that TCJ needs more women on staff and in the annual publication, but the article in question was worthy of publication.

  3. the edge of glory | vicariousass Says:

    […] What They’re Doing About It. The BBC has launched an “Expert Women Database.” Even the comics community is speaking out! And one of my favourites is the MissRepresentation project, which exposes how […]

  4. LibTechGender article roundup for January 2014 | Exit, Pursued By A Bear Says:

    […] The Comics Journal Should Hire More Women Writers. And Write About More Women Johanna Draper Carlson, 18 November 2013 […]




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