As I was catching up on my reading, I came across this article in the Wall Street Journal discussing the new fall TV season. Ladies, I have news for you. The networks have finally figured out something;
Their core audience—female viewers—want to see a woman take down the enemy, preferably with a little bloodshed along the way. The approach overturns years of belief that violent shows turn off women who prefer to watch earnest nurses, headstrong housewives or quirky career women.
Say what? Action heroes who are women? I’ll give comics credit. Ass kicking women have been a staple of both DC and Marvel, as well as independent titles for years. Of course, the majority of those books are not designed for female readers. Women, for the most part, are an afterthought. Just the jimmies on top of the big ice cream sundae that is the highly desired comic book demographics of males 14 +.
But still there are some great characters in comics that women looking for strong characters can turn to, the Birds, Batwoman, the female X-Men, to name a few. But before you even start patting yourselves on the back DC and Marvel, take a minute to read some of the other findings. This one jumped out at me:
To test the waters, market researcher Ms. Buckingham showed the groups of young women different images of Nikita. Sexy poses in skimpy bikinis were okay, as long as the bathing suit served a purpose—like in one scene when she sneaks into a pool party to kill a gangster. They preferred sexy outfits that were the result of a vicious fight such as a shredded T-shirt. A too-skimpy outfit, prompted the group to ask: “But where would she put her gun?”
The nerve of those women. Not liking sexy poses with no purpose? Expecting practicality in a costume? Can you imagine if they showed them some of the costumes in comics?
So there it is in black and white — women want strong, gritty action heroes. Of course, they have wanted them for years. The recent book "Ink-Stained Amazons"provides a look at how when media pays attention and coughs them up, women consume them. But now with television fighting to keep viewers, women have a greater opportunity to exert their muscle.
If you read this blog, you know I have spent a lot of time talking about how comics can reach out to female readers. Gail Simone pointed out on her Tumblr last week the opportunity comics has by doing this. If television is seeing this an opportunity, I hope comics gets the message too.
My hope is that the shows are good and get watched. You would think the former would ensure the latter, but we know that isn’t necessarily true. I am going to add a few shows, Chase from NBC and Covert Affairs from USA, to my DVR. Give them a try. If any one of them are a hit, maybe comics will pay attention.
Did you know that during WW II comics books were given out to soldiers for entertainment but also to provide them with tales of heroism? Today women make up 20% of the U.S. military. Wouldn’t it be nice if they had access to the tales of female comic heroes?
Soldiers have plenty of work but they also have downtime. Those on active duty overseas are looking for books, DVDs, and magazines to help pass the time. I thought it might be a good idea to provide the women who serve with comics and the opportunity to read about the Birds of Prey, Power Girl, Batgirl, the women of the JLA and JSA and others.
I asked the blogger Ragnell, who serves in the military, about the idea. She said:
I think it would be a decent idea for DC. I already see the free Marvel Comics in the PX. Just last week I was in there and heard an Army Guy shouting “Oh, hey Avengers!” and nearly knock me over trying to get one. I was glad, though, because I’d overlooked the pile.
I’ve met a few women in my own career fields who are into comics, too, but we’re about as rare as on the outside. There are a number of us who are bored and in deployed locations, and you’ll probably find a higher than average interest in heroic stories among the military. Every PX/BX I’ve been to does have comics on the magazine rack, so there’s a market.
So Marvel is providing comics already. I wonder if DC is? As I’ve said before, I see a lot of swag being given out by companies like DC at comic shows. I would hope that some of that could be shared with the men and women serving our country. It provides needed entertainment and potential long term readers who continue to pick up the book once they leave the service.
Hoping that DC and Marvel make comics available is one thing. But you can also help. Just recently the podcasters at Geektress (which you should listen to!) put together a set of comic book care packages for some female soldiers. Here is the rapturous response:
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for the care package! When we originally asked for the comics I was expecting maybe the latest from the Batman and Robin series, never did I dream we would get a whole box!
Personally, when I returned to the office and was shown the box I was jumping with joy and immediately dug in to see what treasures I could find.
Thank you again, I am still finding myself in the comics and rereading through them.
Geektress just announced they will be collecting comics for solidiers during their NYCC event on October 8. They found the soldiers looking for comics through anysoldier.com. If you are interested in sending comics to members of the military requesting them please check out that site. You can also check out Books for Soldiers where they match donors with requesters from the military.
Operation Comix Relief has been sending comics overseas to soldiers for years. You can read the letters of gratitude from the soldiers who have received these packages on their web site. Please read their web site to see how you can you help.
There are approximately 280,000 women on active duty in the military (This is based on on the number of active military totaling approximately 1.4M). If even a small percentage of them get hooked on comics and continue to buy them, they will increase the ranks of female comic readers. If any readers are in the military I would love to hear your thoughts. You can read the original post in this series here.
I wrote about the possible dissolution of Friends of Lulu a few weeks ago at the start of my series on getting more women to read comics. The good news is that the a team has stepped forward and the organization will continue.
As I mentioned despite some of the challenges the organization has faced, the awards have been very important in bringing attention to new artists. The voting is open for this year’s award nominations - so make sure to vote by the deadline of August 23. Here are the categories:
Leah Adezio Award for Best Kid-Friendly Work:
Leah, who passed away in 2007, was very active in Friends of Lulu and was also comics creator in her own right. She had a passion for children’s comics and this award is in memory of her. This award is for a kid-friendly work that best exemplifies the Friends of Lulu motto “Comics Are For Everyone.”Best Female Character:
For a lead female character from an ongoing or limited comic book series or comic strip, original graphic novel or novella. Whether in print or online.Kim Yale Award for Most Talented Newcomer:
Nominees must have published work, whether self-published, company-published, or net-published. Nominees must be nominated for this category within two years of their first professionally published work or three years of their first self published work. An individual may not be nominated more than twice and cannot win more than once.Lulu of the Year:
For the creator, book or other entity whose work best exemplifies Friends of Lulu’s mission statement. Nominees must have published work, whether self-published, company-published, or net-published.Woman of Distinction:
For outstanding achievement within the comic book industry in non-creator roles, such as editing, publishing, reporting, or retail.The Female Cartoonists Hall Of Fame:
Nominees must have published work, whether self-published, company-published, or net-published. An individual cannot win more than once.
I was flipping through my Huntress mini yesterday and saw this:
It reminded me of something I’ve thought about on and off for awhile. Basically, this:
I don’t think any of the writers ever viewed them that way. But the relationships, and more importantly the reaction to them by young females, feel similar to me. And I feel it lot more than with say Batgirl and Huntress as shown above or with avowed Wicked fan Cyclone and Stargirl.
Why does it matter? I think the popularity of Stephanie and Cass and the popularity of Wicked both fulfill the desire for seeing strong friendships between women and, in particular, younger women. I think these relationships are a very important of getting more young female readers. But as I look at DC Comics today, I don’t see a strong substitute for what Cass and Stephanie had. Oh, there are the Birds and Power Girl and Terra but they are mostly older women (except for Terra). Cassie had that kind of friendship with Cissie in the past, but she hasn’t really had a strong friendship in awhile. Cyclone and Stargirl are at a disadvantage simply because they are in a team book. At one point, I thought Misfit and Black Alice were going in that direction but Misfit appears M.I.A. and Black Alice has a home in the Secret Six. Perhaps in the new Teen Titan’s run there will be a focus on a close friendship for Cassie.
It appears that Steph and Wendy are on the path to friendship and that Wendy will play a larger role in Batgirl moving forward. I’m happy to see it but it given the relationship that Cass and Steph and the current status of Cass it will always feel a bit forced.
What do you think? Are there relationships that you like that I’ve overlooked? Do you see a parallel between Wicked and Steph/Cass? And do you feel there is a need for more strong friendships between the younger females in DC? Do you think Marvel does a better job?
If DC comics is seriously interested in gaining new female readers, particularly younger ones, this book may not be the key but it is damn close. Gail Simone has often said that Birds to Prey is an on-ramp into comics for women. I took that on-ramp and agree. I think that this version of Batgirl* can do the same thing for a younger female audience 10+
After Wonder Woman there is not a more recognizable female character then Batgirl. She appears on t-shirts, in video games; she’s in the animated series. And yes, this Batgirl is not that Batgirl but it doesn’t matter, the name is just a recognizable hook.
Stephanie Brown as Batgirl is a character young girls will relate too. Much of the credit for this is due to Bryan Q. Miller took Steph, already a fan favorite with young female readers, and made her stronger. As I’ve said previously:
She’s not perfect, or polished or even very coordinated at times. She really is the “everywoman” as hero. And that’s the charm of the character. She’s constantly underestimated by others so it’s a delight to see her get off on herself for being competent and good. Her constant non-heroic banter (“crap!” is a favorite reaction) puts the reader on her side so we get a vicarious kick when she hits the mark.
The first trade of Batgirl was just released. If I were DC, I would launch a focused promotion on two groups - girls age 14 and under and their parents.
I would provide review copies to portals, publications and blogs that target girls and make a run at some of the mommy bloggers as well as some of the Geek Dad type sites (Geek Dad has actually already written about Steph).
I would pitch Batgirl to the younger audience as a young woman who goes to college by day and kicks butt a night. She has all the problems of teenager and she’s a superhero.
For the parents, I would pitch that there is a new Batgirl is in Gotham City, She’s a young college student and she’s being mentored by the original Batgirl, Barbara Gordon.
These are simple, easy to understand pitches that I think would resonate outside the traditional comics media.
One of the reasons I’m so high on Batgirl for girls has been the art by Lee Garbett. While other books offer lots of T&A both on their covers and inside the book, Batgirl offers a refreshing, appealing alternative. The art is lovely but not lascivious sure to appeal to younger women and parents.
Take a look at these panels where Barbara Gordon and Wendy are working out. They are wearing clothes that an average person would wear and there’s an absence of the cleavage that you see in other books.
I talked with so many parents who were desperate to get their kids off the video games and reading something - anything. Or parents whose children had trouble reading and therefore did not want to read. I’d turn the kids on to series that featured either sequential art or lots of really awesome, descriptive illustrations, and it was so gratifying when they came back in for the next book in the series. We’re dealing with a generation of parents who grew up reading comic books, and they will let their kids read them, too. And we’re dealing with a generation of kids who are computer-literate at birth, so the potential for internet marketing tie-ins is enormous.
I’ve worked with kids and I think she is absolutely correct. Parents are looking to get their children reading. And her point about social media is right on as well. As part of this campaign to leverage Batgirl, I would recommend that DC create a micro-site, “I am Batgirl” and load it with downloads wallpaper, icons, etc. Throw in a free digital copy of an issues and a special offer price on a digital subscription to Batgirl. Facebook marketing would also be a part of the campaign - an official “fan” page as well as outreach to the already existing fan pages.
For all I know, DC maybe already doing these things. I hope so. I don’t think a campaign like this would cost much in either time or money. But if DC isn’t doing it that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything. If you are working with young girls, recommend the book. Request it at your library. If you have some extra money, donate a copy to your library. Review it on Amazon. If you know any middle-school teachers give them a heads up. It’s an on-ramp to building a new generation of female comic reader, it just needs the traffic.
*and yes I think this could have workd with Cass, too.
Do you know how many girls there are in Scouting in the United States alone? 2.4 Million all between the ages of 6 and 17, with the majority probably between ages 7-11. Imagine if just 1% of those girls ended up a reader of DC or Marvel comics — and bought one issue of, say, Batgirl or the upcoming Young Justice. That would be 24,000 issues a month which almost double Batgirl’s circulation and make Young Justice a solid hit.
I wonder why DC and Marvel are not tapping into this potentially large pool of readers and customers? Did you know that there is a Girl Scout Badge for Comics? There is. It’s a local rather than national badge but it is designed to teach girls about sequential art.
At every Comic Con I’ve been too, I’ve seen DC throw buttons and free comic books out for the taking. Why not make them available to Girl Scout leaders who want to help the girls earn their Comic Scouting badge. Why not create a “fun badge” to give away to girls who earn the badge with images of Wonder Woman or Batgirl? To coincide with Free Comic book Day, they could hold an online event with a few female creators that girls attend virtually. I could go on and on.
The Girl Scouts of America partner with a number of large corporations. I see Microsoft, Dove, AT&T and a number of other large brands on their web site who see the value in investing in the young women of America. Comics and Girl Scouts. I think it could be good combination.
But even if they are not willing or ready to invest, that doesn’t mean nothing can be done. If you are interested in helping the Girl Scouts learn about comics, it is easy to volunteer. Call the local council and get the names of some leaders. If you are willing to help the girls earn their comic badge or to lead a tour of a local comic store or if you are an artist who can teach them about sequential art I think you will get a grateful and excited response. And you’ll be helping to create a new generation of comic reader.
Here’s a link to the original post about these proposals.
I was very sad to read this week that the organization "Friends of Lulu" was facing dissolution*. I’m not going into all the issues because you can read about them here, here and here. Many of you may not have heard of the organization but it doesn’t mean you didn’t benefit from it some way. Despite the organization not being particularly active for the past few years beyond their awards, their goal was a good one:
to promote readership of comic books by women and the participation of women in the comic book industry.
Through their Kim Yale Award for New Talent they have recognized some new comic creators including Devin Grayson, early in her career, and most recently Kate Beaton.
I’ll leave the question of whether “Friends of Lulu” should continue as organization to others. But whether there needs to continue to be a focus on the goals of the organization, there is no question. While much has been achieved over the last 16 years since the group was formed, there is still so much to do. Yes, female creators such as Kate Beaton, Ming Doyle, Danielle Corsetto and others have blossomed thanks to web comics. And creators such as Gail Simone, Majorie Liu and Jen Van Meter are writing for the big two, DC and Marvel, but they are about it. As I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, I wonder if we’ll ever see another female writer on a Batman book, for example.
The challenge of creating a larger opportunity for women in comics can be partially solved by having more female readers. I am not saying female readers have to be reading female created content but they do probably want to be reading comics where female characters appear and those characters are treated with respect, as equals and are wearing enough clothing (not costumes that’s a separate issue) to walk though the average mall without causing a stir. Too much to ask? Honestly, for some comics from both Marvel and DC, yes. And the exceptions are usually female writers although male writers such as Marc Andrekyo, Greg Rucka and Bryan Q. Miller are also clear exceptions.
Recently writer Hope Larson published the results of a survey she did about girls and comics. You can also read an interview that Kelly Thompson did with her here. They are both worth your time. They include a lot of thoughts about getting more female readers many of which I share. Larson boils it down to these 5 basic things:
"1) Tone down the sexy on some of the covers. A big part of why I never got into capes is that the covers embarrassed me so much that I didn’t want to pick up a superhero comic, much less look inside. When I was 11 or 12 and shopping in comic stores for the first time I would head straight for the stuff I knew was “safe”–Elfquest collections and Ranma 1/2–and try not to see anything else that was on display. I’ve been in sex shops where I felt more comfortable than I do in your average comic shop, even at age 27.
2) Don’t give up so quickly on initiatives like Minx. I told friends in the publishing industry how quickly Minx got the axe, and they were shocked. It never really had a chance.
3) Advertise, advertise, advertise. Put ads for girl-friendly comics into popular books. Reach out to those dads (and moms!) who are looking for comics their daughters will like.
4) Look to Archie. Girls still read Archie because it’s accessible, and because their parents probably read Archie when they were growing up, too. How do you get girls to go from Archie to other sorts of comics? Make those comics just as easy to find! Get them into newsstands and grocery stores. Kids don’t have cars or credit cards.
5) Think outside the industry. Approach writers like Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games) and Diablo Cody, who are already writing girl-friendly, comics-appropriate material, and see if they’re interested in writing a miniseries starring their favorite superhero.”
Really great ideas. I have some other suggestions and I am going to be posting about them over the next week. My background is mainly in promotion and marketing so you’ll see more ideas on ways to get more readers than more creators, although I have some thoughts there as well.
In the three months I’ve spent on Tumblr as well as the time I’ve spent in other comics communities, I know there is a growing set of females who are comics fans. It’s not an anomaly and it’s not a sub-culture. Women have been huge consumers of comics in the past. I’ve written before about how Lois Lane outsold Batman in the 1960s. Like Hollywood, who seems to be shocked and surprised each time a female focused film becomes a hit, I think that mainstream comic publishers doesn’t fully realize or take advantage of the potential audience that is out there.
For this first post, I ask a favor. Please respond to this with your sex, age and how much you spend on comics a month. If you don’t want to give your exact age just say under 18 or plus 18. Thanks. And if you have any ideas you’d like to share please send them using the ask function and I will include them in my posts over the week.
* good news they are staying around for now.