The Ever-Elusive Female Comic Book Demographic


With our multi-media blitz for Insane Jane coming soon, I thought I would “muse”
wink emoticon over an issue that has dogged our industry for decades; although it IS improving….

Close your eyes. Now imagine your average comic book reader. For many of you it’s a 12 year old sitting on the bed thumbing through a dog-eared copy of Spiderman. For others it’s that awkward 23 year old who dresses up as Batman, goes to the different genre conventions and keeps his 10,000 book collection in pristine condition. What’s the common denominator in all this? I will bet dollars to donuts that you are imagining a guy in both roles. According to industry statistics, you’d generally be right. This is not to say there aren’t female comic book enthusiasts, but the strong majority of readership is a Boys Club.

But it wasn’t always this way. Back in the 1940’s female readers outnumbered male readers. Many of the books back then were teeny-bopper and romance titles. Superhero titles didn’t dominate the market until the 1960’s. But female readership started on the decline in the ‘50s when the prevailing wind of indignant righteousness felt the medium was to deviant for a proper young lady.

As I’ve noted in the past, the comic book industry is in a state of flux. It is hemorrhaging more and more readers every year and very slow to replace them. For years there have been informal or corporate-based initiatives to broaden the audience, but the one holy grail of untapped markets proves somewhat elusive…the female demographic.

First off, the female comic book readership has grown over the years, put not fast enough to keep pace with the lost readership in other demographics. But why…industry statistics show that females make up almost 50% of the manga market. (Manga is a Japanese-inspired comic book art form). Is it the weird androgyny of the characters? Is it the fantasy-based storylines?

There are so many over-generalized reasons, but I think one answer is most books are written by men who just don’t have an ear for the female point of view. Slapping a Batman logo on a female and calling her Batgirl, just isn’t enough to draw out the female reader…in fact it is blatantly patronizing. And showing them either as wholesome goddesses of virtue or conniving witches of evil seems to be the only two character archetypes. It also doesn’t help that too many artists objectify the female form to the point of to the point of absurdity. But this too is painting the whole industry with broad brush strokes. There are plenty of wonderful books and characters that have appealed to women as well as men.

It’s easy to say that comics don’t appeal to woman because of their visceral nature. Comics are a visual medium and therefore gravitate towards the explosion and graphic violence. But that doesn’t mean a “girl-book” needs to be some Disney-fied representation of reality either. That too is belittling. In reality there are no girl books or boy books. There are simply good books and not-so-good books that have crossover appeal.

In fact, fellow comic book publisher Hope Larsen conducted a survey a few years ago that showed what women want is “More and better female characters, especially protagonists. Girls want to see strong, in-control, kick-ass women calling the shots.”

Then what’s up with Twilight?

If you publish with a fixation of attracting a certain market, you’re playing with fire. Most people realize when they are being pandered to and will ignore your offering.

It’s not about creating role-model characters, but creating *relatable* characters; even in an exaggerated form. Guys like Spiderman, because of his devil-may-care attitude in the face of danger…an extension of what they hope they could be. They know they will never be able to climb walls or leap tall buildings in a single bound, but the character has a real-world resonance. In the same breath, girls don’t particularly fawn over Spiderman’s long-time love interest Mary Jane Watson, because, for the most part, she is a two dimensional character. However, characters like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman or the 10th Muse have a better chance of acceptance because their personalities are layered; they have texture.

Now the world is being introduced to characters like Jessica Jones. For all her fictional personal flaws, she comes across as a hero everyone can get behind. She kicks ass, she lives in a world we can recognize. Of course you get trolls and idiots who say “I just can’t get motivated to watch female lead shows. They typically are nothing but “blame men for everything”( this was a real response!).

Then there’s Supergirl…she’s a bit softer in tone and approach, like Buffy. And Agent Carter, White Canary….the point here is the producers are finally getting with the program that these heroes have crossover appeal. And these are TV characters that haven’t translated into more comic readers.

So how do you attract the ever-elusive female demographic? In a sense, you don’t. The true answer is good comics will always rise to the top. They will be gender-indistinct because the characters (both male and female) ring true. She can be an Egyptian goddess transported into modern day New York and still be relatable. She can be a rogue assassin or a trans-dimensional mutant or a fragile misguided soul or a former First Lady and Secretary of State and current presidential candidate…as long as they have substance grounded in the real world.

And if she kicks some ass, all the better!

The Twilight Saga

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