Just Giblets

My Sad Realization About the Comics Industry

29th July 2011
by Michael

My Sad Realization About the Comics Industry

posted in Comics |

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman in the DCnU

Anyone who pays any attention to comics on the Internet has probably noticed a bit of a kerfluffle going on after some comments made by DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio at the San Diego Comic Convention (SDCC). A question was asked about the lack of female comics creators at DC, and DiDio by all accounts, avoided the question and treated it with some derision. I wasn’t there, and I haven’t listened to the audio; only read the reports, but I’m not really surprised. Comics is a man’s world, and it’s pretty surprising to me that I’ve been a comics reader for over 40 years. Especially, as I realized a few years ago, I’m not actually a fan of superheroes, I am a fan of women with super powers. Woe is me. That doesn’t give me a whole lot to get excited about in the world of comics, and I tend to get really excited by some of the slightest scraps of attention paid to female characters.

The long-awaited Batwoman solo title in the DCnUBut let me get to the point of this article, and the realization that I have finally admitted to myself about the comics industry. For some background, here are some good articles about the situation that we suddenly find ourselves in. I first learned about the SDCC here: http://dcwomenkickingass.tumblr.com/post/7985599811/panels. Then the intelligent and highly enteraining DC Women Kicking Ass Tumblr Blog followed up with http://dcwomenkickingass.tumblr.com/post/8130151171/bgsdccinterview. Tonight I read a couple more articles, that led to more background. Graeme Macmillan wrote for Newsarama this article, http://blog.newsarama.com/2011/07/29/the-dcu-relaunch-tough-on-female-creators-tough-on-female-characters/, which referred to Laura Hudson’s article here, http://www.comicsalliance.com/2011/07/28/dc-dan-didio-female-creators/, and Tim Hanley’s article here: http://thanley.wordpress.com/2011/07/27/there-are-actually-less-female-characters-in-the-dc-relaunch-than-there-are-now/.

Birds of Prey in the DCnU

What really started to bother me was not the allegations that DC doesn’t hire enough female creators, or DC doesn’t feature enough female characters, both of which are statements I agree with, but some of the inferences I gleaned from Laura Hudson’s article. She talks about the danger of a writer not being able to capture the experiences of a character who is not like them. She states, “And if you’re a creator and you’re trying to write and draw characters that are different from you, it can mean that you end up sounding inauthentic, tone-deaf, or worse, actively feeding into stereotypes.” While this is certainly true and has happened frequently… okay, endlessly in comics (Laura includes an example in her article) it worries me that she makes this point in an article about the difficulty DC claims it has finding good, female comics creators.

The problem, to me, of putting these two idea together is that one affects the other. If a writer is good (and there is a wide range of talent currently writing in comics) their gender, race, sexuality, etc. should matter one whit. They should have an abundance of creativity, empathy, observational powers, and insight to be able to write, convincingly, a character of a different gender, race, sexuality, etc. Does this mean we should be satisfied if DC has all male writers even though they write terrific stories about complex women? Well, no. But even if that were the case, at least we’d have some good stories about complex women.

What really bothers me, and what I finally verbalized to myself is what I think is the root of the problem. This issue has emerged with the upcoming relaunching of the DC Universe: 52 new #1’s that people are complaining are reducing the number of female-led titles. Let’s look at the likely reasons DC is doing this relaunch. They are the #2 comic publisher in an industry that is floundering. The #1 company (Marvel) is gaining ground by focusing on fewer and fewer different titles, and for the most part, ignoring women. The market is glutted with Avengers, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and X-Men titles and very little else. So you’re #2, and you’re looking around to do something bold and potentially ground-breaking in order to gain some market share, and maybe even revitalize the market a little. So you’re certainly going to look at your competition that is consistently outselling you, and see what they’re doing right. Well, they’re certainly not branching out to feature more titles with women, more titles by women, more titles featuring diverse nationalities or sexualities. They consistently sell comics by playing it pretty safe. Why do they do this? Because that’s what sells.

Can we just accept this bottom line, people? Marvel and DC, in the end, are all about making money. They’re not going to spend too much money, or risk too much, by publishing a title that doesn’t make money. Sure, they’ll try for a little while, hoping it might catch on, or even because they’re trying to feature a Latino, or gay, or female character, but in the end, if people aren’t buying it in big numbers, it’s going to be history.

We’re in a Catch-22 situation. If DC or Marvel does try to diversify a little, it usually takes too long for the word to get out for them to turn around and be profitable. Now, maybe this relaunch of DC’s will do exactly that, and titles like Batwoman, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Birds of Prey and Voodoo will benefit from this attention and promotional hype, and attract a new audience that actually supports the books and gets some people who would like to read superhero comics beyond the male-centric stuff that we’re force fed, which will in turn, embolden DC to try more comics like Huntress, Black Orchid, Dr. Light, Vixen and Stargirl. And so on.

It’s not easy loving comics that feature women with super powers. Especially when you also demand well-written, well-drawn comics. But every now and then, individual writers and artists will deliver, often surreptitiously, behind the disguise of a mainstream, superhero comic. (One of my favorite examples is how Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning took the testosterone heavy Marvel cosmic event, Annihilation, which featured one or two women in supporting roles, and slowly and quietly kept adding more fascinating females, and gave them more and more amazingly complex storylines, until we were reveling in the likes of Phylla-Vell, Moondragon, Gamora, Mantis, Medusa, Crystal and many, many more). See? It can be done?

Moondragon and Mantis from Guardians of the Galaxy

Please keep in mind, that I do understand that there are exceptions. Marvel tried some nifty things with their Year of the Woman. DC has actually done pretty well of late with regard to women and other diverse characters. I can only hope that despite the apparent dip in female characters/creators in the DCnU, we will see a resurgence. But then both companies go and do the stupid, insensitive things like having Wonder Women holding Mera’s severed head on the cover of a Flashpoint comic, or changing Harley Quinn’s costume to something so ridiculous as to be beyond laughable, or Marvel continually forgetting about all the fascinating female characters they have in their rich history and continuing to focus on the same characters over and over again.

That’s it, that’s my rant. I didn’t really intend to do this, or for it to be so long, but since I don’t have many close friends who read comics, I needed an outlet somewhere. If you made it this far, thanks for reading. Feel free to contradict, agree, or enlighten in the coomments.

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This entry was posted on Friday, July 29th, 2011 at 10:15 pm and is filed under Comics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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