I was just browsing Comic Book Resources and came across an interesting article about letting girls take the lead in the comics industry. It is actually a guest piece written by a long-time comic writer named Barbara Slate. She talks about the benefits of bringing forth a more girl-oriented line as an alternative to male-dominated superheroes, and once upon a time, Marvel had done such a line, having acquired notable licenses to Mattel’s Barbie, and Disney’s Princess characters. The line, while overshadowed by Marvel’s male-oriented heavy-hitters like Spider-Man, Avengers, and X-Men, did actually prove profitable, and Slate herself worked on the line to help it thrive, until a dark period began later into the ’90s, when a moronic excuse of an entrepreneur who was not well-versed in the comics industry began to drive the company into bankruptcy, and although the girls’ line was profitable, it met an untimely end as a result.
Now, Slate suggests revisting the prospect of a more girl-oriented line separate from superheroes. Now, while I consider myself a feminist and do not generally agree with tactics of gender-based segregation, I can definitely understand the basic idea. The idea of bringing out more titles that are more generally more accessible to women is a concept that seems so foreign to many of comics’ current business practitioners, but can only serve to benefit the industry in the long run, and we definitely need to do more than simply cater to the same already-existing demographic of adult males in their 30s and 40s. Emerald City Comic-Con attendance was over half female, and I believe it goes without saying that women are half the world’s population. With that in mind, why wouldn’t you want to tap into that market? Even with all this in mind, there is still one more thing to consider. The problem does not start and end at how many titles are distinctly “for girls”.
I won’t deny that we need more titles that are more accessible for women. After all, that is the whole point of Slate’s article, as well as the point of this opinion piece. And also, as a man with a particular interest in more feminine stories, and also as a male feminist, I embrace the idea of more stories for women. However, I’m sorry to say that it’ll take more to end the current problem than simply doing a “girls’ line”, although I definitely welcome the idea. Another thing we can do is lower the price point for comics and increase the availability for the books. These days, you only see comic books sold at comic book stores that specialize in this media specifically, or certain book store chains. I can’t help but view this situation as somewhat problematic for the industry, as it limits just how many people are likely not only to find these books, but also how many people are likely to put down the money to actually buy them. After all, I might be able to shell out three or four bucks for what is, in the end, approximately twenty pages of story, but I can’t speak for anyone else in that department.
And finally, another big thing we can to make comics more accessible to women is something that Janelle Assellin has been suggesting since she worked at DC Comics as an editor for Batman. That is, we can make the male-oriented stories more inclusive. Bringing out works for male audiences that do not alienate prospective female customers should be a no-brainer. Say what you will about Assellin’s critique of the Teen Titans cover, but she is absolutely right on the grounds that just because a story is targeted towards a male audience does not necessarily mean that it should be designed only for dudes. In Slate’s article, she states the folowing:
“We all know why women are sexualized in boys’ comics. Boys like boobs. Therefore grown men who draw the comics will continue to draw big breasts because they like to and because they know that it sells comics. We may never get them to stop drawing humongous mammaries, but the industry leading publishers can and should have a counterbalance. Instead of just trying to “educate” the boys, give the girls the lead.”
While I will agree that a counterbalance may be necessary, I must take issue with the rest of this quote. The entire paragraph suggests that exclusionary practices are only human nature, that nothing can be done about it, which, whether Slate intends for it to or not, reinforces sexist notions about gender, that men and women are and always will be fundamentally different in their interests and hobbies, which has time and again, been proven untrue. And also, while I will admit that sexualization is indeed, a part of human nature, but by no means is it unavoidable. I may sound uptight by saying this, but at the end of the day, sexualizing female characters is a choice, in every meaning of the word, and it’s a choice that not every male writer is going to make, no matter how naturally it comes. Furthermore, even those male writers that do don’t necessarily operate under the hive mind of “How are we going to exploit female sexuality next?”. In fact, there are ways of exploring the topic of a female character’s sexuality that aren’t exploitative in nature.
Again, the problems with accessibility towards women don’t start and end with the existence of girls’ lines. Like it has been said numerous times before, we do need more books that are girl-friendly, but we also need to make the books more available and affordable, and, we also need to bring out more titles for men that do not exclude women.
Have a good day.