When DC comics, the publisher of such favorites as Batman and Superman, relaunched their entire line of comic books last fall under its “New 52” initiative, fans of the company thought the move would modernize many of their stories, some of which have been running since the 1930’s. Once the relaunch occurred, fans noticed a glaring irregularity in the mastheads—there were no women. In a matter of just a few months, DC had gone from having 12% of its titles written by women to just 1%.
Shortly after the debut, fans also noticed the same overly sexualized artwork for female characters, which have plagued the industry for decades. Coupled with the sudden marginalization of many former leading female characters, it was clear—the relationship between women and comic books had just taken a few steps back.
The ongoing conversation about women and comic books has to be approached from two angles—the women creating comic books and the women who read comic books. At a panel titled Women of Marvel, 8 women who work for company in a variety of positions spoke to the issues regarding their presence in the industry.
Moderated by Jeanine Schaffer, an editor for such books as “Wolverine” and “Astonishing X-men”, the panel consisted of Ellie Pyle, editor of “Amazing Spider-Man”, Sana Amanat, editor of “Ultimate Spider-Man”, Marjorie Liu, writer of “Astonishing X-men”, Jordie Bellaire, colorist for “The Avengers”, Judy Stephens, product manager and digital producer, Lauren Sankovitch, editor of “Thor”, and Janet Lee, colorist of “Emma”.
After explaining how they came to the company, the focus turned to questions from the audience. In response to a question regarding diversity in comics, Liu responded, “I don’t want it to be a mission but of course I love to see diversity. I love to see women…I want comics to reflect the real world.”
Yet, one can’t speak about comic book creators without addressing the issues within the comics themselves. During the question and answer portion of the panel, one fan asked when Sif, a sometime love interest for Thor and supporting character in some of his stories, would get her own headlining book.
The answer, was this fall as part of the editorial restructuring known as Marvel NOW!, marks a continuing trend for female characters taking lead roles in comic books long dominated by men. The most recent example being the introduction of Captain Marvel, typically a male hero, focusing on Carol Danvers, the former Ms. Marvel who now carries the Captain Marvel title. A discussion about Captain Marvel led to a conversation about the physical representation of women in comics. The artists on the panel said that they weren’t comfortable with the status quo and that many male artists support this.
The largest debate at the panel was whether or not a panel like this was even needed anymore. The crowd responded with a general yes with one man yelling, “We don’t need it, we want it.” The panelists agreed as well. The fact that the comic book industry is typically seen as a boys club lead to Amanat saying, “the perception is that men are running the company because men are still running the company…we need to have this conversation.” Schaffer did note that there had been an increase of women hired by Marvel in the last few years and even went as far as to say that three out of the last four editorial hires were female.
As the panel came to a close, someone asked how Marvel was marketing to new female readers. Stephens, who works on Marvel’s digital presence, noted that technology has helped women who felt uncomfortable going to comic book stores become part of the comic book community. She cited Marvel’s Digital Comics Unlimited, a digital subscription service for old comics, as a big part of that push.
However, it isn’t just women in the industry that are changing the face of it all. In fact, there were just as many female attendees, if not more, than male. Sierra Chandler, sophomore, who reads comic books and attended New York Comic-Con, recognizes the issues plaguing women in the comic book industry. She says, “I agree that woman are underrepresented at this moment…There are more female protagonists today than there were 20 years ago but not by a lot.”
Chandler also noted the need for panels to discuss women in comics. Chandler says, “Just because they [women] exist in minority does not mean that we have ‘made it.’ If it stops being an ongoing conversation then it might become a fad and disappear. Think about all the little girls this weekend who saw a panel of all-female writers and artists. Now, that little girl knows there is a community of women she may look up to and strive to join. If we don’t offer that conversation then how can we grow?”
Of course, the men on both sides of the industry also have a responsibility to continue the advancement of an equal showing in the workplace and in the work they produce. Besides drawing women in a less anatomically offensive fashion, writers are striving to create female characters that aren’t one-dimensional or just used as plot devices.