Heroes Never Rust #6 by Sean Ironman
Women in Superhero Comics
I’m a white, heterosexual male. As such, I never really paid attention to how minorities are portrayed in superhero comics. I’m sure that sounds bad, but let’s be honest. Portrayals of minorities was never an issue for me because I was well-portrayed. And when I heard someone say how women or African Americans weren’t well-represented in comics, I could run down a list of characters that fit. Wonder Woman, Storm, Rogue, Batgirl, Boom Boom, Fallen Angel. Steel, Cyborg, John Stewart Green Lantern, Spawn, Bedlam, Bishop, Blade, Luke Cage. It goes beyond that however. Because I was so well-portrayed in comics, I never even thought about being portrayed. It never occurred to me to follow a certain character because he was a white male.
In the last couple of years, I’ve heard a lot of talk about how things are changing. I never paid much attention to it until people started telling me things were getting better. (I’m going to go ahead and concentrate on women in comics for the rest of this post. Handling minorities as a whole will take 20,000 words. I’ll come back to some other aspects of this argument in later blog posts.) Recently, I looked at the release list of new comics for this October from DC Comics and Marvel Comics, the Big Two. Out of about 70 comics from Marvel, not including graphic novels, I counted one female writer and no female artists. DC fared a little better with four female writers on six titles out of about 75.
Now, I know what some of you may be thinking—Well, it’s superhero comics. Maybe less women are interested in writing them. I consider that bullshit on a couple of different levels. One that it’s superhero comics. While most of what these companies publish are superheroes, they do publish crime, fairy tale, sci-fi, and other genres. Also, I’ve met a good number of comic writers and artists over the last decade, most of them women. By far most of them are women. For every ten comic creators I meet, maybe two of them are male. Even if that just happens to have been my experience, I find it difficult to see how out of 70 comics that need to be written in a month, only one for Marvel and six for DC are written by women. Something is wrong.
To be quite honest, I don’t care about fairness. If either one of the Big Two brought down some edict where let’s say 30 comics a month had to be written by women, I would be weary of the products they’re releasing. I don’t think the solution is to force a certain percentage to be written by women. My issue isn’t with a company saying they are progressive or that they are fair or anything else. My issue lies with asking, what stories am I missing?
In the 1980s, the American comics scene got an influx of British authors and artists. The British Invasion. Brian Bolland. Steven Dillon. Glenn Fabry. Jamie Delano. Neil Gaiman. Peter Milligan. Grant Morrison. Warren Ellis. Garth Ennis. These are some of the biggest names in comics in the last thirty years. New voices lead the way and changed American comics forever. More mature storylines, different take on the superhero concept. British authors had different influences, and they brought these influences to Batman, Animal Man, and other comics. In turn, American authors and artists were influenced by the creators in the British Invasion, and the work continued to evolve.
Imagine if we never got Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Grant Morrison’s Batman: Arkham Asylym. Garth Ennis’ Preacher. Warren Ellis’ Planetary. Not to mention the hundreds of other works by those British creators. Imagine if we never got the work from American creators influenced by the British Invasion.
That’s what I think about when I think about the lack of women creating superhero comics at the Big Two. What great work has been lost to us? What influences don’t we have because we haven’t been introduced to more women creators?
I’ve tried to think of solutions. I don’t believe the Big Two are sexist. I don’t believe companies are sexist. Companies are greedy. They will do anything to get money. And I’ve followed comics enough to see female writers and artists get a shot and then the books don’t sell. But maybe the Big Two should think of it as an investment. Lose a few bucks (and comics aren’t like big Hollywood movies costing hundreds of millions) on a title to let it grow or the creative team grow. Maybe release certain titles exclusively as digital comics and save some money on printing.
DC Comics is owned by Time Warner, and Marvel is owned by The Walt Disney Company. They could afford to invest a few thousand dollars into new talent. I know what some of you are thinking—Companies are expected to make money. They can’t give handouts.
While companies are expected to make money, I think that should come secondary to creating great products. These companies won’t miss a few thousand dollars, and I do mean a few thousand, not $500,000. Every fifteen to twenty years the comics industry seems to go through a lull. Quality, and then sales, drops off. Then some new talent with different influences comes in and comics experience a rebirth. What if the Big Two were proactive? Instead of waiting until quality and sales slip, beating it to the punch and investing in the next big thing. Think of the comic you could have in your hands right now. It could be the great one you’ve ever read.
Sean Ironman is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida, where he also serves as Managing Editor of The Florida Review and as President of the Graduate Writers’ Association. His art has appeared online at River Teeth. His writing can be read in Breakers: An Anthology of Comics and Redivider.