Women and Comics
by Code Crimson
writer, artist, and co-creator of The Code Crimson
When it comes to women and comics, I feel we rightly have a lot to complain about. It’s a boys club, and always has been. But I’ve never been the type to complain. I’d rather do something about it instead. And I’m not the only one.
We’re out there, you know. But if we’re not welcome to play in the big leagues, does that mean we’re relegated to some walled garden? Some ghetto of female creators? With a few talented exceptions, women aren’t always welcome to play with the big boys in the comic book industry, so we’re making our own way in the field. There are plenty of female comic creators out there, a fair share of them making a living from their comics and illustrations.
Ayne Hart, co-creator of the manga-inspired scifi comic Claude and Monet, originally pitched the idea for the comic to Tokyopop, but was encouraged to go independent. Making Claude and Monet is her full-time job, and she never considered working for the big two publishers.
“The comics industry is an ‘old boys’ club’ where it’s difficult for anyone—male or female—to enter,” she explained. “Many comics creators have ignored not just their female audience, but I would say even their audience in general. … Traditional comics readership is in a decline for various reasons, but rather than addressing that decline and broadening their audience, creators have simply become so insular that they’re really just creating comics for themselves. It’s difficult for anyone to break into comics in that sort of change-resistant environment.”
Savannah Houston-McIntyre, co-creator of the Amya Graphic Novel, added, “The doors have been opened for us to delve into our own imaginations and tell the stories we wish to tell; unchallenged by an editor or marketing team. Marvel and DC may be limiting themselves—but that doesn’t mean they can limit us.”
So few of us seem welcome in the big two, but I honestly believe that in many ways we are living on the verge of a creative golden age. In publishing, as in so many other fields, the gatekeepers are vanishing. “It would be nice for the Big Two to give more women artists and writers a chance, but then again I don’t think we should rely on them to provide that,” admitted Adriana Blake, creator of Fall On Me. “If they won’t do it, women should find other ways to get their stories out and their voice heard. Thanks to the internet and social media, we’re going through a great surge of independent art and comics being shared with a larger audience without the need of a big publisher. Anything’s possible in this day and age, and that’s very exciting. The publishers no longer get to choose what’s good or bad; the audience does.”
According to Houston-McIntyre, “There is definitely a lot of sexism in the comic industry. It is something that was engraved into minds long ago, and it will be a challenge to break. I have encountered it online as well as at shows. I have had men tell me my characters are not revealing enough, that I shouldn’t be making comics because I am a mother, and so on. However, for every negative encounter there are a thousand good ones. And that gives me a lot of hope. Every time I go to a con and glance around, there are so many creators, both female and male, writing the tales of strong and independent female characters. If the mainstream media would take notice, I think the push towards equality would come in leaps and bounds. If they don’t, we will continue to fight and push forward regardless. Because just like the characters we write; we need to find the strength to challenge and change the societies around us.”
We’re at a stage where scores of women have grown up reading comics and manga, and those experiences have served as the inspiration for many working as full-time illustrators, artists, and writers. Yumi Sakugawa‘s work has been featured in the literary journal Folio, she’s published several best-selling comic zines, and she will have a comic released by an independent comic book publisher later this year. “There is still this misguided notion out there that only boys read comic books,” she said. “That being said, there are so many amazing female comic book artists, comic book writers, webcomic creators, self-publishers, and all-around artists getting their work out into the world right now, and as wildly optimistic as this may sound, I do believe that things can only get better.”
Crowdsourcing has more than proven the real viability of independent creators. In 2012, Publisher’s Weekly announced that Kickstarter was one of the top five comic book publishers by gross revenue. Whether the major publishers ever wake up to us or not, we’ll just keep pushing, keep putting our work out there, and keep building an audience.
“For me, the gender disparity in comics makes my motivation to share my comic stories with the world more urgent,” Sakugawa said. “I find inspiration in the fact that there still aren’t nearly enough comic books out there that are created by women, or have strong female lead characters, or aren’t afraid to speak exclusively about the female experience. It is an opportunity to create something that isn’t there yet, to give female and male readers something that I wish I would have had when I was a kid.”