In December, I made a short post about what a month of comics looks like for me numbers-wise, which involved one of my favorite things: obsessing over weird shit. This month, I brought it back with 5000% more pretty graphs and exactly as much talk about ladies in comics.
First, some notes on my reading habits, and a general disclaimer. I buy a lot of comics and I try (and drop) comics all of the time. I am more likely to try a comic under one of two circumstances: 1) it is by a creator I already like or have heard good things about, or 2) it features (non-sexualized) female characters prominently. That doesn’t mean I will keep reading a title indefinitely, just that I’ll give it a shot. Everyone has different determining factors; those are mine. I am probably reading a larger percentage of comics starring women than most people, but these numbers aren’t meant to be good representations of what’s on a comic shop’s shelves, only a good representation of what’s on mine. So when I say “every” or “all,” I mean of what I am buying, not total in the world of comics.
I bought 43* single issues in February, which is less than usual. It’s still a lot. Marvel published 13 of them, Image 10, DC (including Vertigo) 9, Dark Horse 6, IDW 3, and Boom! 2. Of those comics, four were first issues, five were second issues, and four more were last issues, which speaks to how many mini-series I read (i.e. a lot). That’s almost a third of my comics, guys, and it doesn’t even include mini-series I’m only partway through.
But more importantly, the ladies. Thirteen comics starred a female character or all-female team, like Batwoman and Fearless Defenders; twelve had an ensemble with more than one female character, like Avengers Assemble and I, Vampire; and eighteen focused on males or only one prominent female character, like Prophet and Hellboy. Of those last eighteen, seven often co-star females, like The Unwritten, and most of the rest have other redeeming features. Except for Happy. No redeeming features there.
While my comics from Boom! and IDW featured the highest percentages of women as main characters, Marvel’s 11 comics more than doubled their combined output. On the other end of the spectrum, only one of my comics from Dark Horse, The Massive, gave women prominence. While in previous months all three of Brian Wood’s Dark Horse comics might have been in that category, both Conan and Star Wars were light on their female stars this month. Also, Both DC and Image were middling, with about 40% representation, which would be higher in both cases if I had dropped mediocre series months ago (Why can’t I quit you, MacGyver?). Still, it’s probably a lot compared to most readers.
Slightly more troubling is the creative side of things. Of the comics I read, 18 had female contributors, ranging from writers and artists to pinup artists. And, while some of the books had almost completely female teams, like Adventure Time with Fionna & Cake and the female-centric Womanthology: Space, 8 books had only a female colorist or cover artist, like Manhattan Projects or Red She-Hulk. While those are very important roles, they aren’t always names that many comic readers would know. Both Laura Martin and Laura Allred are incredibly important to the work of John Cassaday on Uncanny Avengers and Mike Allred on FF, respectively, but they aren’t big names like their teammates. In addition, they are often one member of a creative team that usually has four to 6 people. Oddly enough, every single book written by a woman had at least one other female creator, although, yeah, most of the time it was as colorist.
It’s interesting to see that the percentages of female characters and creators mirror each other so well. The publishers with female characters I am interested in also have female creators, although they are lower across the board, even with a standard of only one woman per creative team. Only Boom! maintained the same level. DC was slightly buoyed by Vertigo, which brought in both of the books with female creators, Fairest‘s writer Lauren Beukes and colorist Eva de la Cruz and The Unwritten‘s cover artist Yuko Shimizu.
Continuing on the downhill tread, it’s time to talk about female editors, baby. What, only 5 people in the entire world care? Well, the rest of you are horrible people who don’t know anything about the most important people in comics, the editors. You’re terribly wrong, just so you know.
Of the 43 comics, 7 had no credited editor, because, well, Image. Which is both good and bad. There’s no editorial overreach, but also no editors to tell writers when they’ve gone over the cliff edge. I’ve mentioned Happy, right?
Of the rest, 19 had a female on the editorial team for a total of 10 different women working in editorial, alongside 26 men. How do I know this? I counted. If the numbers of ladies in the graph don’t add up, it’s because both Sana Amanat and Ellie Pyle were credited as editors on one title and assistant editors on another, just to make things confusing. Anyway, while more than half of the editorial teams had at least one woman, barely a quarter of the total editorial staff was female. Which means that 1) there would often be only one woman on a team of 3 editors, 2) there were some teams that edited multiple comics, and many that edited only one, and 3) most of those teams with several comics have a lady. And hey, now I know three times as many editors’ names as when I started this.
Not only are Boom!’s Bravest Warriors and Fionna and Cake great comics, but they share the only all-female editing team of Shannon Watters and her assistant editor, Whitney Leopard. In addition, Scarlet’s sole editor, Jennifer Grünwald, would have added more books with lady editors if I read any more of Marvel’s Icon imprint titles by Brian Michael Bendis; she edits all of them. Marvel actually does pretty well, but there were only 4 female editors across 11 titles, and Lauren Sankovitch edits 6 of them. Still, considering that DC’s four titles included Shelly Bond on two Vertigo titles and a single assistant editor on both of Jeff Lemire’s titles, and that Dark Horse and IDW had only one female editor each, it’s better than nothing. Which is how many women are on Image’s three editorial teams.
What I find most fascinating are the similarities between the three right-hand graphs, especially in publishers where I bought more than a couple of comics. I’m extrapolating here, but without diverse editorial teams at Dark Horse, DC, and Image to look for female creators, it seems they made less well-rounded female characters that I wanted to read. I am still buying books, but Brian Wood or Mike Mignola’s art can only get Dark Horse so far. Of the ten Image comics, 5 of them are ending mini-series or books that I am dropping soon, and I’m not actively looking to replace them. I might pick up the first issue of something on a whim, like I did with Snapshot last month, and there are books like Saga and Prophet that aren’t going anywhere, but Marvel at least seems to be making an effort of hiring female creators from a lot of different specialties, and having them work on comics with fresh takes on female characters. There’s definitely a connection between me reading so many Marvel comics and how many of them star female characters. Also, they hired Kelly Sue DeConnick, so, advantage there.
Even as someone who tries to be aware of women in comics, I’m biased towards obvious things. Just because it is great when there is a big name female writer or artist, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t seek out colorists, letterers, and even (especially) editors, because their work is often integral to a quality reading experience. Also, even though I am biased towards creators who are women, barely 40% of my comics from last month had even one woman involved. Even for someone who seeks it out, there still isn’t anything approaching parity among creative teams. Which isn’t to say that I just want more female creators. I want more good female creators, to help make more great books, so that I can spend even more money on comics.
*If you want the whole list of comics I am buying so you can judge me or check my math, here it is: Adventure Time with Fionna and Cake, Animal Man, The Answer, Avengers, Avengers Assemble, Batwoman, Black Beetle, Bravest Warriors, Captain Marvel, Conan the Barbarian, Fairest, Fearless Defenders, FF, Flash, Green Arrow, Happy, Hawkeye, Hellboy in Hell, I, Vampire, Journey into Mystery, Locke & Key: Omega, MacGyver: Fugitive Gauntlet, Manhattan Projects, The Massive, Morning Glories, Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Prophet, Punisher: War Zone, Red She-Hulk, Revival, Saga, Scarlet, Secret Avengers, Snapshot, Star Wars, Swamp Thing, Uncanny Avengers, Unwritten, Witch Doctor, Womanthology: Space, Wonder Woman, Young Avengers