There has been a lot of talk about comics being sexist or DC comics in particular not wanting to hire women and while it can be construed as a problem when DC’s titles went from 12% women creators to 1%, the argument for more female leads in comics just doesn’t fly.Simply put, if sales were better, then there would be more female leads in comics, but the sales just won’t support it.
In April, the first comic with a female lead on Diamond’s list was Wonder Woman #610 at 50 selling 30,000 copies. The next is Birds of Prey #11 at 56 selling another 30,000. X-23 #9 at 59 with 28,000 issues sold. Gotham City Sirens #22 at 71 selling 24,000. Batgirl #20 at 72 selling 24,000.
I could go on, but you get the point.
Publishers make decisions based on sales and when Wonder Woman is last on the Top 50 list, then what hope do other female leads have? After all, Wonder Woman is arguably the most recognizable and important female comic lead of all time and she can’t even generate enough sales to outsell Green Arrow (which was at #44 with 32,000 issues sold).
Most fans in support of female leads will suggest that more women creators working on female leads will bring more sales to the characters and this is also more faulty logic.
Comic fans are fickle and they tend to go with safe bets, so the same creators are typically promoted time and time again. I’m guilty of it myself which is why I’ll be reading Aquaman because I love Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis. It’s really difficult for new creators (male or female) to successfully break into mainstream comics. While people will point to Jeff Lemire and Jason Aaron as writers who broke from the pack, these are exceptions to the rule that DC and Marvel will safeguard their characters from untested writers (and even though Lemire’s Superboy is the best book on the stands, Superboy himself is hardly a top-tier character). Paul Cornell has been given Action Comics, but he has been working on C-grade books for a long time and writing Dr. Who to get where he is, so he is hardly unproven.
The problems facing female creators isn’t their gender as much as it is just a difficulty with getting into the industry in general. It takes a lot of time to work up a reputation so that publishers will hire you, and even longer for fans to embrace new writers.
So, can we all just stop with this conspiracy against women crap that has been floating around the web since before Flashpoint started? It isn’t a conspiracy so much as basic economics.
- Female leads don’t sell very well.
- It’s difficult for new creators to prove themselves to publishers and . . .
- . . . even if they prove themselves, there is no guarantee that fans will embrace them as new creators because most fans only want what they consider familiar.
Does it suck that female leads can’t sell? If you’re into female leads, then yeah, it sucks. Personally, I don’t read Wonder Woman, but I picked it up this week because of Azzarello and Chiang, and I wasn’t disappointed. Yes, I realize that makes me technically part of the problem, but I like Azzarello and I won’t apologize for it. I think Supergirl was an incredible title during the Sterling Gates run and I’ve heard nothing but good things about Q’s run on Batgirl, but by and large, I just don’t read a lot of books with female leads. This isn’t some sort of conscious decision on my part so much as I just pick up books I’m interested in (for instance, Rucka and J.H. Williams III on Batwoman was an absolutely incredible run and I look forward to more from Williams on it). The point is that just because someone wants more of something, doesn’t mean that everyone wants it. I wanted Kyle Rayner to be Green Lantern forever, but his sales weren’t strong enough to have him sustain the title, so they brought back Hal Jordan. Sales are are the most important motivating factor in comics, so we shouldn’t take things so personal when stories don’t go the way we want.
This post stems from San Diego Comic-Con where a fan in a Batgirl costume kept bringing up gender issues at the DC comics panels. One of the comments that got me from her interview with DC Women Kicking Ass, “I said, ‘If you do want to read a comic about a woman like that, would you please stand up now?’ Nearly all of the room stood up. I said, ‘This is your market, DC,’ and sat down.”
It’s funny that she considered that particular audience to be enough to prove her point when the numbers just don’t match. Furthermore, these are people at a DC Comics panel – I could have gone in and said, “If you want to read a comic about Ambush Bug and Lobo in a buddy cop comic, please stand up” and the room would have agreed (maybe not as enthusiastically given that I am not a woman in a Batgirl costume).
Female leads in comics are incredibly important – this should be a given – but until the market shows a greater interest in them, then DC won’t publish more female lead books and they shouldn’t be expected to until then either. I understand that some fans might want to see more female leads or more females to be in prominent roles, but you know what? I want Captain Marvel and the Shazam family to have their own title again, but sales probably wouldn’t support it. The difference between what I want and what DC Women Kicking Ass wants is that gender is attached to her cause and automatically gives her cause a sense of nobility that my cause doesn’t inherently have even though both wants are equally economically unfeasible.
Finally, there are plenty of people who decry DC’s decision to bring Barbara Gordon back to the role of Batgirl because of various reasons, the biggest of which being that she was a role model for disabled people as Oracle. But for all the complaints people have about the relaunched Batgirl title, they can’t be too offended considering that it sold over 100,000 copies and is getting a second printing. If people are really that upset, then sales wouldn’t be that high. Batgirl sold incredibly well, but it doesn’t disprove anything that I’ve written here. It’s a comic connected to a controversy and written by an industry professional that has a strong following. Only time will tell if Batgirl has the (yeah, I’m going for it) legs to continue selling as well as it has.