Robot 6

What girls like

Girl comics

Girl comics

Comics publishers often think they know what girls like, but once we get out of Disney Princess territory, it’s harder than it looks. DC had a good try with their Minx line, but they made a lot of missteps; they totally ignored the popularity of manga and produced a first round of books that were like the graphic novel equivalents of Afterschool Specials. They got better, but by then it was too late. It’s very, very hard to connect with teenagers.

Rather than sit in a air-conditioned office and think about it, creator Hope Larson (Chiggers, Mercury) did something original: She asked the girls what they like—actually, she polled 198 women who reported having read comics in their teens and tweens.

Somewhat surprisingly, given the way online discussions usually go on this topic, superheroes emerged as the favorite genre, although manga was a close second (yes, I know manga is a medium not a genre, but I didn’t write the survey). X-Men was the most popular series, followed by Sandman, Batman, Rumiko Takahashi’s manga (Ranma ½, Inu Yasha), Spiderman, Sailor Moon, and comics by Alan Moore and CLAMP. And this:

The thing that drew most respondents to their favorite comics was the characters: Either relatable, realistic characters (like the misfit X-Men) or “kick-ass” wish-fulfillment characters.

A compelling story and strong artwork were of nearly equal importance to teen readers, with the story being slightly more important.

Many also craved dark or “adult” subject matter.

This particular group has a definite skew toward the traditional comics genres and models—over half get their comics at comics store, a quarter had been to a Free Comic Book Day event, and superheroes are a big part of their world. At the same time, they expressed some discontent with the way things are: They want “more and better female protagonists,” including “strong, in-control, kick-ass women calling the shots”; they don’t want anything pink or sparkly; they don’t care for hypersexualized characters or plots that rely on sexual violence; and they want to see good stories in a variety of genres, with male and female protagonists. Also, many feel uncomfortable in comics shops, for all the usual reasons. They want to see comics made available in more places and they would like publishers to reach out to girls.

It’s worth reading the whole post not just to get all the details but also to see the readers’ comments and reactions to Larson’s findings.

Back in headier times (2007), I wrote a blog post about the expansion of the comics market in which I noted that graphic novel sales had quadrupled since 2001. Here’s Milton Greipp’s explanation for that:

I think the biggest factor was Tokyopop’s expansion of their authentic manga line and bringing in original material for girls. Suddenly there was huge growth in a business that was usually flat, and it opened up new opportunities for other categories as well.

Graphic novels were booming at the time, and now they are slumping a bit, but the lesson remains: You grow your audience by broadening the appeal of your offerings. That may mean toning down the misogyny (perceived or otherwise) of traditional superhero comics or offering different types of stories and storytelling in order to attract more readers. It may mean putting graphic novels in different sections of the bookstore, rather than grouping them together, or even putting them in Costco or Target. It should definitely mean giving female creators like Larson a bigger voice (her books rock anyway). Manga sales may be slipping at the moment, but the fact remains that girls and women make up half the world (slightly more, actually), so reaching out to them can mean bigger sales and a greater variety of books—and not doing so is shortsighted and foolish.



Deranged Violet

May 20, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Amazing! Exactly what I’ve been trying to say for years. Finally someone’s done it. :)

Very good post and makes a lot of good points. Girls don’t want princesses, damsels in distress, or big-breasted bimbos. They want real women with power and wills of their own. I can remember when I really got into reading comics at about 16. I read Witch Blade and Laura Croft. When CrossGen game into play in 2000 I picked up almost all their titles (Ruse, Sojourn, Meridian). I think they had their heads together when it came to making comics that women/girls would like. Tank Girl and Ramna 1/2 where the top choices among my two comic-reading friends in high school.

Hi Brigid, yes, I’m aware manga is not a genre. I’ve changed the word “genre” to “category” due to many jerks just dying to quibble over semantics/grammar on twitter.

Brigid Alverson

May 20, 2010 at 7:38 pm

Hi Hope! I wasn’t picking on you, just trying to head off a swarm of quibblers myself. Great post!

I know you aren’t! I wish I’d been more careful with my grammar, though. Lesson learned.

Excellent post.

An old girlfriend of mine loved the X-Men cartoon as a kid but never read comics until she met me, I got her into The Authority and she became obsessed with Jenny Sparks, then Tank Girl and then got into more and more comics.

My partner now has also got into comics thanks to my addiction, although her tastes are a bit different. She loves Yotsuba, Mouse Guard and is currently making her way through Bone. After seeing Kick Ass the first thing she said was “wow, I wish I was like Hit Girl”.

While it would be great to see more and more female creators, I think most girls don’t care who wrote something as long as it’s a good story and has characters they like. At least I would hope that would be the case.

This reminds me of the one character in the DC universe that I really really resonated with-both in the Legion Unlimited cartoon, and in comics. And that character was the woman who ran the covert operation-Amanda, I believe her name was. The only non-superhero, non-costumed character. A smart, powerful female, not a big breasted bimbo, who was as tough as she was gentle. Sympathetic to the heroes, but had a job to do, and was a pragmatic realist in a bizarre, and difficult situation.

Brigid Alverson

May 21, 2010 at 5:49 pm

That’s interesting, Jim—one of my daughter’s teenage friends just asked me about Tank Girl. She saw it somewhere and really liked it.

And it was my daughters who turned me on to Yotsuba&!, back when it first came out.

Bryce, I believe you’re referring to Amanda Waller. She is a pretty good character; she was in the last half of the most recent season of Smallville, played by Pam Grier.

Two books I’ve recommended and given to my nieces:
Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the Eighth Grade
Magic Trixie

Other titles I’ll loan them:
Leave It To Chance
Scary Godmother
Wandering Star (in a few years, when my oldest niece enters middle school)

Yotsuba&! is good fun (and somewhat educational).

I also enjoy the Marvel Adventures Spider-Man and Super-Heroes titles. Sue Storm has a prominent role in the latter, and there’s a good female supporting staff for Spidey.

Great and important blog post, but those pop-up video ads (or whatever) are driving me crazy! I know CBR needs its ad revenue, but I’d like to get through the article without videos continually blocking what I was reading.

I liked the Minx line, but then again, I wasn’t their “target audience.” And yeah, they did kinda read like after-school specials.

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