but women don’t want to write superhero comics…

I attended the British Fantasy Society‘s annual conference, FantasyCon, in Brighton at the beginning of the month. The weather was glorious and everyone was in good form. Being able to eat outside every evening, like I was holidaying in Spain or Italy, added to my enjoyment of the event. Brighton is a cool city, and it’s a wonderful location for an convention like this (roll on World Fantasy Con in Brighton in 2013 I say!).

The event ended on a bit of sour note, alas, due to a controversy over the administration of the BFS Awards at the end of the conference. The BFS has since posted an official statement with its response to the problems flagged with the BFS awards, along with a Statement to Members from Graham Joyce. I don’t feel the urge to comment on it (and I am a member of the BFS, btw) because plenty has been said on the subject already.

Overall, it appears the society has learned a difficult lesson, and is making progress to overcome the problems raised.

I would like to mention one unfortunate incident that occurred on a panel I attended during the weekend, however. It was a panel called Comics Panel: Indies vs Majors, and featured Mike Carey, Tony Lee, Nicholas Vince and Jay Eales – Jay was moderating. There was a good crowd attending, and I’d say at least 20% of the audience was women.

The panel discussed the different experiences of working on small/Indie press versus working for the likes of Marvel and DC, and was generally an interesting discussion about the industry and how it operates.

At one point Jay brought up the controversies that have occurred over DC’s re-booted 52 titles, including the lack of women involved with creating the titles. During this discussion, as a way of perhaps explaining the lack of women, Jay stated: “women don’t want to write superhero comics.”

At which point I interjected “Excuse me?” The panel and everyone in the audience turned to look at me. I’m not in the habit of interrupting panels but there are some things I can’t let go by without a challenge. I added, “Did I hear you correctly? Did you say that women don’t want to write superhero comics?”

Jay responded with “Well, I don’t want to make a generalisation–”

And I replied, “You just did.”

Jay then stated that perhaps the reason he held this opinion was that the women writers/artists he worked with in the Indie scene just didn’t want to write superhero comics.

I went on to relate that at a panel in Comic Con when this very question was raised many women put up their hands when asked if they wanted to write/draw on superhero titles.

Then a panel member asked the women in the audience to raise their hands if they read comics. From what I could see, all the women in the room raised their hands. We were asked to keep our arm raised if we had bought any of DC’s recent 52 titles. My hand was the only one left in the air.

Someone quipped, “There you go Maura, you’re on the only one.” (Btw, Jay did not say this.)

I’m sure there was no slight intended but this is a message I’ve been receiving my entire life: that I’m a weird oddity because I’m a woman that likes horror, comics, sf, etc. I made no response to that joking comment because I knew where this was going to go if I engaged with it further, plus technically this wasn’t the time for input from the audience. Still, that remark effectively put me in my place.

Both Mike and Tony made good points on the issue, and it was clear to me that all the panel were behind the notion of women being more involved in the industry. It was also great to hear a shout-out from Tony about the success of the Womanthology project, which he urged people to support.

I was delighted later on in the Q&A session when a woman in the audience explained that the reason she had put down her hand was because the question was specifically about DC comics. She said she was a massive superhero comic books fan, had read them all her life and loved them. She also articulated her intense frustration at being told in a variety of ways that women didn’t really matter to the genre. The reason she could not bring herself to buy any of the DC titles was because she was finding it harder to read material in which she, as a woman, was being dismissed. (And I must note that a few of the new DC titles do feature strong, complex women.)

The reason I interrupted the panel was that the ‘women don’t want to write/draw superhero titles’ argument is one I’ve heard before. It’s often anecdotal, without any hard evidence to back it up. I believe that the repetition of these myths are damaging to women’s careers. There is nothing more frustrating than being told what women do or do not want – especially when that completely contradicts your own aspirations.

I read superhero comics and would love to write them. I appreciate that there are women who have no interest in the genre, but the comic book writing jobs that bring the most industry reputation, respect and a decent pay check are from the likes of DC and Marvel. Having a run on one of the superhero titles allows you to build your writing credibility and get other publishers interested in your self-created projects. Writers usually work for a variety of presses (big and small), and I don’t understand why people would assume that women aren’t interested in aiming for the best-paid jobs.

Plus, the simple fact is that a project like that is fun and challenging, which are two elements that spark my creativity.

I’ve also heard this exact same argument used in the film industry. Producers say that women aren’t interested in directing summer blockbusters because they prefer the smaller, more intimate films – you know, about feelings. As a result women aren’t asked to direct them, and the usual list of male directors is consulted for the top jobs. Women will go where they can get the work, and if that means a small-budget film then it’s likely to be one about which they feel passionate.

No one would ever say something as preposterous as: “men don’t want to work in small press comics because they only want to create superhero comics”. It’s assumed that men can write/draw in whatever field they want.

It would be nice if people stopped making assumptions about what women want, and instead listen to us when we say: we want to be able to work in whatever field interests us, just like men.

Coincidently, while I was pondering all of this, Maddy from Full of Whoa! wrote a blog post called Tell Me Something I Haven’t Heard, which had me nodding throughout the piece.

Tell Me Something I Haven't Heard

I’m amazed that myths about women’s lack of interest in reading or creating superheroes continue to be perpetuated, even by well-intentioned people.

Finally, I was watching the tweets about GeekGirlCon in Seattle this weekend with a great deal of envy, because it sounded awesome. Here’s a write-up from one of the guests, comic book writer Gail Simone, about her experiences at the event.

Here’s one pertinent quote:

Also, holy crap, women love superheroes. We have to kill the myth that they don’t in its sleep. Women were cosplaying them, talking about them, and buying superhero comics in piles. Don’t listen to those who say women don’t like this stuff, they DO.

Edit: I want to emphasise that I have a lot of respect for Jay Eales, who does excellent work in the small press field. We’d had a great conversation prior to the panel about comic books, which as many of you know is something I don’t mind discussing! I appreciate he made an inadvertent blunder, but unfortunately for him it’s the kind of generalisation that can’t be allowed to pass unchallenged any more.


  • mackmm

    I believe they would have polled the audience until they got the response they did with the reading DC comics question. It was an unfair survey that didn’t really matter to the point at hand. It was incredible to hear the heads of DC defend their position in interviews. I do not believe that anyone is entitled to write comics male or female, but if you have a great story to tell, have at it. I know several talented female artists that struggle to be seen. Yet sub par artists still pull down paychecks in the industry.

    • Maura

      Yes, DC could have handled the entire debate rather better than it did.

      All writers and artists struggle to establish themselves – it’s a very competitive market. Women don’t want special favours, but on the other hand we don’t want to be ruled out of the game from the outset.

  • Marion Pitman

    In this day and age – ! People can still say that “Women” want or don’t want this or that, as if we had to be all the same – not quite human, as Dorothy L. Sayers said seventy years ago. Oy vay.
    Well said, Maura, and keep saying it.

  • Lynda

    Ah, yes, this:
    “I’m sure there was no slight intended but this is a message I’ve been receiving my entire life: that I’m a weird oddity because I’m a woman that likes horror, comics, sf, etc.”

    If I had a nickel for every time I’d been told something along the lines of “Oh, right, Lynda, but you, you know, you’re not like other girls, you’re like–a guy!” (And worse, said as though I’m being paid some great compliment.)

    No, I’m a woman who likes stuff, just like other people like stuff too. Imagine.

    • Maura

      Yes, I’ve been told the ‘you’re cool, you’re like a guy’ line before, and it’s always meant as a compliment. 🙂

  • Julian West

    When someone says “Women don’t…” it’s always wrong. It’s just as wrong whoever’s saying it, under whatever circumstances. The best that can be said is “most women don’t”, but that needs to be backed up. “Real women don’t…” is even worse.

    As to “just like a guy” – I know. I’ve been told I’m almost like an Irish person.

  • James

    I think it raises the question of whether women get the exact same opportunities to be published as men. If before a word is read, a mindset is already there – how is that then a fair process.
    I dunno. Do DC not notice the quality of the likes of Lauren Beukes when she does a comic story for them?
    Meanwhile I hear that Gail Simone has walked off one of her new 52 titles.

    • Maura

      The elephant in the room is that there is a bias operating – albeit an unconscious one – and it would be better for these companies to adopt a policy of addressing this issue, rather than adamantly insisting it doesn’t exist – despite all the evidence to the contrary!

      At least DC has announced Ann Nocenti as the lead writer on Green Arrow, which seems to indicate they are beginning to take notice of this issue.

      • Jay Eales

        I’m always happy to see new work from Ann Nocenti. I hadn’t picked up the relaunched Green Arrow, so I’m not sure what she’s got to work with this time, but I’ll give it a whirl!

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