It may be controversial to say in the traditionally male-oriented world of comic books, but there are signs that either the industry has always been wrong, or at the very least, times are changing. Until there are some very thorough, and wide-reaching polls, it’s not entirely possible to say that more girls and women today are reading comics than ever before, but there are signs that the female audience is ready and willing to crowd the shops every Wednesday right next to their male counterparts.
The most stark statistic that things might not be exactly as a lot of people have always assumed is Marvel’s announcement that Thor sales have increased by 30% since the traditionally bearded manly hammer-bearer became a woman. I doubt there is anyone that wasn’t shocked by this information, but it can only be good news for the comic industry.
Another piece of info that points to the increase in female readership is the wild success of Lumberjanes and Ms. Marvel, both wildly critically acclaimed. While Thor was obviously never intended to become a female-targeted book, Lumberjanes was almost undoubtedly intended as just that. And it’s success further points to an emerging audience that never before had much to call their own. Ms. Marvel was another obvious decision to draw in female readers, and it’s worked. But I wouldn’t be surprised to find out male readers are enjoying her story as well.
I also think the comic industry has shown a dramatic shift over the last decade or so away from the traditional testosterone-filled smash-adventures, towards a real attempt to tell quality dramatic stories that appeal to everyone. There are a lot of books out now that aren’t in any way gender-oriented. Descender, for example is science fiction that can appeal to any fan of the genre. Wytches is an example of a gender-neutral, good, quality horror story.
You also have available books that, while not necessarily trying to reach either boys or girls, men or women, inherently have a more relaxed approach to the typical rigid roles of main characters. Trees, for example, has a bisexual main character. Copperhead has a strong female lead without feeling on the nose with intent to impress.
I think comic books have quietly become the preeminent genre for creative storytelling moreso than ever before, not only because we’re finally seeing books that are just great science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories, but because roles typically assumed to belong to males have almost quietly grown to reflect the true complexity of the world, and the reality of the genre’s readership.
Comics have a long history of pushing social boundaries, and through them one of the last frontiers to be conquered is just now being explored. Today’s comics are quickly becoming filled with strong women who have nothing to prove, but are equal to their traditionally male counterparts simply through good writing, and the assumption of equality. It is now possible for young girls, an women alike, to browse the comic shop for characters they identify with. And even more importantly, books with strong female characters are being enjoyed by boys and men who, like girls and women, just want a good story.
But this is all from a male perspective. I’d love to hear the opinions of female comic book junkies. Maybe I’m off base, or maybe I’m overestimating the reality of the gender shift in today’s comics. Either way, I’m eager to discuss this further, either in the comments below or by sending us your tweets.