3. Who Reads Comics?


NOT JUST FOR MEN

The world of comics has not always been the most welcoming space for women. Many potential female readers are put off by comics that depict women with impossible bodies—huge breasts, tiny waists, and spines so flexible they can flash boobs and butts at the same time—and that consistently, overtly sexualize their female characters.

Slowly, but surely, however, women are gaining visibility and power within the traditionally male dominated comics industry, both as creators and consumers. Superhero comics are featuring more and more women: In 2013, Marvel released an X-Men series, led solely by superheroines; Kamala Khan began headlining Ms. Marvel last February; and Marvel announced in September that its new Thor would be female

More female authors: For those looking for female-driven comics outside the superhero genre, check out the excellent work of Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) and Alison Bechdel (Fun Home), and take a gander at Bustle's previous lists of great alternative comics for women and graphic memoirs by women.

While making the rounds promoting Marvel’s new series Ms. Marvel, the above quote was made in discussing the female comic readership. Other than DC’s attempt at market research conducted with Nielsen, the market research done to figure out the readership and fandom of comic books pales in comparison of, well, pretty much all other forms of entertainment. That is partially what got me to begin looking in to what data was available and attempt to figure out those demographic questions.

Every month, I release new numbers looking at data readily available to anyone through Facebook. While it’s not necessarily everyone who shops up to comic shops, every Wednesday, regularly, irregularly, once in a blue moon, etc., these are people who have said they like “comics,” “graphic novels,” “manga,” and specific publishers. So, I’d have to disagree with Alonso, there is market research, and there potentially is a lot more market research using data available to Marvel, they just overlook it, or don’t admit they use it (Marvel, give me a call, I can hook you up).

In February, the Facebook universe of self-identified comic fans grew to a new high of over 24 million fans in the United States. Of that 24 million, women account for 46.67% of that population. Since I’ve been tracking these stats, that’s the highest percentage of women recorded. With some changes on Facebook’s end, I can now see what terms have grown from the previous month, and in this case it wasn’t any single term, it was many of the over 100 used to compile the statistics.

But what Alonso and Marvel is seeing shouldn’t be a shock at all when it comes to women and what interests them. In a September breakdown, I looked at just female comic book characters and who were fans of them. Exhausting a few lists online of every female comic book character, I found every term I could on Facebook for these stats. While the amount of people who like female comic characters was about 5.8 million, women made up a majority 62.07% of those fans.

Shocker: women like female characters. While Alonso says Marvel doesn’t have hard numbers to back it up, that correlation, and Marvel’s wanting to expand their female readership (which I tracked at about 36.96%) explains their launch of new solo series for Black Widow, Elektra, She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel as part of All-New Marvel NOW! and greater focus on female characters in other books too. They see the phenomena my stats would predict.

NOT ALL NERDS

Comics readers are often assumed to be stereotypical nerds: glasses wearing, Star Trek obsessed, socially awkward people who can't get dates. This stereotype is offensive on many levels, and, to be honest, I simply don't think these people exist outside of Revenge of the Nerds and The Big Bang Theory. There are plenty of people who love comics who are not socially awkward, just as there are plenty of socially awkward people who hate comics. There are also comics-loving, sci-fi-obsessed, pocket protector-wearing, socially hopeless people out there who are still more interesting that the "nerd" label allows for. People are complex and varied and strange, and some of us read comics. We are large. We contain multitudes.

For some people, the word "nerd" might bring to mind images of a skinny teenage boy with braces and Coke-bottle glasses. The nerd was once a specific brand of social outcast: one who never talked to girls, did really well in science class, and read comic books religiously. Well, I have news for you: the nerd is no more. Outcast boys have learned that there are also outcast girls, that being good at science is no longer something to be embarrassed about, and that reading comic books is something everyone can enjoy.

NOT ALL YOUNG

Because they are illustrated, comics are often associated with children and adolescents. There are indeed some wonderful YA comics out there, but many comics and graphic novels are intended strictly for adults. Alan Moore's iconic Watchmen is a perfect example of an adult comic, in terms of its content (lots of sex, swearing, and violence to be found here, folks), but also its style and structure. Narratively complex and morally ambiguous, Watchmen asks difficult questions about power, corruption, and what it means to be a hero in the real world.

(I'm pausing here to give a little shout out to my current comics-obsession, Saga, the fantastic ongoing series from Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. The series is an immediately addictive, beautifully illustrated fantasy-adventure for adults.)

© Hank Edmondson 2012