Tom Spurgeon’s essay Breaking a 26-Year Weekly Comics Buying Habit tells the story of a devoted comic book reader who became disillusioned with mainstream comics and walked away. It comes down to three major points:
- Mainstream comics are a duopoly (Marvel, DC) distributed by a monopoly (Diamond)
- The duopoly produces superhero stories almost exclusively
- Superhero stories tend to -
-retread storytelling devices (like angsty first-person captions)
-repeat and reboot the same origin stories instead of growing the universe with risky new characters
-move at a pace that’s too slow to maintain interest
My story might be entitled “Why I Never Started a 26-Year Weekly Comics Buying Habit,” because while these obstacles forced one man to an ultimate conclusion, for me they were a barrier to entry. I know that there are women who read and love superhero comics; I read their essays and their enthusiastic blogs, I listen to their podcasts and I interact with them online. I thank them for keeping us in the conversation. But as a woman who doesn’t read superhero comics, my experience may give some insight as to why the duopoly fails to capture so many female readers at a malleable age.
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The rising discontent with the treatment of female comic book readers and creators by the comics mainstream bubbled over on social networks this week after two new releases: the results of DC’s Neilsen Survey on their New 52 reboot and the premiere of Kevin Smith’s Comic Book Men. DC’s survey was made of customers purchasing New 52 titles in stores during the crucial first few weeks of the release of their #1 issues; some important results to note:
- 93% of the participants were male
- Consumers aged 13-18 were only 2%
- Female readership was down to 7% from 8% 20 years ago
Disappointed comments abounded on the Tumblr blog DC Women Kicking Ass, run by Sue from the 3 Chicks Review Comics podcast. Comments like this one from pluckyredhead: “The really sad thing? They’re going to take this as ‘proof’ that ‘women and kids don’t read comics’ and continue to ignore them as viable demographics.” Sue frequently posts on this topic, as she did last June when she said:
They (DC) are out on their DCnU roadshow and are saying that “new readers” they are targeting are males 18-34. The same readers they have been trying to sell to for the last decade with diminishing success…
Despite the fact that DC doesn’t lift a finger to market to females;
Despite the fact that DC publishes artwork of female characters that regularly crosses the line from cheesecake to embarrassing;
Despite the fact that female characters are often treated like crap in comparison to male characters AND that being treated like crap is still better than some of the other things that have been done to them;
DC still has many, many loyal female customers.
One of John Wayne’s well-loved classics, Back to Bataan follows the struggle of the Filipino resistance after the island’s takeover by the Japanese. John Wayne is Colonel Joseph Madden, who recruits a small band of Filipino’s to rescue the grandson of a legendary freedom fighter from a Japanese death march so the rebel movement has someone to rally behind.
There’s no question the Japanese massacred the living crap out of the Philippines, but Back to Bataan makes the curious choice of featuring execution by hanging as the method of choice. In reality, the primary method was machine gun fire and bayonet, although a short sequence in which exhausted war prisoners are bloodlessly bayoneted as they fall to the wayside has the ring of truth behind it. We once again see Anthony Quinn in an Allied uniform as reluctant grandson-of-a-hero Captain Andrés Bonifácio, but the heartstrings are primarily wrapped around little Ducky Louie and his teacher, familiar character actress Beulah Bondi. “Battleaxe Bertha” joins the resistance after her schoolhouse is unluckily chosen as the premiere place to be made an example of by the Japanese, and is so formidable, she might be the one person left standing after an aerial raid. Genuine emotional pain surrounding civilian murder is somewhat marred by the swelling, teary-eyed score, and at least one character death reminded me of Harry Potter weeping over Dobby’s lifeless body. Can anything kill John Wayne?