A Nancy Drew pitch was thrown out, even though it tested well, because it was “too female.” Agent Carter has been canceled. Supergirl was dropped by CBS (but has been picked up by CW). The writers of Iron Man 3 had to change their female villain to a man (Aldrich Killian) because the producers thought a female villain wouldn’t sell toys (because there’s so many Aldrich Killian toys out there). DC Comics continues to shelter, protect, and employ known sexual harasser Eddie Berganza (while firing the female President of Vertigo, Shelly Bond because of “restructuring”). Tess Fowler leaves a project she loved because the comic’s writer courted the series’ original artist – Roc Upchurch, who was arrested for domestic abuse in 2014 – behind her back. Frank Cho, who has repeatedly belittled and antagonized women and feminists, is signed on to draw twenty-four variant covers for the new Wonder Woman: Rebirth. (This doesn’t even touch the racism and treatment of LGBT+ characters.) There’s a growing list of misogynistic creators in the comics industry, many of whom are protected and continue to be employed, while women continue to feel unsafe and unwelcome. When women are actively kept away from an entire editorial department because of the department head’s behavior, there’s a problem, and it’s not with the women.
It’s hard as a woman to feel welcome in the comics industry. It’s hard to support an industry that appears to actively want to chase us away. It’s hard to support conventions that invite known sexual harassers as guests. It’s also difficult to write off the entire industry, or even an entire publisher, when there are areas where they are doing good. When we write everything off entire, the heads in charge consider it all a loss. If you boycott DC Comics because of Berganza, you’re also hurting Becky Cloonan and Gotham Academy. Marguerite Bennett and DC Bombshells. Gail Simone’s Clean Room. Amy Chu’s Poison Ivy mini. The new DC Superhero Girls toy line. DC Comics will assume these things fail because they skew toward female fans. Because women don’t buy comics, or toys. It’s a bit backwards. They simultaneously want us (women) buying their products, but also don’t want us buying their products. And when they target us, and these things fail, they blame us – not bad writing, not bad marketing. And when they don’t target us, but we go for it anyway, they don’t want us.
So what can you do? Support diversity when you find it. Social/political journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates is writing Black Panther, and it’s already a top selling comic for 2016 (Coates has also been trying to hold Marvel accountable for its treatment of black characters, though unfortunately they’re not listening). Watch T’Challa’s movie when it comes out; the cast is purported to be 90% African or African-American. Suicide Squad Most Wanted: El Diablo and Amanda Waller (issues 5-6) will be written by Vita Ayala, a black woman. Ms. Marvel is a young Muslim girl (co-created, and mostly written, by Muslim-American G. Willow Wilson). Tess Fowler will still be creating – buy her books, buy her original art. Saga and The Wicked + Divine both feature a plethora of characters of different races (species in Saga’s case, too), with various gender and sexual identities. Lumberjanes features a trans girl, and is written and drawn by women (and just began a crossover with Gotham Academy). Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Bitch Planet is taking the feminist world by storm. BOOM! Studios is about to launch (this August) The Backstagers, which will include a cast diverse in race and sexuality. Valiant’s Faith, a superhero comic about a plus-size superheroine, just became an ongoing. Jem and the Holograms features women of varying body types, race, and sexuality (plus a trans woman); its main artist is also a trans woman. Kim & Kim, from Black Mask Studios in July, features a trans woman as one of its female leads (and the other is bisexual); it’s also created and written by a trans woman. You can buy the entire run of Dark Horse’s Zodiac Starforce right now, an all-ages magical girl series with a diverse cast. Princeless, an all-ages book from Action Lab, stars a young black princess who breaks the mold of a damsel in distress by taking her fate into her own hands. In October, La Borinqueña, independently published by Somos Arte, will feature a female Puerto Rican superhero, written by Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez. Buy the titles that are doing it right. Find writers, artists, and even editors who are progressive, who take risks, and who will support you in turn. Then buy their books, talk about their books, share their books. Especially lower tier and creator owned titles – you are their best marketer. When a creator really loves a project, they will pour their all into it, they will give you something amazing, and supporting them allows them to do their best for you.
Diversity exists. It’s everywhere. You just have to step outside the Big Two, or at least away from their flagship titles. If the disappointment in Rat Queens is leaving you without a fantasy fix, check out Dynamite Comics and their recently revamped female heroines (with costumes designed by Nicola Scott) – Red Sonja, Vampirella, and Dejah Thoris (Gail Simone’s Red Sonja run was fantastic). There are women out there who are breaking boundaries left and right. Women who are changing the industry. Ask that they be invited to your local conventions. Buy their books (and might I suggest The Secret Loves of Geek Girls, an anthology of stories and comics by women in the industry, coming out from Dark Horse in October). I can’t tell you how boring it is to see the same cis white men over and over and over again at conventions while the ones really breaking ground are missing. There are men doing amazing things, too, of course. Coates, Matt Fraction, James Tynion IV, Jeremy Whitley. And holy crap, once you step away from print, there are web comics everywhere full of diversity (Zodiac Starforce started out as one, as did Sunstone – a sex positive comic by Stjepan Sejic). Manga, too, if you’d like to venture there (like Wandering Son, about two trans kids, plus stories by Moyoco Anno, Moto Hagio, and Kaoru Mori). Again, I suggest looking outside the big name publishers and to companies like Vertical and Fantagraphics. And don’t forget the self publishers! Like Drew Edwards’s Halloween Man, which features a plus-size female lead based on Edwards’s wife.
And, as always, support your local comic shops. Find one that is friendly and comfortable for you. I’m lucky enough to have more than one I enjoy patronizing, welcoming to women and LGBT+ friendly. If you’re in the Dallas, Texas area, check out Red Pegasus Comics and Games in Oak Cliff, and Collected Comics and Games (Plano, Hurst, Keller, Ft. Worth). If you’re fed up with the big conventions, support the small ones in your area; they’re also more likely to listen to you about guest appearances.
If you’d like to talk, or if you want some recommendations, feel free to drop me a line. I’ll listen, or shove some amazing books at you.
[Update: Was informed by people involved that Young Justice was not canceled because it skewed too female. The main source I had was a Paul Dini interview, where he explained that Warner Bros. wanted the show to skew toward a younger, male audience, so that Cartoon Network could sell toys. He mentioned his own experience with a Cartoon Network show (Tower Prep) where this exact thing happened. Paul Dini, however, did not work on YJ. YJ was canceled because they toys weren’t selling. Which, as I explained above, was likely attributed to its female (and adult) fan base. That or they just made shit toys that nobody wanted to buy. Which falls on Warner and Cartoon Network and bad marketing.]