March has historically been Women’s History Month and in an industry that is placing growing demands on equality on both the creator and story side, the comics community has co-opted March into Women In Comics Month with notable feminist voices inside the community such as Gail Simone and Kelly Sue DeConnick promoting independent female creators across social media in the spirit of awareness. Additionally, pro-Women in the Comics Industry groups such as The Valkyries (an organization of women working in/owners of comic shops), have been highlighted in the media and used their notoriety to organize events and promote female-spearheaded projects.
As always seems to be the case when representation is on the line, there is a contingent of the comic book community decrying Women In Comics Month and begging to have its necessity explained to them – that is what I am here for. Before we get started, allow me to lay my illustrious credentials at your feet: I am a cis female Caucasian female in my twenties who has worked on the retail side of comics, I am a published comic book writer and I have just entered the publishing side in addition to my exploits in comics journalism – as can clearly be seen on this great site here – which is all to say, I consider myself something of an expert on the subject.
Let’s start by looking at the current zeitgeist – and, please, don’t stop me if you’ve heard this before – we are eight years into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and we do not have a female-led movie. “But Captain Marvel is coming!” Yes, that’s true, Captain Marvel will hit theaters in 2018. That would be a full 10 years after the first Iron Man movie premiered. “But, this editorial is about comic books!” Also true, but – arguably – the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the largest and most-ingested representation of the comic book industry and the fact that anyone from my six year old cousin to my 86-year-old grandmother cannot find themselves represented in a starring role, but the men in my family can seems a touch unfair – yes?
On the DC side of things, Wonder Woman won’t grace the silver screen until 2017, but it will be the third installment in their cinematic universe, rather than almost the 20th. Recently, they launched the cross-media offering of DC Superhero Girls which encompasses toys, television, comics and prose novels and they have received an appropriate amount of praise in accordance with their actions. “But, there’s no DC Superhero Boys line! That’s not fair!” Well, there doesn’t have to be a DC Superhero Boys line because every line of collectables marketed to children from either of the big two is full to the brim with male characters.
Now, DC does deserve credit for publishing the first female solo hero (Wonder Woman), and the first solo female hero of colour (Bumblebee). Mad kudos to them for that.
One is a token. Two is a minority. Three is equality.
Soooo … let’s get into the brass tax of the comic book industry itself. Think back to famous writers and artists from the pre-Modern Age of Comics (say 2000). Who comes to mind? Bill Finger, Joe Shuster, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, George Perez, Marv Wolfman – the list literally goes on. This is not to malign any of the men who have contributed to comics, but they are plenty celebrated. Who are famous FEMALE writers and artists from the pre-Modern Age of Comics? Louise Simonson is likely the woman who most immediately comes to mind and she completely deserves it. Simonson created the DC character Steel (a great step toward diversity in his own right).
Who else immediately comes to mind?
How many seconds have you been thinking?
More than five? For most people, the men’s names come to mind in less than five seconds.
In order to dig up names like: Violet Barclay, Ramona Fradon, Linda Fite, Elizabeth Holloway Marston one has to run down a rabbit hole with the specific intention of searching for female creators of the Golden/Silver Age. For what it’s worth, if you do not know who these amazingly talented women are I would suggest taking the time to do a Google search and pick up some of their historic offerings.
And, forget about trying to find Golden/Silve Age Female Comic Editors!
Here’s a list: Dorothy Woolfolk, Alice Marble and Ray Herman are good ones to look at.
The majority of lists to be found on the glorious internet of the Top 10/25/50 Women In Comics are contemporary and often overlook the historical contribution of females throughout publication history. Where are up-and-coming creators and young women looking to step into the industry supposed to look to learn our legacy? Women In Comics Month brings recognition and representation to the forefront of not only media coverage (like this very article!), but the public consciousness and that is the most important thing.
Until such a time as Women In Comics are no longer token unicorns inside the industry Women In Comics Month remains a necessity. It highlight contributions from the past and some of the biggest female names currently contributing. It also gives voice to many female webcomic and indie comic creators that may not be published by some of the bigger independent publishing houses (think: Image, Oni Press, Dark Horse, et al), that often have to do more sustained work for longer in order to achieve the same level of recognition as their male peers.
There are a lot of steps being taken in the right direction across the board focusing on marketing comic stories and character toward women, hiring female creators and incorporating female characters of colour and queer characters (Silk, Ms. Marvel, Batwoman, Maps, Faith to name a few), although, writing as a female, it almost always strikes one as too little too late considering that we are now living in the 21st Century.
What do you think? Do you agree with me? Do you disagree? Let’s chat in the comments!