The question of why there isn’t a bigger market of female readers of comic books is a constant fascination to me. That being said, I don’t want to use this time to debate things like whether or not women are drawn too sexy. (I mean come on – the men don’t fare much better. Even their muscles have muscles!) Or if women in comic-based movies are just used as an excuse to get actresses like Halle Berry and Scarlet Johansson in black leather. (Sometimes yes, sometimes no.) What really I want to discuss here is the recent marketing strategy of the comic industry to build reading relationships with women. Therefore this editorial will be one within a series of two or three, depending on where the topic takes me.
The trend seems to be that every few years there is a half-hearted push to draw women into the comic scene. As you might (and I stress might) have known, this past year Marvel launched a “Women of Marvel Celebration.” In this vein they have released titles like Women of Marvel: Celebrating Seven Decades, Girl Comics, X-Women, Her-oes, and Marvel Divas. With these comics came various interviews and news releases on this same theme. I’d like to applaud Marvel on their recognition of the women (both those working in the comics business as well as the characters) who have waded through a male-dominated industry and helped to make their comic universe what it is today. That being said, I’d also like to point out that marketing to women has never truly reached outside the inner circle of comic fandom. The concept of celebrating Marvel women is enjoyable to ladies like myself who are avidly poking around their local comic store for something that particularly appeals to their feminine side. But it makes little impact on the millions of women who might pass by a comic book with little more recognition than a scrunch of her nose. Perhaps that was not the point of the campaign – but why not?
This wave of Marvel female-based books as well as other industry efforts such as DC’s Minx series are not going to do much to attract a new reader. The characters set up in the Marvel stories, for example, are already long established. To even know that these comics exist one would have to have some tie into the comic genre. The stories in and of themselves may be cute and entertaining for a few minutes but there is no emotional attachment to the characters without already knowing their back stories. And this emotional attachment is exactly how to suck women into becoming loyal customers.
Allow me to make a rampant generalization here without censure on the admission that no generalization is ever true 100% of the time, but the grain of truth is present – women enjoy stories that pull us into the characters’ lives and make us sincerely attached to their fate. (Not saying that men don’t – I just happen to be writing about women right now.) Therefore my advice to the comic industry, if they are truly serious about opening their doors in invitation to more women readers, is this: use the Twilights and the Buffys and any other highly visible sensation as a networking tool. While I, personally, am by no means a Twilight fan myself, I must agree with a Newsarama article suggesting that it is still important to analyze what this franchise has done to suck women into the genre. Fan-girls are showing up in droves to Comic Cons and other scifi and fantasy conventions. Women are stepping into comic shops for the first time, looking for the Twilight graphic novel.
They are at your doorstep (and these females are not just teeny-boppers. Grown women also adorn this crowd) – welcome them inside by taking a look at what brought them there in the first place. This new crowd to the fantasy genre truly love the characters of Twilight. They have become emotionally (rather excessively) attached to them. Superhero comics also can offer this to a reader, but it takes more time to develop the relationships with characters over a series of issues. Sure the ‘booms’ and ‘pows’ are fun, but for women to even glance in the comic’s direction in the first place there needs to be an outward push to show females that there is more to this genre than ‘kablaams.’ They need to see that these characters are worth caring for in the first place.
Perhaps, though, this celebration of women is just the hint of the expansion of interest just around the corner. There are a few running comics that arepulling in a young female-based crowd, (who will hopefully stick around through adulthood) though they are not blatantly marked as being a collection of for-women about women comics. Examples include Spiderman Loves Mary Jane, and Spidergirl. For more mature women, the new line of comic versions of classic Jane Austen Novels including Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and (coming soon) Emma have been hitting the shelves over the past year. To this effort I say good job, Marvel. They have taken a line of books coveted by women for generations and transformed them into something that is a potential draw to women who are already attached to these characters. Now, stop burying these books under piles of Iron Man and let the world know about them!
By now perhaps your mind is playing with one or all of the following thoughts: “Why would the comic industry even care how many women are buying their books?” Perhaps you think this is a man’s world and should stay so. It is their escape from women! And who wants a bunch of screeching teenage girls at Comic Con anyway!
To answer these I’d like to reference a spectacular blog by Valerie D’Orazio who is a comic book writer, author, blogger, and online marketing consultant. She gives four extremely practical and fact-based comic industry marketing tips to reach women. The facts she recites answer to all the doubts about expanding the comic industry to invite more women. Here are some examples of Valerie’s best points:
I think the biggest mistake comic book publishers could make is looking at women as a fringe niche market. According to statistics, women make up a whopping 85% of the consumer purchases in the United States: that’s 66% of all PCs, 65% of all new cars, and 91% of new homes. They’ve controlled 60% of money spent on men’s clothing, spent 80% of all sports apparel dollars, and purchased 46% of all official NFL merchandise. And over the next decade, women will control two-thirds of all consumer wealth in the United States.
Hmmm … well that certainly seems like a good enough reason to put considerable effort into expanding the market to women in the middle of a recession. What else does she got?
And the focus should be not only on attracting and retaining these female readers, but also on marketing to women who purchase comic book-related items for their family and/or significant other. If women are the ones making the overwhelming majority of consumer purchases, that means they are shopping for others, not just themselves; wouldn’t you like to reach out to these women and have them go to your comic book site’s online store for holiday purchases for the whole family?
Which brings me to the point of the family dynamic. Like it or not, the market is slowly changing on its own. Judging from my own observations, I completely agree with this passage from The Commercial Appeal magazine:
For years, the stereotypical Comic-Con International attendees were male comic book fans who gathered every year in San Diego to dress as their favorite superheroes and debate esoteric topics … But as comic book fans grew up, married and raised children, a new fan base emerged: their daughters, who have grown up in a world ruled by Supergirl, Princess Leia and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The question is not whether or not women like this stuff. Like men, women have vast variety in their interests. Luckily the genres of comics available these days are just as vast. The question lies in motivation and awareness. Like the Twilight fan-girls, women with comic nuts in their lives, whether a father, brother, or significant other, are on the verge of industry curiosity by pure proximity. This is your first string of easily approachable women to make aware that the comic industry can provide for their entertainment needs. And what sorts of comics are women trending towards the most? Ones with strong female leads? Lots of gushy romance? Some credit for being more than just eye candy? I don’t know yet. That’s a topic for a future article.
I end my diatribe with a motivating: Go for it! It is a very possible goal. Here I am a 25 year-old-woman who likes shoes, and fruity frozen cocktails, and owns the entire box set of Sex and the City. I am also drawn in enough to comic books to spend more on them every month than I do on cable.
Until next time, happy reading ladies and gentlemen!
Editorial by Jackie Krah
“4 Tips for Marketing Comic Books to Women” Superheroeen. 9 March 2010. 23 November 2010 < http://www.superheroeen.com/2010/03/4-tips-for-marketing-comic-books-to.html>
“Can Marvel-Disney Help Close the Comic Book Gender Gap?” Newsarama. 2 September 2009. 24 November 2010 < http://www.newsarama.com/comics/090902-Disney-Marvel-Girls.html>
“Growing legion of female comic fans catches marketers’ eye.” The Commercial Appeal. 15 August 2010. 24 November 2010 <http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2010/aug/15/comics-arent-just-for-the-guys/>