If I ask you to picture the average comic book reader, you’re most probably picturing someone teenage, male and lacking in social skills? Wipe away that sad stereotype and instead picture…yourself.
For some reason, this unflattering image has built up that comic books only appeal to a very niche demographic, which is causing thousands of readers to dismiss an entire style of storytelling. Comic books are a medium rather than a genre, and so the potential is infinite; they have as much range, and cater to as many varying tastes, as any other form of fiction.
As a writer and a creative, for years I dismissed comic books as not being for me, without ever actually trying any! I’ll admit I didn’t see them as ‘serious’ fiction, and thought they were all about buff male superheroes (fine in small doses but there’s only so many times you can watch Batman punch a criminal in fancy dress), but some better-read friends quickly corrected that misconception by introducing me to a selection of comics that had everything from a couple who can stop time when they orgasm (Sex Criminals) to the woes of invincible emo gods (The Sandman, The Wicked and the Divine…seriously, there are a lot of hard-core Goth deities in comics).
There’s a lot of derision by high ups in the comic book industry over the idea that women are a demographic with strong market potential, despite evidence to the contrary. This has the knock on effect of making it harder for women-centric stories to get funded and into the mainstream, let alone employing diverse creative talent. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is a prime example; their first female-fronted film will be Captain Marvel, which isn’t due for release until 2019, showing a lack of faith in female protagonists, despite the popularity of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow since the release of The Avengers way back in 2012.
The other comic book giant, DC Comics, has pipped them to the post with Wonder Woman (2017), but amid accusations of sexism from their last cinematic offering (Suicide Squad), it’s a pretty dismal state of affairs.
Executives seem perpetually surprised by female audiences, not rating them as an important part of comic book adaptations’ audience DNA. How many of us have watched and enjoyed The Avengers or Jessica Jones? Who else was gutted by the cancellation of Agent Carter? Irrespective of gender or age, everyone loves a great story, and innovative ways of telling it, and it’s about time people stopped believing that the enjoyment of comic books and their adaptations are exclusive to one group.
The top area of growth for comic readership in 2015 seemed to be women aged 17 to 30, proving that comics’ appeal is definitely not limited to schoolboys. Marvel has just announced at this year’s NYCC that there’ll be more female-led comic series moving forward, again helping combat that gender disparity. Comics are finally experiencing a broadening of readership, but there’s still a long way to go until the stigma and false expectations attached to reading comic books is eradicated completely.
Every Thursday over the next few weeks I’m going to be introducing you to some of my favourite comic books, with recommended reading including everything from classic superheroes with a fresh twist to über cool indie offerings. So buck the stereotypes and pick up a comic book!
Words: Heidi Teague