Monday, July 10, 2006

A few questions to start

Why aren't there more women creating webcomics? Why aren't there more women getting noticed creating comics?

I've been reading quite a bit lately on the Marvel summit and Joe Quesada's comments on why there aren't any women writers there.
NRAMA: Noticeably absent (and for some time) is a female creator in that group. Big picture wise, why hasn't a women creator made it into the tight circle of Marvel creators?

JQ: Because currently there aren’t any female writers working on any of our major titles.

There's a big difference between the print world and webcomics. For starters, it's hard for anyone, regardless of who they are, to get into working for the big publishers. Webcomics is a level playing field that anyone can enter into and so most excuses fall into the category of "that's just the way it is". No one actually discriminates against women creators here, or even truely could if they wanted to. No one is hiring here.

The excuse makes sense. Not as many women were there around the start of webcomics. Guys like Tycho and Gabe and Scott Kurtz were and that's one reason why they're at the top - they were early, they were good, and they worked for years to get results. They were also lucky to find their audiences early on. There's also carry-over effects from the non-interweb world where most comics readers are male, most student newspaper comics creators are male, etc. There just weren't as many women doing it, period, and so the odds weren't so hot for one of them to make it, statistically speaking.

But this excuse works less and less well the longer we go on.

How do webcomics gain an audience and how does a creator gain acclaim? What does it take for a creator to get to sit on a panel at Comic Con, for instance?

Linkage is where it's at. You can create the best comic in the world, but someone has to link to it. That's how google works, and that's how most readers find out about new comics. I remember when Jim Zubkavich started up his comic, Makeshift Miracle and sent out emails to a few lists of creators, who liked it, linked it, and suddenly everyone knew about it. There's no way to duplicate this and see if it would be any different if Jim had been a woman, but I suspect it would have been. Makeshift Miracle has lovely art and a winding, magical storyline. Even with a male protagonist, it's not classic "guy" fare. And many stories that aren't classic guy fare, when created by a woman, get labeled "girly" in the minds of many men. You know it, from examples with movies, books, and other creative mediums. There are a tremendous amount of guys who don't do this, so this is not directed at you, though it wouldn't hurt for you to sit back and wonder if you ever have dismissed something as for girls. You too, tomboys. I know I've done it, based soley on the fact it was written by a woman. "You can trust a guy not to make a romance too girly!", "A male author isn't going to just do romance, he's going to make it a well rounded story.", etc.

So men are going to be hell of a lot less likely to try out something they suspect isn't for them, and I posit that the sex of the creator is going to give them clues as to how much they'll like it.

As for acclaim and the chance to sit at roundtable discussions and on panels, a lot of that is tied up in popularity and a lot is tied up with connections.

I can show some actual examples of connections, since so many of them are made very obvious. Keenspot, Modern Tales, Blank Label, Dayfree Press, Dumbrella, etc.

Keenspot has the most female creators, with about 9, and about 35 men (I couldn't tell on a couple, so I didn't count them). They're also a quarter female at the top, with Teri Crosby being incredibly awesome. (I am biased. Soooo biased. Shut up.)

Modern Tales itself doesn't fare well, with only 2 women listed from what I could tell. Donna Barr does about ten comics and Dorothy Gambell has a couple listed, so I suppose they are trying their darndest. But they are only two, people! With about 30 guys! I know MT is probably reeling from the loss of Shaenon Garrity, but come on. I suppose most women are directed over to Girlamatic, which has a much more healthy ratio of 11 men to 16 women (or so, very unscientific counting here), plus the indomitable Lea Hernandez. I don't particularily care for stating clearly which comics should be for girls, but based on hearsay, Girlamatic has a sizable amount of male subscribers who realize they can like what they like, without worrying that it's "girly".

As for the other big collectives? Nary a gal in sight! (Ok, Liz Greenfield on Dayfree Press. Darn you for softening my critique! I love Stuff Sucks) When Blank Label formed, I jokingly called it a sausage fest while wishing them well. Keenspot responded by adding on Jennie Breeden and her two comics, which I felt was entirely too suitable. Mostly becuase Jennie is incredible and funny, but it also just felt oh so right.

But for the most part, we have a swarm of men getting together, forming clubs, sharing ideas and helping each other up. It's sort of what people do. You find people with similar tastes and whatnot and hang out with them. Unfortunately, it seems like many of these guys don't even realize how they might be classifying women and their comics, some of which would make a perfect fit with their collectives. It's just like when kids play, the boys may leave out the girls entirely without malice, but only because they don't consider girls to be like them and have never really considered it. That's those tricky underlying symptoms of the "patriarchy" (which I put in quotes because I do think it's a little silly to blame, even if I see the effects of the dead patriarchy all the time).

And please, I'm not saying that boys can't form boy's clubs and we should force them to open their doors. If I direct anything at these men, it's that they should probably think about their reasons why. I accuse them only of not examining why they don't have any women in their group and why most of who they promote and link to are men.

We have equal oppurtunity here. Equal talent (in the wider sense, not individual). But far from equal results. I don't ever want to dictate equal results, because tokenism also sucks. I just want people to wake up and realize we still need feminism even in such an ideal playing field because people aren't thinking.

One thing we thankfully don't seem to have in webcomics are women fighting other women to be "the girl". You know, the one who laments about those feminists and says she's just one of the guys. Who promotes herself at the expense of other women. Think of Ann Coulter. Even female creators who don't go out of their way to promote feminism are doing it simply because they want to focus on doing comics and looking at things equally, regardless of gender. And that's the ideal. That's what we want, where everyone can just do some comics, link to comics they like, hang out with people they like, and we get equal oppurtunity and equal results just kind of happen. We're very close to being there, but it's going to take a little self examination.


Andy said...

I think part of the problem is that there are considerably less female geeks than male geeks. Oh, there are PLENTY, just ratiometrically.

And you don't HAVE to be a geek to write comics, it just turns out that way.

It all has to do with SOCIAL STIGMA.

Comics are a lower form of literature - well they're CONSIDERED to be that way anyway. So if you have a writer (female or otherwise) they'll probably choose to write a BOOK.

GEEKS love POP CULTURE - but POP CULTURE has it's OWN stigma of being base and unimportant.

So, writing comics are for kids or people who can't grow up (stereotype here)

And for some reason, women tend to want to "GROW UP" more than "BOYS" (men) do. I don't know why, maybe it's because as a society we put higher standards on our girls - women can't have sex but men can, women have to be propper and not fart, but men can fart and burp all they want.

So we end up with a group of writers from the group of society who either don't want to grow up, or realize that comics AREN"T an immature artform.

Ooops - I rambled.

But I agree - there SHOULD be more female creaters - but perhaps we should rally the women instead of wondering why the men are keeping them out.

Unless the men ARE keeping them out for real and I misunderstood . . .

megs said...

That's exactly one of the factors I take into account for the derth of women starting to create. Less women than men want to do it in the first place, for whatever reasons. But I'd like to move past that excuse, because it's less and less likely to explain even MOST of the problem away. Look at deviantart. Most of the supremely popular people there are women. Women doing art. And some of them do stories as well. In very, very geeky things.

So basically I think THAT gap is growing thinner and I want to focus on what else is going on. Things we CAN do something about.

Rallying the women includes paying attention to them.

Andy said...

Well I'm trying ta help! I went and got me a woman artist! ;)

Now, DRAW THE COMIC! (in between bein' barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen - of course)

Zub said...

I think one of the most amazing things about web comics is the sheer flexibility people have to get their message across. No matter what genre or how obscure the subject matter, people can easily find and pass along web comics to like-minded people.

I think the above has to be stressed to female creators. It's not about making bullshit male-centric commercial material or trying to be just like male-dominated stuff that's out there. Create stories that engage you as a creator and people with similar attitudes will gravitate towards it.

Web comics represents creative freedom, but only if you're willing to grab hold of it.

Makeshift Miracle was very much the cliche of a "girly concept".... a romantic coming-of-age story with lots of emotions and talking.

Would a female creator have been marginalized with girly assumptions by doing it? I don't know... but I'd sure hope not. Good work should be good work irregardless.

megs said...

Jim - Thanks for commenting! I guess I invoked you, huh? But that is exactly what should happen and what I think we're heading towards. It only makes sense for everyone to appreciate works on their own merit. Everybody wins that way. But we're not there yet, I think.

D. Edward Sauve said...

You know, researchers recently did an experiment... can't find the link, but they set a gameboy in the middle of a girl's class room. At first, it was ignored. Until the researchers gave expressed permission for the girls to touch it.

You couldn't get it out of their hands after that. Whole class gathered round...

Point is... maybe that's a first step Make sure, loud and clear, women know that, fuck yeah, you can do comics.

gwalla said...

Don't forget that Ursula Vernon is one of the most popular creators on GraphicSmash. I just thought it was kind of odd that you didn't mention her when talking about the MTers.

Vorticus said...

Gave this a good read through and found it...annoying. A lot of that has to do with the simplification of entertainment success in the webcomic realm down to a gender issue. Perhaps we can create a community/society where two people starting at the exact same time with the exact same artistic and storytelling abilities can create webcomics of equal success irregardless of other factors, but that is far from a state of equal opportunity. I'd even go so far as to say that no two creators have an equal opportunity for success, simply because of changing factors on the internet beyond their control. Styles of writing, humor, and art go in and out of popularity and it would take indepth market research to determine what would be the next big thing, something you won't see webcomicers doing.

And now to the other part, the part that will get me verbally beat down. It's annoying because I've heard this argument many times before, and even though the packaging is different it all comes back to the same point; that men have prejudice that needs to be fixed and that any inequalities in gender can be explained by that prejudice. And we get into the sticky. You feel that men will pan a comic because the creator is female, I don't see that happening. You offer that the boys can have their clubs, but you insist on them having them on your feminist terms. The accusation that men don't think about why they like a comic seems reasonable enough, until you ask why you need to think about why you like a comic. The point? I don't think we need feminism because it's not going to create anymore thinking until it obtains a new line of thought beyond blaming male prejudice.

And yeah, that came off as accusing and probably jerky, but I really have no other way to say it that doesn't use evasive language. Apologies for the super long post and thanks to anyone who takes the time to read this through and hear me out. I suppose I should add that I'm male. *shrugs*

Ragnell said...

vorticus -- It's not just men who have the preconceived notions about gender. Our society is gender-biased. The point is to root out that gender bias and eradicate it.

megs said...

Gwalla - MT was being really slow for me when I was doing the counting, so I skipped all the other sites. I really wasn't going for entirely scientific or I would have included more groups. I'd be interested to see how comicgenesis did, for instance, but I'd rather stick spoons in my brain than try.

Vorticus- Yeah, dude, did you miss where I said I did this myself? Plus what Ragnell said. Why does it always have to be about blaming the guys? Even when I specifically don't blame the guys? That strikes me as a little... uh, male centric. Ha!

Anonymous said...

Um, Vorticus, did you actually read the post?

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