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.