I haven’t paid particularly close attention to the blogosphere over the past few months, but the reaction to Marvel’s Girl Comics has been amusing.
The obvious: It’s a pretty good lineup of talent. G. Willow Wilson, Amanda Conner, Carla Speed McNeil, Jill Thompson, and others. I’ll probably check it out.
I’m not sure about the title. On the one hand, it’s fairly silly. On the other hand, “Wedesday Comics” was a pretty silly name, and Marvel once published Giant-Sized Man Thing, so, you know, there’s precedent.
Some people are skeptical. Some see see the whole thing as a gimmick, an empty gesture Marvel can use to brush off accusations of only publishing books for boys by boys. And they’re probably right: Anyone who thinks this book represents a new approach to publishing for Marvel is going to be sorely disappointed. Girl Comics is, at best, a token offering to a market that may or may not exist.
But it goes both ways. Marvel may ignore these talented women creators 99% of the time, but so do most of the fans, male and female alike. Most people recognize the talented lineup, but some casual searching suggests few fans would be talking about these women if they weren’t appearing in this anthology or working on a similar title. (Amanda Conner is the obvious exception. Incidentally, I love her art but can’t think of a single title she’s drawn that appeals to me.)
I may have missed it, but I don’t see a lot of people talking about Thompson’s Beasts of Burden, Wilson’s Air, or McNeil’s Finder – and you can read the latter for free on the net. (To be clear: There probably are many people talking about them. Just not the same people who talk about Marvel and Girl Comics.) And these aren’t even the “go read manga or Satrapi” suggestions that get thrown around when people talk about comics by/for women – Beasts is about animals investigating supernatural stuff, Air is a globetrotting mystical adventure comic, and Finder… well, Finder’s a bit more difficult to explain, but there’s fantasy/sci-fi stuff and you can read it for free. These are spiritual and thematic relatives to the superhero tradition. They’re hardly from obscure publishers: Burden is published by Dark Horse, Air by DC, and Finder is free on the web.
Most people don’t care, of course, because they’re not even working on a Legion of Superheroes spinoff. Which is completely understandable, since most people don’t care who writes and draws their superhero comics anyway.
That’s not entirely true. Obviously more people will buy, say, an X-Men comic by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday than one by Peter Milligan and Roger Cruz. But many people, the core audience that keeps these titles alive, will keep buying the book no matter who works on it. Few people will follow those favourite creators to another, less popular title, and even fewer will follow them to another company.
All of which is how we arrived at the status quo: Marvel (and DC) is in the business of making money. They’re kind of narrow-minded about it, though, so they only want to make money on stuff that has already made money. And since no one seems to be rushing out to their local comic book store to demand the latest works by some of the most talented creators in comics, they’re in no rush to hire any real new blood.
Of course there are some institutional issues. Of course some boys who publish superhero comics don’t think girls can create them. (Manohla Dargis‘ discussion of female directors in Hollywood is a great reference.) Of course some boys who read comics will think comics made by girls come with cooties, and the boys who make comics will be afraid of that. Even as we speak, irate fans dedicated to equality are flocking to message boards to complain the project discriminates against male creators. (But they’re also flocking to message boards to complain that Marvel still hasn’t published a new ROM series, so whatever.)
But most superhero readers are so finicky and particular that it almost doesn’t matter. Marvel may not be able to see outside of its gender-friendly box, but most of its readers can’t see outside their favourite brand. And we’re all worse off for it.