Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Outside Poll: Women Reading Comics

It is Wednesday and I finally wanted to post about the outside poll I took about women reading comics. What I did was interview 27 women about comics and their general views. I was extremely frustrated on Sunday about the lack of women I talked to who had ever read comics. I couldn't find any. I am very lucky that you folks chimed in with great answers and a whole lot of support. Thank you!

The questions I asked are as follows.

1. Have you ever read a comic book? Have any of them been super hero related? For How long?
2. What was your first awareness of super heroes?
3. What was your mother and/or father's views of comic books?
4. If you have children, what do you tell them about comic books?
5. What is your general opinion on reading comic books and the stories contained inside?

I was honored that two ladies came forward and answered the questions for me on my post. It was nice to have women who read comics answer, as they helped pull me out of a funk. It also helped because then I had two respondents who read comics. Unfortunately, the other 25 did not read comics, other then admitting to paging through their brother's books.

What was interesting is how uniform the non-readers were in their responses. I love the fact that Sheryl's mom was the comic book reader in the family. That is fantastic! The other women had mothers much like Sea_of_green. The mother in the household told their daughters from an early age that comics "were for boys". One respondent specifically remembered asking her mom about her brother's Batman collection only to be told that comics were only made for boys. She was told to find a different habit and actually began sewing her own clothes. Said female loved to draw and she ended up making intricate designs of the outfits she made. She did say that today she occasionally will doodle a Spider-Man or Wolverine picture for her son.

Back to the first question, 12 of the females questioned said that they read Archie comics, and a few specifically referred to the Josie and the Pussycats or Sabrina comics. Another reader said she read Barbie comics. Three remembered seeing Wonder Woman and other females on covers of books at the convenience store, but not much more then that. An astounding 17 women said that they read and enjoyed Nancy Drew mysteries. Nineteen women said they enjoyed books from L. Frank Baum, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Judy Blume. The majority were readers at a young age, and 15 of them read regularly today. The Harry Potter books were pretty universally popular among mothers who said they read them with their children.

To give some detail to the ladies I interviewed, the youngest was 16 and the oldest was 75. I don't know the ages of the two ladies who responded on the comments, so I will not hazard a guess. 18 of the women I interviewed were mothers. Seven of those women were grandmothers as well.

When I asked for a first awareness of super heroes, my oldest respondent said she listened to a Superman show on the radio. Six of the women watched the 1960's Batman series. Eight of the women had a friend or relative who read comic books. Five women watched the Wonder Woman television series. The other seven had answers that ranged from seeing a daily strip in the newspaper to going to a comic book movie.

Though many women said that their mothers were unsupportive or critical of their comic reading habit, 12 women said that their father was more supportive. Four women said that their brothers read comics.

Of the eighteen women I interviewed that were mothers, only Sea_of_green seems to encourage comics. Fourteen of the women felt it was a waste of money. A staggering eight of those women felt comic shops were awful and were intimidated by the stereotypical comic book reader. One woman particularly mentioned that she felt that comics were something kids read to "goof off". Of the eighteen women, all of them allowed their children some sort of gaming system and felt that was alright. Two women bragged about monitoring the games their children played while one other woman felt it helped her son's eye-hand coordination for baseball. All eighteen women felt it was okay to go to comic book movies.

For my ladies that read comics, the response to their general opinion on reading comics were as follows:

"I love reading comic books as much as reading text-only stories and I am glad to see that comics are gaining acceptance in the mainstream."

"I love 'em, and I think they're good exercise for the imagination. The larger-than-life characters represent mankind's potential, and help give us ideas to shape our futures -- just like any good science fiction or mythological tale."

One woman said "it won't get you into law school". Another said "god bless the folks that read comics. It just isn't my thing." My favorite response was this "tell the perverts that live in their mommy's basement that it is time to grow up".

The majority of respondents didn't have anything else to say. They just wished me luck with my poll and said it was "fun". I didn"t tell them why I was taking the poll until I was done as to not skew the answers. Several thought I was pulling their leg when I told them I was doing it for my blog. The inevitable question was "do you have kids" to me. When I said "no", they nodded knowingly. One lady even showed an expression of what appeared to be pity before she left.

My question after taking this poll is this:

How can we change the opinion of female non-comic readers? Is there anything particular to help? Our comic book market is shrinking, and I worry that twenty years from now the only readers will be aged 40 and up.

What do you think?

8 comments:

Saranga said...

"tell the perverts that live in their mommy's basement that it is time to grow up".
Wtf?

"The inevitable question was "do you have kids" to me. When I said "no", they nodded knowingly. One lady even showed an expression of what appeared to be pity before she left."
Oh yes, because all women should have kids and those that don't obviously wish they had. :rolleyes:

Re the shrinking comic book market: although I have no intention of having children I do intend to introduce my sister's and friend's kids to comics (and sci fi, and fantasy) when they have children.
I believe that comics and superheros are our modern day ttians and creatures of myth and legend. They represent the very best and the very worst of us and in a secular society sometimes we need symbols to look up to and a different way of asessing our place in the universe. Comics, with their sometimes grand themes and in the guise of mythology, can help us with that.
I'll think about your other questions and come back later!

Sea_of_Green said...

Glad I could be of assistance, Heidi. :-)

When it comes to women shunning comics, I really think yer fighting two things here:

1. The marketing and distribution practices of the comic book industry.

2. The BIG one -- cultural and societal expectations (still) placed upon women -- which women themselves perpetuate because most of them buy into the stereotypes placed upon them, hook, line, and sinker. I was lucky in that my parents consciously tried very hard NOT to inflict stereotypes upon me (though my mom couldn't help complaining about things that she thought were a waste of money).

It probably also doesn't help that there ARE a LOT of very scary fanboys out there, and they tend to attract the press's attention because their behavior IS so far outside of the norm. After all, it's the press's job, ultimately, to report upon what's unusual, not upon what's common.

Also, comic books started out as a young man's medium. There were more girl readers in the '50s and '60s as publishers conscioulsy marketed to them, but now the industry has come full circle and gone back to catering primarily to young men.

The American comic book industry could learn a lot from Manga marketing. I know a LOT of young women who read Manga. Manga DOES seem to be more girl-friendly and approachable (well, except for the porn) than standard American super-hero comics.

mlecompt said...

I just wanted to let you know that girls are reading comics- I'm a Youth Services librarian in charge of buying graphic novels for the teen and kid's sections for my system, so I've been observing their reading habits (at least the ones who use our system) for months now. While the teen girls read mostly manga and manga-style books (although they've shown some interest in the Minx line and some of the books from First Second), the elementary school girls read all kinds of things, including "boy books." There are tons of titles being published for kids now and almost everything I buy gets checked out right away, by boys and girls.

There is one kind of book girls don't touch though, and that is the super-hero books. I have never seen a girl pick up a Marvel Adventures book to check out. So, it appears that that remains the domain of the boys.

I have to admit that while I read lots of comics, I don't read many super-hero ones myself. I can probably count on one hand the number of super-hero titles I've tried.

As for parents, I think they might be more open to comics these days. Of course, I still see the mom who tells her child "Oh, those are just cartoons, pick out a real book," but just as many don't seem to care much if there are a few graphic novels in with the check-out pile. I have also been heartened to see mothers who browse the new graphic novels themselves and pick out stuff for a son or daughter who is not with them at the moment.

Another great thing that happened recently in my area- the middle schools included a graphic novel on the list of books that upcoming 8th graders could pick from for their summer reading (American Born Chinese, winner of the Printz award for Young Adult Literature). And on the 6th grade list they added an illustrated novel (Diary of a Wimpy Kid).

So, I guess the question is, how can we keep the girls reading comics when they get older? I will be curious to see if these girls keep reading through college and into adulthood.

Gjskier (Kal) said...

Who's to say if I wouldn't have eventually gotten into comics, I probably would have with my love of the Superhero Cartoons on in my day, but it was my father who got me into comics originally. And he never really was a comic book reader, save for some cowboy comics and a Mickey/Disney issue when HE was younger.

He bought me Superman #75, the Death of issue... as a collector's item. I liked it so much that for Christmas that year he bought me the issues that had followed. Heh, it just snowballed from there.

As far as getting new readers into comics, my influence was my father I guess. Have the parents buy comics for the kids. Then if it's something they really want, they'll jump on the bandwagon. Comics however were only $1.50 or $1.75 when I started. That could factor into it.

I like these polls you do, it's nice to see what people think about us comic folk.

Sheryl said...

The inevitable question was "do you have kids" to me. When I said "no", they nodded knowingly. One lady even showed an expression of what appeared to be pity before she left.
Excuse me a moment...

AAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH!

Okay, better. Now, onto your questions.

How can we change the opinion of female non-comic readers? Is there anything particular to help?
Exposure is the best way to build tolerance. It kills a lot of stereotypes and the unaware comic-hater might even unexpectedly find that she likes a comic. Without trying to push them onto others, I like to talk about comics that I enjoy -- whether in strip format or book format, whether online or print -- and sometimes even lend comics to those I think would like them.

Print comics and the Internet still need to work out the business model issues, but I think that the Internet really offers a good place for exposure. I can send a quick link and a person can get a quick glimpse or browse longer.

A lot of web comics are done by women. Fully half the web comics that I regularly read are by women and probably half of the ones that I occasionally check are also done by women (I am not 100% certain on the male/female creator split of the ones that I occasionally check). These comics enjoy a strong fan base including both genders and probably more than a few people who do not consider themselves "comic readers."

Lisa said...

I think calling them Graphic Novels would have gotten you different results than calling them comic books, even though they are essentially the same thing. Manga also - I've talked to teen girls who buy manga about comics and they say they're not interested or give me a look that says I'm so clueless. Yet manga is story telling via sequential art. Somehow the comic pamphlet has become associated with super heroes while manga and graphic novels have not, and many women as one commentor stated earlier, don't read supe hero comics.

Look at Scott McCloud - he has just written an instruction manual/guide for the new Google system. No one is calling that a comic book, even though a comic creator did it and it has drawings that speak with word balloons.

And how many of those people read comic strips? Again, similar thing but not a comic book.

There is also the issue of thinking you don't like something because you have an idea of it but no real knowledge of it. If you never tasted a kiwi you'd think it was disgusting, maybe even poisonous. It sure doesn't look like something you should eat. Yet most people find them delicious. Comics are like that - people have their misconceptions about comics based on appearances (created by stereotypes), not because they have read comics and not liked them.

How to get them to read them - find some that you like and give them to these women. Ask them to just read this one comic and let you know what they think - for a study. Then find out how many actually enjoyed what they read. My mom rarely read comics - some of her brothers when they were kids, but that was that. When we opened the store and I had her read some of Y the Last Man she could not get enough and now owns several of the graphic novels and wants the entire collection - which we've been giving her as gifts. Not every woman will enjoy what you gave her, there will be some who do enjoy it but don't admit it, and then there might be a few who do actually enjoy those comics and ask you for more.

Something else that would be interesting - a similar interview with men. I think you'll find that men who read comics when they were younger read at an earlier age and possibly read more than they would have if they were only exposed to standard prose. Sean McKeever could read at 3 years old because his parents gave him extra comics from their hardware store. Now he writes them.

Brainfreeze said...

Wow. (Sorry I didn't catch your first poll, I'm way behind on my blog-reading.) My mom read comics when she was a kid in the 40s (Wonder Woman and various funny animal books). I read comics as a kid, and still do as an adult. My two daughters read comic books and appear to enjoy them.

As for the "only boys read comics" thing, the only difference between my comic-reading habits and those of my brother (when we were kids) was that he read Sgt. Rock and I didn't. Because Sgt. Rock wasn't a superhero. :)

The whole "do you have kids?" question, I don't get. You'd think that if anything they'd expect someone with kids to be more likely to read comics.

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