Last week, in support of International Women’s Day, we looked at women in comics in 2016. What we found wasn’t great. However, several folks criticized our methods (notably on Reddit), claiming that our results were meaningless.
Most criticisms focused on the fact that we only looked at writers and artists, due to time constraints. Using typical research methods, we took a sample of the industry (the top 500 selling comics, writers, and artists) and used it to create a snapshot. But the criticisms continued, and the conversation moved from “what can we do to help fix this?” toward “this article is crap.” So, we took their suggestions. And we expanded.
The following is our analysis redux. It includes more detailed information on our methods and sample, as well as a more statistical look at our findings. Hopefully, this lets you, our dear readers, focus more on the results. Let’s get started.
Methods (or, how we did it)
First, some terms. In a nutshell, most comics are sold through the direct market system, where comic shops buy books from producers (DC, Marvel, etc.) through distributors (primarily Diamond). Shops order books based on an assessment of their demand, and generally cannot return those books if they don’t sell. This is the dominant market system for comics and has been since the late 1980s. It helped the proliferation of specialty stores, which were almost uniformly owned and operated by, and catered to, men.
Because of this system, actual sales numbers on comic books are nearly impossible to find. Stores do not report their sales numbers, for the most part, so we don’t know how any one book is doing. The best statistic we have is the order numbers that shops place to Diamond, which does report numbers on a monthly and annual basis.
For tracking these order numbers, there is no better source than Comichron. They take their estimates from Diamond’s monthly report numbers and converge with other sites’ (like CBR and ICV2) estimates.
Using Comichron’s annual report, we looked at the top 1000 selling comics books of 2016. Making up these 1000 books were 244 unique titles, including annuals (basically one-shots). 133 of the titles were produced by DC, 87 by Marvel, 10 by Image, and 14 from Valiant, IDW, Archie, Dark Horse, Dynamite, and Boom combined. DC held a 39% share of the top 1000 books, while Marvel had 55%, Image 4%, and the rest had 2% combined.
Six creative categories were considered for each of the 1000 books: writer, penciller, inker, colorist, letterer, and editor. Each was coded for whether there was at least one woman in that category. The entire book was then coded as having at least one woman on the team, or not. This is the lowest possible bar for women’s inclusion in this industry. The teams were assessed using the companies’ wiki pages and verified through physical or digital copies of the comics.
For the top 1000 comic books sold in 2016:
- 65% of them had at least one woman on the team
- 20% had more than one woman on the team
- 53% of DC’s books had at least one woman on thee team
- 75% of Marvel’s books had at least one woman on the team
- 41% of Image’s books had at least one woman on the team
- 60% of the combined smaller producers had at least one woman on the team.
The following is the percentage of each creative category with at least one woman:
- 9% of writers
- 7% of pencillers
- 8% of inkers
- 17% of colorists
- 4% of letterers
- 51% of editors
We also took the data and ran it through analyses to see if there was a relationship between women being on a book, and lower sales. One of the leading arguments against the lack of women creators is that books created by women don’t sell as many copies. This claim is typically made without any data to support it. Probably because it doesn’t exist.
Stats is pretty ugly looking right? Here’s the gist: this shows us the relationship between a team having at least one woman on it, and the effect on sales. A book created by a team with no women sold an average of 59,566 copies. A book created by a team with at least woman sold, on average, an additional 366 copies. For those keeping score, that’s more than books without women.
However, the real key to this stat lies 3 categories to the right: that’s the P value, which is a measure of how significant the data is. Basically, it tells us what the likelihood is that the number we found was because of a relationship, or just chance. In most research, that number should be less than .05 to be significant. Here, it’s .887, which is really insignificant. This means the additional 366 books was most likely due to chance.
So what does it all mean?
Here’s the tl;dr: these results are not great for the state of women creators in comics.
65% of books had at least one woman on the team, but only 20% had more than one. That’s ludicrously low. There is, undeniably, a noticeable lack of women in writing, pencilling, inking, coloring, and lettering. Even in editing, most of the women were assistant editors. Remember, this is the lowest possible bar for what we could want. The actual number of unique women involved is far lower. And that’s a problem. Because the old adage of “this industry is for men” is crap.
First off, there is no official data on the demographics of consumers in this market. So we don’t truly know. But we do have some informal data. According to an annual survey done by Publisher’s Weekly, comic book stores responded that women aged 17-30 were their fastest growing consumer segment in 2014 and 2015.
And it’s not just in comics. Nielsen data shows that women make up at least 40% of the audience of television shows adapted from comic properties. For Supergirl and Agent Carter, it’s 50%. Women made up 30-50% of the audience of comic book films released in 2012-2015. So they’re clearly consuming these properties on screen and page.
Women are also attending conventions in droves. Studies have found that conventions have near parity, with numbers ranging from 45%-50%. And these attendees are purchasing merchandise in a similar amount to men con-goers, so it’s not just because “Cosplay brings a lot of women in. A lot of cosplay has a sexual element to it” as one Redditor so helpfully commented on our first article. The cons themselves have also reported near parity: Emerald City Comic Con reported that men were 46% of their attendees in 2014. 43% of the attendees at New York Comic Con in 2015 were women, and this grew 84% between 2010 and 2014.
Getting to the point
The comic book industry is not made for men. It does not cater solely to men. To think otherwise is to deny fact. And if that’s your gig, then there’s not much else we can do for you.
Far more importantly, the industry should not be made for men, or cater solely to them. Women are consuming comic books, and the culture around them, in ever growing numbers. Despite this, there is a severe disparity in the number of women who help create this now multi-billion dollar genre. And it’s all of our faults.
To those who criticized the original findings, or deny that women are part of the genre, or that they don’t need to be making these books, etc., etc, now is the time to ask: Why? What is so inherently wrong with asking your shops to order more books made by women? To ask DC, Marvel, Image, Valiant, Dynamite, Boom, IDW, Dark Horse, Archie, and every other publisher to employ more women? How is that going to harm your consuming experience?
Here’s a hint: it won’t.
What can you do?
So, dear readers, now that you have the data, the facts, the evidence, what can you do to help?
- If you don’t currently read comic books, but you go see the Marvel/DC films, or maybe you watch iZombie or Preacher: start reading them. This is where they are getting those stories from, and the movies won’t change if the books don’t.
- If you wander into a shop or Barnes & Noble every now and then to buy a book: when you do, look at who is creating your book. Challenge yourself to buy books that are created by more than one woman every time you buy one that is only made by men.
- If you have a shop you go to regularly: Great job supporting small businesses! Now hold them accountable, and ask that they stock more books created by women. Your patronage means a lot more to a small business than it does to Barnes & Noble, so your opinions, and more importantly your dollar, mean a lot more here.
- If you have a regular shop and a pull list: If you have a pull list (basically a subscription to a book at a local shop), then you are the one driving those numbers we found above. So task yourself to order books created by women, at least one for every book that is by all men. Go even further, and have at least one book that is created mostly (if not solely) by women.
- Ok but listen, I don’t know what books are being made by women, and it’s March Madness and I’m busy: NO EXCUSES. Be better. But that doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help. Which leads us to…
- Ask for recommendations: Ask your local bookstore sales rep, your local comic shop owner, Twitter, Reddit, Facebook friends, creators themselves, other con goers, Monkeys Fighting Robots, me. It doesn’t matter, just ask. I promise you that if you ask, you will be helped. But most importantly…
- Listen. Listen to when women speak out about this problem, to creators who discuss the problems within the industry, to the fans who beg for their beloved franchises to be better. Listen.
What is your favorite book created by women? What’s books created by women are on your pull right now? Let us know in the comments!