Sunday, November 26, 2006

Comics for Girls - I'm Back From Hibernation! Edition

Jill at Feministe has a post up about DC's decision to publish and market a series of almost manga style (my words, not hers) graphic novels for girls.

There's a lot of good comments in response, such as:

I can’t help but feel that DC wouldn’t have to go to all this trouble if they just took down the NO STINKY GIRLS sign on the superhero clubhouse.
I think that's true - to a certain point.

It's important to remember why DC is doing this. Unfortunately, they are not doing it because the powers that be at DC have finally realized that girls do not have cooties after all. They are doing this because books for teens - most especially teen girls - are consistent top sellers at just about every major bookstore. Graphic Novels - most especially Manga - is also the biggest growing section at most bookstores. Other than new releases and workbooks for kids, it's pretty much the only section that keeps getting more room at my store. Within the last year alone, we've added several bays to the adult Graphic Novels (with most of it going to manga), several shelves to the teen manga, and an entirely new (but still small) section of kid's manga. And that doesn't even count all the random beginning reader books put out by Tokyopop, the influx of graphic novels in the first chapter books section (most of which are published by Tokyopop), or the soon to be half a shelf in young readers devoted to Bone alone.

Another commenter wrote:
i personally dont think theres a need to specifically target girls with girl comics…i certainly had no trouble finding awesome ones
Now this, I don't understand at all. I'm happy that she was able to find comics she liked, and I'd never suggest that girls (and women) don't read comics or that companies need to market to girls to get any girls to read comics, but I'd say it's pretty irrefutable that boys have an easier time finding good comics than girls do. Granted, as many people pointed out, marketing isn't going to solve the problem by itself. But it can't hurt, either.

As I commented on the Feministe thread, DC simply woke up and finally smelled Tokyopop's profits. The graphic novels for girls they are putting out are deliberately meant to ride on Tokyopop's coattails. Knowing how books get shelved in every B&N, and having helped several hundred kids look for books, it's quite obvious that the choice to make a series of black and white graphic novels - and not a series of comic books in color - and to market them exclusively at girls, was a marketing decision meant to ensure that their product would be placed next to Tokyopop's Kingdom Hearts and DN Angel in the teen manga section. The decision to hire a relatively well known author of books for teen girls is just the icing on the cake. (And suggests that DC is serious about making this work in the long run, and not just grabbing a few bucks - knock on wood.)

Compare that to Marvel's decision to revive White Tiger as a young woman and hire Tamora Pierce and Tim Liebe to write the new series. I applaud Marvels' decision as well, but I worry that it won't generate the profit's DC's line will, and thus will die an early death - the awesomeness of Tamora Pierce notwithstanding. I also wonder if Marvel made the right decision in making it a traditional comic book. Without a lot of marketing outside of the comic book world - and there hasn't been much - Marvel is barely capitalizing on the huge built in fanbase for anything with Tammy's name on it. Yeah, they can publish it as a graphic novel later - like Runaways - but that means that there's the danger that, like with Runaways, the comic book industry itself will tend to downplay the overall profits since much of it will not be made in the traditional way. Which means they'll have less reason to continue to try to break their own mold.

By the way, I agree with the sentiment that I wish they’d change the way they write comics (maybe hire a few more female artists/writers as well), instead of creating “just for girls” comics.
I really do wish this as well. But as long as simply writing a story along the lines of Anne of Green Gables or The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is considered writing something that is "just for girls" there will be a time and a place for "just for girls" comics. I don't like sharp gender divides, and I don't like how such attitudes suggest that stuff like Marvel's new White Tiger doesn't even exist, and I really don't like how this kind of thinking tends to ghettoize some of the best books ever written for children and teens.

However, I much prefer it to people thinking that "girl" stories are not even worth writing - which has generally been DC's attitude in the past. Just because you'd never read That Summer or would prefer Captain Underpants to Babymouse doesn't mean that they aren't damn good books and that the world isn't a better place for them having existed.


Lyle said...

RE: Tamora Pierce, not having given White Tiger a good look, yet, I figure it'll continue Marvel's pattern of putting out periodical comics that aren't expected to accomplish much more than building some early opinion and bringing in some revenue that are meant to sell in the bookstore market, like Spellbinders (is that it? the Mike Carey one), Live Wires and Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane. It'll fail in the Direct Market, but that's not where it's expected to succeed.

As for the second commentor, without going through the thread, I think I get what she's saying. All but one of the creators working on Minx are pretty established in comics and have found female readers without target marketing, so if the commentor's point was one worrying about this becoming a case wehre niche marketing turns into a kind of ghettoization (where Andi Watson changes in perception from an acclaimed creator of comics to an acclaimed creator of "comics for girls" playing upon prejudices that see women's entertainment as lesser -- see Danielle Steel vs Tom Clancy).

I have to admit, there's so much about Minx that rubs me the wrong way, but looking at that creator list (Andi Watson, Daniel Kirk Kim and Mike Carey) I see books I want to read.

Still, I wonder why female creators who've worked in similar niches like Jen Van Meter, Christina Weir, Sarah Dyer, Rachel Hartman or Christine Norrie werne't brought into that mix.

Mickle said...

"so if the commentor's point was one worrying about this becoming a case wehre niche marketing turns into a kind of ghettoization"

Well, I do get that that's part of it.

However, from the general tone of the thread - and a lot of the discussons I've seen among female comics readers on the web, I get the impression that sometimes it goes beyond simply wanting stuff like Birds of Prey or even Maus and crosses over into reinforcing the ghettoization by dissing "stuff for girls."

That's why I added the last bit at the end.

I was also trying to point out that yes, the Minx line will likely be iffy at best. Not because they tried to do something radical and went about it the wrong way, but because we essentially have a market dinosaur trying to break into a relatively new market. That rarely goes well. Looking at DC's decisions as if there was anything other than desperation and dollar signs behind them is a bit naive.

Critique 'em all you want, just remember that they aren't even flirting with the idea of breaking new ground - and they know it. No matter what the article says.

Lyle said...

Hm, I think you might have hit on what's bugging me about this launch... I wouldn't have been at all surprised to see these titles come out of Vertigo a couple years ago, so this talk of breaking new ground rings hollow. The only new ground being broken is in marketing.

BTW, a question for you I thought about bringing up on the CWR thread -- what's your experience been like with Garth Nix' Sabriel books? I know its female fanbase can get really enthusiastic about the series, since there are so few heroines like Sabriel or Lirael, but I never would have paused at recommending the series to a boy because of its female lead characters.

Mickle said...

Oddly enough, since

1) Garth Nix has a big fan base among boys from Seventh Tower (and other titles?) and

2) there's actually quite a few fantasy series for teen girls (Tamora Pierce, Holly Black, Libba Bray, most of Scott Westerfeld's stuff, Jane Yolen, Robin McKinley, most of Lloyd Alexander's stuff, and so on)

most of the people I hear raving about Sabriel are guys. But it's also one of those where I've had both boys and girls ask me where it is when they have trouble finding it on the shelf. And I have heard teen girls rave about it.

In my experience, it seems to have a fairly gender neutral readership, with guys being slightly more fannish about the author himself.

But I could be wrong - my sample is likely to be skewed since several of the guys I work with are big fantasy/scifi/horror readers - and they're the ones who reccommend it to me most often. (herre is where a shamefully admit I haven't read it).

Lyle said...

Thanks, Mickle.

I'm mixed about recommending it. I like Nix' writing a lot but one reviewer pointed out to me that the female depictions are somewhat traditional and cliche, except that for once female roles (and the women in those roles) are made to be more important to the story than the guys, which is somewhat novel. I have to admit, I'm pretty weak for a book that makes scholars its heroes (both Sabriel and Lirael succeed by their brains).

Nix does a really good job coming up with a magic system that sounds legitimate (for its world) that still seems mystical and mysterious. It's a compelling meld of fantasy and horror (Sabriel is, at least, I don't recall Lirael delving into horror so much) and, while I agree that the women end up in stereotypical roles I liked seeing those roles being more effective than the boys with swords.

Interesting that we've seen diferent fanbases for those books (I'd say you have a better sample, based on your work, however). Most of the fans I've encountered (aside from female friends who I recruited, suggesting Sabriel as a good filler while waiting for the next Harry Potter) were young women with online fansites for the series.