Women Don’t Read Comics

The relaunch of Ms. Marvel has stirred up some heated opinions about how the comic industry is changing. Do women’s voices really matter in this niche market?

Please see the bottom of the page for statistics sources.

So, here’s the deal: the Washington Post published an article1 regarding the relaunch of Ms. Marvel as a Muslim-American teen. This is an effort on Marvel’s part to diversify their product and attract more readership from women and girls (not to say that women don’t enjoy traditional comics– they can and do– but titles not specifically catered to the male gaze are always welcome).

Unfortunately, not everyone thinks it’s is a good idea. The first comment in a response thread:

“Yeah, this won’t last very long. Women don’t buy comics. They love geek culture, and they love all the attention it gets them but they don’t read comics in any signifigant numbers. Once they start seeing that they aren’t making money by ignoring their core audence, they’ll go back to business as usual.”

Let’s look past the questionable spelling and think about this.

Kamala Khan as the new Ms. Marvel is a hot topic these days

Kamala Khan as the new Ms. Marvel
is a hot topic these days

Let me be clear: in the comic community, women are the minority. How much of a minority is difficult to say, because numbers vary depending on the poll. A DC Comics survey concerning ONLY the New 52 titles found that there was a 7% female readership. Their online survey showed a 23% female readership. Another survey, conducted by a political consultant on Facebook, found that 40% of fans identified as female.2

Regardless of the poll, it’s clear that we’re the smaller percentage. Does that mean that we should be disregarded as an audience? Absolutely not! Subsequent comments like, “I love watching people invest tons of money in a failing business plan. It just proves our point even more” suggest that catering to a female audience is foolhardy because, since they are the minority, doing so would hurt sales. How? If there is an untapped, easily accessible portion of the population that you could market to, why would you not market to it? This move by Marvel isn’t taking anything away. Companies are just adding richness to the pool of titles one can choose from, so as to be more inclusive and attract more readers. That’s a smart move, not a dumb one.

If I walk into Midtown Comics (the largest comic store here in New York City), I’ll see a healthy mix of men and women browsing the Wednesday shelf, a fact echoed by Comicopia’s estimate that about 40% of their customers are women.3 There are both male and female employees there, too, well versed in the product they are selling.

There are vibrant online communities of female FANS, whose thoughts find their way into the letters column of just about every major comic.

This may shock folks, but women account for over 40% of attendance (of a 130,000 total) at some of the largest comic conventions, including SDCC4 and NYCC5… and that in itself is a tiny subsection of the whole percentage, presumably because nowhere near the entire population of women who read comics attend these cons. These are buyers! These are people that comic book companies could, and do, make money from! The idea that women genuinely interested in comics are mythical creatures is ludicrous; walk into a convention panel about comics and see for yourself.

MVI_7263

A snapshot of NYCC

But, since we’re on conventions, let’s note that there are actually conventions dedicated specifically to women in “geek culture” (Geek Girl Con, Sirens, WisCon), too. There are women academics who speak on panels, who create comics independently and sell well (Jess Fink, Megan Rose Gedris, Noelle Stevenson, etc). Women in this community do matter.

“Yeah women use geek culture to create a harem of male orbiters. Those sluts that dress up for cosplay conventions, they are just the latest version of attention whoring. All the little dorks that go there think they might have a chance with them, but they really just do it for Twitter popularity and amazon wishlists.

They’ve found a way to farm out orbiter betas and make money off strangers thanks to the internets. They can have all the attention and upside of the model they could never be without having to be nearly as hot.

It’s crazy what some of those nerdy sluts will wear in public haha.”

Are there those who use the culture for popularity and maybe even to mooch money off others? Yes. Both men and women use their sexuality for a lot of things. But they are most certainly not the majority, and to shame the entire female sex/gender based on the actions of a few individuals who apparently pissed someone off because they weren’t “authentically geeky” enough for their tastes is not only rude, but unfair. The cosplay argument isn’t even valid, because both women and men dress up in costumes that show a lot of skin. I saw a handful of 300 Spartan cosplayers each day at SDCC last year. That new Free! anime has tons of males running around shirtless. Men can be objectified, too. Men can do it for attention, too. More importantly, someone choosing a revealing costume doesn’t necessarily mean they are doing it solely for attention or handouts or that they’re “sluts.” If cosplayers do generate money, it’s usually off prints they sell, a perfectly respectable business given the time, effort and cash invested into a costume in the first place.

the-hunger-games-catching-fire-poster

Obviously the movies have completely outstripped paper comics in relevance and profitability. If Marvel wants to really put their money where there mouth is, let’s see them drop a superheroine movie, you know, like Catwoman or Elektra.

Look, Catwoman and Elektra were bad movies. You know what other movies were bad? Daredevil, Man of Steel, Green Lantern, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and those featured male superhero leads. Movies can be successful without male leads or super-sexualized female characters. Catching Fire trumped Iron Man 3 domestically as 2013’s biggest movie6, and Frozen has been kicking all sorts of ass at the box office, surpassing even Avatar and Titanic in its sixth weekend of release.7

Plus, women have buying power. 40% of the people who saw Avengers opening weekend were women!8

“Aren’t super female protagonists and antagonists supposed to be over the top scantily clad and attractive?
So tell me again how they are going to sell comics when all the female characters look like Amy Farah Fowler? Are they all going to be sexually repressed, desperate, needy and have self esteem issues?”

…No! Does it sell better if the costumes are ridiculous and revealing? Of course, because in the current readership model, sex sells. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have more of a balance. Female characters can embrace their sexuality9 without wearing painfully impractical costumes.10 Wearing something other than a spandex g-string doesn’t equal sexually repressed, desperate, needy, or self-esteem issues. Wearing a spandex g-string doesn’t equal sexually liberated or slutty.

Creators don’t have to rely on skin alone for sex appeal. Kate Kane exudes it while entirely covered up!

Creators don’t have to rely on skin alone for sex appeal.
Kate Kane exudes it while entirely covered up!

Now, before you rush to the comment box, let me say that I’d rather not see anything along the lines of “ugh comic book fans,” “men are gross,” “this is why I hate comic book fans.” It is not constructive to generalize about any group, whether that be women who read comics or male fans in general. The people who posted the comments I’ve gone over do noy speak for the comic book community as a whole or even for the majority of male comic book fans. There are many, many, many very supportive male fans who attend Geek Girl Con, for instance, who buy and enjoy titles like the new Ms. Marvel and who encourage diversity in the comics medium both content-wise and creator-wise.

This isn’t a “feminist” issue, anyway. It’s a readership issue, a common sense issue.

I made this video because the opinion of the individuals in that rage-inducing thread is one that I see too often and tries to exclude a huge percentage of potential readers. The comic book community is starting to understand this, but there are still many who haven’t seen the bigger picture. If you agree with my message, feel free to share this piece or the video above with your friends. If you don’t agree, I invite you to start a civil discussion in the comments or on Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr.

Special thanks to GeekGirlCon for their incredibly useful fact sheet.

Banner image from the cover of the 70th Anniversary Women of Marvel issue, by the very talented Alan Davis.


  1. MS. MARVEL: Marvel Comics’ new focus on women ‘characters and creators’ aims to defy the ‘scantily clad’ cliche 

  2. Facebook stats: 40% of comics fans are women 

  3. Saving the Superheroines: A B.U. Analysis of Women in Comics 

  4. More Women Than Ever At San Diego’s Comic-Con 

  5. New York Comic Con Appealing More And More To Women 

  6. Catching Fire’ tops ‘Iron Man 3,’ reigns over 2013 box office 

  7. Catching Fire And Frozen Very Close To 2 Big Box Office Milestones 

  8. ‘The Avengers’ smashes opening-weekend record with $200.3 million 

  9. She Has No Head! – 6 Sublime Superheroine Redesigns 

  10. Fully Clothed Female Superheroes – Geek Art 

Join the conversation

  • Todd Matthy - 10 months ago

    My main issue with Ms. Marvel is how they’re going to explain Inhumanity to the target audience of young non-readers. That aside I liked the book and want to see where Kamala’s MLP/Avengers crossover goes.

    What I’ve seen when I visit Midtown Comics or Big Planet Comics in D.C. or any of the local stores near where I live is that female readers often bought trades rather then the monthly comics. Look at the demographics for Sandman and manga collections and you will see a huge female readership. I attribute that to a wider variety of subject matter to choose from as opposed to super heroes.

    Given the popularity of Avengers and the Dark Knight trilogy, it doesn’t take a genius to see that movies grossing a billion dollars are only appealing to males. Women are going to see these movies. They are interested in the subject matter and, as we are seeing now more then ever, coming out invested in the characters. And it’s not just women. It’s people of all races, ages, and socio-economic backgrounds. And believe it or not when these people get together to see a super hero movie all cultural barriers come down because everybody is having fun and enjoying cheering for the good guys and booing the bad guys. Go to a midnight screening for any Marvel movie and you’ll see this. From a financial standpoint, Marvel and DC would be foolish to not at least try to capture this audience and create titles that are relatable to a wider population.

    The sales argument is valid, however publishers set expectations. I don’t think Marvel expects Ms. Marvel to do Spider-Man or X-Men numbers. And it’s unrealistic to expect that. But just because she doesn’t do those numbers doesn’t mean people don’t like the character. She, as with any new character, needs time to catch on and build a fan base. They might not be one that buys monthly comics but one that reads trades. That’s a success. If she joins a team and her fans follow her to a team book, that’s a success. You also have to set up a character for success. Pricing a new or unknown female/minority character’s book $3.99 will not build a fan base. People only have so much money to spend.

    It takes a while for new characters to catch on, regardless of race or gender. The X-Men weren’t a hit initially. And don’t forget Spider-Man didn’t have a movie until he turned 40. Female/minority characters need to be more then females and minorities; they need to be relatable. They need to write fanfic, they need to enjoy brussel sprouts. They need to be more then a character that isn’t white. That’s not a character, that’s a token and a gimmick.

    I don’t think theirs anything wrong with Marvel’s initiative just as I don’t think there is anything wrong with using the damsel trope or drawing female characters like supermodels or characters being sexualized. Comics are meant to be fun and if you don’t like something or are offended by it you don’t have to buy it. Art and entertainment aren’t mandatory. There is room for both in comics just as there is room for both in movies and television. However, there is no reason to demonize or try to ostracize either side.

    Ms. Marvel does not need to be Marvel’s icon. She just needs to carve out her own corner of the Marvel Universe. If that corner is made up of people that aren’t traditionally super hero fans, that’s a brand new audience and if you can cater to that audience you haven’t failed. But success might not happen over night. It’s going to take time and patience. That’s my rant. Discuss.