Published on June 19th, 2015 | by Holly Ringsell0
The Rise Of Young Women In Comics
We’re seeing a growing number of young women in our comic books. Ms Marvel, Batgirl, Spider-Gwen, Lumberjanes, Silk, Squirrel Girl, Thor, Olive and Maps in Gotham Academy, to name a few. Whats with the influx of intelligent, awesome, powerful, fun young ladies in comics? More importantly, why is their existence in our comic books so important to the young men and women reading them? Let’s unravel this radioactive spiderweb of intrigue…
Around 50% of the world’s population is female, so it kinda makes sense that our comic books should reflect that. Market and online research suggests female comic book readership may be as high as 46%, so creating and showcasing female characters seems like a no-brainer… Yet it’s still somewhat of a struggle. Male-centric titles far outweigh female ones on even a weekly release basis, and in some absurd circles of the Internet, increasing female presence is actively complained about — a somewhat strange opinion, given the frequent moaning regarding ‘fake geek girls’ and the general want for interested women to enter the hobby.
As a side note, if you’re one of the said complainers, remember one thing — these comics aren’t for you. Not everything is for you. If you don’t like it, don’t read it… But for goodness sake, don’t take that thing away from the people it’s actually intended for.
Women and girls like comics… And we’re here to stay.
Here’s 25 of us, 25 women who read those (and many more) comics. I know this because I sell to them.
This is at my store. On a hugely popular monthly ‘Ladies Night’.
A Healthy Relationship With Women For Younger Readers
When our stories are filled with smart, strong young girls, we’re simultaneously improving the relationship our younger readers have with womenkind in general. When our stories are filled with booby, disposable sexbot women, it absolutely promotes a poor view of women in general, along with their intended ‘purpose’. By featuring young female characters in roles that can also be filled by young male characters, we create an air of equality — there’s no ‘you punch like a girl’ mentality, because Spider-Gwen can hold her own alongside Peter Parker or Miles Morales. We’re encouraging young girls to view themselves on an equal playing field as young boys, and we’re encouraging young boys to treat others with an equal volume of respect. It’s positive all round. Don’t get me wrong, booby sexbots absolutely have their place in comic books, but the more young, positive role models we can fill our young reader books with, the better.
Positive Role Models
Aren’t positive role models awesome!? I’m trying to think back to the ones I had growing up — Jasmine from Aladdin was spunky and brave, but simultaneously allowed the vulnerability of falling in love. Ariel was much the same, with an added awesome father-daughter relationship to boot. Megara from Hercules and Jane from Tarzan were another two who fit a similar mould, (I was a child of the great Disney era… Can you tell?) These Disney heroines were quite wonderful, but that remained largely it. My other favourite characters and role models were mostly male, and have largely continued to be up until recent years. It’s only now that we’re given characters like Brave’s Merida, Marvel’s Peggy Carter, Adventure Time’s Princess Bubblegum, Mad Max’s Furiosa… And isn’t it wonderful? Strong women for little girls and boys to look up to, and our comics are becoming exactly the same. Spider-Gwen deals with the fragility of life, the death of a boy she loved so dearly. She’s strong and powerful, (she even briefly took down the Punisher!) but she’s simultaneously vulnerable. She loves her father. She wants to do the right thing. She has to deal with Mary Jane being super difficult. She is awesome, but more importantly, she’s human. She is not defined by her ability to punch people in the face, OR her love for Peter Parker — she is a combination of traits, which not only make her an intriguing character, but a great positive role model. Ms Marvel struggles with self-esteem and identity issues amidst a strict Muslim family. Batgirl deals with social media backlash and friendship break-ups. Silk struggles to discover her lost past, whilst also dating the Human Torch. Olive and Maps are dealing with the behemoth that is school life, only surrounded by the mystery of Gotham Academy and all its secrets. Each character is a very real human being, in an extraordinary situation. We all make mistakes, we’re all flawed in our own unique way… And it’s supremely important that our fictional characters reflect that.
Do Fictional Characters Even Matter?
I’m sure plenty of you are scoffing at my use of the word ‘important.’ What could possibly be deemed ‘important’ about fiction?
For a phenomenal amount of people, myself included, fiction is the way we relate to the world around us. We delve into books and comic books and movies from a young age. They teach us about relationships, friendships, loves and losses and everything between. We strive to be as powerful as Katniss Everdeen, or as brave as Hermione Granger. We watch the way Batgirl apologises to Black Canary, or the way Ms Marvel learns to be okay with herself. Ariel forgives her father and loves him dearly, and Jasmine consistently stands up for herself. As we grow, fiction is our way of connecting with a bigger, more confusing world around us — a vital thing for young people attempting to connect with it. If fiction is impacting us from such a young age, then shouldn’t it absolutely be deemed ‘important’?
Secondary to the stories and characters themselves, are the creators bringing them to life. It’s equally as important to showcase female talent in what is largely, a male-dominated industry, and plenty of these female-fronted books are created by women. Wonderful artist Stacey Lee draws Silk, the impossibly brilliant Babs Tarr draws Batgirl, the exceptional G. Willow Wilson writes Ms Marvel, the glorious Becky Cloonan co-writes Gotham Academy and the magnificent Erica Henderson draws Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. They’re also largely joined by amazing supportive male creators. As someone who’s had the pleasure of speaking with a member or two of the Batgirl team, that’s at least one collective working positively to make a change in comics, with female-driven storylines and material accessible for a younger audience. This week saw the release of Brenden Fletcher and Annie Wu’s Black Canary — a book I’m personally excited for after her reintroduction into Batgirl. Fletcher also co-writes Batgirl, along with Cameron Stewart, and Gotham Academy, with Becky Cloonan. They’re actively writing some of DC’s best books, and single-handedly improving their female roster on a weekly basis. Teams like the Batgirl one are absolutely vital for our comics industry — they push boundaries, endeavour to try new things and above all else, take the perceived ‘risk’ of presenting young female characters and tip it on its head. They’re top sellers, to adults, teenagers and younger. They’re creating comics for a largely forgotten demographic, and goddammit, they’re awesome. Strong, dynamic characters, reinvented perfectly for a modern era and the ever-growing, ever-changing comics world. Team Batgirl, and others like them, are utterly invaluable to the comics community.
(Now, if only DC would listen when we ask for some merchandise…)
Young female characters are a fraction of the comics world at large. It’s increasing, slowly, and it’s necessary. They’re characters embedded in stories that both teach and excite, as appealing to young girls as they are everyone else, all ages and genders included. The more support we give these books, the more that will inevitably be created. We’ll carve out a safe space for young women in comics, one that will hopefully carry over to adult readers too. If you don’t enjoy the characters or stories, thats fine too — just don’t ruin them for the people who do. Everyone should have a place in comics, young women included. Don’t force people out of a hobby that historically attracts outcasts and offers them a safe, awesome place to express themselves. You’re poisoning something thats supposed to be stand-out awesome. Be kind to each other, and encourage diversity in comic books… It really does benefit everyone!