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CSBG Archive

She Has No Head! – Ladies Comics Project, Part 3

Welcome to Part 3, and the final installment of this iteration of The Ladies Comics Project in which a handful of my family, friends, and colleagues (both those familiar with comics and not) read and reviewed one of the comics I purchased in September 2010.  For more details about this project and more ladies reviews and feedback, go here to read Part 1 and here to read Part 2.

So after about 8 weeks of working on this project, here we are, the final installment – 437 emails, a handful of gchats, phone calls, interviews, texts, and a you tube video later – all to bring you: The Ladies Comics Project: Part 3

Illustraton for Ladies Comics Project, Part 3 by Tara O'Connor

Name: Loretto

Age:  32

Book: Casanova #3

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Occupation: Architect

Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels?: Watchmen a couple years ago, was WAY into a (probably totally cheesy in retrospect) series called Psi-Force as a kid, intending to take Akira down from the bookshelf and read it at some point….

Why did you pick the cover/issue you picked?: It was tough, but it was one of the ones that graphically stood out on my first pass of all the covers.  I wanted an early issue #.  And then I just kept coming back to it on subsequent passes.  I think it was the only one that gives absolutely no hint of what’s inside.  Or maybe it does?

I thought this was sweet.  Sure, I had a couple of false starts where I passed out not very far into it.  On the third try, I realized I couldn’t remember what had happened before and started over.  I don’t know how serials usually go, but this one had a lot of backstory, names and acronyms I had to keep straight in my head.  I found myself having to reread panels to understand what was going on, thumbing back to the “Previously on Casanova” blurb on the inside cover, and feeling a little bit dimwitted.  And there are still some elements I’ve simply accepted I will get no explanation on — in this issue, anyway.

I skimmed past much of the art for about the first third of the comic book, probably because I was just too busy parsing the text.  We get a change of setting partway through, and I finally stopped and took notice.  I wonder now if your favorite panel is going to be the same one that stopped me in my tracks.  Anyway, leafing back through it now, I do like the muted color palette.  I see the tie-in with at least the watercolor on the cover…I guess.  I’m still lost on the sumi brush strokes and decapitated Buddha.  The actual line art, upon closer inspection now, is great.  At first glance, it didn’t really wow me or stand out to me as any different than your typical comic book stylized drawings, but I see now that the impression I had of density of detail and frenzied action was accomplished through an economy of strokes.  Note: this also may be my first time actually looking at comic book art with a critical eye.  Amateur hour!  Nevertheless, I enjoyed the feel and somewhat retro-ish look.  My only beef really — and it’s kind of an important beef — is that I didn’t really like how the main character is drawn.  He looks like a gross, oafish Mick Jagger who makes stupid faces.  Maybe he’s meant to grow on you after a couple of issues.  I think this would not bother me so much if not for the fact that some of the faces on the other characters were drawn really quite nicely.  Oh, another beef, smaller.  I could do without the expository, self-referential, God-spoken aside.  It actually only happened once, but it totally and unnecessarily took me out of the story.

So speaking of story…once I got to the aforementioned setting change, it gets trippier and far, far more engaging.  The story moves along at a quick pace and is somewhat brash.  Not much for nuance this, but it kept me hooked, especially the whole otherworld parallel universe aspect of it.  By the end of the issue, I felt an honest pang of disappointment when I realized I was on the last page.  There’s a deceptive 7-page interview at the end by the author, which I read all the way through but hated every minute of because of how it tricked me.  When I put the comic down, my immediate thought was I need to read the rest of this plus the two issues that came before it.  That was more than 24 hours ago though, and the reality of my laziness and cheapness has since set in.  If I happen to find myself in a comic book store (unlikely), and I happen to find myself with an extra however many dollars to buy up all the issues I’ve missed (unlikelier), that is surely what I will do.  The prospect though of reading the whole series makes me wonder if the obscurity and the occasional wink-wink clever asides will eventually get to me.  I wouldn’t be opposed to giving it a try until I get to that point though.  If you keep reading the series Kelly, let me know how it is [ed. note: I am, and will].  At any rate, this was a fun “assignment,” and I have to thank you for including me.  It was cool to get a slice of the comic book world and read something that would normally never cross my path.

Kelly’s favorite panel?  Check it:

Ouch.

Name: Jennifer G.

Book: Wonder Woman #604

Age: 25

Location: New York, NY

Occupation: Production Assistant

Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels?: Very little. Studied some manga for a gender/sexuality class in college, and then regularly read a few comedic online comics (e.g., Ozy and Millie, Order of the Stick, and Jane’s World).

Why did you pick the cover/issue you picked?: I’ve only ever seen covers of Wonder Woman from this site and I’m curious to see if it’s as sapphic as the covers advertise.

I sat down to read this issue of Wonder Woman with what I thought was open-minded curiosity. I didn’t know all that much about the character—other than she is a sometimes-Sapphic Amazon with super-human powers—and I wanted to learn about her world and her place within it. What kinds of villains does she face? What kind of hero is she? With no real preconceptions of Wonder Woman, my only expectation was that I’d develop a crush on yet another badass female character.

Sadly, no such crush developed. After a first reading, I didn’t find myself invested at all in the character. For one, Wonder Woman is annoyingly angst-ridden. Sure she trades her safety for that of a caravan of women, but her heroic reasons are muddled: she stays behind to uncover information about her personal history [ed. note: agree!].  And then there’s the fact that Wonder Woman constantly has to be bailed out of trouble. In one instance she is rescued; another obstacle simply vanishes; and a third is vanquished by pure luck.

The tortured hero certainly has its place in literature: look at the popularity of characters like Spider-Man and Xena. So why do Wonder Woman’s imperfections bother me so much?  After reading the comic book a second time, I have come to the conclusion that I was not as open-minded as I’d thought. You can’t be disappointed in something you have no expectations about. If something about Wonder Woman feels lacking to me, it must be because I had been anticipating something else.

The parts of the comic that do intrigue me are areas that I really didn’t know anything about. The setting, for instance: I love the idea of a modern world—one with guns and tanks and walkie- talkies—where people still believe in Greek gods and myths. I also enjoyed the skills that Wonder Woman does have: she is kick-ass with a sword and wins in hand-to-hand combat; and she has an under-used wry wit.

So what was it that I wanted that the comic book didn’t give me? Maybe it’s just this particular series that I don’t like. I found the dialogue to be clunky and dry, and I know that all comic books can’t be poorly written. And I suspect that each new writer creates a new iteration of the character; maybe a different version of Wonder Woman would have been able to pull off the heroics that I found lacking.

Or, maybe it’s the serial comic book format that bothers me. I’ve said I wanted Wonder Woman to be better. Perhaps I wanted her to solve all the problems at the end—something she obviously can’t do in 22 pages. (Particularly 22 pages where the plot is constantly interrupted by ads.) I’d probably appreciate more a collection of Wonder Woman issues: the whole arc in one book.

Or maybe I just wanted to have a crush.

In any case, really only one important question remains: what did I think of the costume? I suppose the black spandex pants and the poofy shrug are intended to make Wonder Woman look butch and edgy, but really, they just look ridiculous with her manicured red fingernails. I don’t see how her outfit is at all more practical than the old swimsuit look. The sword, though. That was pretty hot.

Kelly’s favorite panel?  Check it:

Ah...there's a bit of the old Wondy. I can almost block out some of the stuff I dislike...

Name: Jessica Kuiken

Book: Angel #37

Age: 37

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Occupation: Pilates Instructor trainee and Personal Assistant

Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels?: Absolutely none-unless Mad Magazine or those gum wrappers count.

Why did you pick the cover/issue you picked?: The covers seemed to indicate some dark content. I’m tired of reading happy things.  :)

I picked Angel because I used to watch Angel [ed. note: the television show] and thought that David Boreanaz was hot.  Not very scientific, but that’s me.  I have never read a comic, at least that I can recall, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Having nothing to really compare it to, I thought that the drawings were good and the colors conveyed the dark nature of the material.  There was some humor which I also enjoyed.  Beyond that, I didn’t understand it on the first read. The second read didn’t provide much clarity either. I suspect that because I don’t have the knowledge of the issues prior to this one, I was at a disadvantage, but perhaps I just don’t get the style. It is probably the latter, unfortunately.

Though I started to understand it a little bit more towards the end (and I do mean a little), I can’t say that I would pick up another issue. It was however an interesting exercise in trying something new.  Maybe I need to read something lighter or the first issue of this series…

It was fun…I wish I ‘got it’ more though.

Kelly’s favorite panel?  Check it:

Even being a vampire can't save you from medical forms Spike...it's a sad reality.

Name:  Keegan Xaví

Book: Madame Xanadu #29

Age: 34

Location: Minneapolis, MN

Occupation: Artist/ Youth Program Manager/ Community Organizer

Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels?: My exposure to comic books is limited although Batman: Arkham Asylum will always be one of my favorite books in general and I have used some of the illustrations from it as inspiration for collage work.

Why did you pick the cover/issue you picked?: I picked Madame Xanadu #27 as, in my experience, women with names that start with an ‘X’ tend to be pretty awesome ;)

I probably would have never picked up a comic book again in my life if Kelly hadn’t asked me to participate in this project.  When I was about 14 years old, I randomly picked up the Batman: Arkham Asylum graphic novel and was instantly entranced by the illustrations.  I flipped through it without actually reading the story for a long time and then once I did, I kept reading it over and over again – for years.  I didn’t read any other comic or graphic novel until a few years later when I was crazy about the animated version of Spawn and because I wanted the story to never end, I tried to get into the comic book version.  Didn’t happen.  I spent a few hours in the comic book store downtown, digging through dozens of unsorted bins full of different comics, but it seemed the vibrant covers never matched the boring illustrations inside.  And the stories were never satisfying, not deep enough.  So I gave up, moved on to karate movies and forgot about comics.

Then Madame Xanadu entered my life a couple days ago – wow!  As an artist, I respond strongly to excellent use of color.  The first thing I noticed about this Madame Xanadu comic was the deep, sensual color palette:  teal blue, yellow ochre earth tones, burgundy, orange, the sparing and respectful use of the color red.  Color is a major part of this story as the main character is called Blue and when she’s first introduced in the story, her whole page is monochromatic blue.  When she speaks her words are blue.  Little visual details like that had me hooked.  I felt the way I did when I first discovered Arkham Asylum – when it came in the mail, I pulled Madame Xanadu out of the plastic and opened it to the middle and browsed the pages in random order.  Then I flipped to the back, worked my way back to the front, and then went through each page back to the end, soaking up the visuals before I actually read the story.  Between the use of color and varying angles of perspective (ranging from the floor to the ceiling), each page was so visually well composed!  It was obvious a lot of time and care went into each frame and how each frame interacted with the other on the page.  Lots of subtle details.  I particularly liked when The Magus [ed. note: what Madame Xanadu is called for most of this issue] is doing a Tarot reading and the cards jut out from one frame into the next.  The actual detail on the Tarot cards was also pretty amazing.

[Spoilers]

So then I got into the story and that was the icing on the cake.  Since the title was Madame Xanadu, I figured that was Blue’s real name…until the end of the story.  In my experience with comics, most female characters are overtly sexual as they kick ass.  This character, however, looked as if Egon Schiele tried to draw Aeon Flux and came up with Blue – long, tortured and hungry.  She is definitely attractive, but even though she does have sex in the story, being sexual isn’t what motivates her.  Just a few pages in, I could see that Blue is a poignantly lonely character, bleak even, and WAY more than just a depressed junky anorexic supermodel.  Blue is not human. This comic had an emotional depth I wasn’t expecting and did a great job of creating mystery by showing who Blue was instead of actually telling.  What was Blue?  The embodiment of Sadness?  Addiction?  Depression?  Death Itself?  Definitely not human.  It was hard to tell, but intriguing nonetheless.  My only complaint is that Blue appears to be an immortal of some type, yet she dies so easy!  [ed. note: I totally agree] At the end when The Magus appears and confronts Blue, Blue sheds her disguise to reveal the true creature that she is and says “…there is nothing you or any other being on this earth can do to dispel me!” but then, the very next frame, The Magus says a few foreign words and throws some liquid in Blue’s face and that was a wrap for Blue.  Ms. Invincible was dead.  That was disappointing because you can determine how strong a character is by watching them fight and Blue didn’t have a lot of fight in her, immortal or not. So then I wondered, is The Magus the real Madame Xanadu?  [ed. note: yes!] Which makes me want to read the next episode.

My favorite two pages in the comic use the color red more than any other page in the story.  There’s a part when Blue goes on a “touching” spree and you realize just how much power she has in her teal-tipped fingers when everyone she touches tragically dies later on.  When I first read the spread I did it the old-fashioned way:  from top of left-hand page to bottom, then from top of right-hand page to bottom.  But after digesting the lethal meaning the right-hand side reveals, my eyes immediately went back to the top of the left-hand side of the page and took in the 2-page spread as a whole, with my eyes going from left to right as if both sides of the page were playing a tennis match.  I realized then that this is the joy of the comic book format – the ability to mix words and images in an order that don’t have to be linear like reading a regular book.  A comic book is a very tactile experience.  You can’t flip through pages of a website the way you can with a paper comic book you hold in both hands.

As an aside, I am super intrigued by the sneak preview of what I assume might be the next segment of this series (?) which is called The Green Woman [ed. note: because of this issue of MX I can see why Keegan would think that, but The Green Woman is an unrelated Vertigo book].  It appears to be illustrated by a totally different artist, but the style is still very edgy and cool.  Looks like totally different characters as well.  Only the reference to the color green this time instead of blue leads me to believe these two stories are related.

So would I read more comics if they were of the caliber of Madame Xanadu?  Hell yes!  The cover cost said $2.99 which I think is more than fair considering how much enjoyment I had reading (and re-reading) it.  The only thing is that I will most likely never go to a comic book shop as there are none conveniently located near where I live.  But I’m sure you can order them online and if so, I look forward to keeping up with Madame Xanadu [ed. note: unfortunately Keegan I have brought you an awesome book that has been canceled...but I'll see if I can find something else you might like].  Thank you, Kelly!

Kelly’s favorite panel?  Check it:

Very cool fashion-y posing, clothes, and exaggerated proportions, great fun!

Also, if you’re surprised I like this panel, I wrote a whole post about why on my panel of the week post on 1979 Semi-Finalist.

Name: Tara

Book: Star Spangled War Stories: Mademoiselle Marie #1

Age: 24

Location: New Jersey

Occupation: Retail lackey/cartoonist

Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels?: At a very young age I was an avid Peanuts fan (still am) and spent my Sundays reading the comics in the paper. By the time I got into middle school I discovered comics like Sailor Moon, Ranma ½ and Magic Knight Rayearth. Toward the end of high school I started getting into indie comics and as an artist I shed my manga style.  Since then I’ve had comics on the brain.

Why did you pick the cover/issue you picked?: I wanted to pick something that was either just starting or something that I had a bit of background knowledge in. I also wanted to focus on the last week of September since I was pretty much booked solid until then in terms of projects.

I chose Star-Spangled War Stories: Mademoiselle Marie based on the cover alone—since I have previous knowledge of the majority of the comics listed, I wanted to choose something that was completely new; something I had no preconceived notions about. In choosing something I knew little to nothing about, I also wanted to choose a one-shot or a first issue. Also, the possibility of a strong female lead was also a plus.

Well, I suppose I’ll just dive right into this. I’ll start with what I liked MOST about this comic: the cover. Brian Bolland did a wonderful job with the cover, I think it’s gorgeous and it’s really the reason I chose the comic to begin with. Unfortunately, the rest of the comic pales in comparison.

The artwork inside was just OK, some wonky anatomy here and there, passable, I suppose. Though, I did feel that most of the clothing in this issue looks too modern. It’s supposed to take place in 1944, so I feel like they could have a bit more fun with the design of the clothing rather than going with the cliché fishnets and combat boots. [ed. note: agreed, and didn't Marie's bellybutton showing through what looks to be a thick angora sweater drive you crazy? Drove me nuts!].

The colors weren’t bad and did their job of reflecting the dreary mood set by the story. I have to say the best art within the comic itself are the technical drawings: planes, trucks, and cars. Oh, and guns, I can’t draw guns to save my life, so I can appreciate a well crafted, or in this case, a well-drawn firearm.

Now, I’m afraid I found everything else about this comic utterly dreadful. Yes, utterly, not a word I use for every occasion but for this I felt it was warranted. I won’t use it again, I promise.

Anyway, the story was very weak, and had a fairly predictable twist, if one would call it a twist at all. The writing was even worse, which didn’t help matters much in regards to the story. It (the writing) seemed very stale, almost as if it was trying too hard to be funny, or serious, or FRENCH. I know, it takes place in France, you told me on the first page, you don’t need to prove it, I believe it! The whole comic was littered with simple phrases, some that I’m sure that you could find in a French book. (“Où est le fromage?) I’m surprised I didn’t see “La crayon est rouge” shoved in there somewhere [ed. note: haha! And I SO agree].

The flow of the story didn’t feel quite right to me either, it seemed as though it was rushed. It had a “this used to be 30 more pages but we had to condense it” kind of feeling to it. There seemed to be no transitions between scenes at all– at the end of one page she’s being hurled out of a truck, and the very next page she’s standing erect in front of dead guy.  It just didn’t work for me, at all.

Kelly’s favorite panel?  Check it:

Grim, but easily the best/only interesting panel in the whole book

My mom...circa a time when comics were 10 cents?

Name: Tamme (aka my mom)

Book: Valkyrie #1

Age: 60

Location: Salt Lake City (home of “the Greatest Snow on Earth)

Occupation: Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau, Convention Services Manager

Previous exposure to comics/graphic novels: Since the age of 10 I have been an avid reader and one of my favorite places to go is the library.  My earliest memory of comic books was in the 1950′s, standing in the corner of the Rexall Pharmacy perusing the likes of Little Lotta, Dot, and Richie Rich, occasionally buying a book for $.10 per book.  At the time I had no idea what an impact comics would have on my life.  In the 1990′s that impact became evident as my daughter, Kelly indoctrinated the whole family on the subject of comics.  We understood the import of last minute, emergency trips to the comic shop for a latest issue, as well as the critical nature of “bags and boards”.

Why did you pick the cover/issue you picked? While I was thrilled and honored to be included in this project, I really had no basis for making a choice, I prevailed upon Kelly to make the choice for me.  I know that Kelly felt that since this was a one shot I would not be behind as on the storyline.  Also, as this book would be available late in the month it would fit better into my schedule. [ed. note: I hated this book and was really bummed it was the one that I picked for my mother…proof I suppose that no matter how seasoned a reader you are, you never know what’s really lurking behind that cover]

KELLY: Why don’t you just start by telling me your overall impressions and thoughts…

TAMME: When my comic arrived, it was very slim, consisting of 33 pages, including 11 full page advertisements.  Most of the ads had a comic book look or slant to them, even if they were advertising milk.

The cover was very nicely drawn and colored.  The pages were very easy to follow in terms of the balloons.   For a novice, I thought that all the artwork was good.

Even though this was a one-shot, there were many references to people and places that were unfamiliar and several times it seems like they are drawing parallels to other characters, but they don’t follow through on that.  There is not much of a story line.  It felt like perhaps the writer was setting up a little bit of history to continue the story, apparently that is not the case, although the character, Valkyrie, will be featured in other story lines.

As a soap fan in years gone by, I totally get the pull of the serial drama and if I were following a particularly engrossing character or book I would understand the draw.

KELLY: You talk about the soap opera and serial dramas aspect of comics, which I personally believe to be really relevant (as a onetime soap watcher myself), though I’m sure many readers of comics would prefer to deny the connection, but what about the simple format of a comic?  Did that appeal to you or not?

TAMME: The format does not appeal to me.  The simple reason is that I like more words.  As you know I do not like to ever draw my own conclusions, feeling that it’s the authors responsibility.  If I have to choose between two books that I know I want to read, I will always defer to the longer of the two books. That being said, I hate long, descriptive paragraphs that have little to do with the story.

KELLY: In all the years that I was obsessed with comics while living at home, I never saw you have much interest in them beyond what they meant to me, which knowing how much you liked to read always surprised me, did you ever pick one up to read without my knowledge?

TAMME: No. I have actually thought about that question a lot this week.  It is surprising that in my memory I never did pick one up.  I doubt it is related, but one day I was reading a new copy of your Entertainment Weekly (which I was paying for); you came home from school and were distressed that I was bending the cover [ed. note: she’s totally right about this, I used to be super annoyed if people read something of “mine” first and "roughed it up"…in fact I still do to a less extreme degree…especially with my New Yorker that my boyfriend sometimes gets to first…I hate to think that’s something that perhaps partially kept my  mother away from comics though…bums me out quite frankly].  Another factor that I am sure played a part is that while I love to read, I am not that flexible about what I read.  I have never liked any science fiction, fantasy or westerns,

KELLY: I think that’s definitely a part of this, because while there are certainly tons of comics that don’t fit into science fiction, fantasy, and western, the reality is that the vast majority (or at least what I was reading then) skew in one of those directions and I could see how that would make comics even less appealing to you.  If I found a comic or graphic novel that I thought was geared more specifically to your tastes, do you think you would read it?

TAMME: I would certainly read something specific that you recommended.

KELLY: Well, in that case….if anyone could make a comic you’d be interested in…what would it be about, what would it look like?

TAMME: I guess it would be more real life – and outside of this type of genre.

KELLY: Okay…I’m going to look for something that I think might appeal to you…not to change your mind, as I think the truth is that comics just aren’t for some people, but just to show you that there’s other stuff out there.  When I was living at home I was reading superhero comics almost exclusively…and it was the early 90’s so some pretty bad ones at that…but there is other stuff out there that you might respond to…I consider myself on a mission.  Regardless thanks for doing this, I really appreciate it.

TAMME: Of course, anytime, thanks for the opportunity to touch your life in a different way.

Kelly’s favorite panel?  Check it:

Perhaps this appeals to me because I worked as a receptionist for far too long at one point, and often felt like jumping up on the desk and saying those exact words...kind of wish I had.

And that is it for this last installment of the first ever Ladies Comics Project.  Thanks to all the great ladies who participated, to Tara O’Connor for the beautiful illustration work that defined this project, and to all of you readers that were so positive and encouraging and offered such great feedback.  I never know with this column what’s going to incite rage and what’s going to incite praise (you’d think I’d be better at figuring that out nearly a year into this column, but alas no).  However, I was overwhelmed by the positive response to this series of columns – and surprised and impressed by the incredible reception this idea, and these ladies, received.  The response has definitely inspired me to begin work on a followup project, and I’ve already started getting volunteers, so hopefully over the next few months I’ll be bringing you a Ladies Comics Project Phase II.

So what did I learn?

Well, for starters I learned that very few ladies out there have zero exposure to comics.  It comes in all forms from Archie comics in the grocery store to Bob’s Big Boy comics to graphic novels loaned out by friends and 10 cent books at Rexall Pharmacy.

But for one reason or another these comics didn’t seem to hold onto them the way they did to me.  Why not?  Motivation?  Timing?  Personal Taste?  Access?  It might be an unknowable question, but I think there’s a definitive answer to whether ladies in general are interested in reading comics and would with more frequency if they were more easily available to them.  Of the 18* ladies that ended up participating about 33% felt compelled to seek out the story they were reading, and possibly more books beyond that.  Another 38% were interested enough that if books were more accessible (i.e. loaned, recommended, available digitally or at bookstores, or even just lying around) they admitted they would probably read them – and I would add, that gives us a chance to hook them on something great.  Only about 27% were unhappy enough with their books that they seemed disinclined to seek comics out more than before.  And of those ladies, most admitted that it was likely the specific book they read was not a good fit, more than dislike of the medium as a whole.

One thing that struck me, regardless of the results of the actual books that were read and the reaction to them, was just the enthusiasm with which this project was met.  The plain fact that over 85% of the women I asked to participate immediately (and excitedly) got on board for the project tells me that comics don’t have as bad a reputation as they once did with non-comics readers and that many women are open to them and interested.  I mean, we could chalk their interest in the project up to my charm…but I’m just not that charming.  And even if that was true initially (that I’m super charming), almost all the women I’ve solicited about a Phase II of the project have expressed interest.  You don’t get on board for Phase II of a time consuming project if you didn’t get something out of it and maybe enjoy it the first time around.

If I was a publisher or creator (at least one of which I hope to be) I would say that I’ve learned that there IS a large untapped market out there ready and waiting to be tapped.  It’s a market of women, who buy and read a lot of books and contrary to popular opinion are not opposed to reading comics, but just don’t really know that stuff is out there for them and that they’d maybe enjoy it – and in a lot of cases with mainstream stuff I’d say they’re right.  Much mainstream work is not marketed to them, and plenty of it I think they might find offensive, which could send them running.  But even if a book that they might really like already exists…how would they know, where would they come across the advertising (or hell, the actual book) in their daily lives without actively seeking it out?  They simply wouldn’t.  How do you know to look for something that you don’t know exists?  Are comic books like the Matrix?  Are people just supposed to intuit that they’re missing something and spend their lives wondering what and looking for the magic pill?  Seems like a gamble as a publisher.  Seems like you might want to invest time and money in getting you product advertised widely enough that people who aren’t already reading, might actually see it.  How do I know a new movie or new tv show is coming out?  I see commercials, billboards, ads in magazines on the internet…it’s widely advertised.  I know this is no cheap and easy answer, but solving problems is rarely cheap and easy, and cliches like “it takes money to make money” are cliches for a reason.

However, I can’t deny that judging from my little experiment a lot of women not already interested in superheroes are not only not interested, but actively put off by them.  I suspect, and maybe this is just my love of superheroes talking, but I suspect that that’s more pre-conception about superheroes and what they’re about, than the reality, but it’s evident in looking at the books women picked from my list that it’s true.  My list was roughly 70% superhero books, yet only 27% picked superhero titles, and of that only 11% picked a superhero book as a first choice.  I don’t know for sure where the pre-conception of superheroes comes from, but books bogged down in continuity, with stories impossible to jump onto is a reality that’s not helping us.  There was certainly a time in my life that I reveled in continuity and being able to geek out over the massive knowledge I had of a character or book’s history, but for me at least, that time has long passed.  I don’t have the time or energy for that kind of devotion to continuity, and frankly, I’ve been burned so many times by retcons and reboots that I’m not sure why I’d want to devote time to it even if I could.

As far as I’m concerned, the path is clear.  Comics and Graphic novels are still going through a “cool” phase where it’s easy to get people to try it out…and if you give them great stories and beautiful pictures, amazing characters that they can easily jump on board with and put the books in places easy to find (be that mainstream bookstores or digitally, or both) a lot of new readers are out there, ready to give their dollars.  But they’re not going to seek us out…we have to go after them…c’mon…let’s go after them!

*I didn’t include the adorable Grace from LCP #2 in my stats, as she’s already actively reading and buying, and thus needs no convincing!

***FYI – She Has No Head! is actively accepting review copies of “female positive comics and graphic novels” for future columns.  Please get in touch via email (using the CSBG “contact us” button above) to discuss.***

27 Comments

[...] Please head over to SHNH to check out the final installment of the wildly successful Ladies Comics Project! [...]

Great. I can’t wait for phase II. I have some suggestions if you need them.

Also, Keegan is not the only person in the history of mankind who has experience with only one comic, but she is the only person of whose one comic is Batman: Arkham Asylum. So random.

I read all three articles, and it was a fascinating experiment. I definitely think access is the #1 issue of why more women don’t read comics. The majority of comic shops are destination stores, which (for those who don’t know retail terms) means one needs to make a conscious choice to visit. If creators want their stories to be read/seen, they need to think outside the box and broaden their distribution. When I was younger I got to read comics in the waiting area of my barber shop (where I drop off the occasional stack from time to time), dentist, doctor, and optometrist. Perhaps local initiatives to get interesting titles into the same area of businesses frequented by women would help, say: spas, hair salons, YWCA’s, etc… Every little bit would help expand the readership and hobby as a whole.

Thanks for a great series, and providing links for further reading.

I love your experiment, and am very surprised by your positive results. I think you’re right that most people simply don’t know comics exist and are something they might like.

If I ever wanted to get somebody hooked on comics who wasn’t already familiar with them, I think the “Beasts of Burden” mini from last year would be the way to go. Cute dogs and cats, no continuity, and absolutely devastating emotional punch.

Great work, as always. It was a bold (and brave) move bringing your mother to the party.

My three take-aways from the first two installments turned up in the third as well:
1. Covers are great ads for a comic, but changing artists (and especially styles) for the interiors is alienating.
2. Sexuality motivated by plot and/or character is fine (and even welcome), but unmotivated objectification is offensive.
3. The serial nature of the medium is not a major issue, but it is not an excuse for lazy story-telling. The basic set-up needs to be clear and familiar enough that a 22-page comic is neither impenetrable, nor taken over by exposition.

Therefore, it is hard to disagree with your conclusion that comics are running too hard after a small audience at the expense of a lager potential one. Even just the 11% of “superhero curious” women in your survey is a big number when contrasted with the existing hobbyist base. Add the potential of bringing in uninitiated men with a broader audience product and there is the real potential to expand the comics audience substantially.

That is before even considering diversifying the genres published and opening the potential audience further.

I agree about Mademoiselle Marie. The character has potential (and some fun classics from the 60s) but that was just an awful read from top to bottom.
Good to see somebody checked out Casanova. That’s one comic I think many people from either gender could easily enjoy.

This was a fun series of articles, Kelly.

Chiming in on the Madame Xanadu panel – of course it’s all about context. The pose also reflects the elongated style of fashion art – and considering that we don’t see both of her boobs as well as her ass, I don’t see this as anything approaching the unrealistic “broken back” syndrome. (I’m sorry to see the series go, I’ve enjoyed the character since her debut in ’77 or ’78 in the short-lived Doorway To Nightmare and the 1981 Madame Xanadu 1-shot. Hopefully DC will collect the rest of the current series in trade so I can read it.)

We’ve gotten so used to the convention of having different artists on covers that most of us have forgotten (or gloss over) how annoying it can be, whether the cover is better, worse or complimentary to the interior art. For instance, While I appreciate Dave McKean’s work and Neil Gaiman’s joy of working with his friend, and though he did create some stunning visuals in his Sandman covers, they did not always work well with the interior art.

On the other hand, whenever a book is “graced” by the – for want of a better term – “Image” style though the interior art is good, I almost want to rip the covers off. It seems that it’s mostly the mainstream super-heroes that have continuity of cover/interior art (Superman, Batwoman) and the more experimental and “special” books play with the higher-quality-art covers.

Is that a misconception on my part? I admit I don’t often pick up monthly titles, and there are instances where I appreciate the compliment of differing styles between cover and story art (e.g., the aforementioned Sandman, Astro City, Fables).

A hearty thank you to all of the ladies who participated in your project, I hope we hear from them again in part II. (And a thank you to Kelly’s mom for Kelly.)

Poor Keegan, going from Arkham Asylum to Spawn. I just want to take her younger self and redirect her to Sandman. “See the covers are done by Dave Mckean, who did the art for Arkham Asylum. The interiors are done by others. Different styles, but generally high quality. Oh, here’s the cat issue. Here’s Death’s fist appearance. Here’s Ramadan. Go nuts.”

Actually, I’d still recommend that to her, but I’d redirect to the trades. Brief Lives is a good one to try out if a reader will like it.

I loved this project so much. It really gave a lot of insight into ways that the industry could (I don’t necessarily want to say cater…) appeal to women. There’s a lot of shining hope out there, and it’s the little projects like these that can help lead to big and hopefully fruitful changes.

one of the biggest things that struck me while reading this is that most of the reasons why these ladies haven’t taken up reading comics on a regular basis are the same as the reasons why guys i know haven’t taken them up. the only difference is the 1. reputation of female characters in comics, and 2. lack of strong female presentation. but otherwise, the reasons are almost identical. i think that’s a significant revelation for the comics community because so much mindshare is spent on the idea of comics mostly appealing to guys and barely to women, and as a collectors hobby i think that’s somewhat (though not very) true. however, as a medium that’s definitely not even close to true. but somehow the reputation still exists and i think this project is great proof that the reputation is almost self-imposed by the comics community.

and on the flip, but still gender related, i read comics on my way to and from my day job on the bus. a couple times a week, if i’m reading something with superheroes on the front, a little boy will see the cover and start making explosion noises or talking about the character he likes. only once in the past three years can i remember a little girl saying anything about a comic i was reading. what is it culturally that discourages young girls and encourages young boys when it comes to fantasy and action? i mean, it could just be that little boys like the crazy colors and fights and whatever. or at least have a slight tendency. but i don’t think that covers the phenomenon enough to say that’s the reason. i think there’s a lot more to it, and not having any kids myself, i don’t really know how to start answering that question.

I really wish that I could point Keegan in the direction of the rest of Dave McKean’s work – Signal to Noise, Violent Cases, Cages. If she’s that intrigued by a book that the artist really wishes he hadn’t done, imagine how much she’d get from works that he was really dedicated to.

Ms. Xaví definitely needs to find other McKean work. (Has she seen his film, MirrorMask?)

I’ve been thinking about another aspect brought up in this… the impetus to follow a periodical story. I think this is something that’s cultivated in most comics readers when we’re young; it’s something to look forward to every week/month/bi-month that develops into another pattern that we either accept or ignore (like the different cover artists), that people have a harder time embracing when we’re all grown up and have bills, jobs and other distractions pulling at us from the “real world”.

Depending on how deep we get into our collecting, it’s almost our job to keep track of what we have, what we need, what we’re searching for. People follow TV series because it comes to them in their homes; comics you have to seek out (unless you subscribe or have a delivery service like Westfield Comics.

This has been immensely fascinating to read. Thank you so much for doing this, and I look forward to Phase II. (maybe trying them on graphic novels instead?)

Okay, it’s the Internet and I hate to be “that guy” but I’m gonna go ahead and be “that guy”.

Why we were we favored with KELLY’S favorite panels and not those of the ladies in question? Also, there’s an awful lot of KELLY’S thoughts in these pieces and her reactions to what the panelists had to say. An interesting experiment and one I’d like to see continue but seriously, go back and count the “I”‘s in there. There’s a whole bunch of ‘em.

@ Nick Marino – yeah, little boys usally comment on super-hero books. But just last week, I saw a teenage-ish girl (woman?) reading a graphic novel on the subway. (Had no idea what it was but it looked magical-ly or something.) I didn’t bother her because a) I didn’t want her to think I was a creep and b) ain’t none of my business what people read on the subway.

I stumbled upon this little experiment with the last installment. Very interesting results. You should recommend Strangers in Paradise to your mother (and everyone else.) She could read the pocket books as 6 “novels” of one complete story. The characters are wonderful, the journey is great, and the stories are entertaining. Katchoo is my favorite comicbook character of all time, and Terry Moore’s art is always a pleaser to see.

I also think the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen trades are a great recommendation for avid book readers.

Okay, it’s the Internet and I hate to be “that guy” but I’m gonna go ahead and be “that guy”.

Yours is a heavy burden.

“I’ve been thinking about another aspect brought up in this… the impetus to follow a periodical story.”

Keith, that’s something that I’ve been wondering about lately. I find that my own “impetus” is significantly reduced (hmm, maybe I should rephrase that — nah, let’s press on). Recently I cleaned out and disposed of a lot of comics, and I was startled by the number of times I a) did not finish a miniseries or regular series and b) had missing issues in a run. The reason I was startled was that I never even NOTICED.

I contrast this to my teen years, when I couldn’t wait for the next issues of titles. Part of it’s me, I’m sure — comics are a much smaller part of my life now than then — but part of it is the actual comics. There’s bad storytelling, to be sure, but decompression makes it easy to miss issues and not notice. And I’ve also realized that (and I’m paraphrasing another comment from somewhere here) even though my disposable income is the highest it’s ever been, I’m buying less comics than I ever have.

I’m not sure what that means, or even why it’s happened, but it really can’t be good for publishers. Maybe someone should try a Mens Comics Project.

Thanks for all the great feedback everyone.

I can assure those of you dying for Xavi to get some further Dave McKean exposure, that I will do my best. As a collage artist I’m sure she would really respond to his work, perhaps I’ll send her Cages sometime in the future when my finances are not so pained.

Phase II of the experiment is definitely going to be graphic novels/trades and I’ve already started the research and reached out to some of the ladies and gotten a lot of interest. I’ve also already started to get excited about the idea that some of of these ladies might fall in love with some of my favorite graphic novels from over the years…or even just have that moment of falling in love with comics in general. I’d take either of course. :0 Fingers crossed!

Expect a follow up to this piece, probably called Ladies Comics Project Phase II in the new year sometime.

This has been such a great series, Kelly. Thank you once again for doing it. I only hope publishers see the potential readership/revenue that awaits them if they would put a focus on getting comics into the hands of female readers. The comment your mom made (and you) about soaps is one I’ve heard before. Complex, serialized stories with lots of characters are nothing for folks who grew up watching The Young and the Restless. I also appreciated hearing a non-comic, non Wonder Woman reader’s take on the current storyline. It confirms my fear that by trying to widen the appeal of Wonder Woman they’ve taken away what made her special. I keep hoping that JMS can pull this reboot off.

@Patrick:

Well Patrick…I’m not sure you’ve really stopped to consider how your suggestions might practically work regarding this project, but the simple reason you’re getting “my favorite panel” instead of the ladies favorite panel is because using the ladies favorite panel would have:

A) Added another whole layer of emails (on top of the 437 it already took to get this much done).

B) It would have required either buying two copies of each of these issues (something I can ill afford, I don’t know what YOUR checking account looks like) OR

C) Asking the ladies to return the issues to me (again, on my dime) OR

D) Asking them to scan their pages (not something everyone is willing to do, or capable of).

As is, I had to read the issue and scan my “favorite panel” before mailing, since I would not be getting the issues back. Because I was prevailing upon these ladies to take time out of their busy lives to participate I wanted to make everything as simple, streamlined, and pain free as possible. Asking them to return issues or scan things themselves did not seem like a realistic expectation.

As for buying two issues of everything…if you don’t count the cost of the comics that I gave away (over $60 worth) then I spent $75 out of my own pocket on this project on mailings etc. (including a snafu tracking down Valkyrie)…and while it was completely worthwhile and I’d do it again (and am planning to do it again and with additional costs) you’re asking me to go out of pocket for close to $150, for a column I don’t get paid to write, so that you can have less of ME in MY column?

Yeah, I’m not going out of my way anytime soon to do that, but thanks for playing.

Also, you’ve been “that guy” on my column before, so let’s not try to pretend this is your first day trying on THAT hat.

[...] Ladies Comic Project, Part 3.  Great stuff. [...]

This was great, and I think your conclusion – that there’s a huge market here ready and willing to buy the product, but who’ll never run across it the way it’s marketed now – is spot on.

You ask how women are supposed to discover that comics they might like even exist. I have some anecdotal data for you, though obviously it’s not a prescription for how women *should* find out about comics, and wouldn’t be the only way. I got into comics via internet fandom. I was into some TV shows, and found while hanging about on message boards for those that others who shared my tastes also liked certain comics. I got the chance to read about those books online, so that for that first nervewracking trip into the comic book shop I at least knew vaguely what I was talking about. I know that internet fandom has a problematic relationship to the industry, but I really think that the fans are doing the marketing departments’ work for them in some areas.

I have really enjoyed reading this series and I’ve been looking forward to each installment, so now you can put me down on the list of those eagerly awaiting the continuation with graphic novels, tp’s, etc.

The effort that you put into it, with all the mail and email coming and going, buying the comics, sending the comics, etc, really shows in the final product, which is enriched by the viewpoints of people living pretty far apart, this adds a bit more than if you only were doing it with acquaintances in a close, driving range.

All the comments regarding willingness to buy more comics but without the effort that it currently entails should certainly turn some heads in the marketing departments, and leave material to be analyzed. Maybe the steady growth of the digital movement (the term sounds more revolutionary than I intend) will change this for the consumer segment more inclined to get things online, which is also growing, but there are more things that could be tried with some real effort and push, and it’s not being done (from what I read, I don’t live in the US and in my country, Argentina, the comic book industry was huge from 50-80s and then slowly but surely almost completely dissapeared, to the point that it’s almost obscure now).

To sum up, these have been some great, interesting articles, and the least interesting parts were because of some (very few) reviewers, which hadn’t much to say.

Pardon the grammatical errors and strange choices for words and expressions, english is not my native tongue.

@ Kelly – Oh. I hadn’t considered the economics of it, I just thought “Hey, if she’s asking first-time readers to read comics and give their opinions, then why is she not highlighting THEIR favorite panels?” Believe me, my checking account looks like one of those old-time cartoon wallets with nothing but moths flitting around it. So it’s perfectly understandable and I apologize for any ill-feeling I may have engendered. (See what I did there?) Also, I hadn’t considered the scanning equation. (I thought these things were made by magic or something. “A wizard did it” and like that.) I also didn’t realize you don’t get paid to write this column. In addition, I wondered why you gave your mom a crappy comic to read instead of something, y’know, good. She IS your mom, after all. I wouldn’t make my worst enemy read “Valkyrie”.

Since I did play but didn’t win, will I be receiving a home version of the game? (Probably not, he said, answering his own question.) Oh well. Also, I look terrible in a hat. Might I have a helmet instead?

@ Laura – I think fandom, such as it is, can be useful in guiding new readers and “casual” fans into things they might like. I also think there is a huge potential to scare new readers away. I’d send people to Whitechapel, Warren Ellis’ site, as there’s a wide range of discussion of many things, not just comics (music, films, cool stuff and the like) and Ellis hates it when things get too fanboy-wankery. There are a number of “How Do I get In On Comics Fandom?” and “What’s Good To Read?” threads there.

“was WAY into a (probably totally cheesy in retrospect) series called Psi-Force”

Yeah Psi-Force!!!!! Loved that book, except for the last few issues.

I don’t think this was mentioned, but just a few decades ago there were comics for girls, specifically marketed towards girls and women. After 1980 or so the major publishers pretty much dropped comics aimed at girls. I know marvel had that Barbie comic until 1990 or whatever, but in the 1940′s-60′s there were a dozen or more comics just for girls. Jack Kirby himself was drawing a few back in the day.

And in Japan girls still have dozens and dozens of comics to choose from, aimed at them specifically. It’s a big business!

Comics in America has become a boys thing, and if we really want to get out of this sales slump we are in currently we need to quit making comics solely for the 30 something white male. That dude is lame, forget him.

Publishers are getting wiser to the burgeoning kids audience, with more and more kids comics being born. Let’s hope the next step is making comics for girls/women too.

I think the best way to get people into comics is obviously through using graphic novel collections. At least you know you’ll be getting a complete story in one go (even if it is a smaller arc of a larger story).

I started buying GN’s like Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen and Preacher and never imagined I’d be sucked into the monthly comic-buying thing. When I got to know which writers I liked I realised they had monthly material on the shelves and I slowly but surely ended up getting sucked in.

But you know I don’t think I would miss monthly comics all that much in all honesty if I knew I would get an average of 2 GN’s a year of a series or something. Most superhero stuff in particular is, as you say in the column, soap opera stuff. Most blokes might not want to admit it but that’s what it is. You end up getting sucked in to a character’s storyline and follow them for years on end. And sometimes even though you’re not even enjoying them you just stick with them out of habit like people half-watching soap operas as they eat their dinner or have a conversation on the phone.

And obviously the internet is a great way to reach new readers too. I just wish the companies would wise up to this.

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