What Women Want
Letís face it, men are hopelessly confused when it comes to women. I for one have many healthy relationships in my life with the opposite sex: a loving girlfriend, a great sister, and many female friends, and yet I do not claim to fully understand the female mind.
As a guy I find that the more I open my ears to womenís views on a variety of subjects, the more I learn about them and about myself. So what better subject to act as a bridge between the sexes? Why comic books of course!
Comic companies are ever so desperate to tackle the ďfemale readership marketĒ (note the inherent sexism in that remark Ė like as if one element will appeal to women across the board not accounting for age, taste, ethnicity, etc. I mean donít men like different genres? Why not women?), but what they have rarely done is ask current female readers what they are enjoying and what turns them off this little hobby of ours.
So EICís and fanboys take note: I have interviewed 3 great women (Lauren Dayap, Linda Burns, and Melissa Ashton) of various ages, interests, and locations who post on various comic book related message boards (Millarworld and www.imwan.com) and they graciously took the time to shed some light on the world of comics from their perspective.
Do they want more men in tight spandex? More romance comics? More bad girl comics? Leave your assumptions at the door, and read on, you may be surprisedÖ
JV: Give us some general info about yourself: location, age group, occupation, location, etc..
I'm originally from and reside in Mahwah, NJ, which is about 45 minutes north of NYC. I've lived in Mahwah for 24 years, but left when I went to college in Philadelphia at Drexel University where I majored in Dramatic Writing (study of screenwriting). Sophomore year I switched to Corporate Communications since I felt it suited me more than Dramatic Writing because I wrote for my school paper and was Newsletter Editor in a student organization I was in. Graduated December 2002 from Drexel, moved back home and worked various temporary jobs until September 2003. I work in the Research Dept. of a PR service company in NYC. Itís going well so far...
Iím a Librarian, 45, living in the Tampa Bay area.
Ok, my nameís Melissa Ashton, Iím 23, Iím a professional computer nerd and I live in Canberra, which for those who donít know is the capital of Australia. And no, Iím not the athlete of the same name.
JV: What comics do you read? Any old favorites? Creators you follow? What are you looking forward to in 2005?
Comics I am currently reading are Daredevil, The Punisher, Superman/Batman, Superman, Fallen Angel, The Pulse, The Question, Bite Club (although haven't kept up with it well), Catwoman: When in Rome, Supreme Power and Madrox. My old favorites are Wanted, Chosen, Identity Crisis, The Punisher Essentials, The Punisher War Journals, and War Zone (my brother's old Punisher comics), Superman for All Seasons, Preacher, Sin City: That Yellow Bastard, Sin City: The Big Fat Kill, Batman: The Long Halloween, Fantastic 4 Essentials, Superman: Birthright, Hulk: Gray.
The creators and/or writers I try to keep up with/follow are Mark Millar, Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale (I think they make a fantastic team), Brian Bendis, Alex Maleev, Peter David, Frank Miller (I'm very curious in reading his Batman: Year One), Jim Lee, Michael Turner. For 2005, I'm really looking forward to the Jim Lee/Frank Miller collaborating for Batman and Robin and whatever Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale do.
My tastes are fairly old school, so I tend to gravitate to stuff by Byrne, Busiek, Jurgens, Stern, Simonson, and Ordway. Creators of that stripe. Geoff Johns, Will Pfeifer and Dan Slott are recent favorites. Basically, anyone who can manage an intelligent and contemporary spin on the classic (Silver Age) motif without relying on deconstruction or "irony". If these people get lots of work in 2005 then it will be a good comic year for me. I don't really care what series or "big events" are published as long as the stories are engaging and the characters are done properly.
I read far too many. Monthly I think I pick up something like 30 titles. Probably my top ten (the ones I rush to read first) would be Avengers (I refuse to call it the New Avengers. Trust me,that title wonít last. In a year or two itíll be back to normal again), JLA, Doom Patrol, Supreme Power, Birds of Prey, the Ultimates, the Authority, Action Comics, Justice League Elite and Exiles.
I follow very few creators, and usually artists more than writers. There are some creators whose stuff I always get, and these include John Byrne, George Perez, Jim Lee and Chris Bachalo (yep, all artists). Another artist who is threatening to make this list is Ethan Van Sciver. Heís been doing some excellent work lately and Iím starting to keep an eye out for what he is working on. Writers who I quite like (and generally get most of their stuff) include Kurt Busiek, Gail Simone, Jeph Loeb and Geoff Johns.
JV: Is your reading character, creator or genre driven?
Well I most likely would have to say genre and plot driven with creator and character behind. Actually, it dependsÖwith certain comics, the thing that most appeals to me would be the genre and plot (i.e. Identity Crisis)...when I first read the ad in the back of a DC Comic, I was quite curious about it since it mentioned how everyone in the DCU will suffer a great tragedy.
It is purely creator driven at this point. My days of following specific characters are long gone. Let's face it, all the best stories featuring the classic DC and Marvel characters have already been done and will never be topped, so the incentive to purchase yet another hundred issues of "The Remarkable Whateverman" is going to come down to the talent behind it. It also keeps things fresher for me, checking out characters I hadn't paid much mind to beforehand, just because a specific writer is doing them.
Itís definitely genre. I read very little outside Superhero fare (Rex Mundi is the only non-superhero title I can think of off the top of my head that I get). Thereís just something about four-color heroes doing good and righting wrongs that I like Ė itís so different to real life, where usually the bad guys win all the time, right in front of our eyes, and they've subverted society to the point where we, or at least the media, cheer them for it.
After that, I probably gravitate towards characters. For example, Iíll always buy The Avengers. I donít think I can explain it in a way that makes sense, but Iíve basically known these guys all my life and I donít feel I can turn my back on them, no matter how Bendis it gets. Sorry, Freudian slip. I meant how bad it gets.
After that, there are the creators I mentioned above. I always get their stuff.
JV: How did you start reading comics? What hooked you? and what age?
I just started getting into comics really hardcore like around summer
2003, because of the show, Smallville. Yea, I know it sounds weird but from watching the second season and seeing online discussions about the show, whether or not they discussed Jor-El, Eradicator, etc. I became quite interested in reading the current Superman comics (Action Comics, Superman: Birthright, Superman/Batman, Superman for All Seasons, Superman) and from there it all just snowballed.
I got into The Punisher next, yea talk about two oppositesÖWhat I liked about The Punisher was the rawness in the story of him. But on some level before Smallville came on, I did like comics on some level whenever a comic book-based film got released like when Batman (1989) and/or Batman Forever came out. I seem to recall I did buy a Spider-Man comic book when I was really bored on vacation in Maine. I've liked them on some level when I was 9 through up but just last year, I got into it really hardcore by reading of various authors, artists and characters.
Oh, I remember this vividly. I was 6 years old. It was the day after I'd seen the Batman TV series premiere on ABC, in January 1966 ~ I was shopping with my mother in the local "stationery store" (do stores like that exist anymore?), and I noticed a wall-full of superhero comic books which I guess had always been there, but had never captured my attention before.
Following up on my newfound Batman interest, I picked out a copy of The Brave And The Bold with Batman fighting Eclipso. Loved it. LOVED it. Soon enough I was buying all the Bat titles, which spawned an interest in DC's other books, then Marvel, and so on and so forth. And hear I am nearly 40 years later, still reading the damn things! :-)
My father worked as a printer when I was little and one of the regular jobs he worked on was black and white reprints of DC comics, sold in Australia in a quarterly compilation under some imprint which I canít remember. He used to bring a bunch of these home and I devoured them, and Iíve loved comics ever since.
The first Ďproperí comics I discovered were John Byrneís Man of Steel series. After a steady diet of black and white reprints of Curt Swan, Gil Kane, Neal Adams and Dick Giordano, this blew my mind. Iíve been a Byrne fan ever since.
JV: How do others view your hobby? Boyfriends, husbands, peers, etc?
My friend's fiance and I talk about comics whenever we hang out because heís a collector so that is pretty cool. I found another comic book fan at work, which suffice to say he's hardcore collector for years and I've talked and asked him questions about certain comics. He was also nice enough to lend me his Fantastic 4 and Spider-Man Essentials. I don't think my friends think anything less of me, maybe they're surprised I've gotten into it.
Well, my (ex) husband was a bigger comic geek than me, so that aspect of the relationship didn't present a problem. (Some friendly advice for your readers ~ a shared interest in comics isn't necessarily enough to build a lasting relationship out of. Trust me on this!)
As far as my colleagues' reactions over the years, I don't think they really understand. They seem to process my love of comics as part of a larger juvenile fiction interest that "librarians are supposed to have", if you see what I mean. So they don't subject me to any grief for it, but I don't believe they quite "get it" either.
I think my parents affectionately indulge my little bit of childishness, plus my father started it all, so he probably likes that itís something that resonated with me so much and that Iíve stuck with.
Never had any boyfriends (Iím not that sort of girl) but there was only one girlfriend who ever had a problem with it (and she didnít last long!) Mostly Iíve found it to just be accepted as part of me, although sometimes with a little smile.
I donít know how it is for other women who read comics. Most of the straight women I know seem to be more concerned with more important ďlifeĒ things than I am, and almost none of them have hobbies. I only know a handful of girls who read comics.
JV: As a woman do you identify with any characters? Is it hard to in a field that has been described as a venue for male power fantasies? Do you find that there are stereotypes? Misogyny? What bothers you in comics?
Hmmm, maybe a tiny bit of Peter Parker because of the fact he didn't quite fit in well at high school and I sort of felt like that too.
As a child, Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) ~ so much so that I chose the library as a career. Today, not really. Once in a while a particular scene, or a particular character's behavior or dialogue, might resonate a bit more strongly with me. But generally speaking, the way most women are portrayed in contemporary comics is neither flattering nor realistic, and there isn't much on offer that I'd *want* to identify with. :-(