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Why Women in Webcomics Should Not Be An Issue by Ping Teo

Well, it's that time "The Women Issue" for Comixpedia.

I suppose I should be all excited about this. I mean, hey... I'm female, I make comics. I'm fairly vocal and campaign for a more realistic portrayal of women in comics and all that, and sometimes I'm tempted to do a comic where the females run around rescuing the hapless (but mighty fine-looking) men all the time just to show how odd it looks from a reversed perspective.

Oh wait... I almost do one like that already.... ;)

Back to the topic, I suspect most people might think I'd joyfully take this topic as the cue for me to expound on the injustice of the male-dominated comics world and how good it is to see that women are taking an active part in comics and all that and thank you webcomics for making that happen and soon we will invade the print comics world with our collective uteri.

Well... No. I'm not.

I'm proud of my being a webcomics creator. I'm also proud of being female.

I am, however, not that thrilled at being referred to, or even 'classified' as a 'female' comics creator.

Because I don't really see what being female has to do with my being a webcomics creator at all.

Now keep in mind we are talking about webcomics. If we were talking about the print industry then this would be an entirely different discussion due to inherent bias. But we're not. This is the Internet. Unlike the predecessors of webcomics, the gender of a creator no longer restricts a creator from making comics. In the same vein, there is freedom in webcomics to cater to every kind of audience, including content that might appeal more to women than men.

The very same freedom that allows a creator to bang out four-letter words, include graphical sex scenes, and make a comic about whatever they bloody well like also allows whoever they bloody well are to make a comic.

And thus the virtue of being female stops being something special and becomes the norm. That's one reason why I don't really see the point of making it an issue, because it seems that it has become an obsolete one.

Now, I'm not saying that we should all get prescriptions for gender-blindness and there is absolutely no difference between the genders. I am not saying that the men and women are all the same. It should be obvious to all (I hope) that men and women are intrinsically different, and our genders will invariably have an influence on who we are.

But the main question is: do those gender differences really have any direct influence on actual content of the comics we produce?

At first glance you might be tempted to say yes. Comics by women are less likely to feature the usual big-boobed big-assed heroines and more likely to have strong non-stereotyped female characters, some might say. They're more likely to deal with a set of type of themes more than others.

But note that I used the adjective "more likely". The reason: the gender of the creator alone does not guarantee the existence of a certain kind of content. The influence can be disregarded. It might be weak or not even exist in some cases.

Male creators can still produce stories focusing on relationships between characters. Female creators can still produce stories full of fighting, violence, action and sexy babes.

In short, the only thing that can be a guaranteed indicator of the content is the comic itself.

Therefore the gender of the creator becomes irrelevant when it comes to the issue of comics. We should be focusing on the attributes of the comic produced, not on the person who produces it.

Now I honestly believe every comic creator should create comics that they themselves would like to read. I believe that they should be honest in their work and cater only to themselves. But just because it was meant for their selves does not mean that only people like them will like it.

Would female creators featured in this issue of Comixpedia have been overlooked otherwise if they hadn't born with a pair of ovaries? Is there going to be another issue of Comixpedia dealing with "The Men Issue"? Is there really a point in groupings of work based on genders?

In my humble opinion, the grouping and tagging something by gender is something that shouldn't even exist in webcomics (or in comics at all). Creators should be valued based on the value of the work they do, not what they are. The distinction of creators based on the criteria of being "female," or the target audience as "female-friendly" has too many harmful implications.

It implies that female creators are some sort of anomaly that has to be separated from the masses of (presumably male) webcomic creators because we are so special.

It implies that women readers only read comics done by women because only women know what women want.

But that's not true. Ovaries or not, we're individuals, goddamnit!

Women's tastes are as varied as men's, and every bit as unpredictable. It should be those individual tastes and elements that are targeted, not the generalized gender criteria, because I don't think such criteria exist in the first place.

Like it or not, this distinction might actually be recreating the gender division that we've been trying so hard to bring down in the first place.

I do not think the webcomics world needs this kind of segregation. I do not think it needs more women creators.

It just needs more good creators, period.

To quote Maritza Campos, who does a far better job of summarizing the point:

Speaking as a reader, I never notice or classify the authors I like based on the gender. As an author, I think the distinction, or division if you like, hurts more than helps about the lack of female audiences/authors. We should work towards a comics culture that erases the gender divisions instead of emphasizing them.

To be realistic, we can't make an ideal world where everyone is equal, gender or not. But the very least we can do is understand why, or if at all, gender is important in a single context, and whether it really is an issue in that same context.

With the freedom and anonymity of the internet, I think for webcomics at least, women creators and women creations are no longer issues.

So chalk one up for webcomics.

Note: Many thanks to Barb and Park Cooper, Maritza Campos, Lisa Jonte, Amber 'Glych' Greenlee and Gary Chaloner for their input!

A product of the webcomics generation, Ping Teo makes, blogs, discusses, supports and mocks (bad) webcomics.

She has far too many projects, including her two and a third webcomics: Graphic Smash's The Jaded, The Longest Sojourn and the infamous How Not To Run a Comic.

Re: Why Women in Webcomics Should Not Be An Issue by Ping Teo

On the subject of there being fewer female webcomic artists than male, a great deal of women never really get into any artistic field. Of course, that might just be my frame of reference, considering where I come from (not near any major cities).

I think though, with the popularity of Manga, and there being tons of titles for all frames of reference, easily availiable at most bookstores... It's gotten many young female artists into the realm of making comics.

I know when I was little, I really didn't get into comics much. I probably did read them more than the average girl, but I never picked up a superhero comic, outside TNMT. (and I was obsessed with them too) But here I am, doing comics, because I like writing stories, creating characters, and drawing... while most other women my age are a few years into their nursing/teaching/whatever career. It's sad that it's been several decades and most women still go for the same old careers. :/

At any rate, I see a lot more women doing full blown, multi-chapter/issue stories than men. I think out of all the webcomics I personally read, there's about 4 of them that are made by males... and two of them are made by close offline friends of mine. :P (And those two are actually strips, or strip-like.)

I also get a lot of odd reactions in my everyday life when I mention that I make comics. I also have a hard time explaining what mine is about... o_O; Oh well.

I think I've rambled enough.

Re: Why Women in Webcomics Should Not Be An Issue by Ping Teo

'''Dark Lord Farley''' is a very popular webcomic. It is about a student named Farley Daniel in the Dark Palace of Spamlords. The strip centers around his obsession with internet spamming. It began running in 1998, and continues to run despite having jumped the shark.

== Characters ==

===Dark Palace===

'''Dark Lord Farley''': A grade-A student at the spam academy, moved to Danbury, North Carolina's own Dark Palace, where he attended spam courses. He is portrayed as a real go-getter, and his friend is Peter Blackthorn.

'''Dark Lord Peter''': Farley's friend, likes to goof off on the job by playing Myst, which is a great game. Both he and Farley laugh at the poor. Did I mention he was Old English?

'''Dark Lord Erica''': Resident goth girl, Erica dosen't care about anything. Although she claims to be an individual, she is a cliche of goths everywhere. She has an unrequited love for Farley.

'''Dark Lord Herbert''': The pet duck, who often provides the company with idiotic flatulence humor.

'''Headmaster''': Buffoonish, gray-cloaked wizard. Owns the palace and governs it very [[incompetently]]. He is a brother to Hgil.

'''Hgil''': Truly evil wizard who wears a black cloak. Opponent of Dark Palace of Loards.

'''Rocsantun''': Extremely buffoonish evil guy in a chicken suit who works with Hgil.

===Other guys===

'''Eamonn an Chnuic''': A cook who inserts the sweet taste of spam into all of his meals.

'''Salesman''': A true huckster, best student in the Hustler Academy. Sells real estate, though his sales are disrupted by Blackmyth.

'''Blackmyth''': CHUD who scares people in McMansions. Occasionally pauses to have a political debate with Farley.

'''Jamul''': A guy who recieves most of Farley's spam. Unsuccessfully attempts to ban him continuously. Has a crush on Chihiro.

'''Mary Montgomery''': Attractive, sweet-natured Southern girl that Farley has a crush on and Erica is jealous of.

==Sharkjumpment===

The strip was very popular in early years in which it mocked the internet, schools, and modern society in general. It was also a rare example of a conservative political cartoon. Most early plotlines involved Farley's love of spamming and Hgil's attempts to get rid of him. It began to get all nicey-nice however, in December 2004, when the focus shifted to Erica's crush on Farley, something that had been dealt with satirically in earlier years. In the latest strips, it has become a big mess that dosen't want to offend anybody, poor jokes were less common, as were goth jokes.

Re: Why Women in Webcomics Should Not Be An Issue by Ping Teo

kjc's picture

Speaking as a woman, and not an editor... um, well, as a woman with editorial knowledge about the future but not speaking from the lofty position of editor... er, I mean not speaking on behalf of Comixpedia or nuthin' - this opinion belonging entirely to me - the answer is:

"No, you cranky bitch."

Kelly J. Cooper
Comixpedia Features Editors

Re: Why Women in Webcomics Should Not Be An Issue by Ping Teo

Shaenon Garrity's picture

" I'm curious about the "inherent bias" you allude to in the print comics world, though. I know almost nothing about that arena, but it's kind of striking to see you make a statement that seems to contrast with the rest of what you said. I mean, right in the middle of this great techno-postfeminist piece you have what seems to be a "down with the old-boy phallocentric patriarchy" kinda jab. I'm not saying you're not right, I just was wondering what's up with that?"

Because female creators are a minority in print comics. And they're a tiny, tiny minority in "mainstream" print comics. And that just might have something to do with the fact that most editors, publishers, distributors, and store owners are male. I'm not saying that there's some sophisticated patriarchal conspiracy here. I'm saying that American comics are a big-time boys' club, where anything remotely "girly" --either by women, or appealing to female readers, or both-- is viewed as some weird special-interest thing. Lea Hernandez calls it the "default mode boy" attitude.

On the Web, however, where there are few intermediaries between creator and reader, I feel like it's not much of an issue. I'm still interested in seeing Comixpedia do a "women in webcomics" theme, not because girls need a "pat on the back" but because I'm curious about what particular perspectives and experiences, if any, women bring to webcomics; by the same token, I'd like to see a "manly webcomics" month, too. But it surprised me when some people on the Comixpedia boards had trouble naming female webcartoonists or talked about women like they were a minority in the webcomics world, because it seems to me that female creators are out in droves and kicking everybody's ass all over the Web.

Re: Why Women in Webcomics Should Not Be An Issue by Ping Teo

glych's picture

I think it's also important to address that comics like The Makeshift Miracle and Nowhere Girl can be classified in the same genre even though one creator is female and the other is male.

That genre is as important as content for a reader to find comics that they know they'll like

-glych

---

Panel2Panel.com

Re: Why Women in Webcomics Should Not Be An Issue by Ping Teo

Jennifer Diane Reitz, of Pastel Defender Heliotrope and Unicorn Jelly, is TG, I believe.

Re: Why Women in Webcomics Should Not Be An Issue by Ping Teo

Uncle Ghastly's picture

Is next months issue going to be "The Transgender Issue"?

Re: Why Women in Webcomics Should Not Be An Issue by Ping Teo

Uncle Ghastly's picture

Awwww... you big meanie.

Re: Why Women in Webcomics Should Not Be An Issue by Ping Teo

Uncle Ghastly's picture

Actually, you know what? I'm curious about just how represented the transgender community is in webcomics or comics in general. I know a very large segment of the videogame industry is transgendered (I'm serious too, it's not a joke, there are a lot of transgendered people working in the videogame industry). There's gotta be some represented in the comics industry too.

Re: Why Women in Webcomics Should Not Be An Issue by Ping Teo

Uncle Ghastly's picture

Well there we go then. I was under the impression that Erin was born with gender and sex matching but created a transgender sympathetic comic. I didn't know she was actually transgender herself.

Well then, that's one...

... must be awfully lonely.

Re: Harry Potter and the Adorable Pumps

L_Jonte's picture

To be completely fair though, you are a guy, (I checked your site) and are viewing a gender bias that doesn't really impact your daily life. I grew up in the 70's too, and can recall vividly, being shouted down by my adolescent classmates because I dared to hope that I might one day be an air force pilot. I was told at length and at volume that, "Girls can only be teachers or nurses." While progress has most certainly been made in the 30 years since, the battle has NOT been won. Not even mostly.

J.K. Rowling was told by her PUBLISHER to use her initials rather than her (obviously female) name. Yes, it was dumb, but be it comics or prose, it's still the main mode of thought in (print) publishing today. It's the same in animation. Try and get a female-lead cartoon to run for any length of time on Fox, I dare you. Disney has them, Nickelodeon and CN have them, but it's been a long, uphill battle despite the fact that they are proven money makers. And don't get me started on the locker room that is the gaming industry.

Look, I'm glad you feel that it's the work that matters most, because you're right. That attitude is one of the reasons I abandoned print for the web. But understand that the web is not the whole world... yet. There are still a lot of people out there that don't see things the way you do.

-Lisa Jonté
___________________________
Artist, Writer, Flibbertigibbet, Editor
http://www.Girlamatic.com

Re: Why Women in Webcomics Should Not Be An Issue by Ping Teo

Uncle Ghastly's picture

Yeah but as far as I know none of them including mine (contrary to rumours I am not actually post-op K.D. Lang)are actually created by transgenedered artists. Now there's an under represented group in the comics world and dispite what some may say I don't think Fred Gallagher's mild gender dysphoria qualifies him for that catagory either.

I know for a fact that the transgendered community makes up a none-too-small proportion of the webcomic audience (not everyone reading transgender themed comics is a lonely teenage girl). I've received hundreds of e-mails over the years from transgendered readers both M2F and F2M. Heck, some of the most genuinely touching fanmail I've gotten has been from transgendered readers who wanted to tell me that Freddy's "gender euphoria" helped them in coping with their own gender dysphoria. There are a number of transgendered readers posting regularily to my forum too. As far as I know (and I'm positive I must be mistaken on this) there are no actual webcomics by transgendered artists.

I'm sure I must be wrong as there are tens of thousands of webcomics on the internet today it seems statistically inconceivable that transgender creators would not be amoungst those numbers. Given that the ranks of webcomic creators grows from the ranks of webcomic readers I can't see how it could not be otherwise. How many of us started reading webcomics and then said "hey, I bet I could do that too" and then became webcomic creators? Most I'd be willing to bet. Since I know for fact from my own experience that there are many transgendered person reading webcomics some of them should have, by now, also made the transformation from webcomic reader to webcomic creator. But I don't see them represented in comic circles the same way male and female artists are.

I don't think I've yet been to a convention that hasn't had at least one panel dedicated exclusively to female comic creators. I've not yet been to one convention yet that has even had a panel on transgender issues in comics let alone dedicated to transgender artists.

I'd have to say that genderwise if you're going to look for a group that's under represented and likely discriminated against it would probably be the transgender artists even moreso than the female artists.

Of course it could be that many transgender artists don't want their gender issues to distract and detract from their work. I would imagine that were I in their shoes (and given the deformity of my feet I doubt I could ever find a pair of pumps that would fit) I'd be reluctant to "come out" as a transgender artist for fear that I'll be labled as a "transgender" artist and that critics will run everything I do through the analysis filter of my gender issues in a way that not even female artists are subjected to. I think I might well be tempted to shy away from such a microscope. Maybe that's why those of us dealing with transgender issues in comics wether seriously or humourously are not, ourselves, transgenders. Given too the highly politicised nature of the transgender community (and believe me I've heard all about the infighting that takes place in transgender communities about what is and is not a transgender issue and who is and is not transgender) it could well be that those artists who are transgender simply wish to avoid bringing that real life misery into their work and thus make comics about other stuff altogether.

I don't know. I don't think I'll ever know until there's an identified body of transgender comic artists that can be queried for the information.

Re: Harry Potter and the Adorable Pumps

Uncle Ghastly's picture

It does seem to be a fair assumption that webcomic creators are more likely to attempt nontradition material aimed at nontraditional comic audience demographics.

Re: Why Women in Webcomics Should Not Be An Issue by Ping Teo

Uncle Ghastly's picture

Please, can we stop picking on MegaTokyo.

(/i'm a bad bad boy)

Re: Why Women in Webcomics Should Not Be An Issue by Ping Teo

I think I ran into one webcomic which was about a transgendered main character and was done by someone who (I think) wanted to be.

Of course, it wasn't very good quality-wise, and I only ran across it because somebody was bashing it.

Dunno if that counts.

Re: Why Women in Webcomics Should Not Be An Issue by Ping Teo

Women in comics are more rare in every medium. This is just something that is dragged (in webcomics) from print, just as we drag the same comics language (balloons, etc).

Incidentally, for a long time User Friendly was the top webcomic, way bigger than those that came after, the ones you mentioned. And along UF was After 2YK, a strip that was similarly popular and that was made by a girl that went by the name Nitrozac. "Geek" comics (in the Dilbertesque GPF vein) are less popular now than gaming comics. Of the comics mentioned as top webcomics, only Penny Arcade is (as we speak) truly about gaming. Megatokyo is shoujo manga, PvP is more pop-culture and office humor, Sluggy Freelance is fantasy sci-fi. It is true that many VERY popular webcomics are about gaming (Like Ctrl+Alt+Del, McHall or VGCats), but there are many others that don't. Sinfest and Something Positive are good examples.

I can't think of a single webcomic about videogame nerds done by a woman, but then again, I can only think of one long-format webcomic about pretty boys bonking same done by a woman. If I had to make a bet I'd say the styles and stories made by women in webcomics are wildly dissimilar from each other. Narbonic is nothing like Digger, Gun Street Girl is nothing like Queen of Wands, As If! is nothing like CRFH. ;)

Maritza
CRFH.net

Re: Why Women in Webcomics Should Not Be An Issue by Ping Teo

"I'm curious about the "inherent bias" you allude to in the print comics world, though. I know almost nothing about that arena, but it's kind of striking to see you make a statement that seems to contrast with the rest of what you said. I mean, right in the middle of this great techno-postfeminist piece you have what seems to be a "down with the old-boy phallocentric patriarchy" kinda jab. I'm not saying you're not right, I just was wondering what's up with that?"

For the purposes of this article I talked with a lot of other people, and a number of them who had experiences in print comics. I also did a lot of independent researching.

As far as I can remember, my gender had never been an issue when it came to how people accepted my webcomics (well, the only issue would be how everyone would assume I was male because of the stuff I do, but it's not so much an issue, I even find it amusing now). To be honest, I even thought it was a lot of overreaction on some people's part.

Now the thing I should have realised was that for a reaction there had to be a first reaction. So I was quite surprised when on research, I found the bias actually DID exist. I didn't really want to believe it at first, but you can't really beat getting first-hand accounts (well, as first hand as possible over the internet) from a female creator on how this person at a convention who already liked their work dropped it the moment they found out the creator was female and being told to their face how the editor liked their work, but they didn't think the readers would be interested in their stuff because it was done by a girl.

I'm told it's not as bad nowadays, but a lot of female creators still hide their names behind initials. If I'm not mistaken, even JK Rowling of the Harry Potter fame used her initials for this reason. (Because the publisher thought boys wouldn't want to read a book written by a woman)

Some reading material.

Re: Harry Potter and the Adorable Pumps

The example I gave of the artist and the convention (I'm not sure if she would like me quoting her name so I'll play it safe) supposedly happened over three years ago. Not exactly recent, but not that long ago either.

Like I said, I'm told that it is not as bad now, but generally I find that things like sexism/racism aren't that easy to eradicate. They might not be displayed openly as public opinion sways, but it could still fester as unspoken things. It does depend where you are though.

"I understand your disbelief, and would no doubt feel the same way if I hadn't myself run into unbelievably neanderthal-esque attitudes and prejudices that I thought had died out twenty years ago, in all sorts of fields. People can always find new and interesting ways to depress you."

Agreed. You'd think just because it's 2005 it no longer happens... but depressingly, it still does.

Re: Why Women in Webcomics Should Not Be An Issue by Ping Teo

Actually, I did. It's the whole middle section of the article, I believe.

Re: Why Women in Webcomics Should Not Be An Issue by Ping Teo

by failing to acknowledge that even though women's webcomics should be judged equal to men's, she fails to mention that there are real QUALITATIVE differences in how women make, use, and read webcomics. I feel that comixpedia should focus on exploring that difference, not dismiss/ignore it completely.

Re: Why Women in Webcomics Should Not Be An Issue by Ping Teo

pclips's picture

Um, actually unless I am very much mistaken, Erin Lindsey is M2F trans.

Re: Harry Potter and the Adorable Pumps

Imagine you got to see the first twenty strips of two brand new webcomics before they went online. (...)

... and this, right here, this is the heart of the problem. Do you even see what you're doing here, Rob? You're assuming that the first strip you describe is written by a female, and the second by a male.

It's not the subject matter that's the issue here, it's the presumption of subject matter based on gender, a presumption that you just perpetuated.

... I think the irony just killed me.

Re: Why Women in Webcomics Should Not Be An Issue by Ping Teo

Actually, this is a good question. I had a think about it:

"This might explain why so few of the popular names in webcomics are women"

Actually, i think overall numbers isn't exactly a good gauge. As much as I am loathe to admit it, the number of women doing webcomics, althought quite numerous, is still far out-ratioed by men. Therefore going by numbers alone isn't fair, since even IF 50% the women artists are popular and 25% of the male artists are popular, the total number of popular male artists would still outnumber the females if the total number of male artists was so much more greater than the total number of female artists. To get a more accurate picture, you'd have to turn to some basic statistics:

Success Rate = (Number of Top Artists of Gender)/(Total Artists of Gender)

I haven't done that calculation with any real data (you'd need hell of a survey to get it) but it could be someting interesting to discuss in future editions of Comixpedia (hint hint). If I could hazard a guess, I'd say the success rate would be around the same for both genders, though with perhaps a slightly higher percentage for the women. (No I have no hard facts to back that one up, that's why it's called hazarding a guess)

"That the Top webcomic artists are men (PVP, Sluggy Freelance, MegaTokyo, Penny Arcade"

Actually, I think the reason for this is because these guys started earlier, much earlier than most other comics when it comes to webcomics. They had a what, 2/3 year headstart? They were also in the right place at the right time, knew how to take advantage of it and were in some senses, the forerunners of webcomics. (I had this really long article written about this several months ago, I'm not sure where it's gone now)

You might say the the guys were the first to take advantage of the internet to publish their webcomics first, but other than that advantage I don't see that is has anything to do with gender being an indicator of how well the work is taken to.

I'd give the credit more to subject matter and how it appeals to the internet population (and indeed, check out The N00b, which is a RPG gaming parody comic by Gianna Masetti, and in the space of 10 months has rocketed into one of the top comics in Keenspace. No mean feat, that.) Given the massive popularity of MMPORPGS like Worlds of Warcraft, gaming comics have a ready-built online community to tap into, and thus there's a higher level of appeal percentage.

"Surely the very fact that there's a gender difference is worthy of some analysis? Can we please at least address these issues before we give up on the women-vs-men issue. "

Ah now we come to the core of the argument.

An analysis of gender influences/preferences in comics would be worthy of attention. And if that had been the case I think I wouldn't have written this soapbox.

Unfortunately it doesn't seem to be the case. The topic for April's Comixpedia is "The Women Issue - A focus on women in webcomics." Xerexes will no doubt correct me if I perceived it wrongly, but it seemed to be focusing more on women webcomickers themselves, and not if there were differences between the work of both genders and what they were (which would have otherwise made it "The Gender Issue".)

And maybe at the root of all my blathering, that was what I was trying to say, really.

Re: Why Women in Webcomics Should Not Be An Issue by Ping Teo

Oh, something I should have mentioned before that this is that all this is wholly my opinion on my soapbox, and so I speak for myself, not Comixpedia.

"by failing to acknowledge that even though women's webcomics should be judged equal to men's, she fails to mention that there are real QUALITATIVE differences in how women make, use, and read webcomics."

Hmm... I've read that sentence several times over but I'm still very confused at what it's trying to say. Could you explain a little bit more, please?

Re: Harry Potter and the Adorable Pumps

tynic's picture

Imagine you got to see the first twenty strips of two brand new webcomics before they went online. One's a clever and funny four-panel gag strip about a young woman grad student who lives with two other women in a small apartment with talking pets, and they have oddball adventures involving academic life and dating. The other's a less funny, less clever four-panel gag strip about three gamer buddies and their wisecracking squirrel (who's the l337est gamer of the four), and is heavily involved in the cultural details of online gaming.

... and this, right here, this is the heart of the problem. Do you even see what you're doing here, Rob? You're assuming that the first strip you describe is written by a female, and the second by a male. You're assuming a gender difference in both quality and subject which may well not exist. Let's say the grad student strip is written by an intelligent guy with a good sense of dialogue and interpersonal relations (say, William G), and the second is by a gamer chick who likes 'olol cocks' humour. They do exist, I know some of them. In either case, the publisher should go with the strip that will produce the biggest revenue, regardless of the gender of the creator.

It's not the subject matter that's the issue here, it's the presumption of subject matter based on gender, a presumption that you just perpetuated. This is why women hide behind pseudonyms and initials - not because their work has a different audience, but because the assumption is that, as a woman, they must be writing for a different audience. You have, uninentionally no doubt, played into the stereotype that women can write only for women, and men for men, and that until women read comics then women shouldn't write comics.

In print comics, all it would take is one smash hit "category killer" which has as many female readers as male.
I believe you're wrong, I don't believe we need to change the audience in order to change the discrimintation. I believe we need to change the perception of what can and can't be done by women AND men. Harry Potter didn't shift the attitudes of publishers because girls suddenly started reading fantasy. Harry Potter shifted attitudes because boys were reading books written by a woman.

Re: Harry Potter and the Adorable Pumps

tynic's picture

Ah, right. I misunderstood.

I can believe that happened in 1950. I can believe it in 1970. In 2005, I have a hard time believing that happens even a few times, let alone that it's still an industrywide trend. You'd have to show me the legions of female creators and their piles of unpublished action/adventure superhero comics.

Well, I haven't done the reasearch on that. But my understanding of Phalanx's comments was that she had in fact found that such a bias still exists. Have to wait for her to comment on that, though. :)

I understand your disbelief, and would no doubt feel the same way if I hadn't myself run into unbelievably neanderthal-esque attitudes and prejudices that I thought had died out twenty years ago, in all sorts of fields. People can always find new and interesting ways to depress you.

Re: Why Women in Webcomics Should Not Be An Issue by Ping Teo

Whilst I agree that women should be held to the same standards of quality as men, surely the very fact that there's a gender difference is worthy of some analysis? This might explain why so few of the popular names in webcomics are women, that the Top webcomic artists are men (PVP, Sluggy Freelance, MegaTokyo, Penny Arcade- and incidentally why so few women bother making comics about videogames).Of course men are capable of making women-friendly comics with deep characterization. No one's saying that they can't. But I'd wager there is a larger amount of women doing long-format webcomics about- say- pretty boys bonking same, than -say- a gag strip about videogame nerds. Can we please at least address these issues before we give up on the women-vs-men issue.

Re: Why Women in Webcomics Should Not Be An Issue by Ping Teo

pclips's picture

Hey bravo. I agree with the sentiments expressed here. An egalitarian environment does not mean, "Every self-identified segment should get a pat on the back." It has to mean something more like, "Who you are matters a whole lot less than what you do, so show us your best work."

I'm curious about the "inherent bias" you allude to in the print comics world, though. I know almost nothing about that arena, but it's kind of striking to see you make a statement that seems to contrast with the rest of what you said. I mean, right in the middle of this great techno-postfeminist piece you have what seems to be a "down with the old-boy phallocentric patriarchy" kinda jab. I'm not saying you're not right, I just was wondering what's up with that?

Harry Potter and the Adorable Pumps

pclips's picture

Yeah, I really don't know about these reading selections. I read them all straight through (the Post obit I had read already), and I did not see a whole lot of talk about existing bias in print in 2005. I've never doubted that things were bad for women in comics in 1950 or 1970, but I am interested in how they are now.

The one really legitimate point that seemed to be made here was about the effects of the historical bias on the lingering social perception that comics are for boys. That I can see.

Still, in 1970 if a teenage girl said she wanted to grow up and work in computers, she would have faced the same perceptions and barriers. Some of these attitudes may still linger now, but for the most part that would be considered a "normal" answer and even a commendable one in 2005.

Trina Robbins acknowledges seeing this happening in comics. Based only on that interview, I think she's fighting a battle that's mostly been won. She has the right; she was on the front lines when it really was a battle. But now...

I don't think it's really about opportunities being denied, anymore. I think it's about dollars now. If one company's lingering bias keeps them from putting women in touch with a potentially lucrative audience, then it's a bad business decision. If a group like Lulu comes in and shows that markets exist and dollars are there to be made, then you'll see high demand for creators to fill those markets.

But if a market for comics whose audience is mostly female does not exist and cannot be created, then all other bets are off. The market bears what it bears. If the bulk of the paying audience remains adolescent males, even with a lot of other good material available, then the creators who dominate the field will remain those who are out to entertain adolescent males. And I think the bulk of those will always be creators who once were adolescent males.

And the "JK" Rowling thing was just somebody being dumb. I grew up in the 1970s, reading Beverly Cleary and Madeline L'Engle with the same passion as C.S. Lewis and Norton Juster...without the slightest thought about their respective genders. Great stories appeal to all. You couldn't pay most boys to read Sweet Valley High, but you couldn't stop them from reading Harry Potter if you made the author's name "Sissy McTurnyougay."

Greatness is what comics creators, male and female, should be aiming for. We should be making material that's appealing because it's good, meaningful, entertaining...not because "[girls/boys] will like this." You're right, it's probably a lot easier to do this on the web, because there's no editor there with a bias to overcome. But if a work connects with readers, it will find its way to an audience and succeed.

Re: Harry Potter and the Adorable Pumps

pclips's picture

Well, you're right that I'm a guy, and you're right that I'm on the web and have a webbish attitude. I read everything and keep reading the titles I like most. It really doesn't occur to me to consider the [gender/race/religion/ethnicity/sexual preference/religion/political bent] of the creator, unless that's a factor in the work itself.

Plus, I have a strip, not a comic. I am dealing with editors, but at newspapers, not comics publishers. So I don't have any firsthand knowledge about what bias may still exist in the industry. I'm sure there's some.

But I really think that the bias that once was prevalent has been in full retreat for decades, and shows little sign of returning. That's what I meant by the battle being "mostly" won. The enemy has been routed.

And by "bias," I'm talking about bias against granting the opportunity to publish. When dollars are at stake (as they always will be in print media) then the companies who are risking the money on publishing the work will always be focusing on the return on investment. No real company is going to choose to print based on any decision other than "of the work I have seen, this one is likely to yield the highest return." Not if they want to stay in business.

Those decisions are almost definitely still being made mostly by males, and worse, mostly by males aged 45 and up. They know their existing readership demographics (adolescent males), and will tend to bet their company's money conservatively on proven concepts.

What somebody needs to prove to them is not that good works by female creators can be made, or even sold. Someone has to prove that they will sell as well or better than more traditionally-focused stories and concepts. You overcome bias by identifying or creating an audience the old guard didn't believe in. You put dollar signs in their eyes, and that's what will change the way they make decisions.

I think it remains to be seen that this can be done. Just as in webcomics, I have to acknowledge that gamer-oriented strips have a wider overall potential audience than almost any other focus.

Imagine you got to see the first twenty strips of two brand new webcomics before they went online. One's a clever and funny four-panel gag strip about a young woman grad student who lives with two other women in a small apartment with talking pets, and they have oddball adventures involving academic life and dating. The other's a less funny, less clever four-panel gag strip about three gamer buddies and their wisecracking squirrel (who's the l337est gamer of the four), and is heavily involved in the cultural details of online gaming.

You'd probably like the first one better, and so would I. But suppose you had to put up $1000 of your own money and make a bet on which comic will have a bigger readership in two years. I'd have to put my money on the second one, based on everything I know about webcomics and traffic.

Maybe I would be wrong not to go with the one I thought was better. Maybe I would be allowing my bias to force me to help continue a trend I don't actually have much enthusiasm for. But when my thousand bucks is at stake, then I am going to make what I consider to be the smartest bet.

So yeah. There once was a lot of bias against women creators right up front. That bias helped shape the comics market as it is today. But now, the bias is mainly in favor of the proven formula. Because that's determined by the lingering shape of the market, you could say the ghost of the old bias is still alive and haunting the industry.

To change the bias, all you'd have to do is prove another formula. Harry Potter has completely shifted the attitudes of young adult fiction publishers. In print comics, all it would take is one smash hit "category killer" which has as many female readers as male. Until somebody lights up those dollar signs, though, then very little will change.

Re: Harry Potter and the Adorable Pumps

pclips's picture

No no no, you misunderstood my analogy. I was not pointing out a male/female bias in webcomics but a gamer/nongamer one.

I was not making assumptions (unconscious or otherwise) about the gender of the creator or the readers of either strip. I was saying that a more sophisticated, general-subject comic may not do as well in the open field as one that targets the most popular established interest among webcomics readers. If a male writes the women-in-the-apartment strip and a female writes the gamer strip, it has no bearing on my point. The gamer strip gets my money for the bet.

I chose the female leads in the first comic as an easy shortcut for saying "a comic with characters not designed for the bulk of the demographic to directly identify with." I could just as easily have said it was a comic about forest rangers in Alaska but I wanted a plausible example. Sorry if that was unclear.

You seem to be saying that in the print world, a female creator can come in with a brilliant piece of work within the existing formula that's currently recognized as appealing to the target demographic of print comics readers (adolescent males), and that the work will still be rejected on the basis of the creator's gender.

I can believe that happened in 1950. I can believe it in 1970. In 2005, I have a hard time believing that happens even a few times, let alone that it's still an industrywide trend. You'd have to show me the legions of female creators and their piles of unpublished action/adventure superhero comics.

And Harry Potter changed attitudes among publishers because it was a smash hit across both genders. It had nothing to do with the creator's gender. It had everything to do with crushing the perceived barrier between "books for boys" and "books for girls."

Re: Why Women in Webcomics Should Not Be An Issue by Ping Teo

pclips's picture

The only specific comic about transgender issues that I knew about before you mentioned it is Venus Envy by the wonderful Erin Lindsey. Well, and yours. And I guess Sparkling Generation Valkyrie Yuuki counts if magically changing into a girl counts a gender-identity issue. Erin lists SGVY and seven other "trans" comics on her links page.

Re: Harry Potter and the Adorable Pumps

pclips's picture

No problem. On re-reading my post I can see where it would seem I was assuming female creators write for female readers. What I meant was, creators of both genders who want to present something outside the existing formula have to prove that the new material will sell really well before the money will be invested by established comics publishers to develop the property.

Perhaps I was assuming that female comics creators are more likely to attempt nontraditional material aimed at a nontraditional comics audience demographic. I don't know if that's a fair assumption or not.

Re: Why Women in Webcomics Should Not Be An Issue by Ping Teo

As a transgendered person, I can say that I know for certainty that there are at least 5 web comics by transgendered artists. (As I know these creators personally) At least two of these comics have nothing whatsoever to do directly with transgender issues, and the creators keep their transgender past secret, or "stealth" in order to avoid societial harassment or scorn in their lives. Few transgender-focused comics are wildly read, and all are out-paced by a plethora comics that mock transgender issues, relying on that old standby that all tg are men in dresses or shemales (note the absence of FTMs.) worth ridicule. Still, as comics like Erin's VE, Lydia Johannsen's AstroGirlX2 and Gina Kamentsky's T-Gina gain popularity perhaps there will be in time, enough material for a tG issue comexpedia.