By Teresa Jusino
So long, MINX. We hardly knew ya!
After merely two years, DC Comics decided to pull the plug on MINX, an imprint aimed at teenage girls that produced titles like The P.L.A.I.N Janes, Water Baby, and The New York Four, ceasing production on the line in January ’09. When I heard the news, I was surprisingly, almost irrationally upset about it (just like a woman, huh?). After all, for every title of theirs that I enjoyed (I loved P.L.A.I.N Janes and just purchased Janes in Love) there was another I thought less than satisfactory (Wasn’t thrilled about Water Baby. Loved the art, hated the story). Yet here I was ranting and raving at work, much to the annoyance of the friend of mine who told me the news and now had to listen to me complain about it all day…
Because it’s not just about the comics.
In their statement, DC Comics say that they remain “committed to publishing diverse material for diverse audiences as we continue to welcome new readers.” That’s hard for me to believe when they consider their brand for young girls “experimental” – something they’re going to try for kicks as opposed to hone and develop as a concrete initiative. It just goes to show that they could care less whether young girls read their comics or not if it doesn’t make them any money right off the bat.
And why is this important? Why should I be so concerned that young girls don’t seem to read comics as much as their male counterparts? Shouldn’t I be glad, and be encouraging them to read Little Women and Anne of Green Gables anyway? Well, I do want to encourage them to read those things…but it really, really bothers me whenever people matter-of-factly say “Girls don’t do this…”, or “Girls aren’t interested in that…”; particularly when it’s something that girls are barely made aware of! Of course, young girls don’t read comics as much as boys do. As I said to AMC’s Sci-Fi Scanner, boys are encouraged in their love of comics, and science fiction, and other forms of geekery, because of inequality and imposed gender roles that have nothing to do with comics or sci-fi, while girls who are interested in those things are seen as an aberration. So, comics are marketed toward boys, written for boys, and sold to boys. Why? Girls don’t like words? Girls don’t like drawings? Girls don’t like it when words and drawings are used together in panels to tell a story? It’s yet another arena in which the male half of the population is handed something that the female half has to work twice as hard to get. Then, when someone complains about it and wonders why there are not enough comics available for girls, they receive the same stale economic answer. It doesn’t pay for us to do it. Girls don’t read comics. And the cycle continues.
Plenty of women read comics, but this is long after they’ve stopped caring what people think and worrying about whether or not men will see them as a “real girl.” And yes, they’re usually introduced to comics by men (friends, brothers, boyfriends), because how else would they have known about them after being ignored by the industry, but very often men do it to either justify their own love of comics so they don’t seem childish, or to ingratiate themselves to their girlfriends by “sharing their interests with them” so that they don’t complain about all the toys in the house. In the examples of guys sharing comics with girls that I’ve seen around me, it’s less about Hey, I think you’ll like this. And more about Hey, now you can’t make fun of me for liking this. It’s a subtle, but important distinction. Usually, they’re surprised when the woman in question does like the comics, and they are even more surprised (albeit grateful, especially in the case of the boyfriend/girlfriend dynamic) when the woman’s interest in comics begins to rival his own.
Meanwhile, the young adult fiction market seems to have figured it out. There are entire series of books out there for girls – the American Girls line, the Main Street series, and the Sweet Valley books to name a few. And then there are the Harry Potters of the world; books that transcend gender and appeal to boys and girls alike, because they don’t pander to either gender, but show the strengths in both. Clearly, there are things that girls like to read. So why can’t the comic industry figure it out?
But comics aren’t books! Comics are different. Waaaaah!
No they’re not. They’re stories. With pictures. There are stories with pictures that girls like. Create them. Then, once you’ve created them, let girls know they’re there, fercryinoutloud! It’s not going to happen right away, but it will happen. Someone needs to bite the bullet and just DO IT, for however long it takes until girls read comics as much as boys do. Because it’s not just about comics. It’s about there being an entire artistic industry that actively excludes girls. It’s about keeping girls away from spaceships and stars and aliens and super powers, which keeps them away from science class and math class, which keeps them away from MIT and Cornell, which keeps them away from NASA and engineering. MINX’s demise is a symptom of a much larger problem.
For those of you interested in doing more to bring girls and comics together, check out Friends of Lulu, an organization whose sole purpose is to “promote and encourage female readership and participation in the comic book industry.” And if anyone out there in the comic industry is listening, here are some of my humble suggestions for getting girls to want what you’re selling:
1) We need a new imprint for girls! No, we need several. It needs to be a priority for more than just one company. Marvel, I’m looking at you. DC’s dropped the ball, now it’s your turn. Aw, hell! Forget it. Where are my indie publishers? Dark Horse? IDW? Somebody? Anybody? Never mind. I’ll do it myself. Are there any millionaire investors in the house…?
2) Can a girl get a monthly comic? Why is it that everything that is marketed to girls – like the MINX books, like anything anime – it’s always only available in graphic novel form? Boys get to read stories on a monthly basis, and pay only $2.50-2.99 a piece to do so. Girls have to shell out $8-10 per book for the privilege of reading what they want. Are you telling me that something like The P.L.A.I.N Janes couldn’t be a monthly comic?
3) More women writers please! Women know how to write girls really well. It’s been scientifically proven. This is not to say that male writers can’t, ferheavenssake, but women have to work less hard to know what girls like. But there aren’t that many women writers in comics! Well, whose fault is that?! For starters – you know that Ann M. Martin lady? Or that Francine Pascal chick? You know, those ladies that give girls exactly what they want in the children’s literature world? Um, ask them to write you a comic. See what they come up with. Publish it. Repeat. Recruit new women writers. They’re out there, so start whatever women’s writer initiative you need to in order to get the ball rolling. More will follow. Girls will read. You will make money, as well as make the world a much better place in which girls can grow up.
4) Remember that girls like superheroes and action and adventure, too! Just because you have an imprint for girls doesn’t mean that every story has to be about angst, and boys, and angst over boys. Boy readers get to have complicated characters that also blow things up and get into fights and travel through time and have superpowers…why don’t girls? Of all the MINX books, only two (Kimmie66 and Good As Lily – sort of) resemble comic books. Please respect the fact that girls are as diverse in their interests as comics have genres. Besides, girls can find the angsty, boy-related stories over in young adult literature land, and they’ve been doing it longer (and better). Show girls the things that make comics different and special.
5) Marketing, marketing, marketing! No one can buy what you’re selling if no one knows it exists! Market your new imprint for girls where girls will see it, but also where adults will see it. I’ve heard so many adult comic readers say that they never heard of MINX until DC announced its demise, and then they were like, “So?” Make your efforts known to all comic readers, because adult comic readers have daughters…and wouldn’t it be great if they could go to the comic book shop together and each find something to enjoy? Also, make sure comic shops display this stuff prominently. Usually, “girl stuff” gets lost on the shelves.
Any other thoughts, Raygunners?
TERESA JUSINO was born on the same day that Skylab fell. Coincidence? She doesn’t think so. As a writer, her work has appeared in Elmont Life newspaper, and on the sadly defunct website, CentralBooking.com. She is currently at work on a collection of short stories. As a geek, Teresa loves Star Trek, Lost, comics, and anything Joss Whedon ever touched. She has a fangirl *squee-ing* crush on Brian K. Vaughan, which beat up her Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man crush in a fight proving once again that writing skill trumps gadget skill even when that gadget skill is attached to bulging biceps. Teresa is also an aspiring fangbanger.