Thursday, December 09, 2010

Letter to the Editor

Bob Harras
c/o DC Comics
1700 Broadway
New York, NY 10019
Forwarding Service Requested

Dear Mr. Harras,

I recently read an interview with the former publisher of DC Comics that said he felt that women were not interested in superheroes. This sounded strange to me, as I have been reading Justice League, Flash, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman comics since I was 14, and your competitor's X-men comics since I was 12. During his tenure there were a number of complaints by female fans that seemed to be either ignored or answered in a way that seemed strange (Supergirl is brought back but aimed for male readers, Batman supporting character Stephanie Brown is returned after female fans complain only to replace another popular female character as Batgirl) and a number of opportunities to position franchises as female-friendly were missed (Wonder Woman has no kid-friendly book for younger female readers, Green Lantern's female characters are overwhelmingly sexualized and left dead longer than male counterparts) and both problems may be traced back to that idea that marketing to women won't produce worthwhile results.

I am writing to you to say that I hope this philosophy has been discontinued at DC. There are many female readers spending their money right now, and many more who would if they didn't feel unwelcome at the table. Television and book properties that involve superpowered characters have had massive female audiences (For example: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, True Blood, the various X-men cartoons and movies, Xena: Warrior Princess, Dr. Who, Supernatural, Fringe, Smallville, Stargate, Harry Potter, or Heroes...)

I've heard it argued that women will not appreciate tightly woven multi-decade continuity or complex fantastical plots, but a mere hour viewing General Hospital should dispel that argument. The genre-loving book and television female audience are only kept from comic books by the industry's reluctance to seek them out.

Please consider that both halves of the population are potential customers and do not act to further alienate the women who do read the books as the previous management has.

Thank you,
Lisa Fortuner

I dashed this off tonight after reading DC Women Kicking Ass and Ladies Making Comics quote Paul Levitz:
I’m not sure that young women are as interested in reading about superheroes. The fundamental dynamic of the superhero story has historically been more appealing to boys than to girls.
Levitz isn't the Publisher anymore, but I still felt a need to send a message to DC so I wrote to the EIC. I'm going to send it out with my winter cards tomorrow. I strongly believe that physical letters are the way to go, because too often e-mails are considered to be spam and just more noise from the Internet. ran an extremely successful campaign based on physical letters, postcards, and directly asking the panels at conventions about Spoiler. My own physical letters to DC have always been answered, even if it was with a form. They are concrete items with substance, and can't be ignored like a cyberspace communication. I advise anyone interested in saying something about this to go with a letter with a real stamp rather than an email.

Strangely, though, the hardest thing to do was find the physical address. DC's website only offers e-mail contact. I know that there's been an reorg over there, and that people are being relocated and old addresses may not be good. The 1700 Broadway address is in the fine print at the bottom of the DC Nation column in my most recent DC book, so I'm going with that. I'm actually a little suspicious about how hard this was to find.

ETA: Addendum


  1. If you keep repeating to yourself that women don't like comics, then perhaps it is TRUE! At least an awful lot of men seem to think so.

    You know, way back when, when comics only cost 10 cents, boys AND girls read them. Avidly. Sure, the girls got shunted into the "romance" comic ghetto, but they still read Superman and Wonder Woman. LOTS of girls read X-Men. I read X-Men, staring when I was fifteen or so, and I'm fifty now, so it's been a while.

    As you say, if we can appreciate the insane intricacy of a Soap Opera, then we can appreciate a Super Hero comic book. And I can CERTAINLY appreciate a well drawn male behind in spandex.

  2. This would be a very good time to send Grandpa Levitz some of those pictures from Women Read Comics in Public Day. And maybe a snuggie. He gets mighty cranky when it's cold.

  3. I sent letters to DC (Dan Didio, Ian Sattler, and Paul Levitz, specifically) in early 2009, and never got any kind of response. =/

  4. Are they kidding? I want to BUY an iPAd (tech which in my country costs a fortune) so that I can enjoy more Marvel comics. How could they possibly even think that? Unless they think that you and I are a aberration to our gender. We should somehow make a collective effort to let these people know how very wrong they are.

  5. His actual quote was: “I’m not sure that young women are as interested in reading about superheroes.”

    That's a bit different than saying women just plain aren't interested at all. And sure, audience reaction to many of the moves you cite probably contributed to his perception, so still worth a letter, but just wanted to note the difference.

  6. Anon -- I saw the as, and the historically. I did post it. It's still a rationalization for not marketing or listening to women. It's a way to say that all the individual women he sees are an insignificant minority, so I--and most of the rest of us--are reacting the impression of the unqualified statement because those two little words are meaningless after the message we've gotten from DC.

  7. "PEOPLE" aren't reading comics let alone women, we keep making superheroes the end all be all to American comics which is why last month no American comic reached the 100k mark, hell most people don't even know comics still exist. What we should be doing is showing "people" that there's more to comics than Spider-Man, Superman and Batman like The Walking Dead, Morning Glories, Mice Templar and Joe the Barbarian. Superheroes are a genre like Shonen, everyone doesn't want to read about colorful spandex-clad men and women with(sometimes)ridiculous code-names. There's more out there, thats what we need to show "people" not just a specific gender, i mean most guys don't read comics either.

  8. I know plenty (ok a few) of women that either read or used to read superhero comics though I have to agree with Levitz that super heroes are MORE apeeling to guys then girls.

    The thing about that interview is that he didn't say comics shouldn't try to insterest women readers it, but he doesn't make a big push comics doing it either.

  9. Anonymous:

    You might have a better shot with that argument on a blog that isn't at least 85% devoted to superhero comics.

    i.e. your own. You know that it's free, right?

  10. lol Try being a black comic book nerd when all the black characters are, well, lame with a few exceptions. Face facts, the comic industry is the perfect example of the old boys club. Women and minorities should create and publish their own comics, because if you wait for "the comic book industry" to join the 20th century(I've given up hope of them ever joing the 21st century), you're going to be waiting a very long time.

  11. Anon: Parse his comment and make what you will out of "as". This is what he said,"I think the whole myth of superheroes is that they simply aren’t appealing to women as they are to men."

  12. Anonymous:

    I, too, am an African-American who reads comics, and has since he was a kid. I know, all too well, the pain of loving a medium where my culture is, at best, an afterthought all too often.

    You forget that women and minorities have been making their own comics. From Big Two-assisted projects like Minx and Milestone to smaller works like Blackjack, there's been a long, and complex, and oft-rich history of such works. So I don't know why you're throwing out that old bromide of "why don't you just do it for yourself", because so many of the critics have, and still do.

    Moreover, all that doesn't forgive the major companies from being brought to task on their actions or statements. The truth of what's being presented here isn't about waiting -- it's the opposite, it's exactly about action. It's about sometimes making your own works, yet when not everyone can, or should, you also buy what we want to support. You go on, to talk about why you support it, to bond with others with similar points, and to inform, as directly as possible, the companies why you do so, so there is no confusion on their part.

    This is, if you look at history, how change is made. Not just by doing for "your own", but also by pressuring and leveraging the establishment to provide what they should have all along -- opportunities, and not just handouts and tokenism. Demanding that is in line with the best changes in the history of civilization.

  13. Asim, you make some very valid points but I stand by what I said. It would be nice if the bigger companies played fair but they don't and asking them to or expecting them to is sheer folly. The establishment has made MILLIONS of dollars from selling their books to women and minorities but still continues to ignore them.

    I'm not about to beg them to do the right thing when they have made it pretty clear that they only care about the socially awkward white male audience.

    See, you don't snub me when I'm a loyal, paying customer. Nope, not gonna enrich someone who's too dense to realize that the world doesn't begin and end with their worldview. There are so many rich cultures in the world, but you wouldn't know it if yoy look at the world of the spandex wearing superheroes.

    Take away Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Tony Isabella and Todd McFarlane and you'll be hard pressed to find any modern day creators who take minorities seriously as heroes.

    That's why I'd rather have my own company and call the shots so that I can see stories and characters that look like me and not wait for someone in the "mainstream" to discover that minorities read comics. So I can see female characters that kick ass and take names but aren't dressed like a swimsuit model or some hooker.

    John Johnson did it with "Ebony" and "Jet" magazines and I hope to see someone like him do the same with comics.

  14. Before criticizing someone for something they said, it's important to understand what they really said as opposed to what you somehow wanted them to have said so that you can feel righteous and offended.

    Maybe you want to ignore Levitz's inclusion of the word "AS" in his statement, but he included that word for a reason. It isn't "parsing" things to take a look at his statement as he intended it. Only by willfully ignoring that "AS" could you get so worked up and upset.

    In your letter to DC you say: "the former publisher of DC Comics...said he felt that women were not interested in superheroes".

    But that's NOT what Levitz said! He just pointed out that by the numbers women aren't AS interested in superheroes as guys are. Which is unfortunately true.

    How can you even argue with this? It's simply a fact that, as Levitz says, "The fundamental dynamic of the superhero story has historically been more appealing to boys than to girls." To argue against Levitz here, you need to have some sort of factual documents that prove him wrong. Is there a big cover-up concealing the fact that 58% of all super-hero comics buyers are actually female? Do you have some secret you'd like to share with us about how in 1972 internal documents at Marvel and DC showed that more girls were buying their super-hero comics than boys? Because no one else thinks it was ever that way, so any such revelations would be a huge coup. (Sorry, I'm being a little facetious here, but you get the point.)

    I'm sure Levitz and DC and everyone else WISHES that they could sell more comics to women. But the reality is that it's never worked out. Levitz isn't making some sort of sexist judgment call; he's simply stating what's been factually correct so far.

    Is it sexist to say that in general women haven't been as keen on comic book superheroes as men have been? Of course not. No more than it's sexist to say that in general Japanese people enjoy manga more than Icelandic people do. Statements like these are simply factual.

    Now, has DC and Levitz in particular gone about things in the right ways to attract more female readers? No, imo they've done a fairly poor job--and when you critize them on those aspects, you make a lot of good points.

    Look, I want more diversity in comics the same way you do, and the same way most readers do. But you have to consider the marketplace as it is. Trying to expand the marketplace into different demographics would be wonderful--but also very difficult. It's this difficulty which Levitz's factual statements reference. Because most women today (even more so than most guys) are uninterested in buying superhero comics, it makes it very difficult to TRY to capture that demographic while turning any profit whatsoever.

    This is simply the reality. I wish it wasn't. I HOPE it changes. But change will be very difficult.

    You can accept the reality, or you can bang your head againt cognitive dissonance every chance you get and willfully misread the statements of those bad old white men in order to make yourself feel righteous and offended...over statements that were never made the way you want to think they were made.

    The Twitter crowd who waits every day to find something to get indignant about--well, they basically deserve to live in their angry reality. You can say what DC "should" do, but if you don't have any publishing experience, then really all you show is your own naivite. The world isn't a happy little funland where everyone gets what they want. But it isn't an Angry Land where bad old white men are always making mean statements against you. Because if you bothered to actually take the time to read those statements, you'd see that they didn't say what you think they said at all.

  15. *Oops, when I wrote "No more than it's sexist to say that in general Japanese people enjoy manga more than Icelandic people do" I meant "racist" not "sexist".

    And I misspelled "against" as "againt".

    We all make misstakes. Good blog overall.

  16. J, you're missing the point of the letter, which is to tell Harras that women are a viable audience and not to allow such assumptions to make him take a pass on the female market like Levitz seems to have.

    And if we're going to parse what a man is REALLY saying, then yes, let's do that:

    "The fundamental dynamic of the superhero story has historically been more appealing to boys than to girls."

    This is FUNDAMENTALLY untrue. The "fundamental dynamic of the superhero story" can be argued to be an independent hero with powers rising up against a threat to the community, which HISTORICALLY has appealed to all genders as far back as Ancient freaking Sumeria.

    This is an argument that's been going on since Marston first approached publishers with his idea that a female hero might bring in female readers, and he was right back then because early Wonder Woman DID sell better to girls than boys.

    As I said in my letter to Harras, the only thing keeping publishers from that sweet female fan money is their own attitudes. There's plenty of evidence that women like science fiction, genre, and heroic stories. The "Reality" you're telling me to accept is just sexism disguised as conventional wisdom, causing the defeatist attitude that makes them give up on the female market even as they offer a halfhearted handout.

    So yeah, I do understand what he was saying, I just say what he was saying was wrong with or without the qualifiers and that the qualifiers are so meaningless that I don't think they're worth mentioning in a letter to a third party.

  17. Maybe this is something I should try and do.