Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Comics Get Their Own Guerrilla Girls

by Robert Boyd

I was reading The Beat, a blog about comics, yesterday. Heidi MacDonald, the publisher and primary author of The Beat, had received several postcards in the mail:
We’ve heard from some of our pals in the comics industry that they have received two anonymous postcards — both postmarked in Chicago — with various statistics on gender disparity in the comics industry. One highlights problems with the materials:
“Out of 352 titles from 12 major publishers, 829 women were depicted naked or partially nude. Compared to only 486 men.”
The other covers behind the scenes:
“Contributors by gender of 350 titles put out by 12 comic book and graphic novel publishers.
All titles: 17% female
$20+ titles: 31% female
“No matter how you slice it, women are under-represented in the industry.”
Reading this, I thought, a-ha! Someone has finally decided to go all "Guerrilla Girls" on the comics. The only thing surprising about this is that it took so long (the original Guerrilla Girls started publicizing their damning stats about the art world in 1985).

one of the Ladydrawers' post-cards

It turns out that there were five postcards in all (Heidi had only gotten two that day), and one of them had a URL. The folks behind the postcards are a group out of Chicago called Ladydrawers. The stats come from a close (but admittedly incomplete) reading of recently shipped comics. They claim it represents the top 12 publishers of comics in the U.S., but this seems kind of dubious because they include Last Gasp (a publisher that has been in business since the 1960s, but whose comics on the Ladydrawers list are mostly re-releases of comics published years ago) but doesn't include Viz or IDW  or BOOM! or several other contenders.

(Indeed, by including re-releases and new editions of old work, the database ends up mixing up new work and old work. So this is confusing if you are trying to take a snapshot of things as they are now. But these are minor quibbles and it's easy to see how the database could be improved. Sorry--I get excited about data analysis. It's a personal kink.)

It's instructive to look at the comments in Heidi McDonald's post. While I think the data has plenty of problems, the picture it paints is largely correct. But a lot of the guys responding can't see that. A woman points out that the problem is institutional sexism, which is apparently something these dudes have never heard of before.

I think it's a great start. The postcards--so unassuming and low-tech--were a brilliant idea. I do want the data to be more complete and to go back in time more (i.e., if you are going to have books published by Last Gasp and Drawn & Quarterly from 1995, you should have Marvel and DC comics from 1995 as well) so that one could see what changes have occurred over time--has the situation gotten better or worse? And once there is better data, how about some kick-ass infographics? These are just my thoughts--whatever the Ladydrawers choose to do next, I will be quite interested to see it.

The Guerrilla Girls, Do Women Have to Be Naked to Get Into U.S. Museums?, poster, 2007


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