The testosterone-fuelled BIFF! BANG! KAPOW! of classic comics can seem uninviting, filled with spandex-clad men and swooning damsels who hold limited appeal outside the stereotypical 18-35 year-old male demographic. But things are changing in the world of comics, with the widespread introduction of more diverse characters and female-friendly storylines than ever before. For young, female readers in particular, there are plenty of comics to fan-girl over.
Marvel Comics recently pledged to promote gender diversity with their Characters and Creators initiative. The pervasiveness of the male gaze in comics had regularly come under fire from fans and critics, and in online movements like The Hawkeye Initiative. Characters and Creators aims to increase female representation in the male-dominated world of comics, with more female characters and women working behind-the-scenes as creators.
Marvel kicked off its gender shakeup with the introduction of a new Ms. Marvel – sixteen-year-old Pakistani-American Muslim Kamala Khan (the first in superhero history). Kamala proved to be a hit with audiences, with Ms. Marvel #1 taking out the top spot on Marvel’s digital sales chart.
Last month, the publisher disclosed further changes to many of their long-running comics series. It was announced that Sam Wilson would be taking over from Steve Rogers as Captain America, making him the second black Captain America (following the footsteps of Isaiah Bradley). Marvel also revealed a new Thor series featuring a female hero. Series writer Jason Aaron was emphatic that the decision was not an act of tokenism. ‘This is not She-Thor. This is not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is THOR.’
Speaking to the Washington Post, Jeanine Schaefer, editor of the new all-female X-Men comic, said, ‘There’s this fear that the men who have traditionally been our fan base will stop reading if we bring in new voices, but we’re finding that that’s just not the case.’
In July, DC Comics also revealed positive changes by unveiling a new costume for Batgirl that was practical, rather than skimpy. Her creative team also promised more LGBT representation than ever before.
Of course, Marvel and DC Comics are not the first publishers to recognise the importance of inclusivity. Image Comics, who publish The Walking Dead and Saga (which swept the prestigious Eisner Awards this year), have long prided themselves on hiring female creators and creating series that appeal to many different readers. At a major comics conference in February, Image Comics publisher Eric Stephenson said, ‘Right now, the fastest growing demographic for Image Comics, and I’m willing to speculate, for the entire industry, is women.’
Cazz Jennings works at Melbourne comic book store All Star Comics. She firmly believes that ‘no matter your sex, gender, size, race, sexual orientation or species, the comic book world welcomes you with open arms’.
‘Thanks to a team of innovative, creative people, I now am a firm believer that comics are for everybody,’ Cazz says. ‘Just like novels, there are different types and genres. My fifty-year-old mother is enjoying the comic book adaptation of Pride and Prejudice while my brother (who once made fun of me for reading comics) now obsesses over The Walking Dead TV series. Thanks to the mainstreaming of comics they have not only become more accessible, but more experimental, unique and welcoming.’
For newbies looking to the comic book scene, here are some recommended reads from All Star Comics:
- Princeless: This story of Adrienne, a princess who isn’t going to wait around to be rescued, will appeal to all ages.
- Ms Marvel: Kamala, now calling herself Ms Marvel, not only faces conflicts with villains, but grapples with her family and religious obligations as well. A down to earth superhero for a new generation.
- Lumberjanes: Best friends Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley are away at scout camp Lumberjane. In between hiking and friendship bracelets, these girls go on insane quests to battle yetis and solve supernatural mysteries.
- Gotham Central: Gotham’s Police Force is sick of working in the shadows of Batman. Detective Renee Montoya is a lesbian policewoman who must finally be true to herself.
- Rat Queens: A dark, comedic and violent tale of a group of monster hunters for hire. These girls may live in a Fantasy Land but they still need to deal with everyday problems like family loyalty, hangovers and falling in love.