Being a woman in comics requires you to be your own kind of super hero: a powerful mutant, strange alien, or arcane magical creature. You need to develop armor-like skin, unshakable nerves, and brass ovaries (metaphorical brass ovaries – trans comic ladies know all about the struggle, and then some.) The female comic-creator must be willing to work hard, constantly develop her skills, and promote herself relentlessly; all while deflecting irrelevant questions, graciously taking criticism, and not throat-punching people who feel it necessary to question if she’s really into comics at all.
For most of its history, the comic industry has been something of a boys’ club. The reasons why could be an entire doctoral dissertation, so I’m really not going to attempt to get into them here. However, women have always been involved as creators, editors, and readers. Romance and slice-of-life comics were big business in the 40s through the early 70s, and were primarily aimed at women. Women being a big audience didn’t stop female creators from facing an uphill battle, however. Dale Messick famously had to adopt her androgynous pseudonym in order to stop her portfolio from being passed over (since no one was interested in hiring Dalia Messick) in order to be hired to create the ridiculously long-running comic strip “Brenda Starr.”
While a handful of really amazing women have long graced the mainstream of comics (writer Gail Simone, and artist Lynn Varley immediately spring to mind), ladies have also been churning away in the alternative scenes. From Wendy Pini self-publishing Elf Quest to Trina Robbins representing in the underground Comix scene, women have been pulling their weight and doing incredible work throughout comic history.
And now we have webcomics – a comic form that has seen a larger percentage of female creators than any movement before. The great thing about webcomics (about the internet in general) is that anyone can jump online and put their work out there. Even better – anyone can jump online and see your work.(Yes, okay, I know it’s not quite that easy; believe me, I have seen my own site’s analytics. But in essence, this is true.) There is no editor to gloss over your portfolio because of your girly name, no prickly comic shop owner to make new readers feel unwelcome, no chief executive to ponder if “special interests” like half the human race are worth trying to sell to. It’s just the creator and the quality of their work.
Just kidding! This is the internet! Where people delight in burning each other to the ground for things so trivial as existing, having opinions, and getting milkshakes. As we all know, existing as a woman on the internet can be fraught, and comics are no exception. Webcomics and social media have given women creators so much more opportunity and audience than they have ever had before, but with it comes all the pointless obnoxious criticisms (this is just dumb girly stuff), attacks on credentials (what do you know, you’re not even a real comic nerd), and the possibility of being the target of the next coordinated Whatever-Stupid-Thing-Gate should you dare ever speak up for yourself or in support of your peers. Polish that armor-skin, ladies; we can get through this.
This kind of constant challenge to female comic creators is not limited to online interactions. There are still far fewer female comic creators employed by the Big Two than there should be. Those that do work in the mainstream tend to be completely amazing, (have you checked out the awesomeness that is G. Willow Wilson or Erica Henderson?!) in part because they have to be. Despite what some people think, female creators do not get hired just to add token diversity to the payroll and the bar for women in comics, as in many male-dominated fields, is just so much higher. Time to call on those super-powers again to make sure your work is always stunning!
Personally, I have always found the greatest test of my super-human nerve and patience to be in-person interactions. Don’t get me wrong, I love going to comic conventions and shops and meeting prospective fans, gushing about our favorite books, and finding new comics to get into. However, if one more person asks my husband if these are his comics while I’m literally sitting RIGHT THERE I think my head might explode. (I personally don’t think he looks much like an “Amanda” but maybe I’m missing something.) Similarly, assumptions that I must have gotten into comics because of manga (nope) or other comic-fans trying to prove that they know more than me about comics (I have a Mother-Effing degree in them, but okay, sure dude) wear thin. My unshakable nerves need more training, I think.
I definitely don’t want to sound grim; comics are an unbelievably powerful storytelling medium and I love them intensely. There is good news out there: the fastest growing demographic of comic readers is women aged 17-33, there are multiple small comic publishers specifically looking to promote women’s work, and despite how disruptive the handful of trolls can be, the overwhelming majority of comic professionals and fans absolutely stand behind and come to the defense of comic women who get harassed online. As much as we are required to muster our powers and fight now, we are slowly winning the battle. We are forging a better future for women in comics, and everyone else along with us.
Amanda is the primary writer and sole artist for Age of Night. She lives in a cabin the woods of Maine where she works on AoN and many other freelance art projects. Between drawing and fending off bears she enjoys cooking, listening to music, watching movies, analog gaming, exploring the outdoors, and playing with her sons and her cat.