Attracting Female Readers, part II

Attracting Female Readers, part II

by the Legend Chuck Dixon

Continued from Attracting Female Readers, part I

Back to history for a moment. The female comic readers, along with the boys, stopped buying and reading comics in significant numbers in the 1970s. This led to the “implosion” in sale that very nearly drove the major comics publishers out of business. Only through timely sales of properties to ancillary media, licensing from a sudden interest in superhero action figures, and some canny marketing (by Stan Lee at Marvel) did they manage to hang on.

But even as sales began to rise again in the 80s and boom in the 90s, the ladies did not return to the spinracks. The reason for this is the same reason that the sale plummeted in the first place, the emphasis on superhero titles. The comics with the largest block of female readers were gone for the most part. Genres like humor, romance and horror had vanished. Now it was all either musclemen and monsters punching each other over the fate of the universe or self-tortured masked loners battling their inner demons by duking it out with thematic psychos in rainy alleyways.

In this period there were only two titles that consistently dominated comics sales. They were both at Marvel. One was a title so scientifically boy-targeted it could not fail. G.I. Joe, under the expert guidance of Larry Hama and backed by a phenomenal toy line, reigned over comics for a decade as the number one title. Take that, Watchmen. Its nearest sale rival was X-Men, as written by Chris Claremont.

With no toy line to support it and the first X-Men movie years away, what lifted this series above the rest?

Well, it was the ladies.

Claremont wrote the X-Men not as a monthly comic book but as a decades-spanning saga, practically a lifestyle. He infused every character with traits and flaws and tragic pasts to a depth not often seen in superhero comics.

And story lines were layered like a Napoleon pastry. Even the layers had layers. And running sub-plots could last for years before being resolved or, often, never resolved. Claremont also added loads of female characters to the cast until the X-Men became the only gender-equal superhero ensemble in comics. And, remarkably by today’s standards, he did it without an agenda beyond entertainment.

There was no ballyhoo made when Storm, a woman of color, became leader of the X-Men. Claremont created a character and situation where Storm was the best choice. Readers not only approved, they loved it. In today’s atmosphere this would have been the virtue-signaling opportunity of lifetime. We’d all be told that we had no choice but to not only approve, but celebrate the story by buying multiple copies. If we didn’t, well, you know what you are, Mr. Hater.

But, back in the 1990s, it just seemed like a cool comic book giving a much-loved character her due.

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Comments (4)

  • Paul Reply

    The man to ask about girls’ comics is Pat Mills, the creator of 2000AD and other British comics. He also wrote for many girls’ comics and really is a massive figure in modern UK comics. He’s convinced that there is still a huge market for all comics, including for girls, as long as they are aimed at genuine youngsters and not the ‘cool kids’. According to him, the problem is with the executives, not the internet or video games – very similar to what Chuck said.

    He once said that there are three core stories that sell to girls: Cinderella, the slave story (Slaves of War Orphan Farm, anyone? Yes, really) and the friendship story. He also pointed out that girls love stories with mysterious unopened boxes, but boys just want to see Hook Jaw the shark eat someone on every third page.

    Check out http://millsverse.com/

    December 5, 2018 at 9:16 pm
  • EDU Reply

    I too remember those early days of X-Men fondly. The series got off track later on, but those first few years were magic. I walked to every variety store in town trying to find mint copies of the early Byrne issues. And it never occurred to me that there were too many women or too many people of color. Many started off as fairly broad caricatures of some ethnicity or another, but at least there was nothing preachy about them and Claremont loaded them with personality and backstory. The good ones endured and are still loved today.

    December 13, 2018 at 8:56 pm
  • Uncle John’s Band Reply

    Before the implosion, the notion that different titles and genres would appeal to boys and girls wasn’t cause for blacklisting.

    September 23, 2019 at 11:19 am
  • Bill Willingham Reply

    Good post, in two parts. I can’t help feeling there’s one or two more to go. Looking forward to it/them.

    June 26, 2020 at 5:51 am

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