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Women Quietly Become a Force in Comic Book World

Since Clark Kent got his first desk job, comic books have been a male-dominated field. Be it the audience, the creators or the titles themselves, the numbers were downright anemic when it came to female involvement.

But women, though small in number, have always had a place in the comic book industry, from “Kewpie Doll” illustrator Rose O’Neill to “Wonder Woman” editor Alice Marble. And thanks to the surge in popularity of comic book movies, comics have become more accessible, and have seen their fanboy base grow to include more women. This growth is reflected behind the scenes as well, as more women add their voice to titles.

“I can still see things moving forward,” says “Gotham Academy” creator Becky Cloonan. “Being more inclusive allows for more diverse stories to be told, which in turn allows for a larger readership, which feeds back into allowing for more creators. The industry is a lot healthier than it was 10 years ago, and by all accounts it should continue to flourish.”

DC Comics ushered in the golden age of the industry back when baby boomers were still carrying lunch boxes to school. In recent years, women have been entering the ranks of DC in larger numbers while revamped titles turn the heads of new femme fans.

“We are extremely proud to provide a creative platform for female writers and artists,” says Diane Nelson, DC Entertainment topper and president & chief content officer of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. “DC is home to some of the most powerful female superheroes in the world and our characters like Wonder Woman, Supergirl and Batgirl are proving that they can save the day in terrific stories that both our male and female fans are reading.”

Constantine” scribe Lauren Beukes got her start when she nervously displayed her wares at 2009 WonderCon in Montreal. “Fables” creator Bill Willingham took notice of her talent.

“He felt sorry for me because I was so nervous about doing a reading that he came along to support and I saw something change in his face as he watched me read,” Beukes recalls. “Like, hey, this woman can write. He forced me — no, really — to go meet Shelly Bond at Vertigo and then asked me to write a Rapunzel miniseries set in the ‘Fables’ universe a year later.”

“Harley Quinn” author Amanda Conner got her foot in the door the old-fashion way: chutzpah.

“I broke into the industry using a little bit of craftiness, and a lot of perseverance,” Conner says. “I would call DC and Marvel editors and explain to them that I was from out of town and was leaving that afternoon (which, technically, was the truth) and if I could please come up to the offices to show them my portfolio.”

But despite the growth of femme scribes in the industry, gender can still be an issue behind the issues. While there have been great strides in the field, there are still biases that exist within readers regarding female-driven titles.

“My landlord a few years ago told me he was proud of my success, but he’d never read my books because he doesn’t read books by women or about women,” Beukes says. “It’s the first time I’ve had it said to my face, but I imagine it happens a lot in comic shops and bookstores where guys just don’t pick up books with a woman’s name on the cover.”

However, the occasional bias against women in the comic-book industry may mirror society in general.

“Gender is an issue in every aspect of life,” says “Constantine: The Hellblazer” scribe Ming Doyle. “I certainly know that women creators can have a much different experience exhibiting at conventions than men. However, I wouldn’t say that these are issues in the industry specifically so much as problems that permeate our entire culture.”

“The Spiderwick Chronicles” mastermind and “Doll Bones” scribe Holly Black identifies how gender bias is translated into a person’s work.

“The discrimination I’ve seen manifests mostly in being overlooked,” Black says. “Whether that means getter fewer reviews, or having your work considered to be less universal or less serious, or not being asked to do panels that aren’t specifically about women — it’s largely subtle stuff that, unfortunately, adds up.”

However, not everyone has been subjected to this bias. As the industry grows, so do the perceptions of those within it.

“When I did come into any difficulties, I didn’t think of it as about being female,” Conner says. “I chalked it up being some of the struggles of breaking into the industry. If I do run into issues, I don’t dwell on them, because that takes time and energy away from making comics.”

As a result of growth and change in the industry, comics are now focusing on young female readers as a serious market.

“DC has joined forces with WB Consumer Products, Mattel and other brand partners to launch ‘DC SuperHero Girls,’” Nelson says. “It’s a ground-breaking new franchise that is part of our long-term strategy to harness the power and prominence of our female SuperHero characters.

“I think that comic books are one of the best mediums in the world. The goal for this business is figuring out how we get more books in front of more people — men and women, boys and girls — and how we inspire more young people to love these characters as much as the core fans. I’m confident that as long as we tell powerful stories with great characters, our industry will thrive.”

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