Despite efforts to balance the scales, Marvel and DC still focus primarily on creating male comic characters.
One of the blatant paradoxes of many a human society is the fact that women make up 50 percent of the population, but are often treated as a minority. In fewer places is this clearer than in the world of comic books where the status quo has long been one tailored toward individuals possessing a Y chromosome. It’s something that major comic makers like Marvel and DC have been trying to reverse in recent years, with some success. That being the case, recent reports on the state of female characters in comics would indicate that there’s still a long way to go.
The report, which was recently published but the media site FiveThirtyEight, found that among DC and Marvel’s current line-ups, only around one out of every four characters is a woman. More precisely female characters only represent around 30 percent of either company’s overall cast, with DC Comics claiming a slight lead over Marvel owing, in part, to its early willingness to create female counterparts to its male leads.
The roots of this uneven division are, in turn, likely grounded in what comic companies perceive to be their primary audience: white men. And while this might be true to some degree, there’s also some indication that things remain this way simply because comic makers don’t create products with appeal for anyone else. In addition to the fact that most of the people working in comics are men, there’s a belief among some that they’ve narrowed their sights on a shrinking demographic of white male readers. “Over time, we started to appeal to the same, dwindling fans,” said Thor-writer Jason Aaron.
A possible side effect of this narrowly focused creative process however, could be the passing up of potential profits from other corners. Speaking in the report, Aaron cited the success of Marvel’s Ms. Marvel, especially in digital formats. “That book has great digital sales,” he said. “Clearly it’s reaching an audience we haven’t been reaching before through our longstanding distribution system.” Fronted by a female Muslim Pakistani heroine, Ms. Marvel‘s creator G. Willow Wilson expected the book to die less than a year after its release. The wider availability offered by things like digital distribution however have helped it to build a strong fan following that’s helped it to be a repeat top seller for Marvel.
Sadly, despite the success of properties like Ms. Marvel, big name brands are still playing things fairly safe when it comes to the creation of new books and characters. Even in the past few years female characters only made up around 30 percent of new superheroes introduced by Marvel and DC. One can only hope that things like the introduction of a lady Thor, the continued success of Ms. Marvel and the introduction of various solo series will eventually help tip the tide toward a more balanced comics market.