By now the company-wide relaunch of all of DC’s titles shouldn’t be news to anyone in comics fandom, nor should the fact that with the reshuffling around of talent, DC has gone from women making up 12% of their credited creators to 1%. This has, understandably, raised a lot of concerns with fans, several of whom male and female broached those concerns at last week’s San Diego Comic Con, where they were met with deflection, jokes from male creators, and a bewildering amount of hostility from Co-Publisher Dan DiDio, who demanded to know who they should have hired.
And here’s the thing: several popular female creators were approached to take part in the relaunch, like Kelly Sue DeConnick, Marjorie M. Liu, and Rebekah Isaacs. Probably more were approached or submitted pitches that we haven’t heard about. Maybe a lot more. So yeah, I don’t entirely blame DiDio for being frustrated, if he tried to get female talent, was unable to for various reasons, and is now being taken to task for it.
But 2 women to 105 men is a pretty hefty imbalance. And I doubt 103 women were approached and turned DC down.
I’ve been reading a lot about this and the comment I keep seeing is ‘What do you want, a quota?’ People critiquing the hiring decisions are quick to deny that they want a quota and instead offer lists of female writers and artists they’d like to see in the relaunch: ‘No, I don’t want a quota, but how about Amanda Conner?’
I’ll say it: I want a quota.
This is not to say that I want DC to grab the first ten women who walk by the office and give them jobs writing and drawing comics. And I’m aware that DC doesn’t hire people who haven’t already established themselves in some way, and with good reason. Top publishers don’t take unsolicited talent. (Despite Grant Morrison’s implication that you can simply ‘send in your stuff’ to DC and be considered.)
I’m also aware that there are far more men working in the comic book industry than women. And I would assume that there are more men trying to break into the comic book industry than women, though of course it’s nearly impossible to know the stats on that. So if there’s one writing job and 9 out of 10 of the people gunning for it are male, odds are it’s going to go to a dude.
But it’s a self-perpetuating cycle. The reason there are more men trying to break into comics is because comics are still perceived as being Not For Girls. Because the industry is already male-dominated. Because the comics are mostly about (straight, white, cisgendered, able-bodied) men. Because the industry markets itself to men. So women consume manga and independent comics and webcomics, and the superhero comic book industry ignores that audience and its potential revenue.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t women trying to break into superhero comics. It just means that there are fewer women trying to break into superhero comics, because they’ve been told so often by the marketing tactics, by the covers, by the stories from the industry, by being mocked and dismissed at conventions that superhero comics are Not For Girls.
But as Laura Hudson points out beautifully, a more diverse stable of creators leads to better comics. Plus, simply by appealing to women who, you know, make up half of the world DC has the opportunity to nearly double their revenue. Twice as much money! Who doesn’t want that?
If DC wants to rectify their skewed gender ratio even a little, they need to start by mining that small pool of aspiring women more heavily than the larger pool of male creators. Again, I’m not saying DC should hire women at random or compromise their standards. But here’s a thought: why not open up a month-long call for submissions from female writers and artists who’d like to break into the industry but haven’t quite gotten there yet? Female artists can send in portfolios; female writers, pitches and scripts. Sure, you’ll have to wade through a lot of dross, but that’s what interns are for!
I’m not suggesting putting an untried artist on Detective Comics right off the (forgive me) bat. Just let her get her foot in the door. Hire female artists as inkers as a stepping stone to them becoming pencillers. Give female writers one-shots and miniseries as trial runs, or backup strips. Give women who don’t necessarily write or draw in the house style a chance, as Marvel did with Girl Comics.
And if you do that, if you open that door for women and tell them that you want to see what they can do and if you look at what they can do in good faith, with the intention of finding creators to hire among them you can easily bump that 1% up to 5%. Or 10%. Would I love to see 50% of the creative credits on DC’s titles taken by women? Of course. But even 10%, aggressively sought after, would make a difference to the market, and be an enormous show of goodwill to fans everywhere who are concerned about the current gender ratio.
Dan DiDio was asked if DC was committed to hiring more women. He didn’t exactly answer the question (‘I’m committed to hiring the absolute best writers and artists.’), but if the answer is yes, then they should show that commitment by actually hiring more women.
And if the answer is no, then they should say so, and we can all stop wasting our time.