For a brief moment on Thursday afternoon at New York Comic Con, a group of women there to talk about women in comics talked instead about Wall Street. They pointed out that the male-dominated financial industry was closing the gender gap better than what's going on in mainstream comics.
"I took a look at the numbers and said 'Wow Wall Street does a better job,'" said Amy Chu, publisher and founder of Alpha Girl Comics. After Chu, who holds an MBA from Harvard, let loose with that revelation, fellow panelist Becky Cloonan chimed in with her own number-crunching, noting that around 40 percent of attendees at New York Comic Con are women. "But just 6 percent of the special guests are women. We have to work on this," Cloonan said.
Those two observations about women in the comics industry punctuated an afternoon of discussion about how far women working in the comics industry need to go before a "Women in Comics" panel isn't necessary. Women — as Chu, Cloonan, and their fellow panelists, creator Erica Schultz and librarians Claudia McGivney, Megan Kociolek, Emily Weisenstein and Laura Pope-Robbins will tell you — have come a long way in comics, closing the gender gap in the independent comic industry.
But in the creative departments at the Big Two, Marvel and DC, they still have a way's to go. The Los Angeles Times reported in 2012 that women were still a minority at those two companies. The reality, then, is that strong female characters like Wonder Woman, Storm, and Rogue aren't being written and helmed by wonder women.
The real-life struggles for women to make their mark in the mainstream comic industry come against the backdrop of Sheryl Sandberg's popular "lean in" mantra. And these battles show that higher-ups don't seem invested in marketing to young women despite the success of young adult novels like The Hunger Games and its iconic heroine Katniss Everdeen. Cloonan said she had written and pitched a series aimed at women in college and older. "We don't know how to sell it," came the inevitable response.
The hope for women like Chu and Cloonan is with youth. Because of technology and digital comics, there's been a democratization of the industry. Going to the comic book store isn't necessary anymore, and the intimidation factor is gone. And that's in turn allowed girls and women to read more.
Women make up some 20 percent of the digital comic readership, Comixology, a digital comic platform, reports. What's more, that number has quadrupled since Comixology first came on the scene in 2007. What female creators are banking on is that these women will inevitably grow up, will hopefully not stop reading, and maybe, just maybe, eventually make the industry more balanced than Wall Street.