One of the world’s biggest comic-book festivals, Angoulême, made the headlines earlier this year when it failed to include any women in their 30-strong shortlist for the lifetime achievement award. The Women in Comics Collective Against Sexism called for a boycott of the prize and many prominent nominees demanded their names be removed from the list.
In a statement, the festival attributed this shortcoming to a lack of female artists in comic-book history. At The London Book Fair this week, Hannah Berry (graphic novelist, writer and illustrator), Audrey Niffenegger (visual artist and writer), Corinne Pearlman (Creative Director, Myriad Editions) and Sophie Castille (International Rights Director, Mediation) formed the panel to question, in this ‘golden era for comics and graphic novels’, if this is even true, and examine the state of women in comics today. Here are our top 10 takeaway points.
Have things changed over the last 20 years?
1) Comics were previously created by men, managed by men and read mainly by men. So it has changed. There are now many more genres and markets for this form, and both women and men are creators and readers.
2) You have to consider the American style, Marvel and DC, comics separate to the rest. Indie published comics and graphic novels have increased in popularity over recent years, and there seem to be an equal number of female and male creators in this area, with plenty of women editors.
3) While indie publishers of comics and graphic novels are thriving, bigger publishers often fail to enter the market successfully. Many tried and failed during the big 1980s boom, and they’ve seen little success since the continued increase in popularity since the late 90s.
4) It’s the bigger publishers that seem to employ mainly male editors, publishing the work of male creators.
Are events and exhibitions important?
5) People who are working in comics know that there are women in comics. But exhibitions and industry conferences are important in communicating this to the public and across the industry.
6) All-female events and exhibitions are important for women’s visibility and recognition, but they also risk the creation a women’s sub-genre within the sector. We should be banging the drum for women creators, but with caution – women shouldn’t become the other.
What can be done for women in comics?
7) Help each other. Bring other women up with you, and make the lesser know a bit more known – don’t just go back to the same people when looking for exhibitors and speakers.
8) ‘Spread the love’ – mentor and nurture any talent and excellence you come across.
9) Be purposeful in your approach to women in comics, but be wary of introducing positive discrimination and quotas as this risks overshadowing the achievement of creators and publishers.
10) The comics sector is still very white. It’s not just women that aren’t being represented fairly, there’s a lack of diversity across the sector as a whole. Engage with creators at grass-roots levels, smaller festivals and indie publishers, and change will follow.