Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Reasons for Comics Non-Readership Among Women Survey - The Results

About a month ago, author/artist Hope Larson released the results of a survey she sent out to female comics readers. It ruffled some feathers and started some conversations, but most of all it got me thinking. What about a survey of women and girls who don't read comics?

So I put one together.

While it wasn't a 100% perfect success - more on that shortly - I still think my respondents came up with some interesting replies. And what better way to kick off a blog for non-comics-reading women than by examining them half to death?

I asked these ladies to answer a few questions about themselves, about comics, and why the two so rarely meet. Here's what they gave me.

First, a couple of notes:

- I recieved a total of 71 responses. Not a huge sample, but considering how so many of the people I know are guys and/or already comics readers, good enough for me. (I picked up much of the slack by asking people to pass word of the survey on to their friends and family. Thanks again to those who did!)

- I intended for "comics" to include manga, graphic novels, and comic books in every genre, but apparently the term isn't as inclusive as I hoped it was. Many respondents focused on superhero comics, including a few well-meaning girls who identified as manga readers. To anyone making a survey of their own: be very specific.

- I specifically excluded newspaper comic strips and strip-style webcomics from my definition of "comics" in this survey. They're much more widely read than long-form comics, and I didn't want to turn away any potential survey-takers because they read Get Fuzzy/xkcd every day.

And now, the juicy stuff.


12% of the respondents were 13-15 years old
32% of the respondents were 16-18 years old
21% of the respondents were 19-25 years old
3% of the respondents were 26-30 years old
8% of the respondents were 31-40 years old
16% of the respondents were 41-50 years old
5% of the respondents were 51 years old or older

It may shock comic fans used to endless debates on the gender dynamics of comics fandom that my survey-takers seemed less concerned about comics being a boy's club and more concerned about it being a little boy's club.

My respondents were about three times more likely to choose "Comics seem inappropriate for my age" than "Comics seem inappropriate for my gender" as their reason for not reading comics. 25% chose age as one of their reasons, and 14% chose it as their primary reason. Gender, meanwhile, was chosen as one of the reasons by 8%, and as the primary reason by only 4%.

What's really fascinating is that age was chosen by respondents from every age group. (Though most were in the 31-or-older groups.) The youngest such respondent, in the 13-15 group, said:

The reason I personally don't read comics anymore is due to the fact that I went through the manga-anime phaze early in my life, and now it feels really childish to me. Even serious/mature comics, I wouldn't want to be seen outside my house with them.

Gender was likewise a concern among the young, old, and "middle" age groups in fairly even amounts.


However, the biggest concern by far was genre. 49% chose "I am unable to find comics in genres that interest me" as one of their reasons for not reading comics, and 27% chose it as their primary reason. So what are these women missing out on? Are they crying themselves to sleep because they can't find How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days: The Graphic Novel?

Turns out, not so much.
Romance and romantic comedy were fairly popular when respondents were able to choose multiple genres they enjoyed, at 40% and 51% respectively. But they nosedived when respondents were asked to choose just one favorite genre: 4% and 10%, respectively.

Instead, it's comedy that reigns supreme, with 86% choosing it as a genre they liked and 21% choosing it as their favorite genre. Not too far behind is action/adventure, with 68% "like" and 15% "favorite." Other "guy"/"neutral" genres like fantasy, mystery, and suspense/thriller were fairly well-liked as well.

Interestingly, while science fiction was a "like" genre among less than half the respondents, it was the third most popular "favorite" genre. When women like science fiction, they like it a lot.

Some stereotypes do hold on, though: Western, war/military, and sports were the three least popular genres.

Experience in comic book stores was divided almost perfectly into fourths:

23% had visisted one comic book store.
26% had visited multiple comic book stores.
25% had some interest in visiting a comic book store, but did not have or were not aware of any in their area.
23% had no interest in visiting a comic book store.

Many who had been to a comic book store mentioned that they visited with their children or husband.

In a sadly predictable turn of events, most of the write-in results from women who had visited comic book stores were negative to varying degrees. "Crowded" and "overwhelming" were common complaints.

From #4:
I take my daughter and my son to buy the comics they want frequently and mostly the stores seem like a place for younger people.

From #18:
They were all very nicely decorated, but a little over-whelming. I was a little nervous asking questions because I was afraid I would sound stupid or inexperienced.

From #25:
It was very crowded and had many books. Some of them did not look appropriate. Most of the art looked the same.

From #40:
A zillion comics, most of which had big-titted ladies or superheroes or high school students on the covers, arranged in a maze so that I had no idea how to avoid big titted ladies and superheroes and high school students and find anything with a tiny bit of brain.

From #61:
Was there with my kid. I felt lost and disoriented.

While they may not be wildly popular among current comics readers, adaptations of movies, books, and television shows seem to have some appeal to current non-readers:

53% said they would be interested in a comics adaptation of their favorite movie/book/show.

26% said they would be interested in a comics spin-off or sequel of their favorite movie/book/show.
Another 26% also had interest, but only if the writer of the original was involved in the comic.

34% said they would be interested in reading an unrelated comic by the writer of their favorite movie/book/show.
Another 19% had some interest, but would rather see that writer stay within their original medium.


For my final question, I asked my respondents to imagine they were giving advice to a group of comics creators, publishers, and retailers.

From #4:
I would suggest focusing on themes we can be relate to. Maybe themes of the older TV shows and movies that we already know of and like.

From #8:
i would tell them that their comic books should bead advertised more because i usually do not know when new ones come out or if they even make anymore. i would also advise them to bring more comics books into stores people vistit more often like book stores or maybe even grocery stores

From #10:
to target my audience have more vivid strong female characters. include the action of men's comics but give greater depth (strong, philosophical, zen). show women kick ass in many areas.

From #14:
Find ways too break the "geeky" steriotype of comics. [. . .] If the comics could be promoted better both through more places carrying them and though the promotion of "different" comics there would be far more comics enthusiasts. By, "different" comics I mean that there is the "geeky" stereotype to comics where most people think that they have to either know everything there is to know about computers or be superhero-wannabes to be able to understand and enjoy comics.

From #18
Don't make your comic mythos so dauntingly complex that it's impossible to know where to start. I often get the feeling from the comics community that it's a little club I'm not really allowed to be a part of unless I'm a total expert, and that's definitely alienating for a beginner.

From #20:
Maybe they could advertise more for women. Comic books in different medias are seen as a 'boy's' activity, which I think might discourage women to even try to read them, thinking they won't be interested in it. So if comic creators think that their comic would attract either females or even both genders, they should make sure that their target audience is aware of that.

From #37:
I was an avid comic reader in my teens, but now that I've grown up, life leaves no extra time for comic books. Perhaps shorter comic books that could be read during a few spare minutes over a short amount of time would do, but for the most part woman have other things to do.

From #39:
Prove to me that geeky misogynists and thirteen year old girls with ADHD are not the target audience for most comics.

From #40:
I really don't know. I don't have anything against comics; I just want to read a good story with compelling characters which will make me think, and my impression has been that I'll have better luck with that reading a book, or watching a movie. I don't think the advice is "be less shallow," because I know a lot of comics aren't shallow at all--but the amount of brainless sexist bullshit I have to wade through to get to the good stuff is a lot more aggravating.

From #44:
I'm guessing you're counting graphic novels as well. So, I say that if there was some available online so people could determine if they like it or not. People with webcomics have released theirs in book form and sold out because people enjoyed it and wanted a tangible form as well.

From #57:
Make posters! Tell US what you do! If we don't know it exists, we can't read it!!! A lot of people will get tired of searching, so GIVE IT to them!! Make it available! =D

From #59:
I myself am perfectly willing to read comic books if I were to get the chance, but I have no idea what comics to read, or where to get a hold of them once I am recommended something to my tastes.

From #61:
Relate comics to media or experiences I'm familiar with. Explain the benefits and brief history of this art form in a personal way. How can it benefit my cultural outlook or become part of my peer group?

From #62:
Making comic books more readily available in outlets such as groceries, convenience stores, etc. When trying to find really intriguing comics, you have to scour the specialty stores/bookstores, etc, in order to find the comic books that would appeal to girls, young women, and women.

From #69:
I guess when I'm at the bookstore or library the comics or graphic novels are separated from other books and I don't usually browse in that section. So maybe if there were some adult comics with genres that are interesting to me they should be with the other adult novels?

And then there's #32, who looks out into her hypothetical crowd of creators, publishers, and retailers, and tells it like it is:
i have no idea. thats what they're for, right?


  1. Even as a devoted comics-reading girl, I can certainly understand where most of these ladies are coming from. It's a relief that comics don't simply seem to be dismissed as entirely stupid; I think that the problem of poor advertising is maybe the one that plagues potential readers the most. Comics--and graphic novels only occasionally--are rarely seen on bestseller lists or reviewed in magazines/literary journals/etc. This is a problem that would equally affect both genders, though, so there's obviously still some gender bias that remains--if only the fact that girls are more insecure about behavior that could be seen as immature.
    This is a great survey; it's nice to see the view from the other side, so to speak. Hopefully, comics will someday be less condemning in the public eye; certainly, many comics are misogynistic, stupid, and poorly plotted, but if romance novels are condoned by women, then I can't see why comics get such a bad rep. Sturgeon's Law, y'know--ninety percent of everything is crap, but the ten percent remaining is often fantastic.
    Ah, sorry for the ridiculously long comment, but I find this format much more freeing than DeviantArt. hopefully, this was all pretty coherent! :D

  2. Oh, I could go on for hours about possible reasons comics have such a bad rep and still not stumble upon the right answer. It's probably dozens of little causes leading to one big effect.

  3. I can agree with some of these things here. Women definitely have much more than men do on their plate of "things to do." Most women are housewives, and as much as that sounds like a negative thing to say, it's really true. Many women are married to their households. There are the children to consider, the housework, the cooking, the shopping, the laundry... There is rarely time to slosh through the world of comics and manga to find something that is good and worth reading. Then there's the issue of waiting for the next issue to come out, and many women just don't have the time for that unfortunately. Because there are certainly some manga and comics that are worth reading!
    While reading comics might just be the perfect thing for women of all ages (something that can be read in a relatively short amount of time in between all of those other chores that need to be done), it is true that many women would not want to be seen walking around reading comics. It's all a matter of stereotypes and associations that, in the end, is really quite silly. However, they exist according to greater societal views, and therefore, manga and comics are frequently hidden behind the "better" literature. The other issue is, frankly, that manga and comics aren't seen as literature, and dismissed as something for children because they're pictures.
    As a manga reader myself, I've tried explaining the appeal to my parents. They are proper stories. They're merely told with images and speech instead of the written word. Many, however, don't see it that way.
    Just my two cents. :)

  4. Mm. Not having the time to research comics does seem to be a huge barrier. Between keeping up with the house and (if they have them) their jobs and children, even if they have a partner helping them out, women don't have a lot of time to hunt for entertainment.

    It's a lot easier to look at a theatre's website to see what's playing, or to pick something from a display table at the front of a bookstore, than to dig through the internet or the far corner of some store, especially if you're not certain the medium will have something you want.

    Hopefully, this blog can help fill in some of the gaps. :]