Sunday, April 17, 2011

Women and Comics Survey 2011: Results Part 1!

Welcome to the Women and Comics Survey Resultsapalooza! In Part 1, we'll examine the results from the Comics Reader survey and see what makes comics-reading women tick!

The survey got a healthy 296 respondents, thanks in large part to getting reblogged and retweeted by a small army of internet folk. Thanks to everyone who helped pass the word along!

Note: All graphs in this post were created at the National Center of Education Statistic's Kids' Zone. Sounds corny, but they really do have a nice graph tool!

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The ages of the respondents paints a clear picture: Comics-reading women (at least, those aware of this survey!) tend to be older teens and younger adults. 86% were between the ages of 16 and 35. 19-to-25-year-olds were the largest group, making up over a third of the respondents.

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There's also a clear trend for when these women started reading comics. 85% began reading comics regularly before the age of 18.

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The three most common ways these women discovered comics were an introduction by a friend, an introduction by an older family member, and by browsing bookshelves in a store or library. Only a few were introduced by younger family members, romantic partners, or visiting a comics-specific shop.

Many discovered comics in ways not included in the options, such as being inspired after seeing a film or show based on a comic. (Batman seemed like a popular bridge. Christopher Nolan's Batman films and Batman: The Animated Series were mentioned multiple times.) The internet also contributed - several women were introduced to the medium by discovering webcomics or seeing others talk about comics online.

Some other interesting introductions include:
studied history of sci-fi at uni
Good Omens, co-authored by Terry Pratchett (reason I read book) & Neil Gaiman (who I had never heard of before, but his bio said he wrote comics, so I looked him up...)
zine rack at record store
Bought Wizard magazine with people I liked on the cover, it had a comic preview in it and I thought it looked cool so I found a shop and bought it.
When Buffy the Vampire Slayer ended on TV [referring to the "Season 8" comics continuing the Buffy storyline]

Respondents were inspired to read comics regularly by a wide range of titles. Frequently mentioned were Archie, Asterix, all sorts of Batman titles (as well as titles starring related characters like Batgirl,) Fruits Basket, Inu Yasha, Naruto, Ranma 1/2, Sailor Moon, Sandman, Strangers in Paradise, Teen Titans, Spider-Man, various X-Men titles, and Wonder Woman.

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While the majority of respondents have been regularly reading comics non-stop since they discovered them, about a third did have extended periods of comics non-reading. Commonly cited reasons included no longer being able to afford comics, no longer having access to comics, being upset by something in a comic they were reading (such as the death of a favorite character,) outgrowing the comics they used to read, and social pressure.

Some individual stories:
Since I first began reading Archie Comics as a young kid, I didn't have a lot of exposure to other comics. Plus it was around when other mainstream comics began to more grown-up and violent. At some point, I grew out of Archie Comics. I liked them well enough, but stories and romances weren't going anywhere and I wanted something more mature, I suppose.
It was a bit of a peer and gender role pressure; it wasn't 'cool' for girls to read comics in my school. Boys did that, so when I was found reading comics, playing Magic: the Gathering (A 'boy' game) and hanging with the boys, I was looked at funny and called names. So I stopped in an effort to fit in and kept it to myself when I was at home.
I stopped loving the current run of comics- my favorite series died out and nothing else really appealed to me. I had just started college and was worried how going to the local comic book shop often would make me look "uncool." College seems way too old to care about what other people think, but there it is.
By that stage I had re-read the Asterix series too many times to count and although I read a lot (novels and other franco-belgian comics like Tintin) my mum and school teachers were pushing me to read more substantial novels so I moved on from Asterix and Morris Gleitzman and onto Tolkien.

Reasons were returning to comics were much like the reasons for leaving them, but in reverse: Being able to afford them again, finding a shop or library with comics, overcoming social pressure (or joining a group where comics readers were welcomed,) and discovering titles that better appealed to them as a teen/adult. Japanese comics were also a factor, with many citing the discovery of manga as their reintroduction to the medium.

Some stories:
I literally returned to reading comics the day before my 13th birthday. I met a Japanese-American girl on a Nile cruise in Egypt with a copy of Animerica Extra. I read one chapter of Fushigi Yuugi and got hooked on manga. 
I met my now husband who is a comic collector. He got me interested in lots of newer titles. I always wanted to read more comics when I was younger but I was intimidated by everything that was out there. If there are 10 different Batman titles, which one is the right one? I started just reading what my husband bought and then I started buying my own comics.
I stopped caring about what people thought of me and I was introduced to Japanese manga in the first year of high school. I met more people, more girls, who were into the 'girly comics' and more boys I could talk Marvel and DC with without them thinking I was weird.
I found the comic shop that was right for me, which means that not only is it local, but it is a shop that I feel extremely comfortable in and I actually get along swimmingly with the owners. I now also have the means to be able to purchase comics on a regular basis, as well as my own transportation.
I discovered webcomics. The plethora of free online comics brought me back. Plus, I was employed by this time, so I also returned to print comics as well.
My daughter was around 9, and my boy was around 4. I attended my first FCBD [Free Comic Book Day] with the kids, and we were all hooked. :)
I hate to be "that girl," but I started reading comics & graphic novels again because I fell for a guy who was really into them. I'm glad I did and I'm glad he's introduced me to some titles and series that I otherwise wouldn't have checked out...namely "The Watchmen," "Swamp Thing," "Strangers in Paradise," etc.(He also got me into fantasy novels, which I never thought I'd like, but low and behold, I'm salivating for the next Fire & Ice book. Salivating.)

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One question asked which formats the respondents frequently read. All four of the comics formats the survey focused on - comic books, graphic novels, manga/manhwa, and long-form webcomics - were widely read, with no format being selected by less than 50% of the respondents.

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Next was a question asking which format each respondent read within the most. The shape of the resulting graph can best be described as "a clumsy way of dividing a pizza." Graphic novels and webcomics reigned supreme, while single-chapter comics and manga/manhwa held onto respectable but visibly smaller portions.

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Comics-reading women clearly enjoy a wide range of genres. Action/Adventure (78%), Comedy (67%), Fantasy (67%), Science Fiction (59%), and Superhero (54%) were the most commonly read. Only four genres were selected by less than a fifth of the respondents: Sports, Non-memoir/autobio Non-fiction, War/Military, and Western.

The write-in Other genre was a similarly varied grab-bag. Respondents mentioned everything from Slice-of-Life to Medical to Supernatural. (Several also wrote in Historical Fiction and Pornographic - enough that I might try to fit those onto the main list for next year's survey!)

I also asked respondents what genres they enjoyed in other mediums but did not frequently read in comics. The range of genres they don't read in comics was about the same as what they do read in comics. (The exception being superheroes - clearly, women who want superhero stories know where to look!)

When asked why they didn't read more comics in that genre, many women said that they weren't aware of many good examples of their genre in comics. (Of these, about half blamed the medium for not having enough titles, while the other half blamed themselves for not looking hard enough.) Others said they simply found their genre more enjoyable in other mediums.

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Librarians who work hard on their comics offerings will be pleased to hear that their efforts are appreciated. Nearly half of our respondents said that they read comics from or at their local library.

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Most respondents tend to buy their comics from a large chain bookstore, a comic shop, or an online bookseller. These locations combined took up over 3/4ths of the results, with comic shops accounting for over a third of the total responses.

A handful chose Other, writing in that they bought their comics from conventions, directly from creator pages, and other types of store (like toy stores.) Some said they had trouble choosing just one shopping location - I may add a multiple-selection version of this question in future surveys.

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Comics readers learn about new titles in a variety of ways. Recommendations and reviews from comics-specific reviewers were very influential, as was good ol' shelf-browsing. Many of the Other write-ins included recommendations or overheard chatter from store owners/employees or other comics readers on the internet.

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The final survey question was about how much money these readers spent on comics in an average year - the choices for which, as it soon became apparent, were a bit flawed. The cutoff for the highest level, $200, may have been too low to differentiate between the heavy spenders, the really heavy spenders, and the bury-themselves-in-new-comics-on-a-weekly-basis spenders.

To atone for the error, I dug a little deeper and made another graph from the data, splitting the spending ranges to see how the amounts differed between most-read comics formats:

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With the data split up like this, a rough trend starts to show:

Mostly-webcomic readers tend to spend the least - not too surprising, since most webcomic creators offer their work for free.

Mostly-manga/manhwa and mostly-graphic novel readers are pretty evenly spread out, with mostly-graphic novel readers concentrated a little more on the higher-spending end. (Perhaps because manga/manhwa have been standardized into $10-$15 books, while graphic novels can easily cost $15-$30 depending on page count, hardcover vs. softcover, or color vs. black and white.)

Mostly-comic book readers tended toward the higher spending levels. With most single-chapter comic books costing $3-$5, this suggests that comic book readers buy their favorite titles frequently and in high amounts.

There you have it! Despite the occasional slip-up in my organization, this survey has provided some fascinating tidbits about women who read comics.

Don't forget to read Part 2 for the results from the non-readers survey!