Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Women and Comics Survey 2011: Results Part 2!

It's here, folks! In Part 2 of the results, we'll take a look at current comics non-reading women. (If you want to read about women who do read comics, see Part 1!)

This survey got only 61 responses (2 of whom seem to have bailed out after answering only a few questions.) That's 10 (12-ish) responses fewer than last year's survey. I reckon there are 3 possible reasons for this drop:
  1. This year's more precise definition of "comics" kept out mostly-manga and mostly-webcomics readers who mistakenly took the non-reader survey last year.
  2. Women who took the survey last year decided not to take it this year.
  3. This blog has been so wildly successful that only __ comics non-reading women are left in the entire world!
I'd like to think it was #3, but odds are #1 and #2 had more to do with it. (In any case, thanks to everyone who took the survey or helped pass it along!)

The low turnout means the results are far from precise - but still provide a picture of how these women feel about comics, helped along by some great write-in responses.

(Click graph for a larger view.)
The non-readers were older than the comics readers. (Possibly because many of the survey-takers were parents of my teen/20-something friends!) 26-to-50-year-olds made up 50% of the respondents.

Respondents were asked to share their impressions of several comics formats.
Reactions to comic books tended to revolve around a perceived young (or male (or young male)) readership:
It's for kids (even though my thirty four year old sister in law would disagree with me) and grown unemployed men who live in their parent's basement
That they're male oriented and not for older people.
They are fun little things for my kids.

A fixation on specific (read: spandex-clad) genres, with a side order of woman-unfriendliness:
I like the theory behind comics, but the big titles kinda suck. If I want to read crappy, softcore straight-cis-male-oriented badly traced porn I'll read it.
Even though I know of comic books that don't fall into this category [. . .] when I think "comics", I still think "superheroes". And I really have no interest in superheroes.
I think they seem cool, but I dislike how women are overly sexualized/objectified. (Just like in all media, but it seems even more overt and pervasive in comics.)

Or a general tone of intimidation and uncertainty:

I tend to think of them as hard to get into...they've been around forever and just picking up a comic and reading it will not make sense because you didn't read and collect all the old ones before. 
I think they're a really fun hobby and I think it's something I could get into but I don't really understand how you go about finding/reading/collecting a series.
Haven't had any in front of me to know.....arent they all in a comic book store?

The reactions to the graphic novel format were a surprise - I had assumed that a generation's worth of literary awards and "Pow, Bam, Comics aren't for kids anymore!" articles would have made the term familiar, but apparently there are still quite a few people who are fuzzy on the concept:
I don't even know what they are, really.
if a comic book and a manga had a baby, it'd be a graphic novel.
It's like a regular novel with an occasional picture every now and then, right?
So it's like a novel in a book? Clearly, I'm not on the up-and-up.
I don't know what a "graphic" novel is.

Those who were familiar tended to have a positive impression:
In my limited experience, graphic novelists seem to have more space to deal with complicated and nuanced issues. 
They seem sophisticated, politically and sexually aware. Favourable.
I really respect someone who can both write well and can draw such beautiful scenes, but I don't know who to look for beyond the big names, so graphic novels tend not to make it into my to-read piles, sadly.

Though there still were some negative responses:
Lots of money for not much inside. Always feel like I'd be ripped off if I actually paid for it.
That they are like comics only pretentious. They are "for the art" and have heavy handed messages.
Some really interesting stuff comes of of graphic novels,but they are way expensive - compared to books, and often still don't have that engaging a story. And often sexist.

The reactions to manga were a lot more predicatble - though, on a personal level, even more depressing. They mostly revolved around -

What is it?
I have no idea what that is.
Don't know much about it...
I don't know much about it at all. Japanese.
Not sure what this is, other than pizza.

Big Eyes, Crazy Hair:
I really really really HATE Japanimation art styles. Seriously HATE it. My kids have been into it for years, and that's fine for them, but they learned quickly to keep it out of my face or it went in the trash. 
Starts all to look the same after a short while.
Sometimes it's kind of pretty but a lot of the time I think that the art is just weird. I don't like that big eyed style of people.

and Porn:
I have found there is pornography with very similar graphic style and it had completely turned me off thinking there was some similarity to it.
This may be unfair but my impression is of a certain amount of sexism and explicitness. I may be getting confused with anime though.
75% porn of the Japanese schoolgirl in uniform variety. Rest porn of the the violence variety

When asked about the comics medium as a whole, most responses conveyed a sense of "not my thing"-ness, often paired with a reluctance to read picture-based works:
I'm not going to pay money for a book of pictures...I don't love art enough to take time to stare at it and lovingly admire the work. Unfortunately. I'm sure it deserves it because someone spent the time on it but I'm not going to do it.
Doesn't appeal to me because the non-linear layout makes comics difficult for me to read.
I think of it as something for non-readers. Pictures drive them, reading is secondary. maybe something good for reluctant readers but I don't really consider them 'real' reading material.

One thing I noticed about the Impressions section was that, after the initial "impression of comic books" question, several women wrote in "see above." Paired with the apparent lack of knowledge about the graphic novel and manga formats, this suggests that non-readers see comics as a monolithic entity dominated by single-chapter comic books.

(Astute readers may notice that I did not include the webcomics format in this half of the survey. That was mostly done to shorten it, though considering the lack of non-comic-book awareness I may have saved myself from sorting through an extra set of puzzled responses!)

(Click graph for larger view.)

Much like last year, a lack of knowledge about titles with stories/subjects of interest was the overwhelming reason for comics non-reading, both as a contributing and as the primary reason. Also the same as last year was how concerns about age-inappropriateness were more prevalent than concerns about gender-inappropriateness.

New to this year's survey was the "They seem inappropriate for my personality" option, which was just as substantial as the age-inappropriate option. Write-in Other responses were popular, with many of them implying a lack of time to either read comics or research titles that might be of interest.

(Click graph for larger view.)

I included a question that I intended to be for readers who had selected "I do not like illustrations" as a reason for non-reading, asking if they might prefer a comic that uses photographs instead of drawings. Alas, I didn't design this question as well as I could have - some women who did not select "illustrations" as a reason answered the question as well.

Given the even-smaller number of respondents, this question doesn't provide the most accurate results, but it does suggest that there is at least some interest among these women for photo-based comics.

(Click graph for larger view.)

A slight majority of these non-reading women did have a point in their lives where they read comics regularly. Write-in responses reveal that either growing up or running out of time puts a stop to a lot of comics reading:
I have barely enough time to keep up with prose fiction in my field - I just don't have time these days to read comics as well.
I work two jobs, and my soul has been devoured by academia. Comics are a risky venture for me -- in my leisure time, it's easier to return to things I am more confident that I will enjoy rather than branching out into new mediums.
After reading all the Asterixes from the library in my (early) teens I don't think I ever came across anything else interesting but admittly I didn't look very hard
I outgrew the stories/characters I had liked and didn't like the more "adult" (violent/overtly sexual) stories available at the time (late 60s)
I have a child. I hardly have time to go to the toilet. 

For a clearer comparison (and to keep this post from completely devouring your scroll bar) I squeezed the responses to the Genre questions into one handy graph.
(Click graph for larger view.)

Some interesting notes:
  • There are some major disparities between associated genres and possible interest genres, especially with Comedy, Detective/Mystery, and both Non-Fiction categories.
  • Superheroes utterly dominated comic books, with a 97% percent association.
  • Ironically, hardly anyone associated Sports with manga - one genre where Japanese output greatly outnumbers North American output.
  • Several people also associated manga with the Superhero genre. While some manga do have superhero-like characters, the American-style superheroes these respondents may have pictured are very rare.
  • While the graphic novel format had the highest association with non-fiction works, they were on the lower end of the scale. Seems unsual, given how many of the best-known works in the format (like Persepolis or Stitches) are memoirs.

(Click graph for larger view.)

Most respondents had visited a comics shop at some point. Positive experiences reflected a sort of overwhelmed bemusement:
Took my children to buy manga in Japantown (San Francisco). Mostly people under 25. Impressed at the number of titles and genres available. Priced well. Eye-catching displays. 
I love strolling around in these book stores but everything is a bit overwhelming. i wouldn't know where to start with getting the good ones and they're all very expensive and i don't want to own a lot of stuff generally.
I went to a tiny shop in Exeter, UK, with one person running the shop. Though I did not talk to him, he seemed knowledgeable when talking to my friend. The shop was very small and had more merchandise than comics.

Meanwhile, negative experiences reflected a sort of, well, being overwhelmed - often accompanied with feeling unwelcome:
Cramped, dark and unwelcoming. Somewhat more condescending than the games shop down the road that assumed I was buying a PC game "for my husband".
I did go into one once. I didn't like being leered at or looked down on by everyone in that shop simply because I was a girl in a comic shop. Never stepped foot in one again.
It's overwhelming. There are so many comic books!!! It's impossible to know where to start. [. . .] I don't want to ask a clerk. A comic fan will go on and on and in the middle of it I'll really just want to leave.

(Click graph for larger view.)

Slightly fewer respondents had investigated the manga or graphic novel sections of bookstores/libraries. Some were there to get a book for their kids or younger relatives:
Searched for a particular title for my children. Found the title I wanted and did not examine other offerings too closely.
I've looked at things my daughter has purchased, or I've purchased for her.
my kids like graphic novel versions of their favourite novels now that such things exist.

While others were apparently not inspired to browse too closely.
I've enjoyed looking at what is available, but have rarely bought / borrowed anything. It's a similar experience to browsing the knitting or diy sections - it's something that looks interesting and attractive but doesn't have a priority claim on my time.
I've picked up books and flipped through them. I didn't find anything that caught my interest. I've also looked at romance manga. I read a few pages but lost interest quickly.
Very little interesting to me, and on the extremely rare occasion I've found something I might enjoy, I wasn't able to start at the beginning, so I didn't start at all. 

(Click graphs for larger views.)

Interest in adaptations, continuations, and favorite-creator-originals was divided verrry roughly in half, with original comics by favorite creators given the most interest. Write-in ideas for possible adaptations or writers were an absolute grab-bag, including:
The Hunger Games? o3o but only if someone really good was doing it.
Bill Prady, Dharma and Greg, Big Bang Theory, Misfits
I want more by Ursula Vernon, and more of the Mercedes Thompson series (the only graphics novel I own)
Moulin Rouge!
DISCWORLD! Wait, did they already make that?
There's "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee. That would be absolutely amazing if I saw a manga based on that. 
The Malazan Book of the Fallen by:Steven Erikson. Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files. The Area 51 Series, And I really like the Jim Reacher Novels and the books
Sex and the City?

Last but certainly not least were the write-in questions. I'll let these selections speak for themselves:

What are some ways that publishers of comic books, graphic novels, and manga might better appeal to you or women like you?
Perhaps getting popular women (or men with a large female following) from YouTube etc to review it eg. CommunityChannel, Maureen Johnson, MeekaKitty, the Vlogbrothers. OR if the author is a video blogger, I think they could promote themselves.
I'm not sure - some general interest articles about what's going on; it always seems a bit like an insiders industry. If you haven't time to pop into the comic shop at least once a week you're out of the loop.
Covers that give a clear idea of the kind of content. Comics I have seen tend to have very 'stylised' covers and all look the same to me (from a distance!) - they might stand out more if some looked more like the covers of books that I enjoy reading.

What are some ways that comic shops might better appeal to you or women like you? 
Fresh paint and adequate lighting would be a good start. Make your store look like more than the hobby space in someone's dingy basement. Put in a chair or two that doesn't fold but also doesn't look like you'll get lice from it. I cannot tell you how many times I've come out of a comic shop with my son and wanted to take a shower right away. 
Have a "if you like this then you might like these" type of sign. Have comics laid out according to subject or tone so you can browse a section. Have chairs or couches.
I would really like a "Here's where to start" section. I want to be treated like a potential customer, not a n00b, when I walk in the door (I am a n00b, but I have cash. Treat me like a n00b, and the cash will not be yours).

What are some ways that general booksellers or libraries with graphic novel or manga sections might better appeal to you or women like you?
I feel like most of what my library has is aimed at boys between the ages of 12 and 18, and to some extent girls in the same age range. I want graphic novels/manga that are aimed at me.
why not shelve the non-superhero stories with the regular books of their genres? If I'm looking for, as an example, Pride and Prejudice, I might pick up a graphic novel version or a manga take-off if it was right there, but no way would I go searching the manga section to see if there was a version. [Note: Variations on this idea were very common.]
Put a note near common books in other areas of the store that directs us to the graphic novel or manga section. Like, "Did you know...in the graphic novel section?"

Do you have any more thoughts on comic books, graphic novels, manga, or the comics medium as a whole?
I would much rather read something that blended more text with less pictures. I feel like the current status is to have maybe three or four sentences per page, sometimes a little more, but I would love it if there was perhaps a half a page of text [. . .] might help those of us who prefer reading to visual illustration to ease into the comics format.
If you want grown women who have never read an "adult" comic book or graphic novel to try one out, put some freebies where we will run across them with time to kill, like in hair salons or various waiting rooms. [. . .] If I saw a graphic novel or comic book in a bin, I would certainly pick one up and at least glance through it, out of curiosity.
Might be interested in a weekly email in-box delivered sequential publication. I wouldn't have to be bothered with going to the city, finding the publication I'm interested in reading AND you wouldn't need to set up an entire distribution chain in Canada. PLUS, it would be green!!!

Once again, a thousand thanks to everyone who either filled out this survey or helped pass it along!


  1. Bummer, I totally would've taken part had I known about it.

  2. This is very interesting, it pretty much confirms what I suspected and it is too bad that there are still so many misconceptions about comics and manga.

  3. @CRO: Yeah, I can't say I'm too surprised by the misconceptions, but they are a little disheartening. Well, it's up to folks like us to get things straightened out, I guess!

    @A Day Without Me: Aw! Well, just pop back here every so often. I'll probably have another go at the survey next year, with better-written questions to boot. :]

  4. The answers to those last 4 questions are very interesting and I hope a lot of people get to read them as they are very thought provoking...