Monday, October 10, 2011

Women Working in Comics Results

The results of the Women Working in Comics survey are in! This survey received 72 responses - not the kind of numbers you'd want to hinge a national election on, but it's enough to get a general trend for our purposes.

(Note: Some questions were based on responses to previous questions, and a few respondents seem to have plain ol' skipped questions, so there are some where fewer than 72 respondents answered.)

The respondents to this survey were relatively young. 61% were between 19 and 30 years old, and another 28% were between 31 and 40 years old. The older the age group, the fewer respondents - this makes sense, given the rise in interest in comics in recent years. Only one respondent reported being younger than 19 years old.

By far the most popular comics jobs among respondents were the creative ones - 63% performed visual tasks such as penciling, inking, and coloring, while 64% performed writing/scripting tasks. (Respondents were allowed to select more than one option in this question, to accommodate those who performed multiple tasks. Nearly 2/3rds of respondents selected at least two jobs.)

Editing was also popular, with 29% respondents selecting it. 18% either owned/managed (7%) or were employed by (11%) a store that sells comics. 13% reviewed or reported on comics. 8% had some other position at a comics publisher, split 50/50 between high-ranking and low-ranking employees.

29% put something in the write-in Other category, with jobs ranging from translation to historian to interning.

Of the respondents who worked for a publisher in some capacity, the most popular workplace was non-Big Two publishers specializing in comic books (Examples I gave in the question were Boom! and Image, though they are not necessarily the exact publishers employing these respondents.)

Big Two publishers and general publishers employed slightly smaller shares of respondents. Publishers specializing in graphic novels and publishers specializing in importing manga/manwha employed the smallest shares of respondents.

For creatives, the most worked-with publisher was, by far, "myself." the vast majority said their work was mostly self-published. For those who had mostly worked in conjunction with established publishers, non-Big Two comic book publishers were once again the most popular option.

The length of these respondents' comics careers made an interesting pattern: The most-selected range was 1-3 years, which gradually dipped into the least-selected range of 7-9 years, and then shot up again at 10 or more years. This pattern held both for current comics jobs and overall comics careers, suggesting that for many women, once they get comfortable in the industry, they stick around.

Results from another question hold up this theory: When asked how long they planned on having their current job, 89% responded either "forever and ever" or "a very long time."

It will likely surprise no one that the majority of women working in comics (at least those reached by this survey) did read some form of comics (comic books, graphic novels, manga, etc.) on a regular basis before beginning a comics career. Only 11% hadn't.

Also not surprising is that, for most women in the industry (and likely most men as well,) working in comics is not the only way they make money. Only about 31% worked only in comics, while 69% had at least one other job.

The overwhelming reason for having another job was that comics alone just didn't pay enough.

The outside-comics jobs covered a wide range of fields. Freelance creative work was the most popular single field, and education the second most popular, but these women worked in everything from cleaning to insurance to telecommunications.

Respondents had a lot of interesting answers to the question "What inspired you to pursue a career in comics?" Some of the more amusing and thought-provoking answers:
No one else was publishing what I wanted to read.
I love comics, and was already an artist as a hobby. Coupled to this was my work in my day job which is all about the applied psychology of visual communication. I wanted to bring all that together.
At twelve I--like every adolescent--decided I was going to write a novel, but unlike most adolescents, I kept going longer than a week. But I found that what I really wanted to do was draw my characters, instead of just describing them in words, so I switched my project to a comic. It was like the clouds parted, a beam of light descended upon me, and I heard the swells of a heavenly chorus singing to me that this was what I was meant to do with my life.
I was offered a job as an editor by my friend; the comics were an incidental part of getting involved with a new, diverse publishing company.
I read comics well into my 20s but was put off by the treatment I got in my local comics store and stayed away for 20 years. My kids started reading manga in the mid-2000s and I got curious and started reading them myself; that led me to start writing about them.
Personal interest, gap in the market in my local area for a comic book store.
My first job was as a manager of a local comic shop. From there, I met some local artists at a small press publisher and they needed a proofreader. From proofreading, I eventually moved in to editing, and when the publisher decided to cancel the titles I worked on and downsize employees, I asked for the rights to those titles as my severance package. 15 years later, I am still publishing those small press titles with my own small press company, but also working again in a comic book store, since the economy has shifted so much. It's really the love of comics that keeps me going.
Wonder Woman.

As for difficulty of getting a career in comics, the results were almost completely symmetrical - some people had an easy/hard time, a few people had a very easy/hard time, but for most people it was in the middle.

The overwhelming consensus among respondents was that their gender had very little to do with their ability to get their current job. 85% said gender had no effect. A small portion (8%) felt it made getting the job easier, while a slightly smaller portion (6%) felt being a woman made getting the job harder.

Thankfully, hostility and harassment were relative non-issues for these respondents, with 82% saying that such harsh treatment was either never a problem for them or only a mild, occasional problem.

(Note: While I certainly don't want to discount the experiences of these respondents, I can't help but suspect that the results of these two questions are slightly skewed by the types of careers these 72 women represent. As seen above, the majority of respondents work in the webcomics and self-publishing fields, which are essentially their own animal - it would be interesting to see how the responses would change if a higher proportion of respondents came from within the established comics publishing industry.)

Still, there were quite a few "horror stories" of awkward, mean-spiritied, or just plain bizarre experiences in the industry. Among creatives, dismissive editors were a recurring concern:
While showing my portfolio to a famous editor at DC in person, he asked who the artist was, then told me he thought my boyfriend must have done the drawings. When I asked why, he said "I don't know, I just assumed you were showing these for your boyfriend." He also asked if I was "one of those nerd girls." [. . .] I did also talk to some very nice assistant editors while I was there, men and women, who were less "old school" in their attitudes. But I've never been offered any work by DC.
Nothing horroible, but I've noticed that male editors, when looking over my portfolio, will tend to skip past pages featuring male nudity. I put just as much effort into those pictures, so it's a bit annoying and makes me lose respect for those editors.
And at an interview once an editor said to me, "Oh, you're a girl? Girls don't draw comics," and it was entirely obvious that he was joking, but it made me really nervous because of course I suddenly felt that I was, like, upholding the honor of all women everywhere with the contents of my portfolio! (He liked my work, though, so that story has a happy ending.)

Women who work in comics shops brought up a few instances of male customers (and occasionally bosses) being rude or downright creepy:
There was this one guy who seemed to flirt with me, while his girlfriend was in the store with him! He started sending me messages on facebook, and after a couple of awkward back-and-forths he sent a note that said he was married (so that girl was his WIFE) [. . .] The part that killed it for me was one day he came into the store and I was counting books with my back turned towards him, and he trailed his fingers up my spine. [. . .] He still comes into the store sometimes, with his wife.
When I worked a comic shop, I often had men look concerned or side-eye me when I was sent to help them find/advise them on certain books. 
Regular customer who I've known for years, had loads of conversations with, being surprised that I knew stuff about/read comics, 'I thought you were just here...because'.
It wasn't horrible, but my boss makes sideways and sexually inappropriate jokes to the women on staff, and is also hostile to the women on staff in particular when he's in a bad mood.
Not really a horror story but I had a customer toss a comic back at me rather than buy because I was female..
For a lot of respondents, the "You work in comics? But you're a woman!" thing was pretty eyeroll-worthy, especially for those in higher-up positions:
Not especially, usually experience looks of surprise when salespeople come into the store and ask to speak to the owner, and expect it to be my husband or father.
On a personal level, the only thing I've gotten was the "look" comics folks give me before they ask "YOU'RE into comics?" But it's usually just disbelief until we start talking.
The worst thing that happens with some regularity is at conventions- people will come up to our booth wanting to speak to the editor/publisher, and will always talk to my male employees first. They are always surprised when they discover that I am in charge!

And there was one response that just . . . ewww:
Several people assumed that I got my job (when I worked directly for a comic publisher for a while) by giving blow jobs to male editors.

It wasn't all gross stuff, though. Plenty of respondents had experiences that ranged from sweet to downright heartwarming:
I draw comics in my spare time, and the support I get from the community, other webcomic artists mostly, is heartwarming to say the least. You become friends with other writers and artists from across the country by going to conventions. Yeah, it's kinda like networking, but it feels like more than that when you're working in a creative field.
I've helped so many "bored girlfriends" turn on to comics and I'm very proud of that!
Most of my fan letters come from women and there is a certain type of letter that consistently washes away any self-doubt I may have that day. The writer might tell me she has been unsatisfied reading about overly-beautiful characters with no flaws, that she was looking for a comic with a more realistic portrayal of human problems, that sort of thing. I remember my own feelings of dissatisfaction when I was just starting to read comics, so it's amazing to be able to fill this hole for someone else.
You know what's great? Being at a convention and hanging out with your other comic-making friends and SO many of them are women and no one ever brings up the fact of anyone's gender, because it's so unremarkable. No misogynist jokes, no casting doubts on anyone's experience or insight. Just good times and comic books.
I've found opportunities thanks to established female creators who really want to help out newcomers. Twitter has utterly changed my job prospects, and I've found at least 3 amazing work opportunities thanks to my Twitter community.
I had a nine year old girl come into my office with her mom one day. She sat and watched me draw comics, and by the end of the day, she declared she wanted to be a comic artist when she grew up, too. Which was perfect because I remember being 9 and watching an adult woman draw comics and wanting to do that too. It came to a perfect full circle.
I have managed to encourage more women in the local area to be more public about their love of comic books and the industry in general. Living in a small town, being "different" usually comes with social exile, so it's easier to just keep your uique interests to yourself. I've provided an outlet to celebrate such individual interests and I'm incredibly proud of that.
I wrote an article that was featured on USA Today's Popcandy blog, and that made my day.
Nothing particularly special; just being able to work with so many talented people, to travel all over the country for conventions and to meet so many of my heroes has been the best part of this for me! Meeting Ramona Fradon was a high point, since Superfriends was one of my favorites as a child. Working in comics pretty much is its own reward for me.

To end the survey on a productive note, I asked respondents to give advice to women and girls hoping to have a career in the comics industry someday. Take these tips to heart, ladies!
Just do it for yourself. Don't wait for the fewer and fewer companies to notice you. The barriers are lower every day, so just draw, write, publish, market and sell your own stuff.
Comics are kind of cut-throat. If you miss too many updates with your webcomic, people will think you're a flake and stop reading. If your issues are consistently late, it'll be hard proving that you can take on bigger works.
Do not underestimate the internet as a place to show your work (even if you have to do it for free)!
Don't think that because you're a woman you won't do anything, it only contributes to stuck things in the past. If you are trying to enter a very male dominated comic scene, think it would be the same as a guy trying to draw shoujo manga. It's just stereotypes, if you have what it takes and you can do better work than the best... there's no reason you can't try.
Always strive to make your work better. If you're sincere in your work, and pour your heart into it, no one will ever be able to doubt the seriousness of your commitment to your craft.
Do not open your ears to people who say you can't do this. The haters know that they can't defeat you themselves, and only you can stop yourself from doing this, so never accept any idea that says you can't have this career, because you can.
Also have a backup plan to fall back on while you're making comics, and study hard. I majored in non-art fields that I also love (eg linguistics and languages) so that at least I could find a stable job someday. Unfortunately in the beginning, comics won't pay for basic necessities XD
do it. just keep at it. I'd give the same advice to men/boys, but it would be amazing if more women did this job. think up stories and send pitches to people. be completely relentless with your self and with possible publishers.
Chin up! If this is what you really want to do, then do it! Just always be sincere, look at other creators not as "contacts" but as "friends" and more importantly, always be yourself and be true to who you are. Create something you'd want to read. If you get that tingle of excitement, you're doing it right.
While working for publishers is nice, remember that you won't necessarily get the choice to draw female characters that reflects reality. Remember that it's ok to turn down jobs if you hear the writer say anything similar to "I don't know how to write female characters." Self-publishing and creator-owned works will let you keep your head in this job.
The toes you step on today may be connected to the butt you have to kiss tomorrow. The comic industry is surprisingly small and incredibly close-knit. Always try to be polite and professional with everyone you meet or deal with, you never know who could have opportunities for you!

Once again, a big ol' thanks to everyone who responded to the survey and/or passed it along to others.

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