So you want to write about comics for and by women. Or your editor has told you to write about comics by and for women. Before you get started, there are two recent examples you might want to peruse. This one is awful. This one is much better. Yours can be even better than the piece in The Guardian, if you remember some basic points.
Don’t conflate “comics” with “super-hero comics.” The latter is a subset of arguable size of the former, and you’ll open yourself up to all kinds of nitpicking from people like me if you fall back on that kind of shorthand.
Don’t wait too long to bring up manga. As Tom Spurgeon noted yesterday, “it’s weird reading an article about female comics readership where manga is the 11th graph below Wonder Woman, Minx and the Smurfs.” It could successfully be argued that the ascendance of comics for girls and women in the United States is significantly dependent on the popularity of manga.
Expand on manga and its various demographics. For a lot of people, the appeal of the category is its variety, and that variety extends to sub-categories. Saying that shôjo is a category of comics targeted primarily at girls is fine, but you’ll look smarter if you note that the category contains not only stories about fantasy and romance but science fiction, adventure, comedy, sports, horror, slice-of-life, and so on.
Don’t make the mistake that shôjo is exclusively the domain of a female audience, or that it’s the only kind of manga that girls and women read. Naruto and Bleach wouldn’t be bestsellers without a healthy female audience, and Fruits Basket wouldn’t achieve its numbers without some y chromosomes in the audience. (Books like Naruto, Bleach and Fullmetal Alchemist also give you the chance to note that girls already like super-heroes, though perhaps not the ones that immediately come to mind.)
Name names. If you’re writing about manga, you’ll sound more informed if you throw out a few titles that provide examples of the subject. If you want to write about manga targeted primarily at girls, pick up a copy of Shojo Beat. If you want to write about manga targeted primarily at boys, pick up a copy of Shonen Jump. Both are available at just about any bookstore, if not the supermarket. Both of these magazines feature several series with varied subjects and artistic styles, the better to help you avoid stupid reductions about subject matter or visual style.
Do some independent research. There are excellent resources available on manga, including Paul Gravett’s Manga: 60 Years of Japanese Comics and Jason Thompson’s Manga: The Complete Guide. You might not be able to work in everything you learn about the art form, but hey, they’re great reads, and they’ll help you frame your questions and make sensible comparisons. (For bonus points, and if you’re looking for a slightly rounder survey of what the contemporary comics industry looks like, you might also check out Gravett’s Graphic Novels: Everything You Need to Know, which combines introductory pieces and samples from various categories.)
Don’t make Gail Simone do all of the heavy lifting. Even if you’re focusing primarily on super-hero comics (which you should specifically note as often as is practical), you’ll end up with a more interesting piece if you cast a wider net for sources. There are plenty of interesting women making comics and coming at it from different perspectives who would probably be happy to talk to you.
If Simone is one of your primary sources, try not to forget that she’s an excellent writer of super-hero comics. She’s not just a rabble-rouser who identified an unfortunate trend in super-hero comics. She’s also one of the better practitioners of the genre, blending action, character development, and humor into her stories.
Don’t believe everything a publisher tells you. Yes, DC is to be congratulated for developing the Minx imprint, but they’re hardly the first publisher to target an audience of teen-aged women with original material. Tokyopop’s been doing it for years, to name only one, and they’ve gathered a roster of creators that’s packed with talented women.
Don’t think that a woman finally serving as the regular writer for Wonder Woman is the beginning of the trend you’re covering. If anything, it’s a rather belated example of a trend that’s been healthily underway for some time. Super-hero comics are sort of the last guests to arrive at this particular party, and some could argue that they just found their invitations, so you have to decide whether you want to flatter your sources or examine their efforts in a larger context.