What is this?
I'm a comics fan. I've been a comics fan since I was a little kid, and I own a lot of comics. More importantly, I buy a lot of comics every week, but I don't have an unlimited budget of money or time and I want to read the absolute best comics that I can. I listen to comics podcasts, I follow comics blogs, and I attend multiple conventions every year looking for new books, new publishers and new creators.
Quite possibly the best thing about comics as a medium is that anything that can be drawn or described can be depicted in a comic. Ink is cheap, and if an artist can figure out how to draw something, or a writer can find a way to describe it, you can tell a story about it. Because they pay artists by the page, a quiet conversation in a park costs the same as an exploding planet, which means that an incredibly diverse range of things can be communicated more cheaply than on TV or in a movie. (The same is true of books, but there's a saying about pictures and their relative worth compared to words.)
What I value most as a comics fan is novelty. In every story I want something new: new characters, new situations, new adventures. And as somebody who loves the medium, I want it to grow and improve. One way that it can improve is by using the incredible versatility of the medium to tell an ever increasing number of stories. How do we make that happen?
An easy way is by increasing the diversity of backgrounds of the people making comics. Having the same collection of writers and artists who have dominated the industry for decades churning out ever quicker reboots to get the characters they love to be the way they were back when they were kids does not get us there. But opening up the industry to more people does.
I'm not going to lie to you: I'm not in it just for the art. I also want to see the industry itself become more diverse. Having better art is a worthy goal, but diversity for its own sake is just as laudable. Right now the industry is dominated by straight white men from the US and UK. A tiny fraction of a tiny fraction of the world's population gets to produce almost all mainstream comics. And while I'm reading comics written for an English-speaking western audience, as an English-speaking Westerner, the lack of gender diversity is shocking.
So what do I do as a person who wants diverse experiences related in stories by people from diverse backgrounds? I seek out new creators and prioritize getting books that meet those criteria. (I also get Spider-Man. Spider-Man is really cool, folks.) So how's that working out?
A few months ago I was thinking about all of this and I took my weekly pile of comics and divided into books entirely created by men and books that had at least one single woman on the creative team. The results were upsetting. The publishers and editors could only find a single woman to appear in about a third of the books I, a person seeking out diversity, had selected.
Then I started counting creators and got another shock: as bad as gender diversity was across books, over 80% of the creators were men. So I started counting. And I started tracking. And I started writing about it on Twitter.
Pretty soon I had a spreadsheet and a graph and a trend-line. But I'm a programmer, and a web developer at that, so you can guess where that led. One database, a little math and a CMS later and here we are.
That's how we got here, but how does this all work? Here are the rules I came up with:
- I'm only counting monthly comic books I buy at my local comics shop. I go to local comics meet-ups, I make it to SPX every year, and I support more projects on Kickstarter than I ought, but if Diamond isn't shipping a book, it's outside the industry and the industry is what needs fixing. No zines, no trade paperbacks, no webcomics. Those are all worthwhile things that I support, but they're out of scope.
- I can't track everything, because I don't have unlimited time or unlimited knowledge. Trying to figure out the sexuality, race, ethnicity, religion, country of origin, or handedness of any given creator can be daunting. Figuring out their gender is already hard enough, and the level of representation on that basis is terrible, so that's what I'm tracking.
- For any given book I'm tracking the number of cisgendered men on the creative team and the number of non-cisgendered men. Trans men are men, but given that I've bought over 400 books in the last few months and not one of them was written, drawn, inked, colored or even lettered by a trans man, we're going to count them in the latter category along with women, trans women, non-binary folks, and gender-fluid people. Even with a category that broadly defined, the numbers still stink.
- I'm only tracking writers, artists (pencillers and inkers), colorists, and letterers. I'm not counting covers and I'm not counting backup stories. There are economic and industry reasons to split things up that way, but also practical ones: I can only do so much. People listed as assisting on one of those jobs get counted, but flatters don't. (That rule is pretty arbitrary. Sorry flatters - I still love you.)
- Further, if somebody is credited as Creator, Writer and Letterer, they get one credit per comic, and it will be as the Writer. I don't care to give a credit on half the comics on the list to Stan Lee as Creator, and I'm going to follow the order of credits that is standard across the industry: Writer (story, script), Artist (layouts, finishes, pencils, inks) Colorist (colors, color assistant) and Letterer (letters, design). Is it arbitrary? Yes. Sorry.
- No editors. I know that editors can sometimes be creative forces that guide all aspects of a book, but knowing their level of involvement from book to book and issue to issue would require a kind of omniscience that I don't have.
- I'm also tracking the publisher for any given book in the hopes that I can see how well individual companies are doing on these metrics in comparison to the big two (Marvel & DC).
And where does that all lead? What's the end-game? For me, I'm using this to be more thoughtful about how I'm spending my time and money, and to motivate myself to seek out books by diverse creators. I'm also hoping to encourage and shame comics publishers, editors and creators. Creative teams for books are sometimes thrown together by the publishers or editors, but a lot of time they're self-selecting. An artist likes a particular colorist, or a writer wants to work with a particular penciler. There's nothing wrong with that, but I'd love to see them casting a wider net.
So that's the deal: each week I'm going to run the numbers, write up my thoughts and present the totals. If you find that valuable, read on! If you want to talk to me about it, let me know on Twitter or Mastodon. I'm anxious for more recommendations of books and suggestions on improving my methodology.