Kid’s comics: different for girls?

The world of comics continues to be spun about in the whirlwind of The Dandy shutting down its presses and going online only after 75 years.

The brilliant thing is that we’re all talking about comics. Scribbling superheroes of the comics world are coming up with all kinds of wondrous and wild ideas to save comic kind.

Jamie Smart’s A New Comic called for:

“Character-led comics. Creator owned properties. A mutual love of comics. And above all, the silliest, most gloriously stupid thing you’ve ever read.”

Our own Fleece Station Sarah can’t stop having ideas. From her Comics Breakfast Reading plot (comics with your cereal):

Comics n crunch!

Comics n crunch!

to her Comics Festival of Awesome:

Woo hoo! Comics! For kids!

An interesting idea popped up this morning on Twitter about comics and girls.

Fleece friend Neill Cameron (creator of the marvellous Mo-Bot High, where the awesome Asha leads the robot action, and scribbler of Pirates of Pangaea starring dino-wrangling Sophie) launched his idea of a comic for girls into the #awesomenewcomic arena today in his post AN IDEA: Awesome New Comic, For Girls:

“a more specifically girl-focussed approach; a new spin on the classic British girls’ comics like Tammy, Jinty, Bunty, Misty et al.”

Neill makes some excellent points about female creators, good editors, crowd funding and good marketing (points that all comics publishers could do with reading!).

But it threw up an interesting point. Do girls need different comics?

My heroAs a girl geek myself (I grew up with my nose stuck in Peanuts, Oink! and The Beano) I ran screaming from ‘girl’s comics’ as they were all a bit… well… girlie for me. I just wanted good stories and good giggles. Sure, I wanted to be Minnie the Minx when I grew up, but I loved the boy characters in comics too.

I didn’t want a comic that told me there was the right dreamy boy out there for me somewhere or offered me clothes to dress up a paper doll. I wanted a comic that told me terrific tales!

This was put much better in a post from another Fleece Station friend, Sarah Leavesey of The Undercover Owl (she makes amazing things) who has kindly given us permission to repost her points here for all to see (with added pics and captions by me):

Alan Moore's Halo Jones: one of comics' first feminist heroes

Alan Moore’s Halo Jones: one of comics’ first feminist heroes

“I have a dark secret. It’s not really much of a secret but I don’t really know how else to begin this essay. It kind of feels like one of those awkward moments in an after school special where characters admit to having some nasty peccadillo or a problem with alcohol.

Deep breaths.

I am a woman and I read comics.

Not just read. Devour. Voraciously, rapaciously, passionately and joyfully.

I have a couple of huge bookshelves that are rammed with a wide variety of graphic novels, everything from the classics like Alan Moore through to more throwaway fare like the recent Buffy Season 8 comics. (I liked them, honestly I did but they’re not really going to change the world of comics like some of Moore’s stuff arguably did.)

So I’ve been skimming through the recent tweets about #awesomenewcomic and a new comic for girls with some interest and trepidation. I have a lot I want to say about it and I’m not quite sure where to begin.

I guess I should start with how I got into comics in the first place.

My Dad and Grandparents had old collections of what I would label as newspaper comic strips. I cut my teeth on BC, The Wizard of Id, Hagar the Horrible, Peanuts and even Andy Capp and Fred Bassett. (I’m not going to debate the merits of the last one with anyone. AS a 7 year old girl, I really liked Fred Bassett, even if there were no real stories and nothing ever really happened. He had great ears. Andy Capp was horrific though.)

Sigh

Sigh

I read those old books over and over. I liked the way that the pictures conveyed as much as, if not more than, the words. I got to know the characters and I used to chat with my Dad about the strips. He still emails me comic strips from the newspapers today, actually.

I would read the comics supplement if my parents got a newspaper on the weekend or if I was visiting my grandparents. I might not know what was going on in the long running serials like Prince Valiant or The Phantom but I read them anyway and looked at the art and decided what I liked, what I didn’t like.

Eventually when I got a bit older I started collecting MAD magazine. I had an enormous stack of them and I kept them in a huge pile by my bed. We were quite sheltered so I hadn’t seen most of the films they were parodying and I hadn’t got a clue about a lot of the pop culture references. But I loved them anyway. Spy Vs Spy , The Lighter Side of… and the foldout covers. Oh, those foldout covers. I was always so excited to swing by the newsagents and find a new picture of Alfred E Neumann’s stupid grinning head sticking out of the racks.

One of my girl friends from school had the most incredible collection of Archie comics and Footrot Flats. We spent long afternoons under a gum tree on a picnic blanket working our way through towering stacks of them. Good times.

And then, somewhere along the way I just kind of drifted away from comics. I don’t know whether it was just a lack of access, living in a smallish country town but I stopped reading comics for about ten years.

Spider Jerusalem. You wouldn't call him girlie.

Spider Jerusalem. You wouldn’t call him girlie.

I got back into them as an adult, reading stuff like Maus. I moved to England and I would spend a substantial chunk of my pay each month in Forbidden Planet, finding new and amazing worlds to bury myself in. I’ve laughed till my nose leaked reading Preacher and wept reading Walking Dead or some of the more bittersweet stories in Sandman. Spider Jerusalem remains one of my heroes.

Reading comics has led me deeper into what people think of as ‘serious’ literature too. (And that’s a debate for another place and time. Suffice to say I think of comics as being serious literature every bit as much as Tolstoy or Dryden.) It has reinvigorated my reading of Shakespeare, made me want to read and re-read the mythologies I read as a child, made me investigate further into science, religion, politics, art, music, all so I could fully appreciate the stories I was so drawn into. If I ever go back into academic study I want to write my thesis on comics and gender.

And now?

Well, now I have two young daughters and a baby son and I am more passionate than ever about comics because I want my kids to learn to love them too.

And that brings me, in a very roundabout way to the current discussion.

Oh Bunty! That isn't how you make a cake! *dries eyes*

Oh Bunty! That isn’t how you make a cake! *dries eyes*

People are talking about this idea of a comic for girls and of course, this is framed around the idea of the old girls’ comics like Bunty and Jinnty and other things ending with ‘ty’ which I never read and probably would never have touched as a child.

I know that what people are talking about is a more modern, up to date and less offensively stereotyped version thereof. Stories from YA authors and comic writers and artists with a wide scope of appeal but focused on a perceived readership of girls. And it’s wonderful that we’re having this discussion about girls and comics and getting them reading –and hopefully making- comics. Girls SHOULD feel comfortable to read comics if they want to.

And yet I feel a sense of hesitation and concern over this concept of a new comic for girls. Bear with me while I try to nut this out.

There is this wide reaching social stereotyping of what it means to be a girl, what it means to be a boy. There’s all this chat about pink and blue, toys that encourage us to be all about appearances, nurturing and caring for things or in the case of boys, toys that are all about building or destroying. Walk into the toy aisle of any supermarket or into the Early Learning Centre and the gender divide is glaringly apparent in all its neon pink and blue glory.

Dennis and Minnie dream team

Dennis and Minnie dream team (by BBMBBF on Deviant Art)

In many ways I think the social gender divide is far worse now than it ever was when I was a child. Maybe I just had parents who really didn’t care much about which genitalia we had and who understood that having ovaries didn’t necessarily mean being destined for a life of frilly pink aprons and riding horses in gymkhanas while waiting to meet the Right Man. They didn’t teach my brother to beat girls over the head with a club while shooting laser guns either.

I digress.

What I’m trying to say is that I don’t think that labelling a comic as ‘for girls’ is such a great plan. I think the idea comes from a really well intentioned place because I think comics can still be an enormously male oriented space. But labelling stuff ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’ is actually really divisive. In saying ‘this is a comic for girls’ you effectively say ‘this is not for you’ to others who might be interested. And you also say to girls ‘all this other stuff, over here, that’s not really something you’ll be interested in.’

So, here’s my suggested compromise.

Make great comics for KIDS. Not boys, not girls. KIDS.

Write and draw great characters with interesting stories. Write a wide variety of them. Sure, some stories might have stuff in them that might be considered more of a draw card for girls or boys. But by labelling it as a girls’ comic, you effectively exclude the boys who might be interested in those kinds of stories. And vice versa.

Ladies drive dinos

Ladies drive dinos

Rather than assuming that because one happens to be biologically female (or male) one will want to read stories about X or Y, write stories that have broad appeal. Write stories that have strong female characters, as well as male ones.

As a parent I want to see stories that I can read with my kids and know they will find amazing adventures, interesting facts, incredible new worlds and above all characters whom they will identify with, empathise with and want to follow on their journeys, wherever they lead.

Woo hoo!

There is a publication out there that is already doing this. It’s called The Phoenix. It comes out on a weekly basis and arrives on a Friday in a crisp beautifully illustrated envelope.

If you think girls don’t read comics, you should come and visit my house on a Friday and witness the epic battle between my two daughters over which of them gets to open the envelope this week and who gets to look at it first.

The deep rapturous silence of my eldest daughter as she submerges herself in this week’s comic is a beauteous thing. The excited exclamations as she discovers the latest adventures of her favourite characters and the hushed tones as she recounts to me the terrifying events in this week’s episode of this or that story make me light up inside at how much pleasure she is already getting from comics.

One of the things that I love most about the Phoenix is that the focus isn’t on gender. The focus isn’t on whether the intended or imagined reader is male or female. The focus is where it should be: on great stories and great art.

As a child I never saw anything unusual about my interest in comics. They were there. I read them. They were awesome. They made me want to read more. If anyone had pointed me to the pile of comics ending in ‘ty’ and said ‘there’s your lot’ I doubt I would be reading comics today.

If you want girls to read comics, write great comics that appeal to awesome kids, regardless of gender. If you write it, they will come.”

As Neill pointed out in his blog post “there’s all kinds of potential minefields here”. And he’s right. There are so many ways to look at this, and I’m sure new opinions will be popping up all over.

In Fleece Station discussions we discover that Sarah fell in love with a copy of Bunty on a trip to England and read it 20 times as a kid. She loved the quizzes and the exotic world of the boarding school stories.

Gary’s sister loved Misty and Twinkle, and Gary loved Bill Ritchie’s Toots strips in Bunty.

Toots: frilly dress, red bow, short temper

Exactly

Exactly

And while I shunned girl’s comics, I utterly loved my female comics heroes, and still do today. I heart strong female characters in comics. Characters that aren’t all boobs and flowing locks. By all means cram in more good female comics characters if you think they’re lacking.

The lovely Lucy Van Pelt, for example, is full of excellent life lessons and is a shouty female I always looked up to.

But then the rest of the Peanuts gang were pretty bloody marvellous too.

And the fact they were a gang (playing on the same team, boy and girls together) made me want to be a part of that gang even more.

I worry that if we separate out comics for girls and boys then both sides may miss out on some utterly lovely stuff.

As Sarah L says it should be ok for anyone to read anything without feeling shame. And as Neill points out we should be thinking about comics for everyone, not just the expected readers. So really we’re all agreed.

And the amazing thing is that we’re still talking about comics. In public. On social media. In the faces of all those folks who have never really thought of reading comics at all.

If we make good comics. For everyone. And make sure everyone knows how good they are. Then we’re winning the world comics domination war as we go. Which is really rather good for everyone, no?

The debate continues: Read the continuing discussion over at: Kid’s Comics: Different for Girls? The debate continues…

This entry was posted in Comics for Kids, Fleece Station friends, General Bleating. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Kid’s comics: different for girls?

  1. Great post – and you know what? Even from the tender age of 4, girls like comics, and some girls really aren’t interested in comics, or for that matter other products that are specifically designed for or targetted at them. They basically want quality writing, fabulous artwork and (this is pretty much the deal breaker for my daughter) characters that stick in the mind and truly inspire.

    As ‘fun’ as Jinty, Bunty and Misty were, I used to regularly catch my sister reading my issues of 2000 AD and if any superhero magazines were kicking around the house she’d read those too. There are ‘girly’ girls who will always want to read about princesses, ponies and pink stuff but there are a real plethora of magazines around like that, but not very many comics that come close to the sort of quality that boy-centric comics seem to have the monopoly on.

    My daughter loves The Phoenix, technically she’s too young for it really but she instantly latched onto the character of Sophie in ‘Pirates of Pangea’ because she has a tendency to pick on characters in children’s books and comics and say “See her? She is me!” when she spots a particular standout character that she loves (and wants to be like). Nail that in a dedicated girl’s comic, and you’ll have a fantastic and loyal target audience that hopefully will pick up their pens, pencils and paper and show the boys how it’s done in generations to come, just like our stunning female comic artisans are now.

    • Yes! That’s it, the whole ‘that’s ME’ factor that I was trying to pinpoint with what I was saying before. I keep thinking of the passage in The Neverending Story where Carl Conrad Coriander talks to Bastian about being Captain Nemo, trapped at the bottom of the sea. I remember how closely I identified with characters in the books I read, regardless of gender, as long as they were blazingly real and important to me. I wanted to be Taran of Caer Dallben, Prince Caspian AND George from the Famous Five. Because they were brilliant characters.

    • That’s the idea. That people will just read stuff because they like it. And everyone likes different stuff. There are probably boys who like a pink pony too. 🙂

      So glad your daughter loves The Phoenix. It’s a good one to grow up with!

  2. As a guy, I often read the comics in the paper that were obviously intended for \”girls\”. But then, I also watched some soaps, and I read the hell out of Harlequin books when I was a young teen. The Judy Blume novels that were obviously \”for girls\” were devoured by me. Certain types of story appeal in larger amounts to girls or boys, but there are always exceptions, and putting a gender to it is unnecessary. We really need a better set of labels (yes, we do, labels are sometimes good). Relationship comics. Preteen romance comics. labels like that.

  3. Chris Gannon says:

    Lovely stuff and I agree with you 100%, after all half of the fans of Harry Potter are girls. I’ve recently started a subscription to The Phoenix for my godson, which I’ll top up for as long as he wants to read it. Pirates of Pangea grabbed me just by the preview image alone but I’m excited that the lead character is a girl. As a kid who grew up reading The Dandy and The Beano, I never had a problem seeing Ivy The Terrible, Beryl The Peril and Minnie the Minx as being equals to Dennis The Menace, Roger the Dodger and Desperate Dan and I’m hoping that my godson will love Pirates of Pangea as much as I hope he does.

  4. itsthatlady says:

    I did read some ‘girls comics’, mainly Misty, alongside 2000ad, when it came out. This was welcome- at the time it felt like the shop was full of war comics, and even valiant was a bit like this, just not interesting. Bunty, I had no interest in- I lumped that in with today’s pink and purple world. There was a space for comics for girls then, as it appeared comics were overwhelmingly for boys, or at least those with stories with any kind of edge. When we got 2000ad, it was great because this was good for me too. Times have changed and the newsagents racks aren’t full of tanks and stories about Nazis. Thankfully. maybe there is less need for a comic which is specifically targeted at girls- because it was targeted we actually got to see it, as opposed to being stuck with the war comics. I think it is not so much having things for girls specifically that might be of interest, but rather an acceptance that one type of comic is good for everyone, and different people like different things. Maybe we need an anti-phoenix (say Misty against Victor, or 2000ad against… everything) as well as the Phoenix?

    • Interesting. What would an anti-Phoenix be if the Phoenix is for everyone?

      • itsthatlady says:

        I don’t know. What would be the equivalent of 2000AD be (it was suitable for kids when it came out, or at least was given to quite young kids)? Can a single publication really be for everyone? (I acknowledge the Phoenix is very good, this said).

        • There should definitely be lots of comics for people to choose from. That’s the point. Lots of good comics, good art, good stories. Therefore no need to market for certain audiences.

          The Phoenix is a good example but it doesn’t have everything. Of course we need more! Bring on the rest! 🙂

  5. When I was little we had a school book club and I always spent my pennies on Asterix or Tin Tin. For the holidays we’d get sent to Spain and I’d get them in Spanish, Spanish comics were ace. I didn’t keep any, bad bad me. *does a little cry*

  6. Pingback: Kid’s Comics: Different for Girls? The debate continues… | The Fleece Station

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