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Beyond the Buzz: What’s Actually Selling Outside the Comics Community

For someone who considers myself an advocate for women in comics, I was completely embarrassed when I learned that there have been women comics writer on the New York Times best selling paperback graphics books for months weeks. And I had no idea until Faith Erin Hicks spoke up on twitter.

Following that statement, Hicks wrote:

It’s a much warranted question, asking us to analyze how the comics media works and what does and doesn’t attract attention. Looking at the current New York Times list for best selling paperback graphic books, it’s interesting to see how many women (and how few superhero books) are current on the list, and how few the list was dissected included in this write up on ComicsBeat.

PAPERBACK GRAPHIC BOOKS WEEKS
ON LIST
1 PERSEPOLIS, by Marjane Satrapi. (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.) This graphic novel memoir chronicles the author’s life in Iran during its 1979 revolution and its war with Iraq. 23
2 FUN HOME, by Alison Bechdel. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.) In her first memoir, the author chronicles the life and death of her father, a closeted gay man and funeral director. 20
3 MAUS: A SURVIVOR’S TALE, VOL. 1, by Art Spiegelman. (Pantheon.) The author tells the story of his father, a Holocaust survivor, in a critically-acclaimed tale where Jewish people are mice and Germans are cats. 42
4 MARCH: BOOK ONE, by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. (Top Shelf Productions.) Congressman John Lewis from Georgia chronicles his life in the civil rights movement. Artwork is by Nate Powell. 21
5 BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR, by Julie Maroh. (Arsenal Pulp Press.) In this graphic novel a young woman named Clémentine begins a journey of love and sexual awakening after she meets the blue-haired Emma. 13
6 WATCHMEN, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. (DC Comics.) This epic tale from 1986 signaled a new maturity in comic books. 122
7 THE WALKING DEAD, VOL. 1, by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore. (Image Comics.) The gripping story of the human survivors in a world overrun by zombies begins. 156
8 THE WALKING DEAD, VOL. 19, by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard. (Image Comics.) Rick and the survivors make their move against Negan and his “saviors,” sparking the flames that will lead to an inevitable war. 8
9 SAGA, VOL. 2, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. (Image Comics.) This sci-fi fantasy series follows a newly married couple as they try to raise their child while avoiding robots, bounty hunters and an intergalactic war. In this volume: meet the grandparents! 21
10 SMILE, by Raina Telgemeier. (Scholastic.) This graphic novel memoir depicts the social lows of braces, an earthquake, boy troubles, frenemies and other plagues of the sixth grade. 88

Marjane Satrapi, Alison Bechdel, Julie Maroh and Raina Telgemeier represent 40% of the top ten sellers list – and are not books that I typically hear of through comics media. A quick Google search will pull up some results from BleedingCool, Comicsbeat and ComicBookResources, but usually past the first 3-4 pages of results.

Smile By: Raina Telgemeier

For books that are clearly widely renowned and sell well, it’s fascinating that I can find more immediate hits for a title called “Southern Bastards” (which to be fair was just announced etc. etc.) than books by women that have selling strongly for months.

There are several potential reasons for this oversight, some more damning of the comics community than others. First of all, as someone who reviews multiple comics every week, it’s easy for me to go to Previews each week and pull the books I want to review off a list. It takes more time and searching to discover webcomics and comics published from non-traditional comics companies.

I’m embarrassed to say that Bandette, the Eisner nominated comic from Fantagraphics, was completely off my radar until its nomination simply due to the fact that it wasn’t on an easily accessible list. However, all the webcomics and graphic novels I have found outside DC, Marvel, Image, IDW etc. have always been exquisite finds that were worth the effort. Assuming that all comics must be featured on a list like Previews encourages lazy journalism (guilty!) and a narrow definition of the comics that excludes amazing projects.

This is also fueled by the stereotypes associated with the idea of comics, and the types of people that consume them. When many people hear the word “comic” they immediately think of Marvel/DC and superheroes like Batman, Superman, and Spiderman. While some of the most popular comics in the past year like Saga and The Walking Dead don’t feature superheroes, the base stereotype of comics seems slow to change.

So to have stereotypes regarding people who read comic books – which often dictate what the comics media is interested in publishing. Thanks to the Big Bang Theory and Comic Book Men the idea of comic book readers as white men interested in superheroes continues. Remember that episode where all the Big Bang Theory kids all tried to dress up as Flash for Halloween?

the-big-bang-theory-cast-flash-costumes-164949

These stereotypes influence the way that media directed specifically towards comic readers gets published. Do those guys look like they want to read Alison Bechdel’s memoir about the life and death of her father or Julie Maroh’s narration of Clémentine journey of love and sexual awakening after she meets the blue-haired Emma? Probably not.

That’s not to say that the average comic book reader isn’t interested in things outside of superhero tales! I’m not try to underestimate the average reader out there. It is to say that that these stereotypes do inform the way we think about comic books, their readers and informs the way that media is directed to those consumers.

For women in comics, this can mean that women’s creations are largely ignored by comics media since a large amount of women in comics write outside top companies such as DC, Marvel, Image etc.

There are writers and websites attempting to change this. Janelle Asselin, highlights women comic creators in her “Hire This Woman” series on ComicsAlliance and sites such as GirlsLikeComics and WomenWriteAboutComics do a great job covering both women in comics, and also comics outside the usual stereotype.

This growing community of writers, artists, creators, journalists, and more that both create comics outside the norm and cover their creation is beginning to help get the word out about non-stereotypical comic books. However, it will take more writers willing to devote themselves to this outside coverage to begin expanding the stereotypes currently driving comics media. For what it’s worth, I’ll try to start doing my part. Will you?

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