Though the gender gap is ever narrowing, certain industries have yet to represent women in a significant way, and the comics industry is a repeat gender offender. We see scores of films and print publications distributed that put male writers and superheroes in the thick of the action, but fail to explain where the female heroes are. To Millennial women, who are happy to declare themselves fangirls, the absence is noticeable and often infuriating. At New York’s Comic Con this year, the co-founder of Alpha Girl Comics lamented that “Wall Street does a better job” towards closing the gender gap than her own industry. Those on the “Women in Comics” panel noted that almost half of the convention’s attendants were women, yet only 6% of the special guests were females. Adding insult to injury, 20% of digital comic readership is fueled by women, illustrating a great disparity between the ripe female comics market and the current strides towards representing them. Millennials are demanding that female superheroes be put in the spotlight, and taking it upon themselves to make it happen.
The lack of women in comics is not for lack of talent, but disregard for (or utter ambivalence to) the prospect of female superheroes within the industry, with industry execs claiming “We don’t know how to sell it.” With power players refusing to put superwomen on the screen, younger illustrators are the ones taking risks in order to bring something different to comic strips. The newest character introduced to Marvel’s lineup is Kamala Khan, a Muslim teen superheroine that breaks the traditional comic mold, introducing religious affiliation and racial diversity to the standard white-male superhero spectrum. Kamala deals with all of the tropes of being a teenage girl living in a conservative household, illustrated accurately by the author G. Willow Wilson, both a woman and an Islam convert. Wilson, a self proclaimed “professional gender bender” and an older-edge Millennial, points out that while producing Kamala Khan is a risk because it ventures into untouched territory, there is a movement underway for women to take lead roles in comics. Kamala Khan will debut in February, followed by two more Marvel series centered on She-Hulk and Elektra.
But the greatest gender disparity in the comics industry lies in its movie franchises, where the big money also lies. Thor got his own film, one that “only exists so non-nerds will recognize the blond guy in The Avengers.” But Black Widow, the only female Avenger, has conspicuously not been given her own spin off franchise, despite fan demand. Wonder Woman, a household name, has also consistently been ignored by major movie producers. Fans already proved that Wonder Woman could dominate at the box office with a short-film trailer that garnered over 4.5 million views, but are still waiting for any sign of activity on the production front—though predictions say it would be a huge win for Warner Bros. Similarly, Hit Girl has captivated audiences in the past few years as a foulmouthed sidekick in Kickass and Kickass 2. Played by Chloë Moretz, a rising star in the film industry at just 16-years-old, Hit Girl stole the show in the lackluster Kickass sequel according to critics, causing fans and industry insiders alike to question why Hit Girl “can’t just have her own damn movie.”
Millennials have taken note of the male-dominated comic world, and while they wait for the industry to catch up, they are supporting female figures in novels and TV series that align with their strong view of women. The desire by young viewers to see strong female characters in their storylines has led to the rise of the superheroine. The Hunger Games’ Katniss is a force of nature, as respected as the young actress who plays her. From Hermione Granger to Tris in Divergent, female heroines are skyrocketing to fame thanks to young readers—a phenomenon that cannot be ignored. Recent Disney princess illustrations by a young graphic artist transformed our beloved princesses into modern superheroines: Belle as Hermione, Mulan as Xena, Alice in Wonderland as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Pocahontas as Katniss. Even the Pink Power Ranger, Lara Croft, and Michonne from The Walking Dead were included, showing the range and relevancy of young superheroines for this audience.
According to Comic Vine, there are 18,096 female characters in comics throughout time. As female illustrators, readers, and general fans gain more exposure and access to content they want, the gender gap in the comics industry can begin to taper, letting superheroes keep their day jobs and allowing women to gain recognition for fighting the big battles.