How To Get Girls Into Comics…

Don… oh screw it, I’ve made this joke too many times.

This is one of the most common questions I get that isn’t “Should I tell her I like her?” or “how do I get this girl to like me?” and it deserves its own entry into the Dr. NerdLove canon.  It’s one of the issues where what’s being said isn’t really what’s being asked.

Stick with me for a second here.

Y’see, geeks, as a group, tend towards insecurity and self-loathing. Even with the rise of geek culture, video games cresting as a multi-billion dollar industry, the increasing popular acceptance of graphic novels as a valid medium and nine out of the top ten highest grossing movies in history being geek movies, the collective self-esteem of geeks and nerds remains fairly low.

If it weren’t, I wouldn’t be running this blog, now would I?

Because of these bouts of insecurity, nerd boys have an unfortunate tendency to feel somewhat… defensive, for lack of a better term, of their interests. This manifests in a number odd ways, including a tendency towards an insular tribalism, an “us-vs-them” mentality. If you’ve ever heard a geek refer to non-geeks as “civilians” or “mundanes”, then you know what I’m talking about. There is “our people” and “everyone else”. While they maintain a certain calculated elitism and disdain for the “mundanes”, most of them still yearn for mainstream acceptance.

Which is where the evangelism comes in; what better way to prove that “we” are just as good as “they” are by bringing them into the fold? If “we” can convince “them” to like what we like, doesn’t that mean that in the end, we were right all along? This desperate need for approval is especially strong where girls are concerned. After decades of the popular image of  comic fans as basement-dwelling emotionally stunted man-children, nerdboys suffer from anxiety over women discovering that they read Green Lantern or collect action figures. They read stories about celebrity geeks like Nicholas Cage liquidating his comics at the insistence of his then-wife. They watch The 40 Year Old Virgin and see Catherine Keener freak out at Steve Carrell’s collection. They hear the hosts of the Today Show declare that anyone over the age of 20 continuing to play video games is just “weird”.  The idea that geek interests make sex dry up and disappear is deeply ingrained in the nerd collective conscience. The nerd is seemingly pulled in two incompatible directions: girls… or comics. Girls… or games. Girl… or geek.

So why not date geek girls? After all, why not stick to people who will not only not judge them for their interests but take part? Well, because  geek girls – while not the impossibly rare unicorns that they once were – are still vastly outnumbered by the guys, and are considered hotly contested commodities.

(And yes, that was a very deliberate word-choice, and something I will be addressing in another article…)

So what’s a nerd to do? Well, if they can’t find a geek girl…

Why not create one?

Now, there are many, many geeks out there who aren’t insecure. Geeks who genuinely want to share their love and appreciation of the medium with the people in their lives and hopefully kindle a similar love in their hearts. Thing is, those geeks aren’t the ones who want to know how to get their girls into comics. They’re the ones who know how to talk about their favorites and which ones to recommend to their friends and girlfriends. They’re the ones who know how to sell their passions.

It’s the fearful nerds I’ve found that tend to ask the most about getting girls into comics. And it shows.

It tends to come in two flavors:

In the first variation, when they say “comics”, they really mean “superhero comics”; love them or hate them, superhero comics are the dominant genre in the medium, and they tend to be the gateway drug for most comic fans. The majority of comics sold and read in the US are superhero comics from Marvel and DC… and the majority of comic fans read Marvel and DC almost to exclusion and don’t delve into non-mainstream comics. They love superheroes… and they want their significant others to love them too. The problem here is that most superhero comics are, frankly, not aimed at a female audience. The target demographic for Marvel and DC is white men, ages 18-34; if there’s any spillover into other demos then that’s great, but that’s a bonus, not a goal. The issues and reasons for the lack of market diversity in superhero comics in their current incarnation has been covered in great depth by other people, and I don’t intend to get into it here. However, the issue remains that most superhero comics are just not terribly female friendly and can be a hard sell, especially to women who aren’t comic fans already. The perceived stigma of superhero comics as quasi-homoerotic, over-sexualized adolescent power fantasies still remains, and the Variation One version of the question is all too aware of this.

The second variation carries the subtext of “I like comics, but I’m ashamed of liking them… so how can I trick her into liking them too?” This tends to be from people who believe that the idea of women and comics go together like oil and water. This is the conversation that frequently leads to the same recommendations every time: Sandman, Bone, Blue Monday, Strangers in Paradise, Fables and <Pick-Random-Manga-Here>. It doesn’t take the woman’s tastes into account. There is no consideration of her interests in other media; what books she reads, what movies she loves. It doesn’t take into account the inroads that manga has made in finding a female audience. The titles vary but the sentiment behind it remains: here, throw these at her, these are the designated ‘chick’ comics.

Needless to say, the end result tends to be the same: a fumbling attempt at evangelizing about how awesome comics are that leads to a half-hearted try by their significant other that ultimately doesn’t help and leads nowhere. And so the cycle repeats itself.

The cold, hard truth of the matter is, some people just won’t like comics, no matter whether you introduce them to The Ultimates, Transmetropolitan, Cerebus, Blankets, 8-Ball or Black Hole. They may love Batman Begins and the Dark Knight but never pick up a Batman comic in their life. And that’s ok. Couples with separate interests actually do better than ones who insist on doing everything together; there’s no surer way to build resentment than to force someone to do something he or she only tolerates, even if you love it.

And if you really do want to get her into comics? Well… you have to talk to her. Find out what she likes. Try to find titles that match up to her tastes already. And be prepared to accept that sometimes it just isn’t going to happen.

And for the record, here are some titles I recommend… to everyone. Because they’re awesome:

Locke and Key
Finder
Criminal
Vagabond
20th Century Boys
The Rocketeer
Queen and Country
Nana
Morning Glories
Casanova
Chew

Comments

  1. I wish you'd put pics in your posts. Gets attention more, and makes the average reader want to read . Gives the eye a rest, instead of staring at a wall of text. Good writing!!!!

  2. I have been doing an online comic since March and I was hoping that my readership would be college students trying in inspire them into action through people trying to stand up to the system and winning. It was a proto-occupy comic. To my surprise, my readership is 3 to 1 female. I think that's awesome because one of my goals as a comic creator was always to bring women into comics. I just never thought this would be the project that would do this.

    • Dr. NerdLove says:

      You never know what's going to be the project that makes you or how it's going to turn out.

      I didn't think giving love advice to geeks in one episode of a podcast was going to turn into this…

  3. As a girl. I recomend most of the not-super hero titles for girls who are thinking of getting in to da comic. eg. Y the Last man and Fables. for the teen girls I 100% recomend Runaways. basicaly, depending on their personality, a girl will probably enjoy anything that dosen't 100% objectify their gender. (I am talking about the gravity defying boobs witchblade, jean grey, and almost everyone else seems to obtain when they aquire superpowers… its like chickens with groeth hormones.)

    • Dr. NerdLove says:

      I agree with you about Fables, but only up to the end of the War with the Enemy. After that, it seems to have lost it's way.

      • Nope, Fables is still good…I am actually current and have picked up the spin off "Fairest." I also tried reading "Djinn'…ick what an over sexed, sexist piece of crap that is… don't recommend it to newby women, or women at all. It's an offensive example of female stereotypes.

    • I loved Y the Last Man. It was fascinating to see how much of it was like, "Dude. Things are messed up because men subjugated women to feel important, but actually, they can get shit done. It's just, you shut them out of way too much, and THAT'S why it all fell apart." Even if that IS mostly in the background. I was surprised to find out that many women don't like it.

  4. Being a member of the solely-anime-focused brand of geekdom I have a much easier time (and indeed enjoy) turning "normies" (that's what I call the "civilians" in your article) both male and female into anime-stuff. Girls like the cute stuff and emotionally deep stories and the superhero thing while still existing is not nearly as prevalent in anime/manga as it is in western stuff thus my work is somewhat easier.

    The problem is that the underlying reality of the rarity of girls who would respect the medium as much as I do is still exorbitantly high so it really is difficult to find someone who you can hang with, understand each-others language and also be somewhat attracted to.

  5. I'd say if you introduce a woman to comics via Cerebus, you deserve to be dumped on the spot :p

  6. I would recommend everything Ruth has posted including some of the things you've posted as well (Nana!)(which is almost as good as Paradise Kiss by the same author). Sweet Tooth, Ouran Host Club, Fruits Basket, Claymore (although that may be a bit gorey)…As a woman, I was able to get 3 other girls to read and keep up with The Walking Dead comics as well; we pass them around at work (with the title covered). I've noticed that I personally like GN and manga with a lot of character development.

    • Dr. NerdLove says:

      I'd disagree with you about Sweet Tooth, but that's more of a "tastes vary" issue than anything else. You *might* want to check out DMZ by Brian Wood too.

  7. What's wrong with introducing girls to comics with Sandman? That's what my H.S. boyfriend did, and it worked beautifully. I loved them and was more open to comics in general after reading them. Now I have my own geeky interests, like space opera and epic fantasy novels. You give great advice, though, keep it up

  8. MrsOctopus says:

    It's more the graphic novel area, but Love and Rockets and the Palomar comics but Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez are brilliant and thoughtful. Probably not really "comics" necessarily, but if you've got a girl who likes a good story (especially one who reads authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez), it'll be the easiest sell ever. I found a collection while I was killing time in a library and I've been hooked ever since. Just a note — there is more than a little violence and nudity, and no shying away from topics like infidelity, abortion, communism/politics, cross-dressing, homosexuality, domestic abuse, etc.

    • Dr. NerdLove says:

      Love and Rockets is good (although admittedly, it's never clicked for me) but it's a hell of a time investment considering that Los Bros Hernandez have been working on it since the early 80s. Palomar – which had a huge collected edition come out relatively recently – may be a slightly better place to start.

  9. What your list is very sorely missing is"Strangers in Paradise" by Terry Moore. That is the "People who don't like comics" comic, and also quite popular with ladies. Why also missing "Love and Rockets" , "Sandman" ,"Death", "Hellblazer", "Swamp Thing" and "The Books of Magic"? Each of those comics are popular, and have established female fan bases.

    • Dr. NerdLove says:

      Evidently you skipped straight to the end of the article since I mentioned both SiP and Sandman specifically as among the same ones that get trotted out over and over again.

      Also: Death: The High Cost of Living and The Books of Magic are both out of print, with only limited numbers available at Amazon and other retailers.

  10. Hi all! Unicorn here! I'm a woman who grew up with comic books – Japanese manga actually. I find that "recommending" comics to girls hardly ever work. It's like me trying to get a guy into knitting and recommend that he knit something to go with his suits. It has to look like it is their own idea, gotta use some Inception-jutsu on them.

    I accidentally got several friends into manga by playing the "Nodame Cantabile" soundtrack. It's a comedy about a classical pianist who is a total slob, and how she got her shit together to enter one of the most prestige academy in Paris. Very funny even if you don't care about piano. (Playing Mozart in the middle of filth is funny.) The soundtrack is all classical music from the animation. They would ask if I'm into classical music and I'd say it is from a comic book. When I tell them what it is about, they think it seems interesting and they would look it up online.

    Also, I find that people who never read comic books have a hard time following the dialog box. They don't even know where to go next. It is an ability we take for granted. For those friends, I just tell them to watch the anime.

    Several friends are trying to get me to read "One Piece". Totally hate it. Read 9 volume and still waiting for something to happen, total waste of time. They constant "recommendation" or nudging just made it even more unbearable. Don't try too hard to push what you like on girls. If she likes you, she'll try to get into your interests. I know I've tried kickboxing, golf, running, baseball… all for guys I like. (And I absolutely hate exercising!)

  11. Sandra Augiga says:

    As a woman and an European one as well, I got into comics through ElfQuest. Winnowill is one creepy villan and just love all the gorgeous warrior women. After that I combed the comic store for somthing similar, but failed a bit. Either the art sucked, or the women in the story were mere empty shells only for the male eyes, to be killed off so that the male hero could go on a hero quest. I really liked the promise of crossgen's Meridian, but then the comic fell flat on it's face. Not sure what happened there. The only american things I could find after that was JillThompsons Scary Godmother. The art was eatable and the stories were so much fun. I also really liked the comics made by David Mack as well. After that I turned to the European comics like Aria, blacksad, the scorpian, and Thorgal. Now a days I don't have access to a comicshop, so I just stick with webcomics, which would also be a great way to get woman interrested in comics.

  12. I was going to post that a great comic that has equal appeal to guys and girls — and could be a great way of introducing a girl to comics — is Elfquest, but Sandra beat me to it. Creator and artist of the series Wendy Pini continues to be a trailblazer in the industry and her stories and art are just different than anything else out there.

    Plus, the entire 35 year run of the series is available for free online at http://www.elfquest.com and they have a brand new series coming out from Dark Horse called the "The Final Quest" starting in October. (Yes, I'm a die-hard Elfquest fan.)

  13. 20th Century Boys!!! Or, anything Naoki Urusawa, really. (My poison of choice is Pluto, and I continue to sorrow over not talking the husband into reading it. ;.; ) *laugh* I am a Gamer Wife, but I don't really get to indulge my own Geek because we don't have the funds.

    >> I give, though, Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall is one I'd try to use to lure dudes into comics, too. The art is so lush, and the characters are closest to their fairytale origins, so I suspect ANY non-comic reader might be trapped more easily by it. I get fewer weird looks from others when I describe that one than when I'm like, "No. Seriously. It's like, Astro Boy, except it's not, and it's more about human-robot relations, and it makes you care about the robots, and also, there's a teddy bear." (Urusawa's Pluto).

  14. For a long time comics didn't interest me much, for a lot of the reasons you listed. Then I started reading The Walking Dead. All of them. Then Saga. Oh….Saga. The BEST. Hawkeye. MP. All of Y the Last Man. Waiting for the first TPB of Runaways to come in the mail, since I have 2,3,4, and 5 waiting to be read after it arrives. There are books out there….for women…..for PEOPLE looking for good stories and good art.

  15. Haha, this is so true what you said, my girlfriend can also relate to Nolan's Batman but boy did she hate me when I wanted her to read "Year One". Oh well. We still get along well :)