IMO: COMICS – Boys Vs Girls by Gar Shanley


The triumph of one was not dependent on the failure of the other but if there was a war between comics for girls and comics for boys then the boys comics won. Mainstream comics today have their roots in fare that was designed to appeal to young males. That is why you would be hard pressed to find a best selling comic that concerns itself more with emotion and character dynamics than explosions and people getting punched in the face. That’s a pity in my opinion.
While girls’ comics of the past comprised of melodramatically overwrought narratives, I often wonder if they might have matured and grown with their audience, leading to more thematic variety on the shelves today. The medium might not be so purely associated with certain genres as is currently the case in the English speaking world. (Europeans and Asians can read comics in a variety of genres on all sorts of subjects – but the stuff that is translated for our market is usually just the typical genre stuff.) I recently read a thread on an English site where someone asked for non cape-centric comic recommendations. All of the recommendations given were for science fiction or action orientated comics that did not have superheroes in them. You see my point?
Some bemoan the dearth of female creators in what is widely considered to be mainstream comics but I’m not surprised. Unless a fan of certain genres, I don’t see why most women would have much interest in joining in. There has always been a better representation of female creators in the ‘alternative’ scene but I suspect that is because those comics deal with a wider range of matters. These comics are often far more challenging and confrontational too. For example, the narratives of a comic creator such as Phoebe Gloeckner would make supposedly gritty story tellers like Millar or Ennis blush. I was certainly shocked by the in your face content found in the comics of Gloeckner and her peers when I first discovered them but I was equally impressed and engaged by their honesty. These stories genuinely reflect the darker and more complicated aspects of life, albeit with a dash of humour.
Unlike many of her peers, Gloeckner was not so prolific and she has since quit making comics. That is why I picked her as an example. I think it’s a loss. Potential wasted. Had there been a larger audience, perhaps Gloeckner would still be expressing herself via comics. It seems to me odd that a comic is deemed alternative if its content is not action orientated.
I’m not attempting to pick one over the other or presenting a false dichotomy here. I personally think 2000AD (a boys’ comic – initially at least) is the greatest comic periodical of all time. Despite this, I can’t help feeling that the death of the girls’ comic may have retarded the potential of the comic medium in the English speaking world. Had it been girls’ comics that survived and boys’ comics that had gone under I’m sure I would be here lamenting the demise of the latter. I’m just pointing out how that didn’t happen and how this may have been detrimental to the potential of the medium at large. There is a longstanding imbalance here. As Tommie Kelly once said to me: “not all films are Westerns, why do all comics have to be sci-fi?”
To finish up, I really wanted to use this piece as an excuse to link you to four parts of a great documentary on the history of comics for boys and girls in Britain. It examines the appeal these comics had for their readers and how their creators considered the psychology and desires of their target audiences.
Here are the links:
Enjoy and thanks for reading.