When comics first hit the scene back in the 1940s, boys and girls flocked to the newsstands in equal measure to pick up the week's offerings. They enjoyed the adventures of Katy Keene, Batman, Superman, Little Lulu, and Brenda Starr, Reporter. There was something for everyone, and it wasn't an oddity to see girls reading comics as well as boys.
Jumping forward to today, the question on publishers' minds seems to be "How do we get the girls back?" While there has always been a consistent comic readership made up of women and girls, many of the North American comics targeted at them have disappeared, or have morphed into books that appeal more to guys. Many women are turned off of Western comics by misogynist portrayals of female superheroes or secondary characters, and others find it difficult to find books that appeal to them. The influx of translated manga has proven to retailers and publishers alike that girls aren't adverse to comics; and can, in fact, be more obsessive in their purchasing than boys. So how do we get the girls back?
DC Comics is answering the question with MINX, "the first imprint from a major American comic book publisher devoted to reaching the teenage girl reader." With a debut release of six books this year, and an expected eight released next year, DC seems committed to publishing work that is appropriate and appeals to pre-teen and teenage girls.
And they're doing a lot of things right. Perhaps the biggest accomplishment is that the books don't fall into the trap of claiming to be for girls but really pandering to boys by having salacious elements. (The one discrepancy is the strange decision to have one of Lottie's friends wear just a bra, panties, and stockings to go to a nightclub in Clubbing.) They're also not all romances—although most of them do include a romance subplot, there's only one where most of the action pivots on a romantic entanglement. The stories feature a wide variety of main characters and storylines, to the point that the Minx powers that be seem to be taking a Spice Girls approach to the line; there's the art girl, the drama girl, the goth girl, the martial arts girl, the blogger. But this isn't a bad approach, if they cast the net wide enough there's more likelihood that there will be a book to appeal to everyone. And the girls transcend their niches to be three dimensional characters; Jane is more than an artist, Dixie more than a hapkido champion. That's where the books really succeed, because the stories are good.
That the books appeal to teenage girls isn't a question for me, when I showed them to the girls I work with, every one of the almost thirty girls was interested in at least one of the titles. These girls range in age from 12 to 18, from voracious readers to learning disabled. Some were drawn to the art, others to the plot synopses.
The book designs are well thought out, with attractive covers (for the most part) and substantial previews of upcoming Minx titles in the back. The price point is also welcoming at $9.99 they're an easy impulse buy, and a reasonable price for teenagers to pay.
For a line devoted to reaching girls, there is a distinct scarcity of women connected to the Minx books released this year however, (only two had women on the creative team). That number is scheduled to increase with next year's releases. Only one of the books had a teenage girl as a writer, and I found that title to feel the most genuine, followed by the other title written by a woman. That's not to say men can't write books for girls; DC has done a good job, both this year and with next year's projects, in picking male comic creators whose work connects with and appeals to girls and women. (Andi Watson, Brian Wood, and Steve Rolston stand out in this arena.)
There's also a distinct scarcity of creators who write specifically for teens though. Cecil Castellucci is the only young adult novelist working on the line; many of the women slated to work on next year's books are novelists of adult literature. I have no doubt these women will be able to write books that will appeal to teenage girls, but I do wonder how they will adapt to the sequential art format. There's also the question of whether any teenage girls will recognize their names as a lure to pick up the books. A graphic novel with Meg Cabot or Louise Rennison's name on the cover would surely be an easier draw.
And this brings up the question, are girls going to find these books?
In talking to comic retailers around the country, the answer seems to be mixed. DC helped retailers by making the books returnable, therefore making it easier for stores to stock them more heavily, but retailers haven't seen them back that up with a promotional push to let girls know about the titles. (This speaks to a highly contestable question of who should be responsible for the promotion of books, which I won't be going into here.) Any PR that has been seen has been in articles placed in magazines not normally read by teens. Despite this, most stores report that the book sales are exceeding their expectations and that there is a burgeoning brand loyalty to the Minx name. However, most of the sales aren't being made to teenage girls, and almost none are to new comics buyers.
And this is where it becomes difficult to gauge exactly what's happening. Many of the creators working on the Minx titles are established artists with loyal followings; followings who appear to be continuing their support by buying their favorite creator's work on a Minx title. As the titles are well produced books, with well written stories, it's not surprising to find that on average, men are buying them in equal measure with women.* As Rory Root from Comic Relief in San Francisco commented, "There's an assumption that adults don't read young adult fiction, and that's just not true." At the same time, however, one can't assume that because adults are buying Minx titles that they aren't then being given to teenage girls.
So there may be no way to know if DC succeeds with their goal. It does seem evident that despite their claim to be devoted to reaching the teenage girl reader their concentration seems to be more fully placed in appealing to teenage girls. However, as Joe Field from Flying Colors pointed out, "DC's method of operation has always been slow and steady wins the race, and they work at building a market rather than striking a fad." Maybe we will see an influx of new teenage girl comic readers. Maybe the girls who are already reading comics will simply have more to read. Either way, more comics for teenage girls can't be a bad thing.
* I can't pass up the opportunity to point out that yes, men are buying these books, which are free of the elements it's all but been deemed essential to have in a comic men will buy. No skimpy costumes, no out of proportion boobs; it is possible to make a comic women feel respects them and that men are interested in. DC, are you listening?
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