The DCnU's Female Troubles: Was Lack of Creators Overblown?

SDCC 2011: DC Comics - The New 52 Sunday

At last month’s Comic-Con International, a few fans came to the microphone at several DC panels and asked about the issue of female creators in comics. At the first DC: The New 52 panel, a male fan started the question off. And he used percentages.

According to the questioner, DC had gone "from 12 percent in women to 1 percent" on creative teams involved with DC's "New 52" initiative.

And he wanted to know why.

In response to that first question, DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio responded, "What do those numbers mean to you?"

Although some have reacted negatively to the DC executive's retort, the question itself got us thinking. What do those numbers mean?

After all, one of the percentages has even been mentioned here on Newsarama.

Without a doubt, it means there are a low number of women working on the creative side of comics. Any American industry that can only boast a small percentage of its work force as female would react negatively to those kind of numbers.

But as it turns out, the comparison between 12 percent and 1 percent actually doesn't mean much at all, because the two percentages aren't even looking at the same thing.

The 12 percent number stems from a "gendercrunching" article by blogger Tim Hanley that was calculated from May's comics using all DC titles, including DCU, Vertigo, Johnny DC, video game tie-in comics and more. It counts editors, assistant editors, colorists, inkers and letterers along with writers, pencilers and cover artists.

In fact, if you look at Hanley's numbers, a large proportion of that percentage of females at DC are editors.

On the other hand, the 1 percent number from the same blogger does not include Vertigo or any other publication outside the 52 new DCU titles. The statistic counts only artists, writers and covers. No colorists. No letterers.

And no editors.

Newsarama decided to attempt to compare the proverbial "apples to apples." We decided to take 52 top-selling DCU titles from before the relaunch and put them up against the New 52 in September. And we compared only pencilers, writers and cover artists.

First of all, that meant stepping away from May. After trying to take the top-selling 52 titles from just the DCU in May, we discovered there weren't 52 to be found. When using the top-selling 300 comics list from Diamond Distributors, there were fewer than 50 new comics on the list that took place in the DC Universe. (Must have been a bad month for low-selling DCU titles, but that's another story.)

So for a cleaner comparison — and one not influenced by Flashpoint or the finales for DC's bi-weeklies — we went to March 2011. We found plenty of regular DCU comics shipped in March, and more than 52 DCU comics in the top-sellers.

We also compared just artists, writers and cover artists from March and September. After all, until the comics ship, we only have solicitations for September. So to truly compare accurately, we had to only use the data that's available.

What did we find?

We discovered that there were three women from March who were not on books in September. So that's minus three.

But one woman was added in September who was not working on a DCU book in March. So that's plus one.

To make it simple... it's a change of two women. The total number of women among pencilers, writers and cover artists went from four to two.

That may seem small, but percentages will grow astoundingly with even a small change when it is taken away from an already miniscule number. After all, a decrease from four women to two women can also be described as "a 50 percent drop."

When you drill down into those numbers and start asking questions about where those creators went, things get more interesting, because they didn't leave after all.

The decrease comes down to the fact that Nicola Scott isn't drawing a comic in September, and Amy Reeder and Amanda Conner aren't doing covers.

  But Jenny Frison now is.

(And Gail Simone never went away. Sheesh... just think of the percentage drop if she did.)

Yet Newsarama has been told by DC sources who wish to remain unnamed that all three women — Amy Reeder, Amanda Conner and Nicola Scott — actually are currently working on projects for DC. And apparently they were working for DC even before this percentage-related controversy. They just aren't on a book in September.

One of the projects is already announced (click here for our interview): Reeder is doing interiors on an upcoming arc of the new title Batwoman. Newsarama confirmed with series writer J.H. Williams that this information is still accurate.

Scott's project is still unannounced to the public. But as Gail Simone revealed to her followers on Twitter last month, when discussing September's lack of female talent: "I know Nicola was offered projects. But I don't want to speak for her."

Conner is currently finishing up what an unnamed DC source described to Newsarama as a "big 2012 project" for DC, and is already booked for another DC mini-series next year.

So the "decrease" we found between months because of these three creators leaving DC is... well, not accurate at all. They didn't leave. They are actually still working for DC.

For those nerdy number-crunchers who are dying to spout an accurate ratio, here's what it means in March-to-September percentage comparisons when looking at the total number of DCU books: Out of the top-selling 52 DCU comics in March, five out of 52 had female writers, pencilers or cover artists (with Simone on two books). That represents a percentage of 9.6 percent for March. In September, the 52 titles have only three with females on the creative team. That's 5.8 percent. So the change between two comparable numbers of titles that feature female creators, it's 9.6 percent to 5.8 percent.

But it's all kind of moot when the women who "left" to affect that decrease didn't actually leave. The percentage comparison from one month at DC to another month implies there were women let go from DC's roster of creative women for the relaunch. When you examine the facts, that's just not true.

There are of course other female creators who aren't being given work at DC, either during or after the New 52 relaunch. And some have used this opportunity to argue that they should be.

"There are a lot of talented women in the field capable of bringing something new to the table," argued blogger Laura Hudson last month when discussion of the issue first erupted. "Isn't that exactly the type of bold chance DC Comics should be taking in an enormous venture like the New 52?"

What's interesting is that DC has turned the whole thing into a PR win. "We've heard from fans," DiDio and Co-Publisher Jim Lee said in a recent blog post. "We'll have exciting news about new projects with women creators in the coming months and will be making those announcements closer to publication."

(Of course, to get those "percentages" back up to March totals, all they would have to do is announce what Reeder and Scott are doing. They will even bump those percentages higher once they announce the project that Conner is already finishing. Proponents of female comic creators obviously hope that's not the only thing the publisher intends to do.)

But with all the number crunching, one thing is certain: While the percentages may lack meaning, the comic book industry is suddenly talking about why so few women work in comics — and why even fewer of them work for major publishers, on the most iconic characters in comics. And that discussion isn't meaningless at all.

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