Happy Women Reading Comics in Public Day!

When I was about 10, I developed an obsessive love for The X-Men. It started with the Saturday morning cartoon show, but quickly became about comic books, as well. To this day, long-overwritten plot points from the Marvel universe take up a significant portion of my memory space (as my husband can attest). In my marriage, I am the one who is called upon to flesh out the backstory and conflicts with source material after my husband and I have seen an action-hero movie.

But I didn't own a single comic book until I was 19.

In fact, I'm not sure my parents or friends even knew I liked comic books. All my reading, for nine years, was done in secret. I'd slip into the comic book aisle at the bookstore when nobody was around to see, grab an anthology off the shelf, and spend the next two hours nestled in a corner somewhere — with the comics safely hidden behind a magazine or large book. I did the same thing at the public library. Never even checked one out. If I couldn't finish a library comic anthology in one afternoon, I'd hide it in a seldom-used section and come back the next day. (My apologies to the librarians of the world for that.)

Partly, that shame and fear came was about being labeled a nerd, in general. But there was, for me, also a pretty heavy gender component. Tall, clumsy, nerdy, ignorant of fashion or makeup, and definitely not "attractive" in the way that sheltered pre-teen and teenage society defines it, I spent a good chunk of my adolescence paranoid about my identity as a female. Where and when I grew up, there weren't a lot of good role models for diversity of female experience. My parents always supported who I was, but society and my peers seemed to have a pretty strict definition of who girls were and what they liked ... and I didn't fit. Admitting that I was into comics felt like it would be just one more thing I did wrong. That's why I really, really love Women Reading Comics in Public Day, an unofficial holiday started by the bloggers at DC Women Kicking Ass.

I fully acknowledge that boys got flack for being comic book fans, too. Basically, it's hard out there in junior high for anybody who doesn't fit in — or can't at least make their peers believe that they fit in.

But guys, at least, never had to feel like they were doing something wrong, as a member of their gender, by being into comic books. There's apparently not a lot of comic reader data publicly available online, but Johanna Draper Carlson at Comics Worth Reading worked for DC in the mid-1990s and has posted about what she learned from the surveys they commissioned back then.

In 1995, as I was busily hiding X-Men behind the latest issue of Seventeen, 92 percent of DC's readers were male. Surveys like this one came out in single-issue comics, the kind you purchase weekly, not the thick, bound volumes carried by the library or stocked at Barnes and Noble. It's unlikely that a reader like I was would have ever seen (or answered) a comic book reader survey.

I was ashamed of reading comics in public because comics were a boy thing. Because I was ashamed of reading comics in public, I wasn't counted as part of the readership — a fact which, multiplied over lots of ashamed little girls, only made comics look like even more of a boy thing than they actually are. Shame perpetuates shame.

That's why I identify with Women Reading Comics in Public Day, and why I think it's important. Kids growing up today need to know that simple customer surveys don't always reflect who the audience actually is — and they definitely don't reflect who an audience should be. When you fall outside the norm, you need to know that you're not alone. You need to know that it is, in fact, perfectly normal to fall outside the norm. "Average" and "Right" are not the same things.

Basically, Women Reading Comics in Public Day is awesome for the same reason that Bronies are awesome. You shouldn't have to be ashamed of liking the things you like — even if those things aren't "made for you".

I didn't feel that way until I was 19, when I met a great group of friends in college who helped me learn to feel comfortable with myself. The Sandman series were the first comics I ever read in public — surrounded by friends, male and female, all of us devouring the illustrated word. The copy of Brief Lives I'm reading in the photo is the first comic I ever owned. My friend Max bought it for me in January of 2001. My hope is that, if I read comics in public today, some other little girl won't feel like she has to wait so long to publicly enjoy the things she enjoys.

See more Women Reading Comic Books in Public


    1. Huh? In what universe is X-Men in any way superior to Scrooge McDuck – assuming we refer to Barks, Rosa and Scarpa?

      Most of X-Men – especially the 90s stuff – are stupid, convoluted slugfests.

      1. I loved my 90s X-Men. Lobdell and Nicieza, with Andy Kubert on art… Generation X… Loved it. 

        1. Yeah, there is some nice stuff there, too.   Even for their stiffness, Claremont did some good stories, too.

          Yet I have little doubt that X-Men will stay – at best – in the never-ending cycle of regurgitation while people will still demand and read reprints of classic Duck stories.

          1. Possible, though I recommend Grant Morrison’s “New X-Men” as an example of a timeless and original run.

          2.  I’m a HUGE X-Men fan, but for me there are only two essential runs, the Claremont Dark Phoenix period (which was very sophisticated for super hero comics of the time, and really holds up for me) and the Grant Morrison run.  I enjoyed the early nineties issues that Claremont wrote, but I think I drifted away when Lobdell took the reins.

        2. I actually read the Morrison run.  I still had an ongoing subscription back than and while it had the usual flash Morrison ideas, I hardly remember anything from it.

          His Superman stuff was better, imho.  I think All Star Superman can still be read in twenty years, like some of the Moore stuff. 

          1. Really anything that Morrison and Quietly do together is an instant classic in my mind. “We3” is one of my all-time favorite comics ever.

  1. The Sandman was what got me, too, in 2000. Read the whole series straight through. Before that I’d only read a couple random TMNT anthologies. I think the reason I didn’t read comics as a teen, though, was more that I didn’t really know that the genre extended past brawny superheroes in neon spandex. Sandman blew my mind. 

  2. Maggie, how do you respond to the idea (not one necessarily shared by me, I want to be more optimistic) that this is basically an invitation for unwanted attention by antisocial neckbeards who don’t know how to interact with people?

    Allow me to paint a word picture: 

    (mouth breath)
    I see you (mouth breath) have a copy of (mouth breath) Sandman there (mouth breath)

    (mouth breath) Sandman has (excited mouth breath) boobs in it.

    (mouth breath) can I see your boobs?? (mouth breath)

    Aaaand scene.

    1. I realize after thinking about this at all that it’s basically a “well then don’t dress that way” argument and it’s stupid.

      Still the severely nerdly community can be particularly offensive and I find, even as a dude, basic precautions to avoid them are a good idea.

    2. This only became funny after seeing you breathlessly (see what I did there?) extoll the virtues of 90’s X-Men comics below.

      Girls got more to worry about from bro-dudes than they do from nerds. If comics keep away the bro-dudes it’s a net win.

    3. I think that’s kind of fundamentally insulting to guys who read comic books. 

      I have, in my life, been approached in creepy ways by dudes I’d rather not be approached by. Reading comic books in public isn’t the defining factor of those encounters … nor should it be a reason for women to NOT read comic books in public. 

      1. Really I agree with you, and you’re right that a person with no social skills is going to have no social skills whether or not you’re reading a comic book. 

        I mean less to paint comic book readers specifically with my unfairly broad brush, more to appeal to a general fear of the neckbeard/alpha nerd. 

        But it’s a go-nowhere discussion with an unfair premise I admit, so I will sheepishly bow out and we can pretend like it didn’t happen :)

  3. Thank you so much for sharing, Maggie.  I’m really sorry to hear that you felt the need to hide your love of comics.

    I can really identify with your tall, nerdy, not-textbook-pretty adolescence.  However, I was lucky in two ways: I have a mother that read comics as a girl and an awesome big brother.  

    My mom would tell us stories of spending summer afternoons in her neighbors attic reading all of their DC Detective Comics. This led to her victory in a spelling bee when she knew the word alibi. With this background, she proudly started us on Casper the Friendly Ghost, Scrooge McDuck, and other kid friendly titles when we were barely able to read.  

    My path to more complex comics began when my brother gave me Power Pack #1.  This introduced me to the Marvel universe and all the complex story lines that you also spoke of.  As we both matured, he introduced me to independent titles like The Tick and Madman.  

    I suppose it also helped that I was a very stubborn girl and generally did not care what people thought of me.  This attitude was also helpful for beginning my career as a scientist. I understand that not everyone can be as resilient to peer pressure.

    Comics have always been an important part of my life, and I am glad that I read them without shame as a child. My kids, son and daughter, think that comics are a perfectly normal thing for them to read.

  4. Living in a country that could as well change its name to Duckland, as more or less every family with kids has a subscription to the Donald Duck magazine, reading comics here is not seen as something nerdy. As something childish, yes, when adults do it, but not nerdy.

    I, like a lot of my peers (of both genders), grew up with a lot of different kid’s comics. I started reading comic albums like Tintin and Asterix around… um… 10? In my teens I read a lot of comics aimed at boys; some of the usual superhero comics but also a lot of war comics (WWII etc). More or less anything I could get my hands on in the local used books store. Although the “traditional” girls were reading less comics at that point, I think a lot still did up until their middle to late teens. This is unfortunately where a lot of kids stop reading comics, I think mainly because they don’t know about the more “mature” comics… but… I have never felt that I would have needed to hide that I read comics. (One of our rooms is a comics room, actually. :) )

  5. August 28th has usually just been called “Read Comics In Public Day”. A day for everyone to be encouraged to go out and read a comic book in public. Haven’t heard it called Women Read Comics In Public Day before, but it doesn’t seem like a necessary addition.

    I usually read digital comics, but today I grabbed a couple trade paperbacks to read in the park over lunch.

    1. Haven’t heard it called Women Read Comics In Public Day before, but it doesn’t seem like a necessary addition.

      Well, why have a Read Comics in Public Day in the first place?  Because some people are shy about reading comics in public.  It stands to reason that a disproportionate number of them are women.

      I’ve never been shy about reading comics in public, but if this helps people who are, more power to ’em — men, women, as broad or as narrow as you like it.

  6. I’d like to suggest some books that avoid the cliche of  “underwear pervert” dreck that Marvel continues to flog:

    Fables – Bill Willingham, on-going series about characters from fairy tales in the modern world.  It hearkens back to their dark and gruesome origins, before Disney sanitized them all.

    Planetary – Warren Ellis, a great meta-series that examines the damage that the publication of Fantastic Four #1 did to the history of pictorial fiction. No costumes, but still loads of glorious fight-scenes. It also had the greatest Batman story ever told.

    Why I Hate Saturn / The Cowboy Wally Show – Kyle Baker, two graphic novels of uncontained hilarity.  The quotes you will steal from both books will make you the cleverest person at any social gathering.

    Cerebus / Cerebus High Society – Dave Sim, what started as a parody cross between Conan and Howard The Duck turned into something amazing. While Dave’s later issues became joyless, the first 50 issues of his series are a genuine masterpiece of writing and artwork.

    Doom Patrol – Grant Morrison, a bizarre reinterpretation of the schlocky 60s DC superhero group. Grant’s greatest work, imho. He morphed their main bad-guys into a gang of art-terrorists (“The Brotherhood Of Dada”) and turned comic-ad pitchman Charles Atlas into a superhero. Plus, who can argue with the awesomeness of the love shared by a Marxist talking gorilla, and an evil brain in a jar?

    1. Absolutely. What I own today isn’t superhero comics, really. I have some Fables, some of The Unwritten (which Cory has reviewed here and which is EXCELLENT), some Daniel Clowes, and an issue of G. Willow Wilson’s sadly cancelled Air. 

      I bought the first couple issues of Y: The Last Man for my dad (I’d read them as borrowed copies from a friend) and he now owns the whole set. I’ve also purchased Superman: Red Son for him. 

    2. Planetary right behind me, but what is the greatest Batman story ever told in that context?   

      1. It was the Night On Earth one-shot. We get to see every iconic version of The Batman through-out his incarnations through the decades. It concludes with the the end-all, be-all reason for his existence: “You can give them safety. You can show them they’re not alone. That’s how you make the world make sense. And if you can do that – you can stop the world from making more people like us. And no one will have to be scared any more.” He’s not an avenger, nor is he a revenge-driven psychopath. He’s just someone who wants to do his hardest to keep what happened to him from happening to others.

  7. I’ve been reading comics since the late 80’s, but let’s be fair- most of the stereotypes are more true than false, and most comics, even the ones adult geeks think make them hip, are exactly what adults in the 1950’s called them: juvenile, immature, and sub-literate. There is a relatively small group of talented folks that prove the comics medium is a wonderful home to great of works of art: Crumb, Clowes, Chester Brown, Phoebe Gloeckner, Los Bros. Hernandez, Jim Woodring, Lynda Barry, Charles Burns, Sfar, Trondheim, Tezuka… to name a few… and most comic book fans I’ve met don’t even read their stuff. They’re busy reading a whole lot of poorly-written but “sophisticated” garbage being churned out by Vertigo, Dark Horse, et al.

    I’m glad more women are reading comics. I’ll be a lot gladder when women and men alike are reading GOOD comics.

    1. Thanks for bringing up these cartoonists, who do/did really great work (though I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with reading hero stuff, if you’re into it). There are actually quite a few really fantastic cartoonists out there! Anyone interested in checking out more small press and self-published (which is not a bad word! There’s a hugely important history of self-publishing in comics. We call ’em minicomics or minis) comics, here are some publishers/distros:

      Secret Acres: http://secretacres.com/
      Drawn & Quarterly: http://www.drawnandquarterly.com/
      Fantagraphics: http://www.fantagraphics.com/
      Sparkplug: http://sparkplugcomicbooks.com/
      Spit and a Half: http://spitandahalf.blogspot.com/

      And there are plenty more out there!

  8. Thanks for the impetus, the framework to kick off from, to finally read some of the new comics I got at GeekGirlCon! So far I’ve only read Jen van Meter’s “Black Cat,” which was a lot of fun and reminded me of the Agence Hardy French comic, about an elegant Parisian detective agency owner involved with Cold War art heists. I’d probably also benefit from rereading some Ralf König comics, especially Konrad und Paul, but I have so many of them… :)

  9. Why does reading comics have to be made so difficult?

    If you like comics, you buy and read them, irregardless of gender. That’s It. Show the haters who is the boss. You don’t need a special day for it (in my personal opinion). Heck, just organize a reading circle with males and females and talk about comics openly.

    Seriously, what’s so hard about it?

  10. How different youth subcultures was back then… We’re possible similar generations, but I was blamed to read some comics because mostly girls read them, and even Corto Maltese was on that list… so I read incognito. :) Here in former-Yugoslavia mainstream were, and still most popular, Sergio Bonelli Editore comics, such as Zagor, Dylan Dog, ..Most recently my fav Brad Barron.

  11. As a kid in the 70s I read the Archies and the Disney comics that came out weekly. I didn’t buy them every week, but had a few.

    In high school, college, grad school and then “adulthood” in the 90s I had that negative stereotypical image of comic book readers being geeks/boys/etc. I actually identified as a geek but comic books/graphic novels were not part of “my” geekery.

    A few years back a friend who worked at the bookstore where I sling music and movies recommended Y: The Last Man. I read the first one and was hooked. Not that I’ve become an avid comic reader, but it certainly changed my perspective!

    There’s now a great book called Womanthology which is an anthology of women comic artists…Hunt for it you won’t be disappointed!

  12. Go out and read comics in public, ladies, but make sure it’s the right kind. FFS. I thought the point was not to be judgey?  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0la5DBtOVNI

  13. As a comic geek and a father of a little girl, I thank you.  My daughter only learned to read on her own recently, but she spends A LOT of her reading-time reading comics.  Since I know so many “grown up” gals that read comics I hadn’t really been thinking about gender issues in her reading choices coming up in a few years.  Hopefully all of the girls dressed as Wolverine and Spider-Man at Halloween hint to better days to come for lil’ comic chicks, but I know they’ll have to fight off a lot of Disney Princesses along the way.

  14. I feel like Sandman (before Sandman it seems like Maus held that honor) is the de-facto comic book that people offer to women to attempt to get them into comics; I’m sure that it has its merits but I never got them and I feel like those merits, mostly, don’t converge with the majority of what is out there and can lead to unfulfilled expectations if the reader likes that and then goes on to some other author.

    Again I can’t deny that the people who dig it do so honestly, but for more than a decade I’ve read or overheard dudes on forums or IRL offer it up as some kind of “comics for girls” thing and the notion just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. And while I’m more than aware that mainstream spandex and boob-window books are more likely to be a turn-off there are so many books that dovetail into the big picture of non-spandex comics; books like Painkiller Jane, Preacher, Transmetropolitan, Y-The Last Man, Hothead Paisan, etc. There are even a few spandex-centric books that treat the reader as an adult, usually (hey, even Buffy had some stinkers!), such as The Authority or Planetary. Hell, I think Death’s solo book works better

    It’s like trying to get someone into anime by showing them Miyazaki and expecting them to get into the whole larger scene. It’s unlikely because he’s unlike pretty much everyone he gets lumped in with and while their life might be enriched because of Howl’s or Spirited Away grabbing the next DVD in that section is apt to produce confusion and disappointment.

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