Today I got my copy of Gender and the Superhero Narrative, pictured above with a Funko of Diana Prince enjoying an ice cream cone, and I’m very excited to tell you all about this book. First off, I’m in it! That’s the main reason I’m telling you about it. I’ve written an article called “The Evolution of Female Readership: Letter Columns in Superhero Comics” and it is a DEEP dive.
I looked at over three thousand comic books for this study, and longtime readers may remember me asking for help tracking down some issues a couple of years back. Thanks to all of you (and especially thanks to Johanna Draper Carlson, KC Carlson, and their EPIC comic book collection) I got all of the letter columns I needed for this project, and the end results turned out very interesting.
I tabulated the folks who got published in letter columns at DC and Marvel by gender from their rise in the 1960s to the start of their decline in the 1990s. First, I established a baseline, with forty years of letter columns from Batman, Justice League, and Superman at DC and Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers, and Fantastic Four at Marvel. These numbers alone showed some fascinating trends, including the steady decline of female readers getting letters printed in superhero books.
But that was just step one. I averaged out these numbers and then compared them to a female-led series from each decade. At DC, we had Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane in the 60s, Wonder Woman in the 70s, Supergirl in the 80s, and Catwoman in the 90s. The choices were fewer at Marvel, but we had Millie the Model in the 60s, Ms. Marvel in the 70s, Dazzler in the 80s, and a combination of Sensational She-Hulk and Silver Sable and the Wild Pack in the 90s.
Needless to say, this article’s got charts on charts, which shouldn’t surprise any of you who are familiar with my work. And there’s some compelling information therein. I won’t tell you everything I found, because you should go read this book. But here’s a fun tidbit: The average female readership for each female-led series was ALWAYS higher than the baseline average of the other titles. Every year, for forty years, across ten different series. There’s various ways to interpret that, but a key takeaway is: Girls will read comics when girls are in comics.
Anyway, it’s a jam packed article with all sorts of fun information, some great letter column quotes, and, like I said, all of the charts. It was very fun to put together, and I had a great time working with the editors Michael Goodrum, Tara Prescott, and Philip Smith. It’s an academic book and I am not an academic, but they kindly invited me to be a part of the project anyway. And now it’s published by the University Press of Mississippi, which is kind of amazing for a comics history nerd like me. I cite their great books on comics all the time in my research, so to actually be in one is very cool.
And, of course, I’m just one of several contributors (here’s a flyer for the whole works: Gender and the Superhero Narrative). If you like letter columns, my article will be your jam, but the book covers so much. It’s got pieces on Batwoman, Bitch Planet, Jessica Jones, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Gwen, and more. Plus an introduction from Ryan North! Everyone loves Ryan North. He is as smart and delightful as he is tall, and he is very, very tall.
I hope you’ll check out Gender and the Superhero Narrative! It’s available now from the University Press of Mississippi or via most bookselling sites. And it’s only $30 US, which is pretty dang good for an academic book like this. These things can get pricey. Anyway, I’m really proud of my piece, and I love that so many readers helped me find the comics I needed to finish the research for it. Good group effort, gang! I think it turned out really well. Go pick up the fruits of our combined labours today!