Friday, January 25, 2008

Defending Lulu

I recently received this comment by "Jessica" on my post about the demographics of mainstream comics, and felt compelled to answer it here. The comment contained some criticisms against Friends of Lulu that I felt needed addressing.

"I foudn this link via comicsreporter I find it kind of depressing that anyone cares how many women read superhero comics, it's pretty evident why they don't. but i guess with the name of this blog it's not too surprising."

I'm a Philistine, I know, Jessica. Why discuss that shitty irrelevant low-brow superhero comic trash, right?

I think to question the lack of female readership in mainstream comics IS important. There are clearly a lot of women and girls who like adventure narratives -- even superhero narratives -- in other media. Why not comics? That's a legitimate question.

"But what I find more depressing is that the LULU website is about 15 years of out date, hard to read and does nothing really to celebrate the women who are doing comics, not even in its blog."

Were you reading the same blog we posted? There is nothing about celebrating women on the blog? Like the audio review of Jillian & Mariko Tamaki's Skim? Or a profile of Martha Thomases? You don't consider the experience and wisdom of somebody like Martha relevant? Or is it that she hasn't worked in the type of comic books YOU consider "important," because it's those damned mainstream comics again?

Friends of Lulu hasn't done anything to celebrate women outside of mainstream comics? Friends of Lulu honors these women every year at the Lulu Awards. We set up Women in Comics panels like this and this every other month focusing on the contribution of these women!

As for the website, our board is currently six people working their asses off with no extra pay to make this organization strong again. We are methodically addressing each issue -- including the updating of the website -- in an orderly fashion and within our own work schedules. If there is something we lack and have to get more of, it is volunteers to help with the research it takes to get many of those pages up-to-date. Instead of just complaining about how crappy we are, why not do something productive and volunteer?

"In fact, if you read the Lulu blog with its primary focus on manga and superheroes..."

One article on a manga convention and a mention of a couple of superhero comics for kids in one book review post constitutes a primary focus? Now you are being silly.

"...its almost as if the organization goes out of its way to ignore female cartoonists published by Top Shelf, Fantagraphics, D&Q, Buenaventura, Pantheon etc and is solely focused on manga and superheroes. Which seems to really pathetically miss the mark."

Sister, it's pretty clear from your words that to you, the work of those female cartoonists from those companies constitutes all of what is "relevant" in women in comics today. You are wrong. Friends of Lulu celebrates ALL work by women in comics -- from every genre.

Manga is not relevant to women in comics? It's extremely relevant.

A Women of Color panel discussion at MoCCA is not relevant? Why?

I don't mind criticism of myself or Lulu, but it should be constructive and consistent. You accuse us of being biased against non-mainstream comic creators, and yet you yourself demonstrate your own biases. You look at us and our organization and can see nothing of value in it, because it doesn't exclusively focus on the books that you like.

You know, I stayed up untill 11:00 last night at our Friends of Lulu monthly board meeting. The women I work with are some of the most dedicated, organized, hard-working ones I know -- and extremely passionate about women in comics.

I take offense when people say we're doing "nothing" to celebrate women in comics. I take deep offense at that.


  1. I especially want to echo your sneering "shitty lowbrow" sentiment, Val. In general I find most "indie" comics to be about as middlebrow as any other snotty, pretentious lit.

    As for dignifying a list of "what you leave out," that is the epitome of what the sad caricature of the lonesome comic nerd would do: "oh, man, X is crap. They totally didn't mention Z-man or Q-woman. Or Why McYson! What about issue 1234? HUH? This list is crap."

  2. Maybe one of the problems is that when you Google "friends of lulu" the first link you get is to
    which is outdated and full of errors. I went through 10 pages and never even came across Whatever you need to do to retire the first link and get the second to prominence should be taken take of, ASAP. If your webpage is your public face (and it is), that needs to be priority #1.
    Anyone who knows things web optimization and page ranking should lend a hand here.

    While I appreciate the sentiment that FoL should serve all, you can't deny that the majority of women MAKING comics is happening outside of the big 2. I'm not saying you can't read/like/participate in those titles, but if the mission of FoL still includes providing "input to publishers, retailers, and the public on the kinds of comics that appeal to a female readership" then you're barking up the wrong tree because underwear perverts have historically (based on 70 years of history) not appealed to woman and girls. It's an uphill battle, why not go for the low hanging fruit first?

    Personally, I think with you at the helm FoL will have a higher profile than its had in years. Take advantage of that.

  3. Hear! Hear!

    And with you at the helm, I can only expect things to get even better.

  4. "...but if the mission of FoL still includes providing "input to publishers, retailers, and the public on the kinds of comics that appeal to a female readership" then you're barking up the wrong tree because underwear perverts have historically (based on 70 years of history) not appealed to woman and girls. It's an uphill battle, why not go for the low hanging fruit first?"

    Now, hold on, I am going to do something wacky. I am going to apply logic to this statement. And I'll be using Starbucks in my analogy. Watch out!

    Say you are Starbucks and you are going to devote $5 Million to expanding your empire. Do you devote that money to NYC, where there is a Starbucks every two blocks, or would you use it to expand into markets where there is not even a coffee shop let alone a Starbucks. I'd bet they would go to other markets first then NYC, because the money spent would get a higher return.

    How does this apply to Lulu? Well, if, as Donnie said, part of Lulu's mission is to give "input to publishers, retailers, and the public on the kinds of comics that appeal to a female readership", then it would actually make more sense to attack areas where the concentration of female creators and readership is low to try and boost female participation there. As Donnie and Jessica said, female readership and participation is already high within the independent field. Focusing exclusively on where there is a void, that would make logical sense.

    But what makes more logical sense would be to celebrate all kinds of comics that women make and buy,be it indie, manga or mainstream, which is what they do now. And they do that the best they can with limited resources and manpower (or would that be womanpower?).

    I think Valerie makes a valid point. If you, Jessica, think the indie women are being neglected by Lulu and want the Lulu site to cover those artists and companies more, why don't you lend a hand, contact those companies and creators for an interview, and submit it to Lulu. Or volunteer in some other aspect. It's easier to complain and tear down than it is to easy to contribute or build up.

    Sorry for the rant.

  5. As a fan of all the companies Jessica mentioned in her original post, I think she has a pretty salient point. There is almost *no* recognition of the women doing independent comics right now. It's not even a question of legitimacy, it's simply that independent comics on the whole don't get attention even proportionate to their market share. I think the question becomes should the women doing independent books be completely ignored?

    I think it's...a hard focus on trying to make mainstream comics appeal to women. They don't. Women are finding comic entertainment in other genres. Whereas, even at the peak of comics' popularity in my lifetime, women were almost never seen in comic shops, they clog the aisles of manga at every bookstore I've ever been in.

    So, I think the message had merit, but maybe wasn't delivered in the best way possible, you know?

  6. I wouldn't say that the independent female comic book creators get "almost *no* recognition". Just to name three creators Jessica mentioned: Megan Kelso recently had a strip in the New York Times Sunday magazine, a paper with over 1.6 million copies in circulation. Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home" got written up in Entertainment Weekly, Time and many other "mainstream" news outlets. And I constantly see Aline Kominsky Crumb's "Need More Love" in the graphic novel section of almost all the bookstores I frequent. Does every indie female creator get this much exposure/recognition? No. But some mainstream male writers don't get the recognition Kelso, Bechtel and Kominsky Crumb have received.

    Jessica's message wasn't that independent female creators were being ignored by Lulu, it was that they are the end all, be all of women working in comics. Forget the women working on mainstream comics, Lulu should be all indie all the time.

    Jessica perceives that Lulu is ignoring independant female creators at the expense of mainstream female creators. She suggests that Lulu should ignore all mainstream female creators at in favor of focusing on independent creators. So Jessica is trying to fix a perceived wrong with an something just as wrong.

    If Lulu is supposed to celebrate and promote women in comics, they should promote ALL women in comics. Which Valerie, president of Lulu, says they do. That means that ALL women working in comics should receive promotion and coverage by Lulu's website.

    If Jessica thinks the independent women are not being represented by Lulu, I'll repeat my suggestion from the earlier post, she should volunteer for the organization and help bring them up to equal footing. Equal, not superior.