Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Demographics Of The Mainstream Comic Book Reader

I recently acquired some demographic information from a publicly-traded comic book company. This information is not at all top-secret but available to those who know where to look for it.

The portrait that it painted of the average mainstream comic book reader is as follows:

Male, 20-25, video-game player, disposable income, "techie," single.

What is the breakdown of male versus female readership?

More than 90% of the readers of mainstream superhero comics are male.

See, I feel that as president of Friends of Lulu I am betraying my own gender by sharing this information. But it is better that we know and move on from there.

Things we as female readers can do:

  • Examine why female readership is so low for this genre.

  • Make our own polls and put this information to the test.

  • Make our own comics.

  • Establish dialogues with comic book companies and let them know specifically what we want to read.

Fearless Reporter

PS: Yes, the male/female percentages on the readership shocked the hell out of me. I expected a male majority but not to that extent. And yes, unless I saw the methodologies and explanations of sample sizes used, I can't stake my life on this data. But, a lot of what we see in mainstream comics bears this demographic out, does it not? In fact, I'm surprised that, considering the data, mainstream comics isn't more T&A in its content than it is. However -- I still do not see this as "proof" that women don't like action narratives, not when fandoms such as Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, Smallville, Lord of the Rings, and tons of adventure manga/anime appeal so much to females.


  1. How is sharing that information betraying women? I don't get why you'd even feel that way. The truth is the truth; if people want to pretend the percentage of female mainstream superhero readers is higher, they're just deluding themselves and any action they take based on those delusions would be futile.

    Anyway, is it bad only 10% of the mainstream superhero reading audience is female? I'd be more interested in seeing the gender breakdown across *all* comic genres, including manga. I imagine it would be higher than 10%, but without knowing, I'm just guessing.

  2. That demographic fits me almost to the 'T' :)

  3. "I'm surprised that, considering the data, mainstream comics isn't more T&A in its content than it is" - two things:
    Isn't it the other way round? I used to read superhero comics. Now I mostly read trades, and the only superhero titles I'm following are Astro City and, if it counts, Buffy. The T&A isn't the only reason (continuity porn is one of the others), but it puts women off; you know that.
    Secondly, 90% men does not mean 90% T&A fans. I prefer to believe that the people those (censored) are writing for are a vocal minority that give the male sex a bad name. Not all 20something geeks with disposable income are dateless wonders who would rather look at ridiculously-proportioned women in comics than talk to real ones.

  4. The male demographic is slightly younger than the comic book cliche of a single guy in his 30s. Interesting.

  5. ha! i am not in those demographics, beside male.

    i wish i had disposable income.

  6. Valerie: Why so (seemingly) coy about the source of the data? If it's not "top secret," why not clue us in as to where we can find it, so we can see the data in context, examine it, &c?

    BTW, thanks for all your great stuff on this blog. It compels me even when I don't have time for it (like right now)!

  7. Kind of a related question:

    Is there any comic/graphic novel/manga company out there in the world, that either is made up entirely of female employment, or only release issues directed specifically at females?


  8. I don't think any female-only manga publishers exist; the ones in Japan tend to be large publishers that things besides manga (although manga is probably one of the biggest chunks of the industry), so they're run more like Random House or Harper Collins.

    The vast majority of shoujo manga is, however, created by women, for girls and women. Heck, Japanese girls have had their own superheroes for ages, especially in the "magical girl" genre. Heck, my niece (now 7) loves Cardcaptor Sakura and Sailor Moon.

    Speaking of which, it's a pity no one's been able to reissue Sailor Moon for the current market--especially considering it's partly responsible for the current market.

  9. Sorry for spamming, but I just want to echo what Susan said. As a man, I don't think most men are buying books for the T&A content. Then again, I'm no longer a mainstream superhero reader, so maybe I'm all wet.

  10. I'm a bit curious as to how they came up with those numbers myself. I remember demographic information like this was posted on usenet many years back. Where it came from I don't recall - but I think Diamond.

    The average reader was typically me on the button. Male and my age. When I was 28, it said the average age was 28. A new one was posted every year and the average age went up every year along with me.

    Now I'm 33 and I'd be really surprised if the demographics somehow jumped down 10 years. Where did all the new, young readers come from? Is there now a huge ground swell of 20 year olds reading comics and bringing the average down?

    I also suspect the numbers might be true for one company, but not the entire comic market place. Clearly they aren't considering the entire Manga market. Unless the company in question (oh I'll say it, DC) has a manga and a children's imprints and it monkey's with the average quite a bit. THAT would make sense.

    But still, it doesn't accurately describe the entire market place considering the major difference between the Vertigo, Manga, Superhero and Johnny DC readers.

  11. Two things: no way is the average reader in their early 20s - we're older every year - 20 somethings might have disposable income, but not enough to support a habit back in early 90s when comics were still a buck, buck fitty and I'll bet the ones in their 20s are DLing comics, so while whoever can say their readers are in their 20s, their buyers are at least 10 years older.

    Second, I'm not surprised by a figure in the 90%tile or 9 out of 10 superhero readers are d00ds. Go to a comic "con" where there are no guests (or manga) and just dealers. That'll prove it right every time.

    BTW, I went and looked up Marvel's Annual Report from last year and they briefly mentioned their target reader which was similar to what you're saying, but a little older.

  12. The reason I'm raising an eyebrow at this is because according to Warren Ellis (from another board who said it was from him), DC hasn't done ANY research into what their actual demographics are for their readers. It's entirely guesswork on their part.

  13. Hmm, wondering what comics they looked at. I'm guessing they didn't do a sampling of every single superhero comic out there.

    Anyway, the way to change this is for women to write comics and be in more power positions in the industry. Right now it seems like a vicious circle - why would women buy comics aimed at men? I know I don't go for mainstream superhero comics for the most part.

  14. 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.

    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. Where's a spotlight of current books written by women? Like Rutu Modan, whose book made all the best of lists? Or other artists who have had some sort of mainstream relevance in comics in the past five years? Ellen Forney? Megan Kelso in the NYT? Lille Carre? Tove Jannson? Lynda Barry? Aya? Ariel Bordeaux? Sophie Crumb? Linda Medley?
    Alison Bechdel? Aline-Komnisky-Crumb? Miriam Katin? Mome's female contributors? Francois Mouley's new comic line? How can that news item not be mentioned? All the site has is a few out of date lists that if they were up to date are still ineffective. How can a company like the Montreal publisher Drawn and Quarterly have on its info page that seemingly half of the employees are women but the company is nowhere to be found on Lulu, even on it's "updated" industry page? No mention of Persepolis the movie and the press Marjane is getting? I could go on, but it's pretty obviously shameful.

    In fact, if you read the Lulu blog with its primary focus on manga and superheroes, 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. But hey, let's get back to why mostly men read Marvel.

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  16. Honestly? I think the methodology is suspect. Why? Because nobody asked me anything.

    Seriously, in this day and age, why don't the major comic book companies conduct market research on their websites? Just call it a "survey" and print the link (visibly) in each issue and trade that they publish. I'm sure that the demographic gap would get noticeably smaller if they did that.

  17. Alexa: They have. A while back DC ran ads in their comics for an online survey. Interestingly, they had different URLs for whether the ad ran in a DC or Vertigo title, although the survey (from a casual glance) appeared the same.

    Moviegirl: Strawberry Comics. All-women independent manga-influenced titles.

    I've commented more here, along with a link to more information on DC surveys. I'm guessing, if Valerie would forgive me, that her figures came from an ad sales brochure or similar from Marvel.

  18. Now I'm 33 and I'd be really surprised if the demographics somehow jumped down 10 years. Where did all the new, young readers come from?

    Image Comics. In my experience, I found that most comic fans my age (which falls into that range) got into comics because of Image's initial output.

  19. Jessica, your ire with Friends of Lulu is only a tiny echo our own impatience- there is so much we can, and want to, accomplish. But we must pick a small number of goals and succeed at them, throughout the course of the year, in order to build the reputation we all desire. Updating the website is one of those very goals. Now, the list of creators and publishers you mentioned is a great one. Why not send an email to board (AT) friends-lulu (DOT) org with creators you'd like to see on our various industry lists? Or perhaps you would like to become a member of Friends of Lulu and volunteer your time to help make the organization a greater source of information in the industry?

    It is much more difficult to do the work it takes to make a positive change- but the rewards are far greater, I assure you.

  20. I really have to wonder, which company this is and how they conducted their research...

    I mean the comic publishers print the books, sell them to Diamond, who sells them to the direct market stores. Was there some large polling of comic stores that I missed hearing about? Or that any of the people I read or talk to who run stores missed hearing about?

  21. I've heard this figure before, and honestly... Well, Two In Ten seems about right from what I've seen of fandom, and One In Ten is believable.

    I've never been opposed to a (reasonably) higher level of fanboyservice than fangirlservice in superhero comics, or with them being AIMED mostly at the mostly male audience they have.

    What worries me is this: Not that they're "for men," but that they're a product for men with so few female readers. And so few male readers, come to that.

    Maxim gets over 3 million female readers a month. It's not even only a question of why they aren't appealing to the large female adventure fan audience... It's also a question of why they aren't appealing to the large female T&A audience. And why they aren't appealing to larger numbers of the MALE adventure and T&A fans.

    The solution is probably better action, adventure, and better T&A.

    Harlequins have a 22 percent male readership. Lad's Mags have female readership levels of around 30 percent. When you're aiming a product at one sex and not getting more than ten percent of the other sex... I think there might be some cause for alarm there.

  22. I also find that shocking. You might consider asking local comic shops instead.

  23. I was recently trying to find out comics demographics, because I wondered if my "Brand New Day" problems stemmed not from artistic differences as much as generational differences. (I'm 38.) I didn't find hard data, but my search did remind me of one important lesson that I, surprisingly, had been failing to apply to my comics ... "Follow the money."

    I found an article in an online marketing trade journal on how comics were pitching themselves for ad revenue. Now when I read my comics, I don't just read the comics but also the ads, as in, "What is being advertised" as a gateway to, perhaps, the more pertinent question than "Who is reading super hero comics?" ... "Who do the comic companies *think* is reading super hero comics?"

    'Cause here's the thing ... companies don't just acquire markets, they actively seek to build them as well. So the deeper question may be, "Do super hero comic companies *want* female readers?" Do they want a varied readership or would they rather pitch themselves in the Maxim, Playboy vein?

  24. Anecdotally, it seems in my area the group of manga readers over the age of 18 contains much more than a mere ten percent that are females. Younger than that (my students, for one), it's much, much higher than ten percent.

    It's not simply that superhero comics are (and have been) aimed at 18-to-40 males - it's that for the past twenty years, they've been pandering to many of the worst excesses of that demographic.

    The Powers That Be at DC turn over every few years. I hope the next time around, DC and their parent company make a conscious decision to bring female writers and editors into positions of higher influence, not out of tokenism or rejection of the capability of the male gender, but to see if superhero comics can be redeemed. Honestly, I think Gail Simone just on the merit of her writing would be a better engineer for the DC Universe than the purposefully idiosyncratic Grant Morrison, and as an added bonus we'd have someone who understands that the madness of American superheroes needs to change.

    But I also think that some of the rampant sexism of the superhero comic is just as active in the some of the fandoms you mentioned. I worry that many people grin and bear sexism in popular tv sitcoms, dramas, or popular movies, because human beings like to be "in the know" about popular things. DC superheroes really are a small subculture compared to the one that arose around Joss Whedon, or Peter Jackson's Tolkien adaptation, etc.

    A friend turned me on to the tv show Scrubs not too long ago, and even though I really enjoy it, there's still a negative tone toward women in the show that irks me. This doesn't excuse superhero comics as much as implicates the culture by-and-large. I think that we like to pretend that sexism is over, just as we pretend racism is over. We may have cleaned up some of the major roadblocks, but our attitudes have not changed.

  25. Anonymous7:05 AM

    I don't see how admiring the female form (Or an exaggerated version of such) makes you a bad person, there are plenty of guys like myself who enjoy some comic-book T&A but still respect women and treat them with respect, it's all in good fun.

  26. Where did you find these numbers?

  27. Anonymous1:33 PM

    yeah. funny post.

  28. Anonymous9:14 PM

    If comics were treated like TV shows on itunes . . . easily purchased and downloaded. These demographics will change.

    I'm sure i'm not the only girl who in a fit of nostalgia downloaded the first season of X-Men and If I tunes had recommended a comic to go along with that I would have bought it.

    But I would never bother to go to store and buy back issues to try to catch up . . . Marvel could make a lot of money off the lazy.