Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Is It Because She's A Chick?

Seriously, why is Buffy The Vampire Slayer the only female-starring/driven mainstream comic that ever consistently gets very high/top ten ranking in sales?

You know, I could almost buy the argument that comics starring women don't sell well, but Buffy is consistently in the top ten on the Diamond Sales charts. Further, thrillers by book authors like Patricia Cornwell and Janet Evanovitch star tough female crime-fighters/detectives like Kay Scarpetta and Stephanie Plum -- and are consistent mega-bestsellers. (my God -- if comics sold the numbers that these mass-market paperbacks do...) And these long-running fiction series, to me, are very similar to comics, in that both are sort of serialized and feature the same character developing over many "issues."

So to me, I patently do not believe that action/thriller comics starring female characters are fated to only do so-so in sales. It just seems that we have to take a look at what other media has done with female-driven action stories.

Separate question -- is it a "superhero thing?" Is it the capes and tights that are throwing this all off? Does the fact that Buffy Summers does not wear a superhero costume make her more accepted as a hero by the mass (read: both male and female) audience?


  1. Anonymous5:00 PM

    Oh, Valerie. The indignation is highly amusing and wouldn't be Morbidly Amusing if society weren't so fucked up.

  2. I think it's a competent writer who has a reputation for doing the kind of stories people want to read kind of thing.

    It may not matter if Whedon was writing a Sgt.Rock or a Patsy Walker book, it would sell.

  3. I'm sure others will say this, but the fact is that Buffy is a character that is based on a 7 season television show that was very popular OUTSIDE the general comic book reading, going to the LCS audience.

  4. It's a media tie-in to a popular franchise that is also the only place to get the "official" continued adventures of the character.

  5. Sounds like you have two questions:

    1. Why is Buffy popular?
    2. Why are other comic books with female characters not popular?

    Statistically, you'd have to take a few case scenarios and crunch the numbers on it. Compare the track records of artists and writers. Verify that the markets in general weren't a factor. Determine if there's a way you can quantitatively scale the quality of each component of each: whether using a survey method or setting specific criteria.

    Anyone want to do some grant writing around this? I think there's a Pew Research Grant in there, somewhere.


  6. I think Buffy sells well because there is a throng of fans who are hungry for Buffy content that can be considered "canon." As to the broader question, I think a comic with a female lead can succeed, but will have a tough time overcoming "conventional wisdom" to attract readers.

    Anyway, really enjoy the blog!

  7. No, Val, I don't the "Superhero Thing" is the problem.
    I think the problem is the AVERAGE superhero READER.

    I think it is pretty easy to realize that A LOT of people who read the Buffy COMIC were fans of the show AS WELL. AND another BIG slice of that pie are people who were NOT comic fans but WERE Buffyverse fans in the first place, and ended up MIGRATING to comics.

    But the AVERAGE superhero comic reader is still the guy who not only is absolutely OBSESSED with continuity, witch as you WELL know, makes any TV/Movie to Comics transition near IMPOSSIBLE, but is also the guy who still sees Superheroines as merely a source of TnA to their weekly entertainment.

    They are either not interested in seeing ANY depth in the female leads, or they are willing to "put up with it" as long as they get to see as much skin as possible.

    Witch is why Renato Guedes' Supergirl phase was so short-lived...

    "How dare you give us a Supergirl who ACTUALLY looks like a teenager?"

    "We DEMAND to see lace panties and as much up-skirt shots as we want!"

    "We are ENTITLED to see her thighs up to her crotch in those up-skirts, not some Bike-shorts!!!"

    I would LOVE to know what would happen to Witchblade if her "Armour" was ACTUALLY an ARMOUR!



    NOT AT ALL form-fitting.

    With the top NOT looking like two hands coming from behind and GRABBING HER BOOBS.


  8. Well, let's widen the factors here beyond male/female protagonists. I looked at the top 10 list you linked and saw that those titles were often much more than their protagonists: They also had very strong brand identities and creators. I haven't bought comics in over two months and I can tell you who's writing each of them, regardless if I think they are quality writers or not. They get hyped and they seem like they matter, and that's important for comic book readers, because let's be honest, the majority of comic book readers read super hero comics.

    What's your definition of "audience" here, by the way? Are you talking about people already reading comics or a wider one? I ask because comics has always seemed to me a much more insular medium than movies or the internet, and comic buyers would much rather go with what's proven to be reliable (by brand or creator) than take risks on this new character no one's heard of (just like movies today, but even moreso). I don't think Buffy forgoing a spandex suit and not high fiving Superman has much to do with her "acceptance of hero" in audiences but as her acceptance as an entertaining, reliable story. And God that's critical in comics. More than anything else, comic fans hate realizing they wasted three dollars on a comic due to a dip on their perceived writing/art quality. Batman’s been around forever, so something about that brand clicks with people, and Grant Morrison simply piles on to that.

    But yes, I suppose it is a bit of a "superhero thing" because brands take time to build, and male characters have had more opportunity to do so in Marvel and DC, the both of which claim what, 80% of the market share? Honestly, regardless of how much internet support a certain comic book character was getting, I couldn't help but ask, "Who the hell is Manhunter?" I just didn’t know who she was or why I should care about her. This doesn't mean brand name and creator recognition are EVERYTHING to myself and other readers, but I'd be in remiss to ignore it. Heck, look at one of the paragraphs from Newsarama:

    "Despite not having written any comics for years, Kevin Smith demonstrated he still has some legs among retailers and readers. The debut issue of his Batman Cacophony limited series came at #11 for the month."

    I haven't heard anything good about that comic, and I'm sure it's readership will drop greatly in the next issue, but people saw Batman and Kevin Smith and bought it.
    So even though Buffy's not a superhero, she's still an established brand with a strong fanbase and a recognizable writer, and that’s gonna sell in comics as much as “Buffy on Ice.” In fact, it may be a bit skewed to ask why Buffy does so well a female protagonist, because she was well-known before she even stepped into comics. The same could be said for Evanovich and Cornwell's books, as their names are often just as big as their book titles.

    And though I might touch on this more later, the book market is such a different beast than comics. Books in general get more public play than the direct market of comics. Stephanie Plum books (which I love) can be found in grocery stores, books stores, coffee shops, and in tourist trap beach shops. Outside the direct market, I'm lucky to find a Spider-Man comic in a gas station. Even their serialization and character development formats you mentioned are only tenuously similar. Each meets the different needs of different audiences. For instance, I feel like both books and comics have a goal to entertain an audience, but character development isn't as much of a necessity in comics as it is in novel serializations. As long as two story arcs are entertaining in (super hero) comics, there doesn't NEED to be anything connecting them unless something from the previous arc would have an effect on the current one.

    I'd be more interested in finding what context do women comics sell well in rather than generalize it, like you said, and say they just don’t sell well in action comics. I've put my 2 cents on why I think Buffy sells well, and I'd certainly like to hear others. Perhaps it’s a marketing issue as well, but I’ve typed enough for one comment.

  9. I think that Buffy sells so well because there is a throng of Buffy fans hungry for content that can be considered canon. But, I do think that Buffy (in comics and otherwise), which has male and female fans, does show that, given some time, a female-led
    product can gain massive popularity in genres conventionally thought to be dominated by male characters.

    Anyways, really enjoy the blog!

  10. No, it's because of Whedon making it canon.

    There were lots of Buffy comics before this Season 8 thing, and they never set the charts ablaze. So you tell your small (for a TV show) audience that their beloved (always near cancellation, so never, never stop watching) series is continuing in a comic. If just 10% of the 2 million or so usual viewers buy the comic, you have a top 10 book.

    Plus, you have hunky vampires for the ladies and hot girl on girl action for the men. Or for other ladies.

  11. One question
    Who are the demographic of Buffy?.
    it could be that a lot of readers are not comic book readers and just buy it because they were fans of the show.

    please someone let me know because I dont know.

  12. I think it's because of the built in Buffy audience that followed her - and Whedon - from TV. The fact that this is the 'official' continuation of the show is a huge draw (I mean I don't recall Dark Horse's last Buffy run drawing huge numbers).

    That said, I don't think a large percentage of that audience necessarily converts to regular superhero comics, and the spandex may be a part of that.

    I'd love to see some sort of chart with how many people buying the book buy other comics, but I don't see how you could carry out the research.

  13. Anonymous6:41 PM

    I think it helps a lot when your comic has the benefit of having been a hugely successful TV show.

  14. What keeps numbers on this series moderately high are two things.

    1- A large pre-established group of fans from the original series who tell other fans about this new comic series.

    2- The level of writing on this comic series has stayed pretty on par with the original show's level of writing.

    Maybe this is a bold statement to make but, non-Buffy fans DON'T read this series, at most they'll stay on for two issues and quit. Try to get a non-Buffy fan to read past two or three issues, you'll see what I am talking about.

    As far as how Buffy's role as a female super-hero puts all of this into perspective? It doesn't. Her gender don't effect sales one bit cause, again, the majority of people reading this are fans already.

    Ok...I am ready for the yelling be nice, and remember I am a Buffy fan.

  15. I've always wondered that myself. I'm a straight guy but dig female characters. I read Supergirl, and stuck with it through it's awfulness of the last year. Me thinks you may be on to something with the capes and tights though. For instance, very few female characters are their own, yuh know? Like Huntress, Batgirl, Batwoman are the prime-example of the female version of the main icon. Comic fans have seen that formula played out over and over. Also, the outfits. I dig Power Girl and Huntress (Bertinelli) but what's with the outfit. All they seem to be missing are stripper poles. Don't get me wrong, artists can draw sexy, but when it looks like they wearing lingerie...I mean Power Girl sometimes looks like a Baywatch reject and Huntress looks like a s&m, sexy-nun for Pete's sake. It personally deters me when a character isn't relatable and if the artist/writer makes that character just imagery...then they'll stay that way.

    Look at Stargirl and Cylcone. Two respectable heroines. Both, but especially Cyclone in the past year, have been quick fan favorites. They're just really likeable characters, which kind of throws my earlier objection to the 'female-version of' out the window because Johns and, sadly, only a few others seem to know how to write characters. As in giving them attributes of human-condition. Not just female characters but all characters. Then again, I'm sure it's easier for a male writer to write the male character, etc. But still...come on!

    "That is all." - Peter Griffin voice.

  16. From my male perspective, I do not think the absence of a costume contributes to her success. I am not sure how the absence of a costume would affect women.

    The only thing I can think of is the character was on the air for 6.5 years and many of the people who wrote for her character over that period are contributing to the book.

  17. Anonymous9:19 PM

    I'm sure it has something -- a lot of somethings -- to do with the fact that the series is guided by Joss and is billed as a continuation of the show. Buffy-related comics weren't burning up the sales charts before "Season 8." That's not to say Joss is the only selling point, but I think it really helps bring people in the door, if absolutely nothing else. To answer your other question, no, I don't think it is a "superhero thing." I mean, have you read SUPERGIRL lately (pre-Gates/Igle, anyway)? :)

  18. I think a big part of the reason that the Buffy comic sells so well is because of the dedicated, built-in Buffy audience, who must be happy to see Joss Whedon continuing the show, even if it's a comic instead of on television. I have absolutely no numbers to support this, but just for the sake of argument, if the Buffy TV show consistently drew a million viewers, and ten percent of those viewers buy the comic, that would account for the high sales numbers. (And I also feel like it's a safe assumption that there's some amount of crossover between those people who identify as Buffy diehards and those who are regular comics buyers.)

  19. The thing is, Buffy is a whole brand unto itself. And this series is the "official" continuation of the existing show -- the covers even list J. Whedon as Executive Producer. So right away, it's on a different level than, say, Spider-Girl, which, though loved, never seemed to be accepted as an "official" part of the Spider-Man brand. I think that distinction is as big a factor as the separation between superhero and sci-fi.

  20. Anonymous10:04 PM

    Could it be a cultural thing? I mean, yes, granted, not many manly-men go about the streets in tights and capes - but little under a decade ago I was still a bit of an outcast for being a comic book fan.

    I'm not saying that girls don't read comic, or that guys can't by interested in a strong female lead - but there is still, I think, a social stigma attached to both the art and its fans that might keep people from either getting into comic or branching out from the safe zones (DC's big three and at this point Marvel's Ultimate Universe). That's the impression I have, anyway.

  21. I think it's because Buffy already had a steady fan base who weren't ready to let her go. Other female leads, whether they are new characters or someone like Catwoman don't have the same following because they are only in comics.

  22. Anonymous10:29 PM

    When I worked at the comic shop, we would weekly get customers come in who'd never read a comic in their lives looking for the Buffy comics. The same thing happened with the Anita Blake and Dark Tower comics, as well as Kevin Smith's Green Arrow.

    So I'd think it's because Buffy has a far more mainstream fan reach in the first place, what with it being a universally-beloved TV show first. I'd reckon even a "cult" show like that probably get a lot more attention than even your biggest selling comic book of any given week.

    I'm not sure Buffy being a female lead has much to do with it, much as I'd like to believe that. I hope someone can come along with evidence to prove me wrong.

  23. I am a fan of Buffy and I also enjoyed Veronica Mars. I liked both shows(and enjoy the comic) because I thought they did a good job of combining the monster/horror , and the noir detective genres to a female protagonist's point of view.

    Having said that, if Buffy or Veronica were simply going through the trails and tribulations of life without the above mentioned genre conventions attached, I wouldn't have gone anywhere neither either property. Because at that point it would have been all soap opera. and this kid doesn't dig soap operas.

  24. I don't know. Personally I've got a thing for tough chicks. I like the idea that a woman can be as good a superhero or whatever kind of hero as a man can be. I like that race and gender and such don't matter when it comes to what makes a hero, there's more to it than that stuff. It's a matter of their morals, their determination to bring justice and peace to the world, and the ability to kick bad guy butt.

  25. Val, I'm sure I'm not going to be the only one pointing this out, but the primary reason for BUFFY'S consistently high sales is almost solely due to the fact that it is a well established and highly successful franchise, with a pre-established and devoted fan base.

    That's why studios and networks are remaking everything. You wrote about this very thing earlier today. KNIGHT RIDER. BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. ROBOCOP. HALLOWEEN. THE CROW. THE A-TEAM. Hell, they're even mounting a remake of BACK TO SCHOOL.

    And it will continue to go on and on because it sort of works. And I'm not speaking artistically. I'm purely speaking financially here.

    Most of the time, it doesn't matter how crappy a show or movie actually is. The fact that it's a remake means that it will at least open okay. Even crap like KNIGHT RIDER started with solid numbers before fading fast.

    The new 90210 wracked up the biggest ratings in the CW's history.

    The suits can create an event out of it, capitalizing on the name recognition of the pre-existing work. BUFFY is no different and owes 95% of its success to this.

    Studios, networks and comic book distributors throw their full weight behind these franchises because they're a safer bet than putting the same resources behind some other new, untested products.

    Which is too bad. Because the next BUFFY is probably floating out there. But it's not getting its shot because it didn't exist in some other format.

    I do think, however, you have hit on another point that I had not considered before your column-- Buffy continues to have legs in the comic book world because she's NOT in a superhero outfit.

    It makes the book more accessible to mainstream audiences because she's not wearing a mask, cape or spandex.

    With some notable exceptions, the comic book conventions don't seem to fly outside the fanboy/girl community. And I would not be surprised if the lack of those conventions within the pages of BUFFY contribute to its success.

    But the fact that it had a hugely successful, iconic television run and is a direct continuation of that run (spearheaded by the revered creator no less), cannot be overstated.

    This, more than any other point, is the true reason for its success.

  26. Buffy The Vampire Slayer is a filthy comic and at one time TV show.

    It encourages violence
    It encourages underage sex
    It encourages adults to pray on students in a sexual way.
    I remember it glorifying rape is love.

    But worst of all it actively hurt people with its depictions of homosexuality
    Did you know the top six U.S. male serial killers were all gay?

    This sort of comic should be banned as exposure to this kind of obscenity can have a profound effect on kids.

    Turns out the majority of California recognizes this and put a stop to it. The next step is to make sure comics of this type get banned or at the very least have the gay aspects cut out.

  27. Anonymous7:20 AM

    I suspect it's more of a "superhero fandom" thing. Buffy has an appeal beyond the typical comics crowd, and the books you mention are more mainstream, as well.

    Now, whether comics fans' avoidance of strong female protagonists is ingrained or a result of long-term expectations might be an interesting debate.

  28. Anonymous8:26 AM

    I think it's a big thing of where she's sold too. To buy Thor, or Wolverine, or any other big sellers, I have to go into a specialty comic shop which everyone associates with Comic Book Guy. To buy BTVS, I can walk into a convenience store or Safeway and pick up a copy.

  29. You mean, controlling for the fact that it is awesome?

  30. Andre, I disagree with your stance on homosexuality. Sex and love between two consenting adults, of whatever gender, is fine, and I fully support it.

    On the other hand, things like CHILD PORN (illustrated or actual) where acts that degrade, sexualize, and/or hurt children are depicted, are harmful and, in my view, should be restricted.

    Now, some people like to say that because I want child porn restricted, I also want to oppress homosexuals, take away Playboy magazines, and limit sexual contact to after marriage. These people are...what's the word...oh, yes. STUPID.

    But, in the interest of not having this comment thread hijacked with off-topic rantings, I'm going to only keep on-topic comments.

    But let me just voice the opinion of the crowd, so they are heard:

    "Val wants to take away child porn, waaaaaaahhh!!!! She wants to restrict our rights! She hates Alan Moore! She supports fascists! Waaaaaahhhh!!!! I think child porn is wrong and disgusting but I fully support its right to be published and disseminated to potential pedophiles who will get set off by the imagery and go on another molestation spree, wahhhhhhhh!!!"

    oh, wait, one more is coming:


    As for the sexualization of underage characters on Buffy (at least on the TV show, as I've not been following all of the comic), I don't like it, and I wish it wasn't done. I like Joss Whedon in general, but I still don't like when this is done.

  31. Andre -

    Do you spend your days hunting down discussions of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the web so you can post asinine comments blaming the show for homosexuality?

    Let's examine several of your comments:
    " actively hurt people with its depictions of homosexuality.
    Did you know the top six U.S. male serial killers were all gay?"
    Right, serial killers can be directly blamed on Buffy and Joss Whedon, not the fact that those people were psychotic.

    "This sort of comic should be banned as exposure to this kind of obscenity can have a profound effect on kids."
    Good on ya, dragging out some anti-gay propaganda to bolster your point. 'Look out, the gays want to get married! They're destroying the institution of marriage! And teaching kids it's okay to love people! The horror!' Look, I've been happily married 8 years, I know gay people who have gotten married and who would love to get married, and not one of those relationships has hurt my marriage in any way. And my kids don't seem scarred by it either.

    "Turns out the majority of California recognizes this and put a stop to it. The next step is to make sure comics of this type get banned or at the very least have the gay aspects cut out."
    Yes, because cutting out the "gay aspects" will make sure no one "turns gay." Give me a break. The California vote was a shameful demonstration of intolerance, and that fight isn't over yet.

    Final point I want to make, and perhaps the most relevant to the subject of the original post: Kids aren't reading Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's not aimed at them, and never was.

  32. sigh.

    "Final point I want to make, and perhaps the most relevant to the subject of the original post: Kids aren't reading Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's not aimed at them, and never was."

    If you are talking about "kids" between the ages of 12-16, that's not true. When the show was at its height of popularity,it was a huge hit for that age group.

    And even if it was just for adults, I still don't want to hear Dawn talk about "having a meat party" in her mouth.

    I think themes regarding homosexuality should be explored in both material for teens and about teens. But it doesn't have to be explicitly about sex, the same way romance between straight underage characters aren't necessarily about sex. Why can't you just have a kiss, talking about dating, etc, for underage gay characters? And when these characters are of age, then have them wake up sweaty in bed after having intercourse.

    There is more to homosexuality than just explicit, actual sex. There is attraction, love, crushes, courtship. These are elements that have been explored for younger straight teens, and I see no reason why they can't be explored in the same way for younger gay teens.

  33. Was it a big hit with that age group? I didn't realize that. Probably because when I watched the show, and talked about it with friends, I was discussing it with people around my age, and I was 27 when the show premiered. So I admit to age-based myopia in this regard.

    I agree with you about everything else you said, though. I think I had departed the show by the time Dawn came around, and you're right, a line like that is gross at best, and inappropriate given the age of the character. I don't think that's being prudish, either. As a parent of two small kids, I do worry about them being exposed to overly sexualized material before they're ready; less concerned about that popping up on "Bob the Builder" or "Word Girl," but as they get older, I do realize I'm going to need to be ever more vigilant.

  34. Like Val, I find that the best way to win people over to my unpopular point of view is to pout about how no one agrees with me even in a completely unrelated discussion. I'm glad to have found a blog I can get behind in this regard.


  35. Anonymous11:50 AM

    I think it's because, like a lot of people have said, it's just because of the sheer size of Buffy/Whedon fans out there who are seizing this opportunity to continue the adventures of Blondie McStabbington The Perpetually Angsty Teen, (the pre-production name I like to give that franchise).

    It's the same thing drawing more people to say, Iron Man, these days, or how the comic adaptations of those holy-God-awful Anita Blake books from Marvel are flyin' off shelves.

  36. Don't forget Anita Blake. Her Marvel hardcovers sell nicely in bookstores.

    Let's flip the question... How did Spider-Girl survive so many cancellation threats?

    Why does Manga appeal to so many girls? Why did so many female readers in the 1980s get hooked on Legion, X-Men, and Teen Titans? I suspect it's characterization, ongoing storylines involving romance, and identification.

    And, yeah, some of us guys like that stuff, too.

  37. Haha, I love how because comments were moderated overnight we all basically said the same thing.

  38. Who said anything about kid porn in this thread? From my PoV your a powerful voice in the comic world. Your a writer and president of Friends of Lulu. I have also been reading your blog for over a year and agree with the majority of your opinions. Your views on censorship are a big deal to me anyway.

    With that in mind just let me ask this one last Q and it is even on topic kinda.

    Would you be ok will a Mature Content sticker on this comic?

  39. Pretty easy really: Proven Property + Well-Written Stories = Consistent Sales.
    Don't need to overthink that one.

  40. Anonymous11:56 PM

    It's YOU'RE.

    YOU and ARE.

  41. The worst TV ratings reach millions of viewers. The best comics sale roughly 100,000 copies. It doesn't take a calculus major...

  42. I think what helps Buffy's sales is the fact that she is not some "Zombie" superheroine, like Wonder Woman or She-Hulk, that gets dusted off and rebooted every couple of years in a pathetic attempt to cash in on misguided demands for cheesecake or attempts to reach out to a female audience. There is an actual demand for this franchise, which doesn't depend on manufactured nostalgia.

  43. A fairly successful TV show/franchise does not necessarily translate to sales in the top 10. Otherwise, Star Trek books would occupy most of the top 10 (unless Trek fandom is smaller than I've been led to believe).

    All I can do is tell you why I read the book:

    1) I'm a fan of the show.
    2) Stories are canon/official continuation.
    3) Joss Whedon writes some issues and oversees the whole series.

    Buffy being a "chick" doesn't really factor into my decision to read the book. It didn't even factor into my decision to watch the show. (In fact, it might have worked against my decision to watch the show. I just couldn't believe a show with that title could be any good.) The reason I decided to watch the show was because I'd happened to catch a certain scene and think to myself, "Hey, this is like a comic book!"

    Over the years (and after listening to insightful DVD commentary), I've come to appreciate the value of female heroes more. She-Hulk, Manhunter, Spider-Girl, the Birds of Prey, and Peter David's Fallen Angel are favorites of mine (and four of them have been canceled).

    I think Buffy is just a special case. There's a lot of reasons to like the show, not just because she's a "chick."

  44. @Brian

    Wow, you sure are a condescending prick.

    So why aren't there more female driven comics in the top 10? Probably because there are fewer female driven comics period, but it reminds me of something that happened to me recently:

    I started picking up Ms. Marvel because I'd heard a lot of good things about Fraction, and wanted to read a Secret Invasion tie-in. My girlfriend saw the cover and a few of the pages and was like, " is this a comic for 10 year old boys?"

    I started saying, "Actually, Ms. Marvel's a pretty good example of a strong, cool female character...", and then I took a look at the art.

    Ouch. I was instantly, like, "Oh, wow, there's not one panel here that's not featuring her chest or butt in an over-the-top fashion.