manga bookshelf

Why Hope Larson is Cooler Than You

Yes, I’m talking to you, paranoid fanboy. You, who are so terrified of having to share shelf space with girls that you’ll call them names just to keep them at bay.

For a little context, Kelly Thompson at CBR’s Comics Should Be Good posted a great interview yesterday with comics creator Hope Larson. The interview was inspired by Hope’s recent survey of female comics fans, in which the two discuss topics such as how to create more female-friendly comics and how to introduce girls to comics, especially in their heavy-reading YA years. The interview is a great read, filled with plenty of timely insight for any western comics publishers looking to sell books to the half of the population they’re currently ignoring.

Unfortunately, things move swiftly downhill in comments to the post, with smug, condescending fanboys calling female readers “cute,” “whiny,” “ignorant,” “babies” with small brains. To be fair, there are a lot of civil, respectful, and even thoughtful comments as well, from both women and men, but the misogynistic bile tends to wash over everything, tainting the entire thread.

Meanwhile, here are a few links to recent reviews of comics women have liked. Try to stereotype them. Just try.

A, A’ and They Were Eleven – Katherine Dacey
Toriko – Brigid Alverson
Yuri Hime – Erica Friedman
Real – Connie C.
Twin Spica – Johanna Draper Carlson
Neko Ramen – Michelle Smith
Sarasah – Kristin Bomba
Roureville – CM Branford
Ode to Kirihito – Melinda Beasi (That would be me.)

Sparkles and pink are nice too, though best when balanced with a good dose of darkness. And maybe a few robots.

I rest my case.

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  1. This is such a classy response, Melinda — thanks for the link! It’s a shame that intelligent discussion about developing a female readership inspires such vitriol from a certain segment of the fandom.

  2. Sara K. says:

    “Try to stereotype them. Just try.”

    Alright … girls only like comics from Korea and Japan.

    That was too easy, so I’m going to suggest some United States and Canadian titles, with genre:

    A Distant Soil (science fantasy)

    Little Lulu (children)

    Zombies Calling (horror parody)

    Angel and the Ape (superhero/ine; I will only vouch for 1990s run)

    Love & Rockets: Maggie & Hopey stories (gritty slice of life which started out as science fiction)

    Best Erotic Comics 2008 & 2009 (haven’t read it, so I assume the genre is erotica. Edited by a woman)

    The Far Side (comedy/satire/nature)

    Awkward & Definition, Potential, Likewise (highschool)

    Girls with Slingshots (comedy/relationships and booze)

    Blankets (coming-of-age/romance)

    Gold Digger (adventure)

    • Well, saying they all come from Korea or Japan is hardly an effective stereotype, though I’d be happy to say to anyone that the reason I even got into comics is because I discovered comics from Japan and Korea, where female readers are actually considered as part of the equation by mainstream comics publishers, unlike here.

      If you look at each of the titles I linked to, they are all very different from each other, which was my point. It was a random sampling of recent reviews I just pulled off my blogroll in a couple of minutes, and they are all very different from each other—different genres, different themes, written for boys, men, girls, and women, and written by both men and women, spanning several decades. Yet each appealed to the woman who reviewed it, one way or another.

      Thanks for the list!

      • Sara K. says:

        Oh, I know the titles you listed are quite diverse – I’ve read some of them. I do think pointing out *only* Korean and Japanese comics does leave out the various girls and women I know who read mostly Western comics. That said, I know you’re a manhwa/manga reviewer, not an all-types-comics reviewer.

        Thinking about it, the United States comics industry used to pay attention to the female audience. Before the 1970s, comics in general were aimed at a mainstream (as in, includes some females) audience. Some comics (i.e. the romance comics) were aimed specifically at females. While pre-1970s comics have an abundance of sexism, I don’t feel excluded from the audience because I’m female. Whereas the covers of something like Electra tell me to find another shelf (I admit, I never went beyond the cover).

        • Well, I certainly wasn’t attempting to be the voice for all female comics readers. :) But I think the fact that I could scroll randomly through the blogs I read daily (which, yes, are manga-focused, since that’s what I blog about) and find such a diverse selection of positive reviews from female critics is enough to prove my point. I’d love to see someone put together something more comprehensive (if that’s even possible, considering the scope of taste among female readers) but this is definitely not trying to be that. :)

          I appreciate your insights as always!

  3. I wrote that Roureville review! XD

  4. Haha, I’m not sure Sarasah is the best example. It’s a little on the sparkly side. Though my personal interest in it is for the political drama going on, so I guess it counts that way. :)

    By the by, American comics that I have loved/currently love:

    The Sandman
    Captain America
    The New Avengers
    Y: The Last Man
    V for Vendetta
    Amazing Spider-Man
    Marvel Zombies
    Wonder Woman
    Uncanny X-Men
    Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane
    Heroes for Hire
    Justice League of America
    Lords of Avalon
    Wheel of Time

    See…girls can like what the boys like, too. So there. They can stuff it.

    • I think I don’t quite agree about Sarasah being sparkly (at least not by my definition), but either way, there’s nothing wrong with sparkly. My point was, when you look at all those titles, they are all very different from each other. Girls like what girls like. It has nothing to do with who else likes it or who it was written for. Why shouldn’t you like Sarasah? There’s nothing inherently superior about comics that are written for males, just as there is nothing inherently inferior about comics written for females, including those with sparkles.

      Thanks for a list of your favs!

      • Oh, haha. I thought you were trying to make a different kind of point. That’s why I was confused you would note Sarasah.
        Also, even though I don’t read many American comics these days, I’m still fairly knowledgeable. I edit a majority of the posts on a website that heavily favors American comics in its reviews (ie: of the 10+ writers or whatever we have, I’m the only one who doesn’t write about them), so I still know about what’s going on. I could probably hold my own pretty well with most guys. It’s too bad I didn’t notice that whole mess earlier; maybe I could have smashed some heads around.

        • No worries. :) You’re not the only one who thought that (from what I can tell) so I’d say the fault is with me. I suspect that in my quest to be brief, I may have failed to be clear.

  5. Melinda, I think this is a great way to make a point. Whether the intended audience will care to grok it, is another matter entirely.

    I run into this all the time in the Yuri world. One would somehow assume that comics fans would somehow be slightly less constrained by gender and sexuality mores, especially manga fans, but this is no way true. Manga fans in Japan are shockingly socially conservative – absurdly so when it comes to the BL/GL genres. Obsessive fans male of Yuri get actively angry at stories like “Fufu” in which the characters want to be wife and wife, because they don’t want lesbians in their Yuri.

    The key thing from my perspective is to do what you did here, and keep doing it. :-)



    • Thanks, Erica! I appreciate your insight, as always. I’m not exactly *surprised* to hear what you have to say about male Yuri fandom, but it’s sad. Though I see the same things in BL fandom (in *some* quarters, certainly not all), where fans dislike any hint that the characters actually identify as gay.

  6. You shouldn’t overreact to little boys saying they hate little girls. It’s just in their DNA. This is a common feeling of guys before they go through puberty. And then probably a lot of those comments are from nerds that can’t even get near a girl, so they hate on them. And kids are known for bullying as well.

    I for one read all kinds of manga and do not see any particular type as “belonging” to any sex. In fact, on my twitter yesterday, I tweeted that it was cool that my most popular podcast reviews are the shojo titles.

    I think this whole thread about comic book stores being hostile to girls is complete baloney. I’ve gone to comic stores my whole life and have yet to witness any ogling, any chastising, or discrimination towards women. I think this is an internal problem within those girls that complain about it. Some sort of self-taught prejudice. A reverse stereotyping if you will. or maybe THEY feel as if they don’t belong. My suggestion. Toughen up and get over it. If you want to go to a comic store, go to it. another point is that every comic store i go to has female employees.

    Me, as a guy, love the fact that there are just as many female manga readers as there are guys. its probably a majority actually. So get rid of this woman-hating stereotype. Don’t look at the manga world so woman-centrically. There’s room enough for both sexes.

    • I think this whole thread about comic book stores being hostile to girls is complete baloney. I’ve gone to comic stores my whole life and have yet to witness any ogling, any chastising, or discrimination towards women. I think this is an internal problem within those girls that complain about it.

      And with that, you have just proven that *you* are the problem.

      I no longer have anything to say to you.

    • As a guy, you may not notice those reactions toward other girls. When I first started going to a local comic shop, I was mostly ignored. It took some time to prove that I belonged there. Then I started working there. I didn’t have problems with customers (though I did intimidate or scare some of the male customers from time to time), but I could easily prove I belonged there. Once you can prove that, it’s not much of an issue. But when you first go in there? There’s an automatic prejudice. I’m a girl, and even ~I~ would sometimes stereotype other girls coming in.

      But here’s the thing…. Every comic store or video game store I went into, I had to prove I belonged there. Guys don’t have to do that. It’s just kind of assumed “you’re a guy, of course you belong here.”

      • That’s been my experience as well, Kris. Though I’ve been to some great comic shops (like Comicopia in Boston, which not only has a friendly, mixed-gender staff but also a huge selection of manga and indie comics), I’ve been to *more* where I only feel welcome if I go in with my husband (and then I’m seen just as a kind of accessory to him). And that’s just icky.

        I’m 40 years old. I’ve traveled to nearly every major city in the country (and many, many small ones too), I’ve lived in neighborhoods most of the people I know now would be terrified to set foot in. I’m a pretty tough cookie. If I’m feeling intimidated, ogled, or condescended to while shopping for comic books, I’m pretty sure it’s not all in my head.

    • Ephidel says:

      I don’t think many people would ever dream of trying to say all comic stores are hostile to girls… but some are and sometimes it only takes the one.
      If you’re unlucky with your first visit to a store it can colour your impressions from then on or put you off for good.

      My LCS is brilliant, and I’ve been going there for (at the least) more than 10 years now.
      I was very young when I first went in there and they welcomed me then, so I’ve never had any problems :)
      (Not with their staff anyway. They did mess up my standing orders a number of years back which put me off for a while).
      One or two of their part-timers over the years have been … off… towards me, but the majority of them have been great, and the regular staff/owners and so are friendly, approachable, interesting people (alas, their recommendations suck sometimes).
      Despite numerous rearrangings their store has remained accessible, and (sort of) recently it got quite a facelift done to both the interior and exterior as well, which made them ‘look’ far more modern and appealing.

      I’ve been to numerous comic stores in different cities too, and plenty of them are fine.
      The problem is that for for every good comic store there’s a probably a bad one – and some aren’t just bad. Some are awful. (That, and it’s always easier to remember the bad things ^^)

      I know there was one I walked into where the dismissive sneer I got from the bloke on the till by the door when I entered it was enough to make me bristle and feel defensive. I still walked around it because I was there, but it was definitely hostile and if that was my local comic store I wouldn’t have gone back.
      Some stores do just have staff that seem to ignore you completely, or act condescendingly… or at the other end extreme continually ask if you need help because they don’t think you can possibly be in there on purpose knowing what you’re looking for.
      And then there are some that seem to be so decrepit and dark and dank I struggle to imagine they get much custom from either gender.

      Over in America I had the same thing. There were a couple of really awesome shops I found that were like little treasure troves of stuff, some modern, some rather dated and tatty in appearance… but they were all welcoming and somehow just completely comfortable to enter walk around.

      Thing is, while I’ve forgotten the name I will forever remember walking into one store over there that couldn’t have given me stronger “YOU AREN’T WELCOME HERE, GET THE HELL OUT!” vibes if it had been plastered all over the door. I can’t even express why that store was so awful, but whenever someone mentions unwelcoming stores it’s that store I think of, and that person automatically has my complete understanding.

      It may be true that if you want to go to a comic store anyway one option would be to “toughen up and get over it” but you shouldn’t have to.
      And if it’s your first time in a comic shop that puts you off, you don’t necessarily have a reason to want to do so.

      • Regarding the workers asking if you need something…that’s very retail. Unless you are saying they were specifically and excessively doing that toward specific customers (ie: girls). I had an interim manager who insisted on asking every single person in the store that question, and even took to following them around the store to an extent. It was horribly excessive, and he actually chased a couple people away once (which was hilarious).

  7. Still, I’m a little sad that girls can apparently only be cool if they like the same things boys do, to prove that they’re not all about pink sparkles. It reminds me of girls in gaming circles proudly proclaiming they play Halo instead of Harvest Moon, as if it makes them more of a gamer.

    • I know guys who enjoy Harvest Moon. The guys that would only say you’re cool for playing Halo over the Animal Crossings, Harvest Moons, or Viva Pinatas, are what I call “frat boy gamers.” And their opinion doesn’t count. :)

    • I’m distressed by that notion too, which is why I was happy to see such a diverse group of titles represented by the blogs I read daily, with not much work at all (and why I made sure to include a link to my own review of my favorite magical girl series, Shugo Chara!).

      I do think this is unfortunately an image a lot of female fans feel pressured to project, though. I’ve been through that myself and was pretty horrified to recognize it.

  8. Marfisa says:

    Regarding employees’ “very retail” habit of repeatedly asking if they can help you: yeah, at some comics stores that’s a relatively routine practice and the employees usually have the sense to back off if you say, “I’m just browsing” (while holding one or more comics you’ve already found that way and obviously plan to buy) or confirm that yes, you are already finding what you need. I suspect that female customers still tend to be approached like this more often than male ones. However, since the comics store where I’ve had this experience most often, the otherwise excellent Jim Hanley’s Universe in Manhattan, has many titles arranged very idiosyncratically (e.g., all titles by certain “artistic” Big Names like Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, etc., are shelved alphabetically under the author’s last name rather than the book’s own title, or sometimes under the first initial of the author’s most famous work, as with all the Neil Gaiman stuff being shelved under “S” with “Sandman”), if the employees don’t actively offer to help customers who don’t hang out there all the time, any customer who isn’t already intimately familiar with the store layout is eventually going to run into trouble finding what they’re looking for. So in a case like that, hovering over customers you haven’t often seen before is a fairly rational and probably somewhat less gender-influenced response.

    Then there are places like the (now closed) local comics shop where the friendly, well-intentioned proprietor couldn’t believe his eyes when I walked in. The best analogy I can come up with for his delightedly excited reaction would be “A unicorn is in my shop!” This was flattering, but eventually rather annoying, since he kept coming up to me with suggestions about what I might like to buy—apparently on the theory that I was either shopping for someone else or, as Ephidel mentioned in her comment above, had only the vaguest idea of what I was looking for.

    This sort of recommendation can be helpful if the staff person knows enough about you to have some concept of your individual tastes, as with another local store owner years ago who suggested I might be interested in the “teen X-Men” title “Generation X” because it reminded him of (the original) TV show “90210,” which I liked (at least at the time). But the unicorn guy just kept offering me things like the latest Batman title as if he was trying to fill me in on the basic superhero core curriculum or something, until I finally had to tell him that I already knew I didn’t like Batman.

    The whole experience was definitely less off-putting than if the store proprietor had actually been attempting to flirt or do anything sleazy. But, as in Kris’ own example about her interim manager, the guy’s interfering oversolicitousness wound up getting in the way of my attempts to shop and making me somewhat unenthusiastic about the prospect of returning to his store.

    • Ah…more things I had to deal with. I was familiar with our regulars and knew what they liked or weren’t interested in, and I would have to tell my interim manager “Don’t bother such and such person” or “that person only reads this or that.” We also had a very small store, so it would be easy to notice someone looking lost and confused. And we’re in eye/ear shot the entire time, so it was also easy for customers to ask us if they couldn’t find something.

      I think it’s an awkward balance. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Because some people expect the workers to come to them with aid, while others prefer to be left alone until they need help (I am this kind of person). With the regulars, it was never an issue. With new or random people…. You unfortunately tend to resort to some stereotypes to aid your judgment. Someone who looks like a soccer mom, 90% of the time will be shopping for their kid or husband in there, and not know what they’re doing.

      For the rest…unfortunately, in retail, you are forced by the company to push specific items onto people (like how GameStop employees are required to ask/remind every person if they have used games to sell…even if they obviously aren’t carrying anything with them). This is partly why I failed in retail. I can’t do that to people. They wanted us to push a highlighted product, pre-order items, games (board, card, minis, etc)…and they wanted you to ask every single person. To me, that’s rude, so I didn’t feel right doing that to all these other people (specifically to people who are obviously not remotely interested). Also I’m too honest to peddle something that I would never buy myself if I had millions of dollars. So I was great with the customers (the regulars were quite comfortable with me), but I sucked as a seller.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Melinda Beasi, Andre . Andre said: RT @mbeasi: New blog post: Why Hope Larson is Cooler Than You […]

  2. […] Beasi counters some fanboy outrage by posting links to some comics that have gotten favorable reviews from female critics lately—and […]

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