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Comics Starring Women – Visualization

What’s geeky? Comics and statistics. What’s really geeky? Using them both together.

A couple months ago, I mentioned that I had been tracking sales on comics starring female characters. This was related to an academic paper I was working on (one that I am finishing up to present on Friday). My primary reason for tracking the sales was because I was attempting to discover how big an effect certain common comics market events had on the popularity of female characters in specific. That is to say, when a character is suddenly shifted in costume to something ridiculously sexy and revealing, people complain, but do sales go up or down. Similarly, if a character is retooled to (theoretically) be more appealing to a female audience, people applaud it (well, some complain) but do sale go up or down?

Interestingly enough, I probably won’t be using the chart in my actual paper, but it did inform my thinking a lot while I was working on it. That said, when I first said that I was tracking it a lot of people seemed interested, so I thought I’d release the data just so people could see what I found.

A note about my methodology: I ended up tracking all comics starring female characters published between November 2005 and February 2016 (a little over a 10 year period). In order to qualify, I decided the comic had to either have a female character as the lead (Wonder Woman, Ms. Marvel), focus on two characters where at least one of them was female (Hawkeye, Black Canary/Green Arrow) or focus on a team where ALL members are female (Birds of Prey, Gotham City Sirens, A-Force). I omitted team books that were co-ed, even if particular issues focused only on female characters (X-men, Avengers). In order to make the list, the book had to be in the top 150 sales for a given month through Diamond Distribution as reported by Comichron.com. I made a special exception for any book that traditionally fell within the top 150 but was low enough on the list that it got pushed into the top 160 for a month, just to keep the dataset as complete as possible (this primarily affected Witchblade, but also on one or two occasions other titles). On a month where the character starred in two solo titles for that month (because an annual or special edition came out) only the higher of the sales totals is used.

In order for the chart to not be an absolute mess, I truncated a lot of the data out of it. In order to appear on the chart, a character needed to star in at least 20 books over that 10 year period. I also eliminated the co-ed partnership books because only two made that cut. The first, Superman/Wonder Woman, was superfluous since she was on the chart already. The second, Hawkeye, was questionable since it is unclear whether Kate is “starring” or not. Then I truncated off the first 5 years of the chart because it was just too long and there wasn’t much interesting happening on that side anyway. So what you see here is the data from December 2009 til the present.

Click To Enlarge

Click To Enlarge

A few interesting observations:

  • You can literally see crossovers and company wide events. Without looking it up at all, I can see that something interesting happened in Batman titles in May of 2012 because sales went up on Batgirl, Catwoman and Birds of Prey by essentially the same amount for each title.
  • The New 52 launch is slightly misleading. Generally speaking a number 1 of any comic series far outsells any other issue of the series. Usually, it appears that the regular sales rate will be roughly half of the first issue. However, if you look closely, you’ll note there is a two month spike right around where I have the New 52 launch marker. The first month represents the total sales right before the continuity. The end of the old line was almost exactly equivalent to the beginning of the new line and with the exception of Batgirl, none of the female titles maintained their sales bumps more than a few months.
  • Batgirl had a similar bump when she was soft rebooted, de-aged and costume swapped after Gail Simone’s run ended. Simone’s last couple issues (once it was announced she was leaving) saw a huge increase in sales. The first issue of the revamped character actually saw a drop of nearly a third. The title has continued to lose readers since, and is now (like the rest of DC’s female titles) right around where it was before the reboot.
  • Other than that example, costume changes, in and of themselves seem to have no real effect on actual sales.
  • Harley Quinn appears to be an outlier as a title. This is unsurprising as her popularity is what made me start researching this in the first place. Interestingly enough, the standard deviation of her sales (the green area) seems to very well define the buffer that puts a comic in the top 25 for a given month. She is the only currently published comic with a female star that consistently hits that buffer.
  • Wonder Woman provides a similar buffer (yellow area) for the majority of comics published by the Big Two (Marvel/DC). Being in that buffer keeps a comic roughly in the top 60.
  • Dipping into the red area, appears to spell cancellation for any comic from the major publishers. Indie comics can survive there indefinitely (Witchblade) but mostly have shorter runs and don’t have to.

As a final interesting note. Steph also ran way more scientific analysis than I understand on the dataset and ended up coming up with this chart which shows trend lines for whether characters consistently being published over the last 6 years are getting more or less popular. If anyone cares, I’m sure she will explain how it works in details that only stats geeks will get. But the interesting to me is that it appears female starring comics in general are actually getting more popular, with roughly a 50% increase in popularity. Harley Quinn in particular has seen a 150% increase (basing her numbers off of her sales now vs. her sales starring in Gotham City Sirens). Wonder Woman, the most popular character traditionally has only seen a 20% increase and Supergirl fell off by about 10% (which kind of explains her recent cancellation). What I find most surprising though is that Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers) is down in popularity by about 25% from her Ms. Marvel days. I expected it to go the other way.

13 comments for “Comics Starring Women – Visualization

  1. avatar
    March 8, 2016 at 11:42 am

    People geeky enough that they might specifically actually care about this: Wayne Wise, Danny Fingeroth, Chris Gavaler, Tim Bruhn, Katya Gorecki

    • avatar
      March 8, 2016 at 11:50 am

      And also probably Amber Love, Brandon Link Copp-Millward and Laura Valentine

    • avatar
      March 8, 2016 at 1:00 pm

      Nice job!

    • avatar
      March 8, 2016 at 1:22 pm

      I’m going to have to dig into this later.

    • avatar
      March 8, 2016 at 1:26 pm

      Link: unfortunately for you, some of your favorite titles didn’t make the chart (because of the way I limited it). But a few of them might make you unhappy. In particular, Squirrel Girl… which didn’t have enough issues to be on the chart, but if it was, it would have been well into the red zone.

      Spider-Gwen is safe though. It’s safely in the upper yellow.

  2. avatar
    March 8, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    For the record, I don’t see what’s geeky about stats 😉

  3. avatar
    March 9, 2016 at 1:16 am

    This is great stuff, Mac. I was reviewing a pre-publication copy of Carolyn Cocca’s book “Superwomen” (due out from Bloomsbury in the fall) which you may want to check out (and vice versa). She’s compiled stats on Wonder Woman for a quantitative analysis of revealing female superhero costumes and exaggerated bodies. I’m personally delighted that your analysis reveals that revealing costumes have no effect on sales.

    • avatar
      March 10, 2016 at 6:42 am

      That definitely sounds interesting. I wish it was out already so I wouldn’t have had to do it myself. In any case, I’m definitely going to have to get that book when it comes out.

  4. avatar
    March 9, 2016 at 1:18 am

    Also, have you ever checked out the website Hooded Utilitarian? Noah Berlatsky runs it, and I post there with material from my own site. This post would be a great fit.

    • avatar
      March 10, 2016 at 6:43 am

      Really? You think? Hmm…. I feel like the entire post is just haphazardly constructed. There’s no real argument here even. It was just a brain dump of the data because I figured people might be interested.

    • avatar
      March 10, 2016 at 10:02 am

      It’s the “people might be interested” part that I mean. I think there’s formal, academic-style, peer-reviewed scholarship, but there’s also room for informal, less argument-driven scholarship that can be especially suited for online venues. Just a thought.

    • avatar
      March 10, 2016 at 10:06 am

      Oh, I totally agree. In fact, I really think the academic world needs a LOT more of that. I’m a big believer in Mike Marino’s call for “buzzfeed scholarship” http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/why-one-professor-thinks-academics-should-write-buzzfeed-style-scholarship/55025

      I just meant that this particular post was REALLY hastily thrown together. A lot of my blogs are, but this one especially so. I was actually just starting to brain dump stuff into my Evernote file and decided that it might be something that people might vaguely be interested in.

      But yes. I hear what you’re saying and when I have more time I should consider stuff like Hooded Utilitarian. I’ll have to remember to investigate it more later.

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