Where's Thor When You Need Her? Women In Comics Fight An Uphill Battle The new female Thor has picked up her hammer, but the mainstream comics industry is still experiencing some growing pains as it figures out where women fit in as characters, creators and fans.
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Where's Thor When You Need Her? Women In Comics Fight An Uphill Battle

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Where's Thor When You Need Her? Women In Comics Fight An Uphill Battle

Where's Thor When You Need Her? Women In Comics Fight An Uphill Battle

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Hey, the first issue of Marvel's new "Thor" comic came out this week. And if you think of Thor as some bearded guy, you need to make an adjustment because Thor is now a woman. She shows she is worthy of wielding that great hammer. It's all part of a push by Marvel and DC Comics to improve the representation of women, especially now, as female fans become a bigger part of the market. NPR's Mallory Yu reports.

MALLORY YU, BYLINE: Marvel's new Thor joins a growing number of superhuman heroines leading their own comic books. And they all look different than their past iterations. Captain Marvel, also known as Carol Danvers, has replaced her black bathing suit with a red, blue and yellow jumpsuit that evokes her Air Force roots. Over in Gotham, Batgirl has ditched the clingy spandex and bright-yellow heels for a motorcycle jacket and Doc Martens. These redesigns emphasize function, what a superheroine might actually need for fighting bad guys without sacrificing style. Take DC Comic's "Catwoman." Genevieve Valentine is "Catwoman's" new lead writer. She had one request when she first met with her creative team.

GENEVIEVE VALENTINE: Can we please have her fighting in flat shoes? And it seems like a small thing, but of course it's not. It's sort of an institutional recognition of an audience that's always been there.

YU: And an audience that's growing. On Facebook, women make up just under half of all self-identified comics fans. But even as the female audience grows, female creators for DC and Marvel are still very much in the minority. Tim Hanley writes the online column Gendercrunching. He tracks the number of women working in comic books. In one month this summer, he says women made up less than 10 percent of the creative teams at either DC or Marvel.

TIM HANLEY: It's the bare minimum here - it's artists and writers and colorers and letterers and editors, everyone involved in the process. And it's probably, like, 60 out of 600.

YU: Hanley says that in the three years since he's been Gendercrunching, the numbers have remained about the same.

JEANINE SCHAEFER: We're aware that we don't have as many women working for us as we have men.

YU: That's Jeanine Schaefer, Marvel's senior manager for talent acquisition. She says Marvel executives are looking seriously to hire more women, but change isn't going to happen overnight.

SCHAEFER: It's just going to be time, mentoring women when they come in the door, making sure that we're placing them where they can flourish.

YU: First, editors and talent scouts like Schaefer have to find them, and that's where Janelle Asselin comes in. A former editor at DC, she knows how hard it can be for female creators in an industry that relies on freelance work.

JANELLE ASSELIN: A lot of the female creators that are up-and-coming are unknown quantities. But I think editors need to take more risks and give more female creators a chance.

YU: So she started the online feature "Hire This Woman" to highlight female professionals editors might've missed otherwise. And Asselin says it's all part of a broader conversation happening on platforms like Twitter and Tumblr.

ASSELIN: There's a growing and outspoken contingent of female fans that are fed up with being treated as not important.

YU: But as the conversation has gotten louder, so has the backlash. In April of this year, Janelle Asselin criticized a Teen Titan's cover, taking issue, among other things, with the way a female character was portrayed. Her article touched a nerve. Some comics professionals accused her of not knowing what she was talking about. Then, fans chimed in.

ASSELIN: It escalated fairly quickly from name-calling of things like feminazi, all the way up to rape threats.

YU: Asselin wasn't surprised. Many female fans, and even female creators, have experienced some type of online harassment at one point or another. And Marvel's Jeanine Schaefer thinks this behavior is partly an extreme reaction of fear.

SCHAEFER: There's this perception that, well, if we let women in, everything is going to change. They're going to take away everything that I like about comics.

YU: And she hopes that by bringing more women and diverse voices into the creative process, the comics themselves can help change this perception. After all, a genre that says even the unlikeliest of misfits can be heroes should have the best variety of voices to tell those stories. For NPR News, I'm Mallory Yu.

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