We?ve run data like this before, using a very straight forward method: Look at the covers, count the characters, and note who are men and who are women. It?s fairly simple, and while you need to come up with rules occasionally (for example, anthropomorphic, speaking animals get counted, normal pets don?t), it?s a decent way to get a rough idea of character breakdowns.
It?s not an exact accounting of characters. There are often characters in the book who aren?t on the cover, and being on the cover doesn?t necessarily mean the character will actually appear that much in the book. A more thorough examination of characters may result in different numbers (though I suspect it wouldn?t be a substantial change). But for what we?re looking at today, the raw numbers are not so important as the trends therein.
In the following charts, we have numbers from the January 2014 comics put out by DC and Marvel, as well as some past data we?ve gathered with the same methodology. We did both publishers in Fall 2011, adding together their September, October, and November covers, and we also looked at Marvel in September 2012 in a Marvel NOW! discussion because it was their last month pre-Marvel NOW! With this data, we can see that things are not really changing all that much for female characters at the Big Two:
DC is up slightly from Fall 2011, which is good, but it?s hardly a substantial increase. Marvel was up a bit in 2012, but has now fallen back near their Fall 2011 level, though the highs and the lows are rather close together. Basically, female characters at Marvel seem to hover around 25% while at DC they hover a couple percentage points above that. By this reckoning, they are a clear minority at both publishers, outnumbered roughly 3 to 1 by male characters.
More importantly, not a lot is changing. More than two years after we first counted up comic book covers, things are about the same for female characters. Covers are a comic book?s best advertisement, the thing that says, ?Here is a peek at what fun things are inside this publication!? And what these covers are saying is, ?Hey, check it out! We?ve got a lot of dudes!? Women, both real and fictional, remain underrepresented at both publishers. This isn?t groundbreaking news, but a lasting improvement somewhere would be an enjoyable change of pace.
On the positive side, though, there is something that the stats don?t show: What the covers look like. When we looked at the covers in Fall 2011, there was some gross stuff. Characters dressed like Playboy bunnies, there were ridiculous levels of cleavage and midriff baring, and ladies posed sexily while blood rained down on them; it wasn?t a good scene. Not only were women rare, but they were quite sexualized when they did appear.
Now they?re still rare, but the art in January is worlds better. Most of the ladies are fully clad, and in cool, kickass poses. The sex has been turned down and the power and awesomeness has been turned up. That?s definitely a positive development.
Moreover, we may be poised to see numerical improvements in the months to come. Marvel has a lot of female-led books out now and coming soon that weren?t out in January. Similarly, DC has the upcoming Batman: Eternal each week, which boasts a strong female cast. So here?s what we?ll do: Let?s table our disappointment that female representation hasn?t grown in over two years, and check back again in six months. If it?s not better then, we?ll flip some tables, rhetorically speaking. But hopefully things will improve. We?ll find out when we do the July 2014 stats!