In the great TeleRead tradition of practical advice for budding authors – including authors and artists of comic strips – here’s a beaut: If you want to work in the superhero genre, make sure those heroes are heroes and not heroines. Don’t do anything for, or about, girls. Because your brainchild (and better make sure it’s a male child) will never get taken up by studio execs for an animated or even live-action series otherwise. Or a computer game. Or a movie. There: It’s a career decision now. Are you *still* sure you want to write, or draw, female?
That’s the kind of real-world creative choice that is apparently facing comic book creators in the US and elsewhere. At least according to Emmy-winning comic strip writer and producer Paul Dini, “the Forrest Gump of f…ing pop culture,” who ought to be in a position to know, having worked on everything from Star Wars cartoons to Batman, as well as TV shows like Lost. What he said, speaking to Kevin Smith in the Fat Man on Batman podcast, as also reported on io9, at about 46 minutes 50 seconds, was this:
“”They’re all for boys ‘we do not want the girls’, I mean, I’ve heard executives say this … ‘We do not want girls watching these shows … They. Do. Not. Buy. Toys. The girls buy different toys’.”
Dini was complaining specifically about the cancellation of his live-action series Tower Prep, which ran in 2010-11. “That’s the thing that got us cancelled on Tower Prep, honest-to-God was, like, ‘we need boys, but we need girls right there, right one step behind the boys’—this is the network talking—’one step behind the boys, not as smart as the boys, not as interesting as the boys, but right there.’ And then we began writing stories that got into the two girls’ back stories, and they were really interesting. And suddenly we had families and girls watching, and girls really became a big part of our audience … It’s like, ‘We don’t want the girls because the girls won’t buy toys‘ … we had a whole merchandise line for Tower Prep that they shitcanned before it ever got off the launching pad, because it’s like, ‘Boys, boys, boys’.”
Yes, you heard that right – and you can hear the entire podcast over on the Fat Man on Batman site. (And be prepared for Smith’s full-on foul-mouthed talk audio, but it’s a blast.) A studio actually canceled an entire series because it started to attract a female, and family, audience. And yes, this is one disgruntled writer talking – but one with deep experience of the industry. And what he says rings all too true.
Smith and many other commentators have jumped on the point that what’s really at issue is not the audience’s gender preferences as the limited mindset and sheer incompetence of the execs making these decisions. “Don’t be lazy and say I can’t sell a girl a toy,” says Smith. Anime and manga audiences certainly seem to make the point. And there’s a little self-fulfilling prophecy action going on here too: “My daughter is 11 and is constantly frustrated. The t-shirts and bedding almost never have the female characters,” says one (female) commentator on the Fat Man on Batman blog.
Smith and Dini swap ideas on how many other brands and franchises and possibilities come out of Batman alone: Surely room for the girls there too? But it seems computer game studios are thinking in the same ways too. “Just get better at your job,” says Smith. Not much hope of that. “The bigger the corporation is, the more that feeling is pervasive,” observes Dini.
And these are the kind of people who should have global copyright protection agreements, DRM, and Interpol investigations to protect their interests? Well if you want to be a writer and get a cut of their action, you know what to do: Ignore the girls.