Comic books filled with images of blood and carnage are generally not meant for the squeamish. For this reason, there was a time when most women didn’t read most comic books. But Rebecca Head, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences and an employee at the Fantom Comics store on Wisconsin Avenue, is an example of how comics have gradually appealed more to women who cringe at gore-laden frames of art.
“Girls are able to find comics more now,” Head said. “Comics turned women off in the past, but it’s become a broad industry. There’s fantasy, politics, pop culture . a huge diverse industry.”
Before offering more genres, the comic book industry was a male-oriented one that included many suggestive depictions of women, according to Head. Violent battles and scantily clad women were about the only things readers could look forward to in comics.
“Women are sometimes objectified if you look at the way the women are depicted in them,” Head said, pointing to random frames of characters dressed in bikini tops and catsuits in Marvel’s Civil War, a comic book involving a crossover of many famed superheroes, including Captain America and The Punisher.
“Pretty tasteful,” Head said, with a look of sarcasm.
Now, other content in comic books is more available to readers and particularly to women, according to Head.
“[Women were] a demographic the industry didn’t take into consideration,” she said. “There’s more variety, like romantic comics, which women are generally more interested in.”
Even with more variety in comic books, Head said she believes comics have continued to become more graphically violent over the years. It hasn’t stopped her from exploring the realm of comic books, though. She emphasized the diversity of the industry by juxtaposing ones like Supermarket, by Brian Wood Kristian, a futuristic graphic novel about a 16-year-old girl facing groups of hit men, and the nonfiction graphic adaptation of the 9/11 Report, by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon.
Head, who says she prefers seeing less violent material in comic books, enjoys comic books in several other ways. For her, good characters make a good comic.
“A story revolves around a character, and if you really have a dynamic character, then you have a good comic,” she said.
Head also admires the comic book aesthetic.
“The art is spectacular. Some are sketchy and some are painted meticulously. Every single page is fantastic,” Head said, flipping through Civil War and its dark and colorful pages of gritty cityscapes and brawny superheroes.
Head’s interest in comic books as a girl might be unusual to some who see the stereotypical comic book “nerd” as traditionally a male.
“Everyone is really cool about me being a comic book nerd, especially because I’m a girl, because it’s not really expected,” Head said.
About 20 percent of Fantom Comics’ regular customers are female, according to Head. The Fantom Comics staff, however, is evenly divided in terms of gender, consisting of three men and three women.
Her interest in the art of comic books can also be attributed to her interest in art in general. As a studio art major, Head has taken several art classes that involve painting, sculpture, printmaking and graphic design. Her personal sketchbook, which she carries around in her bag, is filled with meticulous character and costume designs.
Head, who has worked at Fantom Comics for almost a year, said she has learned a lot about comics since starting there last fall.
Head currently owns about 15 comic books and said she reads many different ones while working.
“A lot of people don’t know that there are comics other than superhero comics. I didn’t realize that it was so complex and diverse,” she said. “It’s a universe that [comic book artists] have really created.”