Comics Evangelism, and Keeping Those Female Readers Elusive

I have been married for oh, let’s say seven years, and my wife has never, ever asked me, “What are you reading?”

Pictured: the only comic I have ever gotten my wife to read. Part of.

All around the house, books and periodicals are stacked high. I come home late on Wednesdays with a paper bag full of more of them, even as the paper bags from previous weeks pile and become makeshift furniture in the living room, going from tall stacks on the coffee table to sort of wobbly paper endtables on the floor. The sitcom cliché dictates that the Ol’ Lady is supposed to be incensed by the way I’ve turned her den into a garage sale/fire hazard, but it never comes up. Tolerance rules the day. It’s like I have an imaginary friend, Harvey, the invisible hobby only I can see. In fact, my wife gets way more annoyed by the virtual clutter I leave on the DVR: “Are you ever watching all these Daily Shows? The hard drive’s down to 14%. It is a disaster in here.

There was a time when I took this sort of thing as a personal affront and would try to provoke a conversation by, like, leaving Black Kiss 2 open on the kitchen counter. It never made any difference, and soon I was glad. The more time you spend living in a house full of other people, the more having your own thing all to yourself becomes a precious, cherished gift from the merciful Skyfather. It’s not that my wife doesn’t care; she just takes it all as a part of the Complete Jim Package and already has plenty of interests of her own.

Obviously, I’m not a great evangelist. I’ve made halfhearted attempts over the years; I think we’ve all had that Christmas where we decide to buy graphic novels for everyone on our list, despite the fact that most of them rarely read books, or magazines, or food labels, or road signs. Some of the gifts are hits, but you see enough of the “Ohhh…. that’s… great! Thank you so much for obligating me to keep this somewhere in my house!” face to realize you may have just done a sad thing.

In my old age, my approach to comics evangelism has consisted of two steps:

  1. Read comics as if that is a typical, humdrum thing to do. Don’t call attention to it. Don’t declare a national day for doing it. You’re reading for pleasure; you don’t need a Pride Fest. Shouting “What I’m doing is not weird, and I don’t care who sees me doing it!” does not help your case.
  2. Be a normal, non-creepy human being with more than one interest.

Because of my upbringing, I tend to think of this as the Catholic school of comics evangelism. You don’t go around pressing your book into people’s hands; you just set a good enough example to make the people around you think, “Maybe there’s something to reading She-Hulk, that cover notwithstanding.”

Part of getting new people into comics has traditionally been a quest for validation on some level, as if convincing cool people that comics were cool would prove we weren’t insane. Part of it has been the universal desire to share the things we love with the people we love and involve them in a part of our world that is important to us. That drive to have things in common is what brought most of us to this site.

Of course, part of it was also a kind of street-team boosterism of self-interest: “We gotta get more people reading these things, or they’re gonna stop making them and I won’t get my fix anymore.” I have done the math on that premise, and the formula goes something like “(Disney purchase + Avengers box office) ÷ Walking Dead ratings = I am not worrying about this anymore.”

There has to be some middle ground.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t welcome new readers. Quite the contrary. I’d love to hear people talking casually about Scott Pilgrim or the speed force out in the wild somewhere other than The Big Effing Bang Theory (a show my wife loves, by the way). I don’t want to discourage anyone, and believe me, plenty of people who do are out there. The weird thing is, despite all the mail we get asking, “How do I get my _____ into comics?” I often get the sense that there are a lot of people in this hobby of ours who don’t want to let anyone else into the clubhouse, especially girls.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about trolling and misogyny (and if you spend time on sites like this one, you probably have too) and so much of it seems to stem from nothing more than men relentlessly attacking women for the crime of coming into “their thing.” It’s not just comics, either; I mean, geezum crow, have you seen what the gamers are up to these days?

Trolls are a pet fascination of mine, and the more I read about them the more I realize that the iFanbase has spoiled me. There are people actively making their communities hostile places to scare people away and keep them out (and apparently spending a fair chunk of time doing it, by the way; hell, I barely have time to read the books, much less circle the wagons around them and shout). Meanwhile, over here, we can’t go a week without someone asking us for help hatching a plan to get his girlfriend into our little group. That’s a group I’m proud to be in, even if the best advice I have is “don’t get her an Omnibus for Christmas.”


Jim Mroczkowski has converted two people in the last ten years, but one of them was a little kid and the other was the Elusive Female New Reader, so those are worth, like, triple points.


  1. Great article. As long as there are people out there that share your interest in something I don’t think you have to convert those people around you. Unless people are actively hostile to your hobbies, then what does it matter?

    If we want to expand the comic reading audience it has to be organic and not forced. I think tv spots during certain shows are appropriate as are free comics at movie theaters. But featured articles in USA Today or shout-outs on the View aren’t the way to go.

    • I agree.
      I think we also have to keep in mind that taste is subject and maybe not everybody LIKES comics.
      There seems to be this attitude of “I LOVE these things, how could you not? You must just not have tried the right ones. Here take MORE!”
      It’s the same with bands and music artists, I know lots of people (like my brother) who love a particular band or genre and will try to push it upon everyone, even if you say you don’t like it they’ll keep going with “you started with the wrong album, try this one then you’ll get into it”.
      Last Christmas I brought all of my family comics as presents but also made sure to buy them something else as well (usually a DVD). I tried to pick the sort of things that would appeal to their tastes and got mixed reactions (as I expected).
      My brother read Skullkickers and I think he enjoyed it but he has no intention of reading any more, which is fine and I’ll get him something else for his Birthday. I don’t think my dad even finished his book and my older sister’s is probably collecting dust on her self unread. But my younger sister loved the hell out of the first Runaways book and by the end of Christmas day was asking for me.
      I think we also have to accept it’s an expensive hobby and maybe not one everybody can afford, espeailly in this economic climate.
      There’s also nothing wrong with casual readers either, those who just read Scott Pilgrim and The Walking Dead trades, we shouldn’t try to pull them in to the “hard stuff” if they don’t want it. They’re books not “gateway drugs”.
      I find it interesting the amount of times people use the “comics are drugs” analogy, I understand it’s just a bit of fun but it sort of gives off the wrong mind set.
      Remember it’s just a hobby after all, it’s meant to be fun.
      I’ve already written far too much so I’ll just end it there.

  2. Nice article, Jim. I like your Catholic approach. As an unknowing adherent to this philosophy, I think #2 is the most important part of it, even though you need both for the whole thing to work.

    As much as I like the geeky conversations in my local comic shop on Wednesday, I’m even more glad when I walk in and people are talking baseball or college football. I’m not a sports fan, but it’s nice to know that I’m not alone in being conversant on a variety of subjects.

  3. It’s funny I’ve been reading comics for 24 years now & been with my lady for 5 & not once have I ever tried to force or persuade her to read or try to get into comics, but her ex-boyfriend who we both are really good friends with still hassles her & myself to read certain titles that he thinks she’ll like. It has gotten to the point that her birthday this year he got her Phonogram Vol.1 & I don’t think she has even flicked thru it yet, let alone read the synopsis.

    So I think as long as you’re happy & it’s something you enjoy then continue only convert when asked to do so!

  4. I fully endorse #2…

    I was having a conversation with someone recently about how I lived in Atlanta for years but never went to Dragon*Con once. I regret it now (and it’s not like I couldn’t plan a trip to stay with friends and just go), but when we were talking about why, the truth came out that it was probably because I was already given grief as a teen and young adult for being a comic geek.

    So, I felt like going to D*Con (or any Con for that matter, which I still have yet to experience) would have just lumped me in as one of those #2-type people who always show up on the news whenever events like that occur, and that wasn’t something my fragile ego could handle at the time.

    Now that I’m older, somewhat less fragile and have proven that I can hold a semi-intelligent conversation on lots of non-geeky topics, I should just go and have an awesome time!

    • Aw, Atlanta represent!

      I’m a current resident, and I’ve intended Dragon*Con for years. You don’t have to go in costume or anything, though my profile pic IS of me in costume from one year. I’ve only done that thrice in the..10 years? that I’ve gone. I’m 28.

      You sound worried about how people will label you, and I say to you, my friend, that they will label you simply as “person I like” or “person I don’t care about.” Most people don’t get hung up on adhering to specific cultural “groups” or whatever. Most people I know tend to find people who have extensive interest in something unusual to be “interesting.”

      I’m sorry you were “given grief” over your interest in comics. I find that unacceptable on several levels. Let me know who did it, and I’ll give them a stern talking to! Heh, not really, but seriously, that sucks. Those are people you should just stay away from. Those are people *most* people should just stay away from. Negativity breeds negativity, and I generally try to brush off people like that. Not let them in my life and so on.

      You should come out to D*Con in 2013 though! Seriously, it’s like “geek mardi gras,” and while there are “hardcore geeks” there, most people are just…fun people with fun interests.

  5. in all honesty, i kind of cringe when i hear the term “evangelism” used in any context especially pop culture and admittedly that comes from some very crazy personal experiences. I try to live by the simple rule of treating people the way i’d like to be treated and i generally don’t like having things pushed upon me so i act the same.

    I enjoy talking about comics and things, but i don’t think its my “job” to bring people in or preach the good word of funny books. I’m always happy to hear someone getting into comics but you won’t find me pushing books at them trying to “convert” them.

    I talk about what i like if it comes up in conversation, and let those ask me about whats good to read in comics. Because of the shows and movies, the Walking Dead, Batman and the Avengers come up in pop culture conversations more than they used to and that’s cool.

  6. Interesting article. It’s refreshing to see someone else think through this issue/phenomenon in ways that I haven’t. I have to say I don’t entirely identify with it though as my experiences are somewhat different.

    I would say I am a “comic book evangelist” but, perhaps, the quietest one you will ever meet. I never really talk about how awesome or amazing comics are, but I also never hide that I read them.

    When I meet new people and become friends with or a boyfriend of them, we will generally have *some* discussion of our interests, mutual and otherwise. In that conversation, comics are inevitably brought up. Usually, they will say, “Oh? Comics? That’s really cool! Have you read X (usually it’s Sandman).” Or, they will tell me about how they loved the X-Men animated series or the Dini Batman one when they were younger. I will then generally say, “well, if you want to read any I can make recommendations.” Usually the girlfriends go for this more than the platonic friends, I suppose as a way to “get to know me” better.

    I realize though, that while I don’t broadcast myself as a “geek” or anything, I do broadcast my interest in “geeky” things and use “geek” in a complimentary way. I like Star Trek and Star Wars and Comics, but I also love Art films, French New Wave cinema, Freudian psychoanalysis, and so on. So, for me, my interests generally skew from the “average,” and the people I meet feel likewise. This leads to people I know becoming more interested in comics. It’s just an inevitable thing. Usually they drop off after a while, and I’ve never converted someone to buying issues. I have left a few graphic novel dabblers out there though. And yeah, I’m a “Wednesday guy” as well.

    I dunno. I suppose I simply let “my freak flag fly” around those I think will be interested and have pleasant, smalltalkish conversations around those that aren’t. Of course, I want comics to be everyday to a degree. I want them to be like baseball and such. It’s not a “need,” and it’s not that important to me. I just enjoy knowing people who enthuse about what I enthuse about.

    • Man, so many comics freaks I know are into the New Wave. I wonder what the correlation is there. I guess Godard did use a lot of the iconography of comics and other mass media in some of those mid 60’s movies.


  7. I don’t think the fanboy rage is directed at girls with a genuine interest in comics but rather girls who FEIGN a genuine interest in comics. No one likes disingenuous people and I think the anger and frustration largely comes from that. Doesn’t mean some of the anger hasn’t come out in sexist ways, though. But that said, I think the push to keep women out of comics seems like a paranoid conspiracy theory to me. A few trolls do not make a movement.

    As for evangelizing, I just don’t even bother. I tried for years but I eventually realized that most people aren’t really interested in reading anything that takes longer than five minutes. Men and women included.

    • The people who assume they detect somone’s sincerity over the internet is quite a mystery to me.

    • Who are these mysterious girls who “feign” interest in comics?

    • Real bottom-feeders, I would imagine.

    • And even if they are feigning an interesting comics, what’s the damage? Seems like worst case scenario, they inadvertently find something they like, right? However much you (the general you, not anyone in this thread right now) dress it up, calling someone a poser is elitist bullshit.

    • i’ve never understood why some feel so obsessed with measuring and judging others street/indie/nerd cred…such a waste of energy and time if you ask me.

    • @KenOchak the Night Stalker – Ambigious. Who are you calling out?

    • “Girls who pretend to be interested in comics to get some dude in a Green Lantern T-shirt to like them” = never seen in the wild.

      Dudes who are hostile to women for daring to exist on the Internet = far too common a phenomenon.

    • Let’s be clear…I never said I ENDORSED the fanboy rage. I’m merely trying to explain it and understand it.

      It may simply be the fact that I live in a college town where local bars host Super Nerd Nights but I’ve encountered plenty of women who’ve attached themselves to comics on a superficial level. They dig the culture of the comic book shops, the conventions, the films, the idea of being a nerd, etc….but not necessarily the comics themselves. They may have read the big books (Watchmen, DKR, etc) but have no interest in keeping up with what’s coming out. These women really do exist. I dated one for a short time. And I do see the behavior as disingenuous but I’m certainly not bothered by it. It is what it is. We all do stuff to impress people and these women are no different.

      Also, I’ve encountered plenty of men who do the EXACT same thing. I really don’t see it as a gender exclusive phenomenon but women probably get singled out simply because of the dominance of men in the “nerd” community.

    • @GregSmallwood: There’s nothing wrong with reading the big books and no interest with what’s coming out week to week. There’s not one kind of legitimate comic book fan.

    • @GregSmallwood Like Conor said, liking something differently than you like it is not the same thing as “faking”.

      Also, for what it’s worth, I *am* an every Wednesday comic book reader, and I can’t count the number of dudes in my age group (mid-30s) who have tried to lecture me about comics based on what they remember from when they were reading in the ’90s. I have yet to see a mass objection to ‘male lapsed reader who pretends to know what he’s talking about,’ even though there are plenty of them and I guess they pose just as much of an imaginary threat to the knowledgeable fanbase, or whatever the problem with ‘fake geek girls’ is supposed to be. This sends me back to Jim’s thesis, stated in the article, that there is some desire to keep people out of the clubhouse for whatever mysterious reason.

    • @Conor. I totally agree. I should have stressed the MAY part in “may have read the big books.” I’ve encountered quite a few comic book fans who haven’t actually read ANY comic books. Here’s a personal experience:

      I’m at a “nerd”-centric party. I start up a conversation with a stranger. I mention my interest in comics. He tells me he’s a big comic book fan. I ask him what he’s currently reading. He then begins to explain that he doesn’t actually read comics but he enjoys their aesthetic (or something like that).

      And I’ve had plenty of run-ins with folks who hold strong opinions on comics (“Marvel comics suck”) but haven’t read anything beyond Watchmen.

      Like I said before – It’s not a major issue with me. But I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t frustrate me at times. The disingenuous part isn’t the level of reading a comic book fan commits to but how they present themselves.

    • @Grandturk: I’m not calling out anyone specific, just the hypothetical “men who take exception to women who don’t like comics to the degree and in the manner those men believe women must in order to be taken seriously” that have been brought up here.

      Setting some arbitrary bar to determine a fan’s legitimacy is silly, and in the case of male fans judging female fans, it’s clearly sexist. No one came out of the womb with the ability to recite every member of the Legion of Super-Heroes, their powers and home planets, so why use things like that as criteria for acceptance of another human being?

      I mean, if someone needs criteria to judge people, grammar and spelling are much handier choices, right? 😉

    • I think Greg has a good point, there are people who will act a certain way to get attention. Olivia Munn’s made a career out of it. The thing is that it’s usually younger people, and that most young men are scared that women don’t like guys who read comics.

      And even if the person has read only Watchmen or TDKR, which is fine, if they’re shoving their love of it in everyone’s faces like Jim said it’s going to be supremely annoying.

    • @KenO – I get you.

    • A big problem seems to be (in my personal experience) that being a female comic fan many of the guys assume FIRST that I am “feigning interest” until I can prove otherwise whereas for other men it is usually the other way around.

  8. I was with my latest ex for four years, and never made an attempt to recruit her into comics. She respected the fact that it meant a lot to me, and never gave a single eye roll (that I caught). She read an issue or two of Walking Dead and Invincible here and there, the occasional American Vampire, but was never a regular reader. The only comics related gift she ever recieved from me were Skottie Young’s Oz books, and that’s only because I knew she would absolutely love them, which she did.

    The one and only routine we shared that involved comics came about organically. After we’d been dating for a while, she started picking up my stack and flipping through the covers. Only rarely did she crack one open and take a peak. Occasionally I’d get a question like “Who’s that?” or a comment like “That’s cool.”, but usually she would just slap one down after a minute or two and say “That one.”. I called it Pauline’s Cover of the Week.

    When this strange phenomenon first began to occur, I treaded lightly. I would watch her out of the corner of my eye to see her reactions, but pretend to be completely engrossed in whatever I was reading or watching. When she would ask the occasional question, I would be enthusiastic, but keep my answers brief. As we often say around these parts, “Ya don’t wanna scare ’em away.” This little routine usually only last two or three minutes tops, but I always enjoyed it. For those few minutes, we were sharing something. I was letting her in to glimpse a part of my life that I usually kept to myself. She never really knew it, but it meant a lot to me.

    • My wife – who doesn’t read comics – actually just got a comic book cover tattoo on her back. Its very cool. Its one of the covers from Avengers/Fairy Tales that came out a few years ago with Peter Pan and Wendy.

  9. I don’t attempt to convert anyone for selfish reasons. I would lend comics out, but from time to time, stuff would turn up missing and what a pain in the ass to was to hunt people down to get them back or buy them again.

    The worst case of this came when I had a girlfriend and told her all about my favorite stories: The Sandman and The Doom Patrol. I showed her my collection and let her read them, but when the relationship ended and sometime after I was looking through my collection and I realized that Sandman #1-10 were missing. All first printing, including the 1st appearance on Death. Of course, she denied it and I didn’t help matters because all my pleas were not for her to come back, but for my comics to come back. “Never again!”, I swore. And I’ve kept my promise though it still stings when I think about it …

    • In 2004, when The Walking Dead was still in its infancy, I lent issues 1-12 to a friend, who moved to Florida on a whim three weeks later, taking my issues with him. So now I have the entire run except the first fucking twelve! If I ever see that son of a bitch again, he’s in for a surprise.

      So I feel your pain, brother.

    • @WheelHands I wish you could get your collection back because that really is a betrayal. And hell yeah, those issues are worth a pretty penny.

  10. You know, I have no issue with the, “Go Team Comics” approach, and, since I’m someone who was brought into comics as an adult — at least in part due to enthusiastic friends — I am not going to say that it never works. But I do think the, “As part of a well-rounded cultural diet” part is important. One of the reasons that I got hooked on the ifanboy podcast is that the guys get enthusiastic about all kinds of stuff. I mean, my favorite bit in episode 350 was probably the conversation about the Beatles. Be enthusiastic about whatever you like, just remember other people’s interests are just as important to them.

  11. Wait, wait…DON’T get her an Omnibus for Christmas? I think I need Jim’s dating advice column!

  12. I had a strange experience yesterday. I work in IT so there are a lot of “geeks” around my office.
    So walking about I over heard the young work experience kid, who is a nice guy. And does claim to love Batman SO MUCH.
    He was telling the guy beside him about this movie that was coming out, where Batman is old, and has to come back from retirement. And why this was the worst idea for a story ever.

    yeah I had to do a double take on that as well. I asked him if he was talking about The Dark Knight Returns. Of course he was. And when I asked if he had read the comics, he had to say no.

    At that point I left him to it and went back to my desk.

    And that is the problem, The people that are Comic “geeks” that don’t actually read comics. there will also be people with strong opinions that only know half the subject.

    lets face it genuine comic readers love discussing comics and trying to get people to read them. thats why we come here after all.

  13. You can recommend something to friends or give them a nudge, but yeah in this information age especially, everybody pretty much just chooses what they’re into themselves. Most of my friends don’t read comics, if they were interested they’d be reading them like I chose to.

  14. As a fairly new reader of comics I’ve found that trying to get into *everything* that’s suggested to me is a really bad idea, but I’ve had a good friend of a number of years who knows my interests inside and out and he was the one that pointed out a handful of series I could start out with based on my interests. I’ve since branched out to find stuff on my own, but I’m sure that his initial guidance helped me a ton with breaking through that initial mindset barrier of “But there’s just so much, how will I ever find a place to start?” The guys at my LCS have also been highly helpful as well — not just the amazing shop owners, but also the other people who frequent the shop. Barring one or two awkward instances where I was too oblivious to notice that a guy was hitting on me until after the fact, conversations/debates/discussions have been genuinely interesting.

    I’ve also found out that suggesting comics right out of the blue really doesn’t work with spreading the interest. If I’m having a genuinely interesting conversation with someone I know is trying to get into comics but doesn’t know where to start, I might segue into quietly suggesting something along the topic lines. This happened last week with a friend at work and Phonogram and she’s told me she’s absolutely loving it. I only own Rue Britannia and haven’t gotten around to getting The Singles Club, but she’s already declared she’s gonna go get it herself and lend it to me when I get around to it.

  15. Here’s a question: comiXology and Graphicly include all kinds of links that let you “share” what you just read on Facebook or Twitter. You can also “gift” digital comics to people.

    Have any of you ever done this? Often? Rarely?

  16. I am a comics evangelist, and not exactly a “Catholic school” evangelist–although certainly not going door-to-door. It’s kind of a step-by-step process:

    1. Get to know someone, become friends, find out what they’re in to.
    2. Casually mention comics, that I write about them “professionally” and hope to get my own published some day.
    3. If they express any sort of interest, I will lend them a great comic tailored to their interests – I gave my anarchist friend a copy of “Wild Children,” my bohemian ex-girlfriend “Tank Girl Vol. 1,” my philosophical friend got “Action Philosophers” for Christmas, my poet friend I showed “One Soul,” etc.
    4. If they like it, I recommend them something else they might like, and so forth. If not, well, whatever. I tried.

    As long as you’re not overbearing, a lot of people will be receptive to comics, especially if you can prove to them why they’re so good by only giving out the best ones, about things they’ll like.

    NEVER start with “Big Two” comics, unless it’s something easy and self-contained, like “DKR” or “Watchmen.” Just starting them out with “Amazing Spider-man” #6XX is just going to confuse them and lose their interest, similar to when my brother tried to get me in to Marvel by giving me a “Civil War” hardcover. I didn’t know who 80% of the characters were, and had no vested interest in what happened to them. The whole thing seemed a little silly to me, because I didn’t have the experience with the characters and their individual personalities that really makes the book effective. (Don’t worry, “Ultimate Spider-Man” and “Daredevil: The Man Without Fear” did the trick later on.)

  17. As usual, I like your writing on a sentence-by-sentence basis, but I don’t understand your argument at all or really what the point of the column is.

    You WANT to keep female readers elusive? Huh?

    Probably the most bizarre thing is that after seven years your wife has yet to ask you what you’re reading, and yet you seem to be reading all the time. Just… weird.

  18. I really liked this article, sort of like seeing the “new reader” thing from the other side. While I don’t want to touch the issues of trolling and sexism in fan communities with a ten foot pole (at least not at the moment!) I would like to provide some perspective as someone who really is that “elusive new female reader”…

    On the topic of people asking you “how do I get my wife/gf into these?!” – the thing that worked for me was seeing how comics were related to larger literary worlds. Superheroes dovetail well with classicel mythology, for instance. I may not have bee bought up on comics, but I teethed on Bullfinch’s. So, seeing this genre presented as not a closed off community but a large and vibrant part of literature primed the pump, so to speak.

    “Part of getting new people into comics has traditionally been a quest for validation on some level, as if convincing cool people that comics were cool would prove we weren’t insane” – this is exactly how I feel with my “fandoms”, such as 19th century lit or obscure artists. You can lead non-fans to the font of your fixation, whatever it is, but you cannot make them dip a toe in. Someone who’s really new to comics, or poetry, or art, whatever has to see what’s in it for them. Then they may try.

    Sadly, that is often complicated or outright prevented by lingering sexism, which I said I wasn’t going to get into. But real quick: one surefire way to get women – of all sorts – interested is to let them see what’s in it for them. And I’m not just talking subject matter of individual comics. Seeing articles like the above that call out exclusion behaviors, especially by male authors, is one step towards letting previously non-fan women know that there’s a place at the table for them!