Are You Buying Comics for Women?

A good friend and colleague, Eva Volin, posed a smart and challenging question for librarians during the recent BEA panel Hot Fall Graphic Novels for Libraries: how many librarians are actively collecting graphic novels written for women?

One of the titles she included as a runner-up for the “Hot” list is a classic, soon-to-be published yaoi manga series Kizuna by Kazuma Kadoka. Yaoi, or boys love, manga is a subgenre featuring romances between two men, aimed at female audiences. Kizuna is a classic of the type, brimming with romance and drama (even melodrama), and Kadoka’s style develops beautifully over the long-running series. Yaoi is a strong seller among women, periodically appearing in the Amazon top 100 sellers for manga and even cracking the New York Times Best Seller list. In my own library, which is one of the very few that purchases yaoi, they are consistently top circulators, right alongside Captain America, Ghost in the Shell, and The Push Man and Other Stories.

Librarians may balk at purchasing yaoi partly because it often features sex and, in the case of this subgenre, the lovers are two men. Yes, there is sex in Kizuna. Yaoi titles can be very explicit, but Kizuna doesn’t push beyond what’s seen in series many libraries collect including Old Boy, Vagabond, Lady Snowblood, Powers, Sandman, Watchmen, and Y the Last Man. The fact that sex and romance is part and parcel of a female fantasy make Kizuna no different from the romance novels we all collect in piles. When women represent over 51% of the population, and gay people are estimated as representing up to 5%, we should be very careful not to dismiss a significant portion of our readers.

It’s true that a few titles in the yaoi genre show adult men and teenaged boys involved in relationships and some skirt the edges of what is acceptable to American audiences, but don’t write off the entire genre because of a few titles (reviews will point out such elements if that’s a concern).

So, who is buying for women comics fans; not teenage girls, not tweens, but women? Librarians who buy graphic novels are aware of the major audiences: teenagers of both genders and, for adult collections, adult men. When fans, including women, are clamoring for the latest Ex Machina, Iron Man, and 20th Century Boys volume, it’s easy to overlook other interests. Are you building a graphic novel collection that everyone will want to browse, or just the most vocal fans and obvious readers?

When I speak to women patrons in my library about comics, they are clearly interested in titles aimed at them. I’ve let them know I do the buying for the graphic novel section. As a result, a few women, from their twenties to their fifties, now approach me to request titles from creators like Lucy Knisley, Marjane Satrapi, Rutu Modan, Posy Simmonds, Alison Bechdel, and Hope Larson. They request the giant multi-creator Tori Amos comics anthology Comic Book Tattoo. They get excited when they see our collection has josei (women’s) manga series including Yayoi Ogawa’s Tramps Like Us and Fumi Yoshinaga’s All My Darling Daughters. Many young women gravitate toward the yaoi titles we collect, relishing the romance, and I’ve had a number of requests for more titles from both women and one young gay fan.

Many of these women don’t realize what’s out there for them to read. The manga lovers still indulge in girls manga, but delight in realizing there are  titles written for older audiences. Readers of western comics who started with Bechdel’s Fun Home or Satrapi’s Persepolis branch out to the Dykes to Watch Out For collections and Embroideries. They discover these titles in the library, but I’m willing to bet that, if we didn’t have them on the shelf, they’d simply stop looking.

Think about Eva’s challenge as it relates to your own collection. Which graphic novels do you have that were written for women?

6 Responses to “Are You Buying Comics for Women?”

  1. Meghan Says:

    It’s funny. I went to purchase some of these titles and a few others featured on a recent earlyword posting about manga and graphic novels through Baker & Taylor only to find the publisher completely out of stock. What a shame that you’re giving so many great titles recognition and we can’t get them in the library because of supply issues.

  2. Robin Brenner Says:

    Meghan, just to ask, which titles were you having trouble finding? Kizuna is not listed in vendors as of yet (but it is slated to come out in October of this year, so keep an eye out.)

    Tramps Like Us is the one title I did mention here that is harder to get — it was published by Tokyopop, but it was not a huge seller, and I believe it’s hit the point where it’s hard to get. I was able to get all of the volumes a year ago through my vendors, but I’m not sure how far afield (i.e. possibly to Amazon) that my ordering department had to go to get all of the volumes.

    I will say, though, one of the hardest things about dealing with comics publishing in general is how quickly titles disappear and go out of print. Very few of the manga or comics publishers really seem to understand that we libraries need books to stay in print for longer than six months.
    The rest, though, should certainly be available, so I’d be interested in hearing what isn’t in stock, and perhaps see if I can understand why it’s so hard to get.

  3. lisav Says:

    Even though this area of collection development is not in my purview (I only buy through 8th grade for a school library) I appreciate your concise yet thorough reasoning for seeking out and collecting this genre (and sub genre) I am marking this piece so that it will be required reading for a collection development class that I lecture in as a guest.

  4. F Craye Says:

    Here are some of the graphic novel/comic artists I love, outside of the ones you mentioned (admittedly, I don’t read manga):

    Carol Tyler, Carrie McNinch, Megan Kelso, Miss Lasko-Gross, Lynda Barry, Erika Moen, Kate Beaton, Liz Baillie, Diane DiMassa, Lise Myhre, Ellen Forney, Paige Braddock.

    That said, these are from my personal collection, and not my library.

  5. Robin Brenner Says:

    F Craye, I’m curious — have you ever seen any of these titles in your library or library network? Have you suggested your library buy them? I find making suggestions for purchase are of the best way to give librarians the heads up that there are fans out there that want these titles.

    Also, I bought Kate Beaton’s Never Learn Anything from History and donated it to my library, just so we’d have it on the shelf. :D

    Ellen Forney is another favorite of mine, and that reminds me that I need to reorder I Love Led Zeppelin.

  6. Robin Brenner Says:

    lisav, thanks so much for the compliment! I hope it’s helpful for the upcoming class — hopefully it will at least start a good discussion.