Advice for a comic series
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Hi all, I'm working on a comic series called 'Save The Songbirds' about a group of songbirds who fight against predators who would prey on them and others. I created the characters when I was about 11 years old and I'm now 26, so I've been working on this idea on and off for a long time. Also, as I have grown so have the characters with me, and I like them very much.
But as I've got older one aspect of the comic has started to give me anxiety. I have seven main characters and they are all men. Is this a problem? I'm very much aware that there has been a distinct lack of female characters in stories over the years, and this needs to be addressed today, and is being addressed by lots of stories like Hilda which is great.
I have other ideas I want to produce in the future where the main character or one of the main characters is a woman, but when I created these characters I was an 11 year old boy and it just didn't even occur to me to make any of my central characters women. The reason this gives me anxiety is that I worry an all male cast series might not sell to publishers today and that it would come under strong criticism for the gender imbalance, but I also want to show good female characters too.
It's not that the book is devoid of female characters, there are lots of female characters I like very much, but with having seven main characters, it will focus very heavily on them. I honestly don't want to change them and I would find it hard to, but I want this book to find an audience and be something publishers would be interested in. What are your thoughts on this? Am I worrying about nothing? Would there be an issue if it was the other way around? I suppose it could just appeal more to boys like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
I would love to know your thoughts and advice. Thank you.
Heather Boyd last edited by
@BenBernardSmith I don't have an issue with them being men especially with your story, it resonates with you more strongly because you have grown up with them as you have said. Just vary up your female characters (i.e. not making them all the predators). I mean even if they aren't your main characters you can include them as friends and wives (one wife, lols). And ensure all your main men aren't all against women lols - a little tension is fine -men aren't all the same lols -as women aren't either.
If you have other ideas with female characters as the main characters that speaks to your openness and perhaps if you combined two stories into one like a cross over -they do with shows then that could be interesting.
Honestly I don't think this is quite as big an issue since they are birds, not humans. But do make sure you're not overly attached to your original idea you had when you were 11 and you're ready to make changes if the story requires it - changing the gender of a character or any other change. But if it's truly not necessary, don't sweat it
@Heather-Boyd Hi Heather, thank you that's helpful to hear. No, there are some female songbirds and other 'prey' characters who are female, as well as male and female predators, and wives and girlfriend characters to come! Thank you for taking time to reply!
@NessIllustration Hi, thanks for replying. I had that same thought at one point, with them being birds, so that's helpful to hear. I have had to change some things over the years - it is hard, especially when characters are concerned, but prepared to do it for the good of the story. But I do find it harder with these characters so glad you don't see them as a problem!
I agree with @NessIllustration --make sure you're creating a project that you honestly think is viable, not just a recreation of a story from your 11-year-old self that appeals to your nostalgia... There's a reason why a lot of 11-year-olds aren't famous writers.
The anxiety you feel now will not go away until you address it. If you're feeling it, there will be readers (and publishers) that will feel it, too. So you have to decide how you're going to make that anxiety go away. Really it comes down to the stories you're telling--are they stronger being told with all males?
I think, in today's world, there probably needs to be a clear reason why they're all males, not just because they started that way when you were little. As a male myself, I'm noticing those things more and more and questioning why. You obviously are, too. The real question is: "If you can, what is the compelling and absolute reason notto?"
Susan Marks last edited by
@BenBernardSmith I really like those birds!
I agree with many of the comments. Write the story that is "true" to your idea, and write authentically. If all the birds are male (and as pointed out they are birds)--maybe there is a "why" they're all male. Do their sisters do other important work? Are they result of some weird genetic mishap, perhaps related to some of the predator or environment activity? Will none of the girl-birds join them for some reason? In other words, I think you could make this aspect of your story a "feature."
I'll love to see how this progresses.
@Coreyartus Hi there, thanks for the reply. The story has changed a lot over the years, and is definitely far removed from the original story I had when I was 11, or even ones over the years since then, but yes the characters have stayed very similar to their original concepts.
I suppose the compelling reason to keep them all male is that the first story of the series has the theme of 'brothers' running through it, with one of the characters losing a brother and then gaining many brothers by the end, and I don't necessarily think it would be as strong with the 'sibling' theme instead.
I also think there shouldn't be a problem with having stories that have all male main characters or all female, because it creates different dynamics to mixed gender groups, and that can be interesting. But yes, I suppose I need to think about whether it makes it better having only male main characters, or whether it would be better with a mixed group.
@Susan-Marks Thank you Susan, and thanks for your reply.
Yes, I have been thinking about if I can make it a feature of the story. Currently the seven of them get thrown together by sort of bumping into one another, which doesn't exactly give a 'why' to them all being male.
There are other prey that are female and some good predators too, so there are female characters, and I wonder if I just need to make sure they are given a good amount of prominence in the story too.
Like others have said, I don't personally mind that they're all men, especially because they're birds, I'm sure some publishers wouldn't have a problem with this either especially because they are trying to encourage boys to read more.
But just incase you are asked to change a couple of them to females, why not just do a version on the side with a couple of the birds being girls, even very tomboy-ish girls if need be, and you never know you may actually like the change and it might really improve your overall story. The one with the orange Mohawk would look great as a really punk rock girl-bird haha!
@hannahmccaffery Hi Hannah, thanks for the reply. That's helpful to hear, I wasn't aware publishers are trying to get boys to read more, but I suppose with the rise of Fortnite, among other things, that's not completely surprising!
I have been trying to create some female main character birds, just to test it, but I have to say it's very hard when you've known a group of characters one way for so long! But you're right, it would be good to have them just in case it's a problem.
ArtofAleksey last edited by
Hey ben, I’m planning to do a couple of webcomics too. And i agree with what other people have mentioned. You do have to think about the implications though and that can give me anxiety too. In my research I came across this
This is an important topic in comics today (even webcomics) and even if you decide not to use female characters in your group of song birds you should be aware of the implications of how you write the female characters you do decide to put in the story.
I think it’s important to make sure the female characters you do put into the comic aren’t represented by negative tropes and are interesting without only being a wife or a girlfriend. Take some time and think about it. As a guy, it’s tough for me to write female characters too but it shouldn’t be avoided.
If i read your comic and I wonder “why are non of the hero birds female?” And the answer I get isn’t good enough for me I will think it’s lazy writing but that’s me. You can be certain though if you’re asking this question about your own comic, readers will too. And especially editors because they read and write soo much.
Some questions to think about:
Why are you hesitant about changing the gender of the birds? (You dont need to but you should really think about this)
Are there going to be female characters in your comic and do they fee like characters and their lives dont revolve around the male characters?
What is the message you are sending with the dynamic between the male and female characters? (Even if the message is unintentional, How people interpret art also affects what your art represents)
Writing is an anxiety driven process so let me know if you have things you wanna spitball and see if it sticks well.
When you created the comics as an 11 year old, your world probably easily revolved around the adventures of other boys like you (even if they were birds) but now that you are 26, your hesitance suggests to me that you have come to realize that the world is a much more diverse place, and not just in terms of gender. Maybe your struggle is a result of knowing that as much as you love those characters, you also have a responsibility as an artist to try to represent not just yourself and your own experiences but the diversity of experiences of your possible audience. Including women as main characters isn't just a politically correct thing to do but is something that allows both male and female readers to develop empathy for the struggles and heroics of people unlike themselves. Your characters may be birds but they will be characters that you want people to identify with, to see themselves in, and to empathize with, and even to be challenged by. One of the best ways of writing quality material is to develop characters that challenge you yourself, that are not always easy for you to write because you really have to try to get out of your own experience and into theirs. I think making some of the seven birds female would do that for you and improve the comic.
andersoncarman last edited by
My opinion is that you should make the book YOU want to make. I understand needing to change with times, be sensitive to current topics and being inclusive of minorities and the oppressed but you are at your best when making a story You are passionate about. You shouldn't make a story out of obligation or least of all fear of criticism. Not everyone is going to like your book. And that is okay. I've heard a lot of creators say this before "Make the story you want to read." If that means it is an all-male cast, then cool, if not, then cool.
If you try to shoehorn a female character in, your readers will be able to tell. It will be obvious and probably disliked.
That said, if you have zero female characters, then I have some questions about how your story works because half(ish) of the world is female, even the birds...
If there is a take away from this comment I hope it's this: Write your story, not the story someone tells you that you should write. Still, be tasteful and tactful and always be a responsible storyteller
Susan Marks last edited by
I'm interested in hearing about other aspects of your story beyond the gender of the gang-of-birds. What else do you have cooking?
@Aleksey Thanks, that's all really helpful! Yes, I've heard of the bechdel test, and I think it's a really important and helpful thing to point to problems in fiction, however I think it should be a guideline and not an actually 'test', because otherwise you get these really odd conversations put into works just so it can be passed. That kind of shows the writers needed to think more about their female characters to begin with, but you get my point. (Band of Brothers doesn't pass the Bechdal test and that's OK).
I have quite a few female characters who are not connected to the main male characters by family or potential love interest. I agree, it would be bad if they all were.
I think thematically it works them being all male, and for this first story it will be more heavily male, but as the series goes on, there will be a larger female presence I think.
You're very right that writing is an anxiety driven process! I may take you up on that.
ArtofAleksey last edited by
I understand that it’s a guideline and not a rule. At the end of the day you make the decisions of course. What I’m saying is you still gotta think about the implications and your reader audience.
Band of Brothers was a historical drama taking place during WW2 based on journals and document entries, you’re writing a cartoon comic with superhero birds. Of course it’s your choice on how you wanna approach it and Im not saying you need to change up your main bird line up or anything I think thats fine. All I’m saying is If a little girl picks up your comic, how would she feel? How would parents of little girls feel about this comic? That kinda stuff
@demotlj Hi there, thanks for the reply! I definitely have realised more about the world as I've grown older and I do want to reflect that in my comic, but I do also want to remain true to the vision I've had for so long, so it's a hard thing to think through. I think if you have an all male cast or all female cast, or a mix, you're going to get something different with each. Not bad, just different. Ocean's Eleven and Ocean's Eight bring something different with their single gender main characters, even though they are very similar in plotting. And I think The Hobbit would be different if it's all male main characters were all women instead.
I think diversity is important, but I don't necessarily think there needs to be diversity in everything, as long as you give a diverse range of creators the space to be creative. In the same way that Friends doesn't have a diverse cast in terms of race, neither does Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but Fresh Prince was diverse as a piece of fiction, because it was a rarity having an all black cast of main characters. And when I was growing up watching it, I didn't find it harder to relate to the characters because of their race. It's harder to relate with gender, which is why I'm concerned, but I've watched things that were predominantly female and enjoyed them too.
I suppose my main concern is whether it would turn lots of potential readers away. It very well could do, but I know a girl who loves the Captain Underpants books, and they have mostly male characters. So I think I'm just going to stick with them all being male, but just make sure I have good female characters in the stories too. But I'm still thinking it though! Thanks for taking the time to give your thoughts. :smiling_face_with_open_mouth_smiling_eyes: Also, I looked at your instagram, very nice paintings!
@andersoncarman Hi there, thanks for replying! This is what I've held in my mind for the longest time, which is why up till now I've not changed them. I suppose I'm just worried about turning away potential readers or scaring off publishers. But I wonder if I'm making a mountain out of a molehill here.
I am worried about shoehorning in female characters. I find if characters grow organically, they become better characters, instead of thinking, 'now I need a female character' or vice versa. Having said that, it's obviously now become something I'm more aware of, which I do think is good, and yes there are female characters in the story, as you point out it wouldn't be realistic to have none! And I wouldn't like that anyway!
At the end of the day, yes you're right, it needs to be my story. Thank you.
@Susan-Marks Thanks for asking Susan! Over Inktober last year I did some setting design, which shows you some aspects of the world. They are a bit rough round the edges as it was Inktober haha!