Who’s your target? Comic Cover Anatomy, pt. 2

or ‘Why the Spiderwoman cover didn’t work…’

Say you have a company that publishes comic books and you’ve been in business for decades. The characters for your company are iconic and embedded in American pop culture. There have been TV shows, movies, and books about the characters your company owns.

If we bear in mind that you’re publishing comics, you want to keep in mind who your audience is and how to attract new readers. Characters can get old and stale and readers can get a “been there, done that” attitude over time.

If you have a company that wants to attract younger readers, older readers and both male and female readers, you’d have to remind your artists and writers to keep the target audience in mind. Granted, you don’t want to limit an artists creativity, but you do want them to keep in mind that things need to appeal to a general readership.

If you want there to be blood and gore, nudity, criminal acts, drug use or anything of the kind on a cover of a comic book, you’re going to limit who your reader is, or most likely get a readership of the lowest common denominator. – “Hey, we’re a capitalist society so anything that makes a buck, right? Right?”

Enter the Spider Woman

Comparing a Spiderman pose to a Spiderwoman pose.

Comparing a Spiderman pose to a Spiderwoman pose.


When Marvel rereleased Spiderwoman #1, there was much controversy over the cover depicted above right. There was nerd rage pushback against the complaints and outcries against the Spiderwoman cover and some compared the Spiderman image on the left to the Spiderwoman on the right.

Ugh… really?


Marvel got the hint. They now have redesigned Spiderwoman to have a more general appeal. Who says companies don’t respond to their readers?

This made me think about focus and intent in comic book creation, especially covers. When you look at either image consider where the artist wants you to look. The focus on the Spiderman cover is on his face, the focus on the Spiderwoman cover is on her butt. This, to me implies that the artists had an intention when they created the art. The Spiderman artist wanted you to focus on him capturing the bad guys, the Spiderwoman artist… made softcore porn.

Look, if Marvel wants to make adult books for adults, primarily male adults, its their call, but is that who they really want reading their books? Really? Well, long story short, Marvel heard the outrage and responded promptly, by making Spiderwoman’s costume more generic and fan friendly. Smart.

However, this begs a question, is it okay for a female superhero to be sexy and appeal mostly to a male audience? Sure, but the thing to keep in mind is that it may ostracize female readers. Make the female character too cheesecake, and don’t be surprised if a lot of women/girls aren’t reading your book.

Classic Spiderwoman characters. Sexy, dramatic, and action packed.

Classic Spiderwoman characters. Sexy, dramatic, and action packed. Sexy is fine, but keep in mind how your poses will be interpreted.

I think it would be a smart idea to have female characters who are female, smart, self-reliant, strong, brave, and capable of taking on a horde of Hydra agents single-handedly. Let’s look at the original Spider-Woman books. She’s sexy and capable. The major companies, I think, have tried to overcompensate by making their female characters hypermasculine. – Kind of missed the point there guys. Good that they are trying to include strong female characters, but women are women, not guys with boobs. Sure Spiderwoman kicking butt on par with Spiderman is great, but Jessica Drew (Spiderwoman’s alter ego) is not Peter Parker. She’s a grown woman who would have her own needs, wants and dreams. Women see the world differently than men do, that’s what makes them interesting and unique compared to men.

I’m only using Spiderwoman as an example of intention and focus. There are plenty of really bad, over the top exaggerations of female anatomy and emphasis on women’s sexuality, but both Marvel and DC have been making strides to bring female readers into comic book shops and buying books.

I love the medium of comics and would like to see it expand and grow, not die out. Comics add a dimension to storytelling that make the experience of reading personal. Superhero comics in particular play with our fantasies and with aspects of power and what to do with it. Let’s figure out how to bring more people back to the books.

That said, should comics only be about superheroes? Can they be about other things and still be good? Yep… but that’s another post.


(BTW: The Spiderwoman cover depicted above was an alternate cover and not the primary one. The first book sold 93,723 copies in November 2014. The most recent sales numbers as of this posting were for Feb. 2015; Spiderwoman #4 sold 36,058 copies. I suspect this title will be canceled soon. Sad, Spiderwoman’s character can have a lot of intrigue, suspense and espionage goodness.

This begs another topic: Comics are pandering with reboots to keep readership up. Can’t blame them, but how about focusing on getting more readers. Try telling compelling stories that get people to want to read the books. – Yet another topic for another day.)

This entry was posted in Comics, critique, heroes, pop culture, superheroes and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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