Fresh Air

In science fiction and related fields, it was once possible to smell demographic changes. The old Forbidden Planet basement used to stink of wet dog, Wotsits and monosodium glutamate sweat. Suddenly, in the mid-1990s, it began to smell of peaches, lemons and vanilla. Had they finally fixed the air conditioning? Nope, but The X Files had brought in a sudden influx of female fans, and they… you know… washed.

Fandom’s fragrance has improved on numerous occasions. Buffy brought in another whiff of fresh air. The Lord of the Rings movies brought in a few Orlando Bloomers. But it’s anime and manga that are causing, and will continue to cause the greatest shift.

Get out of the manga ghetto and into general science fiction fandom, and you hear the same story all over the Western world. Manga fans are dominating convention costuming, much to the mystification of the general SF audience, who have no idea who these ninja, princesses and robots are supposed to be. They are outnumbering “traditional” attendees at some SF cons by five- and ten-to-one. SF fandom hasn’t seen an influx so huge since the 1970s, when old hands made dire prophecies about the number of “media” people crowing out the SF literature crowd.

In the last ten years, I’ve seen convention-going girls grow from an isolated couple of loners enjoying the attention, to entire glomp-gangs of active fans. Male/female gender parity in UK manga fandom is predicted for 2009 – an unprecedented swing in demographics. For this, we have bookshops to thank, or rather, the decision to sell manga books not only to comic stores where many angels feared to tread, but also to traditional book stores, where any fool could rush in. More importantly, female readers could browse with less fear of being hassled by the Comic Book Guy, and entire new genres in girls’ comics became available. These new genres, and these new readers, will continue to affect the comics world beyond manga itself. Which is nice.

(This article first appeared in Neo #25, 2006. The long-awaited 2009 gender parity appears to be upon us)

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