In the past few weeks, you’ve probably seen links floating around about Paul Dini’s most recent appearance on the Fatman on Batman podcast. In this episode, Dini and Kevin Smith discuss the cancellation of Young Justice, and DC and Cartoon Network’s treatment of superhero cartoons specifically in relation to gender.
While it seems that neither Smith nor Dini have seen much of Young Justice, they defend it as a recent cartoon that followed the traditional Warner Brothers studio style of superhero storytelling: complex characters with a deep connection to creating a unique, but referential, canon with darker themes. The show was fairly popular online (if you look at fangroups on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook), though it didn’t garner the ratings that Cartoon Network was looking for. However, Dini says the ratings are not what caused the cancellation of the show:
DINI: “They’re all for boys ‘we do not want the girls’, I mean, I’ve heard executives say this, you know, not [where I am]but at other places, saying like, ‘We do not want girls watching this show.”
SMITH: “WHY? That’s 51% of the population.”
DINI: “They. Do. Not. Buy. Toys. The girls buy different toys. The girls may watch the show—” [transcript here]
Dini goes on to emphasizes that they are aiming for young male viewership, looking specifically for wacky humor, akin to the extremely successful Adventure Time. These shows, like Teen Titans Go (which has had notably few episode that feature Starfire or Raven), are purportedly not to feature cohesive storytelling and canonical nods, unlike the classic WB DC cartoons like Justice League, Batman: the Animated Series, and the original Teen Titans.
Kevin Smith goes on to suggest that girls should be sold shirts and umbrellas with the characters on them, and that there is no reason the show should be canceled because women like it. He goes on to say that he hates the corporate idea that “girls don’t read comics” and “don’t buy toys.” However, Smith himself has engaged in the “girls don’t read comics” rhetoric (maybe unwittingly) with his AMC series Comic Book Men, which initially filmed a pilot with a female commentator, who was later unceremoniously dropped. The newly filmed pilot focused on which superheroine the comic book men wanted to have sex with most, and mocking the single female customer who visited Secret Stash to (unsuccessfully) sell a toy.
The major problem with the assertion that girls don’t buy toys is that it’s just plain incorrect. If action figures are typically assigned as “male toys” and dolls are typically “female toys,” then just take a look at the Toy Industry Annual Sales data, where, in 2012, action figures made $1.39B in sales (a decline from 2011) and dolls made $2.69B in sales (which is a pretty significant rise compared to 2011). In addition, the Young Justice action figures had very high price points and were incredibly difficult to find.
If the action figures are part of the real issue, which Dini asserts they are, they DC and Cartoon Network should be making an effort to create and sell dolls. While there are some Tonner and Barbie dolls of DC characters, they’re usually priced very high. Frankly, I’m surprised that neither Marvel nor DC has made any recent effort to create “girl friendly” toys. Dolls are clearly a more successful industry, and with Mattel’s lines of “alternative” fashion dolls, Monster High and Ever After High, I am shocked that neither company has tried to capitalize on superhero fashion dolls, especially considering the amount of superhero-inspire fashion fan art there is.
I take Dini’s comments with a grain of salt, at least in relation to Young Justice. Since he was not involved in the show, there may be a lot of details that we are missing. However, Dini’s perspective also comes from his work at Cartoon Network with the show Tower Prep, which was canceled partially because of low ratings, but also, according to him, because it was too story driven and there was a large female fan base. Conversely, Adventure Time has a huge female fan base (and a surprisingly deep canon), and remains an extremely successful show in terms of ratings and merchandise. It may be a case where girls aren’t allowed to like superheroes, according to network executives, but, as Smith said, that’s 51% of the population that you are purposefully alienating.
DC’s Saturday morning block on Cartoon Network (DC Nation) featured a number of very popular female-led shorts, including Wonder Woman, Thunder and Lightning, Amethyst: Princess of Gem World, and Super Best Friends Forever, which had not only its own line of figurines, but also an NYCC exclusive figure. However, despite their online popularity, none of these shorts, despite their success, has seen any indication of either a comic book or cartoon series based on them.
I’m still holding out hope to see a Super Best Friends Forever series, but frankly, any female-led superhero cartoon could be treated as a huge success in an industry that has such an archaic attitude towards female viewership.