Tuesday, July 19, 2022

300% Increase in Boob Size on Comic Book Cover Art

Wonder Woman Comic Covers

While loading tens of thousands of comic book covers to PriceCharting’s new online comics price guide, we noticed that the portrayal of female characters seemed to become much more racy as the decades passed. Curiosity got the best of us so we ran a study to understand just what has changed about the female form in comics over time....you know, for science.

What we found was significant, but not unexpected.

Modern day covers feature busts that consume more than triple the cover space and show twice the amount of cleavage compared to comics from the mid 20th century. But that’s not all we found.


Wonder Woman Measurements Example
Methodology Example with Pixel Measurements

Before sharing our other insights, here’s how we got the data.

We selected three female-dominant comic book franchises that have represented large readerships over the past 4+ decades: Wonder Woman, Catwoman, and Red Sonja. We randomly selected ten covers from each decade of each comic. The covers needed to feature the characters’ full body. We then recorded pixel measurements for: breast height and width, cleavage width, waist width, hip width, and cover width. We compiled the data:

Wonder Woman: 88 covers (616 data points)
Catwoman: 35 covers (245)
Red Sonja: 59 covers (413)


Here’s what we found:

Comic Breast & Waiste Size - Wonder Woman, Catwoman, Red Sonja

Since the early era of female-dominant comics the amount of cover attention placed on the bust has steadily increased. The decade beginning 2010 was the most prominent decade for breasts as nearly 30% of the cover width was occupied by bosoms. Cover artists took great liberty with breasts in the decade beginning 2010 as both [% of Cover] and [% Cleavage] peaked during that time frame. Perhaps artists have since felt the pressure to “normalize” the look of their female characters, as both metrics have begun to recede moving into the 2020s.

We recorded [Hip-to-Waist Ratio] for these three characters as well and were surprised to observe not much change over time. We had guessed that women would have “filled out” in the waist since the early days where pencil-thin waists were all the rage.

We weren’t certain that these three characters represented larger trends in all female-forward series, so we added 12 other characters into the study, albeit with a smaller sample size. We randomly selected two covers across each decade for these new characters, and in total added 124 additional covers from our archive (868 data points). Adding them into the study with data sampled from the first three females we see some evident trends:

Comic Breast and Waist Size - All Comics

Filling in these other characters paints a more complete story of the key trends in how the portrayal of women in comics has evolved over time. Comparing modern day (2010+) to the early comics (1940-60), we observe from the green trendlines:

  • Busts occupy more than triple the cover space today
  • The amount of cleavage shown has more than doubled (cleavage of greater than 50% was not observed until the 1970s at which point it became relatively common)
  • Women actually did “fill out” in the waist over time (hip:waist ratio declined by ~15%)
  • Breast:Waist ratio has remained the same - as breasts have grown, so have waists

This study was a fun project we pulled together over the course of a couple of weeks in our spare time. It’s not been rigorously statistically tested, and the results could be sharpened with an expanded data set. Additionally, we’d love to run a similar study about how the male body dimensions have also adapted over time. All caveats aside, this first pass is a reliable early look at just how cover women have changed in the comic media’s eye over time. It all begs the question - Have illustrators hit their maximum allowable peak for racy imagery, or is there still more to come?

Catwoman Comic Covers
Catwoman Cover Art Over the Years
Red Sonja Comic Covers
Red Sonja Cover Art Over the Years

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

How Comic Books Can Recover from Declining Sales

So another MCU movie is out and you can’t be more excited. Well, we all know of the superheroes we see on the big screen, but what about the origins of those characters? Well, this might shock you, but many of those superheroes first appeared in comic books (shocking, we know). While it might not be news to some that superheroes first got their start in comic books, it might be alarming that the medium has been experiencing a rapid sales decline in recent years. But why is this happening? And what can be done to fix this problem? Well, that’s what we’re here to answer.

Comic books have been around in their modern format since 1933. They were mainly popular among kids and young adults. Throughout the decades, the medium grew (as well as the age of the audience). Many adults would read collect, and invest in comic books, and the medium would peak in sales during the 1990s with individual books like Spawn and X-Men reaching print runs in the millions (a feat that has never since been accomplished). Comic books would experience a crash in the late-90s but would come back with the support of Hollywood. Today comics are popular to collect, but new books aren’t selling like they used to, despite billion-dollar movies. Sales continue to decline and the medium is in danger. How can this be possible? How can superhero movies do so well, while new comics struggle?

This can be attributed to several factors. One is that print media isn’t as popular anymore. Many popular magazines have stopped print publications and have switched to digital format. Comic books have followed suit, but there are still some that prefer that feel of holding a comic in your hand while reading it (we’re one of them). The problem is that physical comic books cost $3.99 and many people would rather read a pirated version for free on the internet (although some sign up for the DC and Marvel digital services). There is also the competition of Japanese manga that appeals more to a younger audience, while western comic books tend to attract an older audience (effectively splitting the potential readers).

Now for the million-dollar question; how can comic books recover from declining sales? There are already events such as Free Comic Books Day and Halloween Comic Fest to help encourage new readers, but what else can be done? Well, the answer has a few parts.

First, comic books need more cross-appeal. What this means is that books need to appeal to people who are fans of other media. A good example was when Marvel did the hip-hop variant covers a few years ago. Many fans of the hip-hop genre were drawn to these covers, which led these books to sell well upon release and on the aftermarket.

DC also did a great crossover between Fornite and Batman, which had a downloadable code for a Harley Quinn Fortnite skin. We saw new fans of comic books appear in front of our eyes through their method. Kids who were into Fortnite bought these books and some read and enjoyed them. This was a great attempt at bringing in a younger audience. Comic book companies need more of this cross-appeal with things like video games (which is a medium that just keeps growing). One idea the piggyback on the Fortnite crossover, would be to have more video game DLC when a new game comes out. What this means is when a new superhero video game is released (ex: the upcoming Gotham Knights game), a good idea would be to add a new downloadable costume (ex: an alternate Nightwing costume) that is only available through the purchase of certain comics.

Comic book adaptations of video games have always done well, and we haven’t see too many in the past few years. Fans of games like Last of Us and Resident Evil would love additional content in the form of comic books to add to the lore of their favorite games.

Another method to help bring in new readers (which would help declining sales) would be to write stories that appeal to younger audiences. You can take examples from anime and manga for this one. Marvel did a good job with Strange Academy which mimicked My Hero Academia in a sense. There are plenty of other ideas that can be lifted from manga and anime, which can effectively bring in younger readers who can become lifelong comic fans.

Or how about this idea? A crossover of comic book and anime properties? Who wouldn’t want to see a Justice League/Dragon Ball Z comic book published by DC, which has Superman go up against Goku in the fan fight we’ve all dreamt of? That would get fans talking about comics again.

You don’t have to look far for ideas on how to help comics recover from low sales. Just look around and see what’s popular today and try to incorporate that into your books. It may sound like a major task, but some of it has already been done. Companies like DC and Marvel just need to look at these successes and continue to implement them into their books. We would love to see comics grow and a younger audience take to reading and collecting the books. However, unless something is done, then we might see the end of new comics as we know them.



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