Comics with strong female protagonists have become more common.

Comic books used to only interest boys, but now people of both sexes and all ages attend events like Comic Con at the Direct Energy Centre, happening this weekend. You can meet SAW star Costas Mandylor and other actors from the SAW horror movie franchise.

What does SAW have to do with comic books? According to Wizard Entertainment Founder and CEO Grareb Shamus, it’s all in the characters.

“People hunger for characters, and conventions like these celebrate character culture,” says Shamus by phone from New York. “More people know about Spiderman and Batman today through toys and movies than they do through comics. Not long ago, once a guy got married or got a job, he stopped being passionate about the characters. Now all sorts of people love them through television and video games.”

Essentially, fandom doesn’t stop at adulthood anymore. That’s a huge demographic shift. Movies about a comic character, like 1978’s Superman, used to be a box office risk. Now with blockbusters like Watchmen and Dark Knight, comic-based flicks are a staple of the industry.

Comic characters have busted through the gender barrier, too. “I’ve seen an enormous increase in girl attendees at these conventions, “says Gail Simone, who writes DC’s Birds of Prey and Wonder Woman, among many others. “These girls and women are not being dragged there by boyfriends. Not anymore. They’re interested in the comics themselves, and other aspects of comic culture. There’s been an explosion of diversity overall.”

Simone also says these conventions are good for the artists and writers, too.

“I work at home by myself, but at conventions I get to meet the people who know my work and like it. That’s inspiring.”

And with this widening of public interest comes changes in the writing for these mega popular characters.  They’ve become more sophisticated than the old Archies or the sillier Spiderman from yesteryear. The characters and themes are more mature now, like how Dark Knight Returns dealt with issues like aging. Or how Watchmen dealt with justice.

These richer characters and themes broaden the appeal of comics—they’re growing with their readership. “Today, people go to these conventions for different reasons,” says Shamus. “These conventions are great social events now. Plus among all the movies, film stars and games and figurines and other things, there’s tons of stuff to discover. But it’s the characters that keep them all coming. “

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