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I had a fun time at NYCC, I got to meet some great artists, a bunch of creators I know from Twitter, meet some readers and hang with some fellow bloggers. Sure it was incredibly crowded, and the network sucked and the food is expensive but that’s just about any popular convention.
But still I left the show puzzled. And what I’m puzzled about is why there is such a dichotomy between who we hear is buying comics, and I mean monthly comics from the major publishers, and who is showing up at this convention, going to comics panels and spending money on comics.
We’re told it’s mostly men and that women are the minority; a nice to have that is not a focus of sales.
Certainly a look at the comic creators who were “guests” at the show should have told me what I was in for. As I wrote before the show of the thirty-two “Spotlight Guests” not one was a woman. And less than 10% of the invited comics guests were woman (although since I wrote that post the total number rose from 10 to 14 guests).
But as I walked around the halls I saw so, so many women. The same on the convention floor. And I’m sure many were there for the entertainment panels like Park Avenue or for Anime and Manga. But I saw a lot of women cosplaying as comic characters from Marvel and DC. And, no, they were not all Catwoman and Black Widow from the movies. And flipping through long boxes. And getting comics signed by creators and artists.
And when I sat in the few DC panels I attended, I saw the same diversity in the those audiences. In fact when I went to the Grant Morrison panel (which was a Friday panel but was still crowded) I had women sitting on either side of me. On my left was a teenage girl who seemed so overwhelmed to be there she couldn’t speak; her mother, who clearly was there for her daughter, spoke for her. On the other side of me two women, one a women of color, who discussed with me what were their favorite Grant Morrison works.
And that wasn’t the only panel like that. I went to the new 52 panel on Saturday and I saw lots of women. The same with the panel that focused on bringing Wonder Woman issue from concept to page.
Of course, while I saw women in the hallways and on the show floor and in the audience at panels, I saw fewer on the dais of the comic publishers.
For some it made sense. While you could point to the irony of an all-male Wonder Woman panel it was easy to explain; Wonder Woman currently has an all-male team from editor to colorist.
That’s not to say there weren’t women on any panels. The new 52 panel had Christy Marx and editor Bobbie Chase. And Amanda Conner was on the Before Watchmen panel. And they had Karen Berger moderate the all male Vertigo panel.
But it was still a lot of male panelists. After a while of seeing that it got, well, tiresome. It’s not that I don’t like and enjoy the work of many of those male creators, but going to another DC panel with a dais of dudes … meh. So on Sunday I decided I would skip the DC panels and seek out alternatives where there was more representation. And, lucky me, both Image and Marvel had panels focusing on women in comics.
The Image panel was led by PR and Marketing Director Jennifer de Gruzman and included some of the most talented women in comics right now - Amy Reeder (Halloween Eve), Fiona Staples (Saga), Ming Doyle (the upcoming Mara), Alex DeCampi (Valentine), Christine Larsen (Valentine), and Jordie Bellaire (The Manhattan Projects).
That’s a pretty impressive set of creators no matter what gender they are. Staples, in particular, was having a huge show promoting the new trade of Saga which with writer Brian K. Vaughan.
The panel began with each women dicussing their entrance into comics. Interestingly none of them used the traditional “submission process” to get their foot in the door but found other ways into the industry.
Doyle pointed out as result “we draw people the way we want to draw people and how we observe people looking.” The issue of compromising their style to fit in with the house style of the big two was mentioned and Bellaire said when she first started working with Marvel she was encourage to color to make the cleavage more noticable but fellow colorist Matt Wilson told that not to do it “you keep doing exactly what you want to do and eventually they will want you for you.”
During the panel the women spoke about how the approached female characters - what makes women sexy. DeCampi said the woman “must have agency” and “sexy outfits have to obey the law of gravity.” Staples said “storytelling is my first priority” and she doesn’t go for sexy poses or brokeback and tries to do it “through facial expressions.”
Staples discussed the differences between how women and men are portrayed in comics in describing how she developed the leads of Saga, Alana and Marco. Vaughan gave her direction only that they are an “attractive couple” but Staples said for women in the media there is a “very narrow range of bodies and facial features and skin colors that we see so women have to fit a much narrower ideal” but when it comes to male sex symbols it can anyone from “Liam Neeson to Adrien Brody to Michael Clark Duncan. there’s a huge amount of variety.”
You can listen to the entire panel here and I highly recommend it.
Given that this was an all-female panel an interesting discussion came up when a young man asked about event a MoCCA which had been open only to women. (I think he might be referring to the “Drink and Draw like a Lady Event). The question seemed to be about whether such “women only” events hurt women
He barely finished his question when Alex DeCampi interrupted him and said
This is a privilege thing where there was one female only party and he’s bummed he couldn’t go. My issue is things like MorrisonCon that did not have a single female speaker. People say “lots of girls went” and I say that’s not excuse it was a sausage party at the tables. There is still so much both deliberate and accidental sexism, racism and mysogyny in comics that occasionally a group of minorites in comics get together and decide to hang out together well frankly, fuck you, that’s all right.
There was applause from the audience but it was clear not the entire panel was comfortable with DeCampi’s comment. Larsen said disagreed and said she didn’t like saying you can’t come because you’re male or female or “especially MOCA which is focused on alternative comics where women have been since the 60s. I feel the rise of women in comics is the rise of the independent comics.” There was also some eyebrow raising and glances between some of the other participants following DeCampi’s remark but I’m not sure whether that it was because of what she said or the force with which she delivered it. And again just a bit of irony that the question was asked at an all-female panel.
While I enjoyed the entire Image panel the most enjoyable moment was when the panelists began throwing out the names of female creators they liked or recommended. You could sense the enthusiasm from the women for their fellow creators and the desire to make sure their favorites got a shout out. There was definitely a sense of community.
So this panel did much to improve my mood.
And from there I went to the Women of Marvel panel. The room was even more filled then the Image panel and featured an entire dais of women who, despite it being the morning after a night of so many parties, were filled with enthusiasm. As was their audience.
Led by editor Jeanine Schaeffer the panel included creators Majorie Liu, Janet Lee and Jordie Bellaire (who ran over from the Image panel) along with editors Lauren Sankovitch and Sana Amanat. Rounding out the panel was Judy Stephens who does photography and social and by video and who was dressed as Captain Marvel and the current Captain Marvel creator, a traveling elsewhere Kelly Sue DeConnick, on video.
It was an entertaining hour filled with laughs, claps and one “Awwwww” moment as a little girl told the panel that she wanted to draw comics but felt that she wasn’t very good. It was wonderful to see the panelists tripping over each other to tell the girl to keep going. For me it was a dose of girl power as invigorating as a double expresso.
The issue about the need for a panel of this type came up and Schaeffer said that it angered her that someone even asked the question. She asked the audience whether they wanted the panel and there was resounding “yes” and clapping.
Amanat said, “the perception is that men are running Marvel and they are running the company so we need to show the female face. We live in a world where we don’t have a female president.” She added “comics is a boy’s club.” Liu chimed in saying that she had come from romance publishing where there were lots of women “but I got to comics and it was all dudes.”
And if you look at the majority of panels outside those focusing on women, it still is when it comes to the big publishers. At least Image and Marvel worked around it. Why doesn’t DC do a women of DC panel at cons? The Marvel female editors at their panel said they are the ones who want to put the panel together; perhaps there isn’t the desire at DC. Or perhaps at a show where Nicola Scott, Gail Simone and Ann Nocenti aren’t attending it isn’t feasible. But there have been shows where there’s been more representation and there hasn’t been such a panel. And I don’t want to single out DC, as all-male panels happen regularly from other publishers too.
But then for some female creators, Women in Comics panels aren’t a solution and instead are a problem. Here’s Hope Larson:
I’m not sure exactly what she feels its a victory for as it is clear that without such panels there is still a problem of panel gender diversity. Perhaps the issue that female creators are “othered” by making gender the center of discussion? But to me, given the problems, that’s a bit like ignoring the elephant in the room. This is, after all, still an ongoing issue and isn’t new to NYCC 2012. I’ve written about it many, many times. Last year at NYCC DC raised eyebrows when it pulled Amy Reeder off a panel minutes before it started leaving an all male panel. Earlier this year Mark Millar’s Kapow was called out for lack of female guests. Paul Cornell now will not appear on panels that are not 50% female and will offer his seat to a female creator to attempt “panel parity” (Cornell wasn’t at NYCC this year). As touched upon in the Image panel, Grant Morrison’s MorrisonCon found room for a variety of guests including for Max Landis but had no female creators. No one wants female creators to be relegated to separate but equal panels but is no representation at all, which we are still seeing, a solution? I don’t believe so.
I’m sure that there are people who will say that lack of diversity in panels simply reflects the industry. Not always true. I’m sure there will be those who will say they despise quotas of any form. I don’t like quotas but I do like progressive hiring. And I’m sure there will be those who post the same obnoxious comments in the various places of the comics community that foster aggressive and veiled misogyny packaged under the smirking guise of a discussion of “equality” and feminism. So what else is new?
But here’s my take. I believe the more you show women working in comics at DC and Marvel and Image and Dark Horse and other publishers the more you’ll get women who believe they have a shot at working there. They might feel there the publisher is welcoming and they should ignore they stories out there that says they aren’t. That the next Nicola Scott, Gail Simone, Amy Reeder or Majorie Liu or Jill Thompson will say, “hey I want to do that too and I can do that too” by seeing a woman on panel at a convention. That the little girl who showed up at the Marvel panel will be encouraged rather than discouraged to make comics. That a woman who has real talent will have a shot at a regular gig on monthly rather than a guy with little talent but a cocksure air and good contacts. That it won’t take another 73 years to have a woman draw a single issue of Batman.
Making sure female creators are represented at cons isn’t always going to work. It’s not always going to be possible. But given the amount of women who are attending the show, given the level of truly great work we’re getting out women right now, why not try to put ensure there is a focus on women at comics conventions?
What do you think?