There were lots of stories that came out of SDCC this year, but the one that has caught the attention of the comics community was a woman who dressed up as Batgirl to ask questions about female characters and creators at several DC Comics’ panels. I first became aware of her questions while following the live feeds of Newsarama and CBR. If you read this blog you know I have many of the same concerns she has. After seeing the reaction of some attendees and reporters about how her questions and those of others regarding female characters and creators were being handled, I compiled a post of that coverage.
That post has now become the most viewed ever for this blog. Her appearances at the panels has also generated other blog posts and many comments. She’s been called everything from a hero to a bully. But now for the first time we can hear from her.
Yesterday I caught up with Kyrax2, the “Batgirl woman” as she has become known, to find out more about what drove her to ask these questions and her thoughts on the reactions she received.
DCWKA: How long have you been reading comics? How did you get into comics?
I grew up on Batman: The Animated Series and I own everything in the Timmverse on DVD. About three years ago, I discovered the comics associated with those series - intelligent comics, well-written and well-drawn - and it was like finding entire lost seasons of my favorite shows. Eventually I collected paper copies of nearly every issue of the Batman Adventures and associated comics, and from there it was a small step to DC’s main comic books.
DCWKA: So who are some of your favorite characters, Batgirl is one I assume?
Tim Drake, Kon-El and Stephanie Brown. I especially love Stephanie in the current run of Batgirl. I can’t tell you how many people approached me in my costume at SDCC and said, “Way to go, we need more Steph-love! Batgirl is my FAVORITE comic! I can’t believe they’re getting rid of it.” I wholeheartedly agreed. There’s something so down-to-earth about the way Brian Q. Miller is writing her, so positive, so human. At one point she says to Damian: “Everything doesn’t *have* to be about fear. There’s room in our line of work for *hope*, too.” That right there sums up everything I love about Steph.
DCWKA: Are you exclusively DC?
My husband is a bronze age Marvel fan, and I’ve enjoyed most of the recent Marvel movies that have come out, but my heart belongs to the Batfamily. I do think that 1602 is one of the best graphic novels ever written - which is to be expected, since it’s by Neil Gaiman!
DCWKA: Did you have concerns about DC and female characters/creators before the reboot?
I did. Comics have some of the most visible imbalance between males and females in popular media. I cut my teeth on Sailor Moon fandom a long time ago, and I missed the sheer variety of interesting women when I started reading comics. DC has some great female characters, but it doesn’t have nearly enough of them. However, most of the questions I asked at the panels came directly from my experiences at SDCC. It was something I was vaguely aware of, and it wasn’t until I was smacked in the face with the profound dearth of female creators that I decided to ask about them.
DCWKA: So what prompted your decision to dress and up and go the panels?
When I heard about the reboot, I *had* to dress up as Stephanie Brown. I had to show my love for the character. I went to the panels partly to find out what was going on in the DCU, and in part with the hope that I would get to talk to the creators and ask them about whether she would still exist in the New DCU.
DCWKA: Is this your first visit to SDCC?
I attended SDCC once, years ago, for one day. It was fun, but I wasn’t into comics at the time and it was nothing like my experience this year.
DCWKA: What’s your impression of the reaction of DC executives? Better or worse than expected? What about the audience?
After I got home on Thursday night, I thought about how Dan Didio had treated the people who asked him questions at the 52 panel. I came away with the impression that he is very, very good at dodging or deflecting questions he doesn’t want to answer, especially by asking the questioner something in response.
For example, in the beginning of the panel he took questions from the audience, and one man asked, “Why did you go from 12% to 1% women on your creative teams?” Didio responded, “What do those numbers mean to you? Who should we be hiring?” If you listen to the podcast, [Note: here’s the soundbite] you can hear the hostility in Didio’s tone when he speaks to this man. This belligerence was present every time anyone asked him about female creators.
On the other hand, Paul Cornell came directly to where I was sitting as soon as the New 52 panel ended and said, “I heard what you said, and I’d like to take a minute to try to sell to you directly.” He told me that his new swords and sorcery comic, Demon Knights, would have a majority female cast and that he was committed to keeping it that way. I am utterly uninterested in swords and sorcery, but I will be subscribing to a full year of Demon Knights anyway, because Paul Cornell made me feel like he cared about my opinion, both as a fan and as a human being. I want to give this comic a chance, and I think it would be fantastic if everyone reading this article would at least pick up issue #1 of Demon Knights and give it a chance, too. Cornell’s also writing Stormwatch, and says of Apollo and Midnighter in the linked article, “Yes, Apollo and Midnighter are still gay men. They’re still out and proud. I wouldn’t have written it otherwise.”
Vote with your dollars, people. If you can bear to give DC any of your money after reading the rest of this, buy Paul Cornell’s and Gail Simone’s books. As SilverLocust1 said to me on Twitter, “Please encourage readers to buy comics that prove reader interest, boycotting gives the people who buy all the influence.”
On Friday I attended the Superman panel and the Justice League panel that afternoon. I remember being surprised how male-heavy the room was for the Superman panel, especially compared to the previous day’s Batman panel. Afterward I stayed in the room for the Justice League panel, and that was when things started to get weird.
The room remained mostly male by a large majority. I watched the presentation, first of the Justice League comic, then as solo cover after solo cover was put up on the big screen. And it started to feel almost surreal, because every single one of the covers had a man on it. The only woman I saw was Wonder Woman, on the far side of the Justice League cover - I have no idea why she was left out of the solo-title line-up - but every one of the solo titles they showed had a man on it. I already knew that DC wasn’t exactly female-friendly. But somehow, seeing it like that was really startling. When I got up to ask the question, I was feeling almost *bewildered*, which is why it came out as, “Where are the women?” This line got cheered. Johns responded that DC had more iconic female characters than anyone else, and also said that he loved Mera, who was a great character and ‘right there next to Aquaman’. The first woman Johns mentioned in response to my question wasn’t Wonder Woman, it was a character defined by her relationship to one of the male superheroes.
I responded to that, thinking out loud and noting that a lot of their female heroes are associated with another hero. For example, BatGIRL/Batman, SuperGIRL/Superman, Wonder GIRL…Wonder WOMAN, who I said was the only REALLY iconic DC female hero I could think of off the top of my head.
The audience didn’t like that. They immediately began yelling at me, shouting out their favorite female heroes, Huntress, Starfire, etc. In terms of iconic status, are Huntress and Starfire on the same level as Wonder Woman? I certainly hadn’t heard of them before I got into comics.
The room became extraordinarily hostile to me very, very quickly. People started booing and yelling at me to sit down. I shrugged and said, “Well, now I’m going to get yelled at.” I wasn’t upset so much as I was *confused*. Didn’t these people want to see more kick-ass women? If they loved these characters so much, why were they getting angry at me for asking DC why there weren’t more of them?
Johns said that there would be more female characters in other books in the New 52, just not in Justice League. So I asked how many of the 52 books would be featuring a woman in the center of the cover. Jim Lee made a joke, saying that having someone in the dead center was bad composition. Johns told me to pick up the New 52 promo comic, and I told him I would, and that I would count them when I got home. The answer, for those who are interested, is slightly over a quarter of the titles features women in a prominent role, depending on how you count them. At the end someone asked me if I would buy all of the comics with women on the cover, and I said “I might well - if they’re good, I’ll absolutely buy them.” I have to wonder, though, if he’s going to buy all the titles with a man on the cover.
I didn’t feel that Johns and Lee were actively hostile to me (unlike the audience), but my question did seem to catch them by surprise. There were a lot of blank looks on the panel when I asked, “Where are the women?”, almost as though they hadn’t really noticed that there weren’t any.
I lay awake that night, thinking about the panels and what had happened there. Suddenly it occurred to me that my question, ‘where are the women?’, could have just as easily applied to the *panelists* on all the panels I’d attended, with the exception of the Batman panel which had Gail Simone and a female editor named Rachel Gluckstern.
DC Justice League Panel at SDCC
I thought perhaps if DC hired more women, they might write more women. This is not to say that men can’t write excellent female characters. Gail Simone named a bunch of male comic authors who write great women when we talked about it the following day. But perhaps just having more of a female presence at the company would encourage them to bring in more female characters.
The next day was Saturday, and I made sure to get there in time for the New 52 panel. I watched the next 13 books being presented, then stepped up to the mic. I started to mention the panels I’d previously attended. There was immediate hostility from the audience, with someone shouting, “We know!” as I began. Then I asked the question that had been bothering me since the night before, ever since I’d started thinking about the all-male composition of almost every panel I’d attended: “Are you committed to hiring more women?”
Didio responded, “I’m committed to hiring the absolute best writers and artists.”
I looked at the all-male panel and said, “Are you saying you can’t find any great women writers or artists?”
There was a furious reaction from the audience. People yelled at me to ‘sit down!’ and shouted out Gail Simone’s name over and over again. I said, “Yes, I met Gail Simone yesterday. I like her very much. But I’ve attended all these other panels, and with the exception of her and one female editor, they’ve all been male.”
I was again surprised by the audience’s reaction. If people liked Gail so much, didn’t they want to see more female writers and artists like her? It also felt very much like Gail was being used as a token female that everyone could point to and say, “Look! We have Gail! What’s wrong with you?” I didn’t hear any other name being called out.
Grant Morrison joked that he would look good in a dress. I laughed and told him I would love to see that. And then there was a shift in Didio’s body language, and it was clear I was being dismissed. However, my question was still unanswered, so I said, “I appreciate that you’re trying to brush me off, but I’d like it if you would answer my question. Are you committed to hiring more women? Yes or no?”
Morrison piped up again, “Do women want to write for DC Comics?”
"YES!" shouted several women in the audience.
"Then send in your stuff," he said.
Didio added, “There you go.”
You’ll notice that he still didn’t answer my question with a yes or no. I’d already taken up a lot of time, so I sat down. However, the answer I was given, I learned later, was misleading. DC doesn’t accept unsolicited manuscripts at all. [ Note: a link to DC’s policy] You have to be already established to work there.
I knew going in that Didio was going to try to dodge my question. I knew because I’d watched him dodge every other question about female creators, either by asking a question in response, or bullying the questioner as he did the gentleman who asked about the creative teams going from 12% to 1%, or both. This was why I was so persistent.
The thing I don’t understand, is why Didio is so actively hostile to questions about female creators? Consider a couple of other ways the conversation could have gone:
Q: Are you committed to hiring more women?
(cheers from the audience, I sit down)
Why not answer yes? Seriously, if DC hires even one more woman in the next year, they’ll have another person to point to and say ‘Look! We have her!’
Q: Are you committed to hiring more women?
A: I know there are hardly any female creators working on the New 52 other than Gail Simone and Amy Reeder. The truth is, we did approach more women, but the deadlines were extremely tight for this new project, and a lot of them turned us down. A lot of men turned us down, too. But you’ll definitely be seeing more women in the second wave.
(This is what Gail Simone told me the following day. Why didn’t Didio say it? Why not answer a sincere question respectfully and honestly?)
Q: Are you committed to hiring more women?
A: If you want to work for DC comics, you already need to be an established artist or writer of something that you can show to us - a webcomic, an independent comic, something. I invite more women to get themselves established and then show us what you’ve done.
(This is what Gail’s husband told me the following day. Again, why didn’t Didio say this? Why didn’t Morrison say this?)
Q: Are you committed to hiring more women?
A: We don’t get that many submissions from women compared to the number we get from men. If we can find more great women to hire that are up to DC’s standard, certainly we’ll hire them.
(This was what was ultimately implied by Grant Morrison, that women just aren’t applying to DC, but I have no way of knowing the actual numbers.)
Q: Are you committed to hiring more women?
A: No, I can’t make that kind of commitment.
(cheers and boos from the audience, I sit down)
I’ve been called a ‘bully’ and ‘rude’ by people who weren’t even at SDCC. When I stepped up to the mic, the room was already prepared to shout me down. Didio was ready to deflect me any way he could, instead of attempting to answer my question. Why is there this active hostility toward questions about female creators, both from the audience and from Didio? There is greater female representation in the characters of the comics than in the creators of those comics! Out of all the pencillers, inkers, and writers on the New DCU, are there any women other than Amy Reeder and Gail Simone? If there are, I haven’t been able to find them.
That night I thought about the strong reactions I’d encountered from the audience. It was a sharp contrast to the many people who had approached me individually after the panel and thanked me for asking the question I had, including some women that really, really wanted to work for DC. I thought about the fact that I wasn’t DC’s target market, but I was certain that men would buy a well-written comic about a kick-ass woman. Writing about women didn’t have to mean marketing only to women. The question was, how to convey that to DC?
The last panel I attended was the last New 52 panel. One of the questioners ahead of me in the question line was a woman dressed as Batwoman. After seeing the Justice League panel, this amazing woman actually counted all of the characters in the DCU, breaking down the ratio of female to male characters. The most powerful of all her statistics was this one: out of 28 solo character titles, six were women, and only two of those were not connected to an older male superhero. She asked how DC could claim to be gender diverse with numbers like these?
Didio started aggressively asking her whether she’d asked Marvel these questions, obviously trying to deflect her. I was furious with him and yelled at him to “Answer the question!” Unfortunately, some people thought I was talking to her, not him! In the end, he did hear her out - but he *still* didn’t answer her question.
When my turn came, I stepped up to the mic and mentioned that my previous questions had been greeted with hostility from the audience. I then asked anyone who did *not* want to read a well-written comic about a strong, interesting, intelligent, kick-ass woman to ‘please stand up’. No one stood up. One of the panelists said, ‘Who would say no to that?’ I responded that I’d been boo’d at, and I was wondering the same thing.
The truth is, though, it’s DC who’s answering ‘no’ to that question, as the numbers the Batwoman presented prove. Six out of twenty-eight solo titles star women. Less than a quarter. But who would say ‘no’ to reading a comic starring a woman?
Then I said, “If you do want to read a comic about a woman like that, would you please stand up now?” Nearly all of the room stood up. I said, “This is your market, DC,” and sat down.
I wanted to show DC that men would buy books starring females, and that, despite the disrespect and negativity directed toward me at previous panels, even the hecklers weren’t actually saying that they wanted fewer books about women. Also, a lot of people had approached me after the earlier panels and thanked me for the questions I’d asked. I wanted to give them a chance to stand up and be counted.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the DC executives when I started out. I was surprised at how dismissive they were, and at how hostile the audience was. Didio struck me as someone that treats fans of both genders condescendingly and dismissively, but especially women. Instead of trying to respond to difficult questions with diplomacy or courtesy, he attempted to distract or bully the questioner, often forcing confrontation where none was intended or desired.
DCWKA: What would you like to see DC do differently? What do you think they do right?
DC creates some great characters, and when they allow these characters to grow organically and form relationships, they end up with characters with a great deal of depth. Obviously, I’d like to see them write more viewpoint females and hire more female staff. I’m certain that if they put out a call for more female artists and writers, they would get a huge response. I’d like to see more of other kinds of diversity, too - more characters of different races, more queer characters, more characters with disabilities. I’m so glad that they’re bringing back Jaime Reyes as Blue Beetle and keeping Apollo and Midnighter in Stormwatch.
I’d like it if they would stop pulling big stunts that interrupt all their books every six months to a year. I think the reboot and re-numbering is a terrible idea, but what’s done is done. I’m going to miss Bryan Q. Miller on Batgirl like crazy.
I’m glad that they’re getting into digital distribution, but their price point is way too high. They would far more than triple their online orders if they lowered their price from 2.99 to .99 per comic. I’d really like to see something whereby I could subscribe to a comic for a year for a lump sum and get the digital downloads, then be sent (or pick up) the trade for that comic when it came out as part of the subscription cost. To me, having individual comic books is like having all the episodes of a TV series I like on separate DVDs, each in its own unlabeled paper sleeve. I infinitely prefer trades, yet I also want to support comics as they’re being released. However, paying $2.99 per electronic copy and then buying two six-issue trades a year on top of that seems excessive for a single title. It’s a dilemma.
I’d also like to see someone other than Dan Didio as the ‘face of DC’.
DCWKA: I hear you met with Gail Simone - what was that like?
Gail and her husband were very kind and very cool. They listened to my concerns, the most prominent of which was that Barbara Gordon would lose her power in exchange for getting de-aged and getting her legs back, which sounded to me like a deal with the devil. In fact, Didio said at the first panel that Barbara was going to be Batgirl because she was the most recognizable Batgirl. I wondered why the same logic isn’t being applied to Robin. I mean, with Barbara, they’re taking away Oracle, de-aging her, and making her Batgirl again. Why not do the same with Dick Grayson, by far the most recognizable Robin? Take away Nightwing, de-age him, put him back in the Robin suit, and you’ve got a Robin that the average Joe on the street would recognize. Instead they’re having Damian Wayne, a character no one outside of comics fandom knows, be Robin. I’m not saying that Dick should actually be Robin again - I would HATE that…just as much as I hate that Barbara’s not going to be Oracle anymore. I’m saying that their logic is applied inconsistently. In other words, their name-recognition argument is invalid. Why should it apply to Batgirl and NOT Robin?
Gail went out of her way to reassure me that Barbara would not be losing her power, that she would still be the same independent character and ‘not a sidekick’. Her husband, too, told me that ‘She [Gail] understands why people are upset, she really does. She’s trying to make it better.’
I was left with the impression of a writer who is doing the best she can in very difficult circumstances, with a lot of conflicting imperatives and drives. Regardless, Gail made an honest effort to contact me directly, to speak with me, and to make me feel like a valued customer and fan. That counts for a LOT in my book. Along with Paul Cornell’s Demon Knights and Stormwatch, and despite my misgivings, I’ll be picking up Batgirl in September and giving it a fair chance. I’ll also be reading her Firestorm.
When I decided to go to ComicCon, I didn’t set out to make a stir. I certainly didn’t expect the questions I’d asked to cause such explosive reactions from the internet. I do not consider myself a definitive comics fan; if anything, I’m a recent convert and still an outsider in some ways. Maybe that’s why I thought to ask questions that seemed obvious to me but that no one else seemed to be asking.
The questions I asked were simple and straightforward, mostly driven by what I’d actually seen and heard there at the convention: “Where are the women?” “Are you committed to hiring more women?” and “How many people here would buy a book about a smart, interesting, kick-ass woman?” When I asked these questions, I got reactions that varied from indifference to out-and-out hostility.
I still don’t understand why. Gail Simone got a bigger cheer than anyone else when she joined the last 52 panel. One female at DC is a superstar but two is too many?
I’m not just asking for my sake. I have a seven year-old daughter who sometimes reads my trades. She was not, as has been widely reported, dressed as Spoiler at the convention. She was dressed as Raven, from Teen Titans Go!. She is my Lian Harper, and I don’t want to see her brutally and pointlessly murdered. I want her to be like Stephanie Brown, and keep on trying even when life smacks her down again and again. When she encounters personal tragedy, I want to see her transcend it like Barbara Gordon, turning it into strength.
She is DC’s future market, and someday I hope to see more women who are amazing role models for her, not just on the page, but also behind it.
*Note: The podcasts of these panels are available here.
Kyrax notes, “I’ve done my best to get quotes correct.”