On Sunday at San Diego Comic-Con, it was time for the Women Of Marvel panel, and it ended up being one of my favorite sessions of the entire Comic-Con weekend, with moderator Jeanine Schaefer and panelists Christina Strain, Jenny Yeats, Judy Stephens, and Louise Simonson providing great insight and compelling anecdotes about their work and careers.
The program kicked off with a pre-recorded video message from Kelly Sue DeConnick, expressing regret that she couldn't be there, and giving some advice to women who want to break into the industry: don't wait, take the initiative and "start making comics right now".
In that spirit, the panel started going full-speed with Schaefer using a trick she gave DeConnick credit for teaching her: addressing the audience directly, she asked that every woman in the room who wants to make comics to stand… And over two dozen audience members immediately rose, to rapturous applause from the crowd and the panelists alike. I don't know that I can adequately explain it, possibly it's just a "you had to be there" thing, but it was a truly inspiring moment: people announcing their dreams in public, and having an entire room offering encouragement in response.
Things then continued with the panelists discussing how they broke into the comics industry.
Louise Simonson told of how she was working in advertising and promotion in the early '80s, and then one day, a friend said "I have a job at my company and it pays better than the job you have". So she took the job, at Warren Publishing, worked her way up to first an assistant editor and then an editor position, got to know Marvel staffers after playing them in a volleyball league, and finally jumped to Marvel Comics when Editor-In-Chief Jim Shooter offered her a job there.
All the panelists were honest and entertaining, whether discussing their own experiences or offering advice to newcomers. I particularly appreciated that this, unlike most panels at comic cons, made a point of discussing comics from a business angle, as well as a creative one. The panelists addressed that issue head-on (noting the assumption that there's no women in comics spreads largely because people only pay attention to writers and pencillers), and mentioning the many different angles one can come from when seeking a career in the comics industry.
Yeats, Stephen, and Strain also offered interesting insight on the pitfalls of social networking and Internet persona while attempting to build a professional life, urging aspiring pros to be aware of their online presence ("it's your image"), and how it can be used as a tool to your advantage when managed well.
The panelists also addressed the double-edged sword of 'women in comics' panels, their reservations about the concept, and how it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between empowering and marginalizing. Schaefer talked of how supportive the female comics community is, and noted furthermore "all the wonderful men in the industry who aren't afraid to identify as feminist", and how important it is to have that encouragement.
The session wrapped up with a brief Q&A session, that covered a number of other issues: positive women role models in superhero comics, Marvel's recent efforts to showcase female characters (in DeConnick's "Captain Marvel," Brian Wood's "X-Men," Sam Humphries' "Uncanny X-Force," Cullen Bunn's "Fearless Defenders," and other titles), the lack of quality LGBT relationships in mainstream comics, and how to deal with sexism in the industry. Strain spoke about creating a webcomic because she didn't see what she liked out there, and decided to do it herself, Schaefer talked about how to the public have to do their part to ensure that comic shops stock quality titles (if you see something you like, PRE-ORDER IT), and Simonson reminded the crowd that the Marvel-centric focus of the panel isn't meant to be indicative of the entire industry: "really, we're just talking about superhero comics here - because there's a lot of other comics out there, and a lot of women making them!"