It’s been a bit harder to concentrate than usual, I will admit. It’s not every day nine episodes of Doctor Who thought missing are discovered. The Enemy of the World is now complete, and The Web of Fear only missing one episode. They were in Nigeria! You can get them now on iTunes! I can’t, as I’m at a con with no Apple devices. But that’s OK, as there’s much more to talk about.
My first panel was Women in Comics, in the much smaller than anticipated 1A15. (This does not bode well for Viz.) It was filled with librarians, always an excellent thing. Present were (sorry if I mangle names) Megan Kociolek as the moderator, with Becky Cloonan, Erica Schultz, Amy Chu, Emily Weisenstein, Claudia McGiven and Laura Pope-Rollins as panelists. The panel was wide-ranging and took up the whole hour. They started by mentioning those who had the most impact on then industry – Gail Simone, Larry Hama of GI Joe fame, Jennifer Holm (Baby Mouse) and Chris Claremont.
Things have changed a lot in 10 years – there are a lot more women at cons now, and discussion isn’t just about DC and Marvel. In fact, there was a discussion of the word “mainstream” in regards to those two publishers, and how it’s almost become a gut reaction to use them as the norm. Several of the panelists love manga, and Takahashi (and Ranma in particular) were mentioned as being influential – both here and in Japan. Becky also mentioned Tokyopop, and how despite their faults they were key in getting readers, particularly young girls, into the bookstores.
Demographics were mentioned – publishers aren’t sure how to market to adult women, so avoid titles that might appeal only to their interest. DC and Marvel pitch almost entirely to gujys, with female readers never being their primary target. There’s independent comics, but then distribution is hard – tough to get into the shops. Japan has readers that shift genres as they grow older – something the West might try learning.
Favorite characters came up. Rogue, Storm, Girl-Type Ranma, Utena and Chun-Li from Becky. Amy mentioned Kate Bishop, Buffy and Willow. Emily then mentioned Catwoman and Wonder Woman, which led into a discussion of her character and how her lack of a consistent, iconic backstory like Superman and Batman is an issue. There’s also the marketing tendency to idolize pretty princesses – Disneyfication. Girls should be shown more options.
Before Q&A, they discussed using comics in education, with manga as an example. Nausicaa and Barefoot Gen are both manga that can fairly simply and easily be added to a curriculum examining ecology or the aftermath of WWII.
Question time. They were asked to define ‘comic literacy’, a term used earlier, and Becky noted that her mother, a non-comics reader, had trouble moving from panel to panel without confusion. It’s something kids learn at a young age. E-culture was mentioned to the derision of one or two panelists, who notes the new “nerds” are the same people who used to bully them – it’s just nerd is cool now. Amy Chu got the line of the night: “You’re forcing me to pull out my Harvard MBA.” Learning marketing was noted to be incredibly important, particularly as DC and Marvel still tend to underestimate things. The panel was asked if they felt pressure writing for women, and noted they have some projects they feel more passionate about. Amy, in fact, noted she writes a lot of men in order to stretch herself. She’d also like to do children’s stories. Lastly, the words “Strong Female Character” were discussed. No one just thinks “Oh, I want a strong female..” They should be allowed to be emotional, and screw up, and have men LISTEN to her if she’s in charge.
I then walked around the dealer’s room and artist’s alley before going to the LGBT&A panel. This began with a 5-minute video showing LGBT fans naming their favorite “queeros”, which made me realize that I might have been lacking the superhero background this panel writeup needed. Indeed, there was a lot more Marvel and DC chat than the prior panel. Jude Biersdorfer from the NYT Book Review moderated, and the panel had Dan Parent, Marjorie Liu, Rich Bernatovech, Greg Pak, and Dan Ketchum.
Dan does Kevin Keller for Archie, and talked about a recent storyline with Kevin and his boyfriend kissing, and an irate mom at their school taking offense. He noted it’s Archie, so they can’t get too political – though the recent decision to avoid Russia in The Archies world tour made a few headlines. He tends to like normal, Archie-esque plots and wacky hijinks. He noes Kevin has gotten a lot of positive feedback from parents – he lets them open a dialogue with their kids without it sounding forced.
Marjorie writes Northstar and Karma, and here’s where my research fails me, as she also writes Docken? I presume this isn’t the 80s metal band Dokken . Northstar’s wedding, of course, was a major talking point, and we got the first of several mentions that NY legalizing gay marriage has led to a more open side to it at Marvel. Docken, whoever he is, is bi, which means a lot of fans get upset with him – as indeed many in real life do with bisexuals, who can get shot by both sides. She ended by talking about how she tries to subvert expectations.
Rich writes the Neverminds and Sentinels, and is the indie publisher of the group. He has a married, stable gay couple, something he’s quite happy to show. Writing and synergy were mentioned here – he had a character whose origin was around an African lake, and recent discoveries of fossilization are eerily close to the character’s powers.
Greg notes his half-Asian background, and discussed the similarities between this and LGBT content – as a kid, they’d all come running when a real Asian character was on TV. He writes Extreme X-Men, a title that already has a long tradition of minorities and queer representation. Her notes he had his most recent couple get together as “they just felt right”, and that it was best for their roles in the cast he’s writing. He also discussed a gay relationship between two stone-based gay aliens in Planet Hulk. Volcanic mating!
Dan Ketchum also writes X-Men, and Prodigy was mentioned. As noted beforehand, he now doesn’t always have to clear every single gay moment up the line to the editor-in-chief, which has only recently been the case. Young Avengers, whose gay couple are teenagers, is treated a bit more carefully – he was told at one point they couldn’t kiss. It’s also fun writing gays with superpowers – one character is the son of Scarlet Witch, and so we hve some “am I in love with you or are you warping reality to make it that way?” Even better, the addition of another gay character allows us to move beyond the “the two gay guys always have to pair up” cliche.
Trans hadn’t been mentioned much. DC recently crowed about Batgirl’s roommate being the first trans character in comics. Jude challenged the panel to think of a Marvel character who’d been there first. It was noted that Danger, though she appears as a woman now, technically has no gender. Sasquatch and Loki were also brought up. It was noted it can sometimes be hard to make the metaphor match the sexuality.
Jude then brought up the elephant in the room – the recent Batwoman decision, and Dan Didio’s followup that heroes shouldn’t be happy. They all disagreed strenuously, noting they felt DC was alienating readers and that it smacked of lazy storytelling – the complexity was removed. Greg felt he did understand the point, however, and noted the cyclical nature of superheroes – they’re soap operas, and a new creative team can always undo any happy ending the prior one did. He also talked about stereotyping, and how you don’t always have to jerk away from it if the stereotype fits your character.
Audience Q&A had one woman note asexuals are always left out of or diminished in comics – and also weren’t mentioned at this panel. The “A” in LGBTA was for “Allies”. The panel grew quite thoughtful, and admitted they didn’t have a really good response beyond thinking about it (though Dan Parent did jokingly name Jughead.) For the most part, though, it’s a heteronormative world in comics, and all the gay folks mentioned here are merely a drop inn the bucket among all the “white, straight males”. Things are looking up, however. Gay Marriage’s legalization has led Marvel to relax its standards a bit.
To end, the panel all agreed the best thing the audience could do was to keep discussing the issues, and vote for what they like and want more of with their money by buying the comics.
That’s it for today. Man, I took a lot of notes for just two panels. Tomorrow will be much busier. Now I go to bed and dream of Pat Troughton…