The Women of Marvel Panel, a Sunday afternoon tradition at C2E2, proved to be as thoughtful and as fun as past editions of the panel. Host Judy Stephens said this was her 14th year at Marvel and that this panel would be broadcast as a podcast in a few days. As she does every year, Stephens mentioned that when they first started doing the panel, there were only a couple of female-led comics and that now there are so many female-led titles that they can no longer show all of them on one slide.
Stephens kicked things off by talking about how many years that Marvel has been doing the panel and introducing the panel guests. First off was Leah Williams, who apparently brought her on cheer squad of friends who chanted "Leah" for a good minute or two. Williams is working on X-Factor and the Amazing Mary Jane, and some preview art from the first issue of X-Factor was shown.
Rainbow Rowell, a long time Young Adult (YA) author currently working on a long Runaways run was next. Eve Ewing drew loud cheers for being a native Chicagoan. Ewing is working on the Outlawed one shot and then Champions. Stephens said she always likes to point out that Ewing has a PhD. Ewing laughed and said that while she was a doctor, she couldn't help anyone with medical issues though she was happy to assist people with social problems. One panelist then joked that 'there's probably a lot of those in this room'. Talking about Outlawed, Ewing said it was important to make sure the book was just about the evil government against the good teen super heroes. She wanted it to be a nuanced look at both sides, and in Champions we will see heroes from different backgrounds taking different sides on the question.
Gail Simone recently finished up a couple of runs with Domino. She added that C2E2 is her favorite con because the people at C2E2 are the best. Stephens pointed out that Simone had taken the train from Oregon to C2E2 this year and mentioned that her father and grandfather worked for the railroad. Simone explained that she doesn't enjoy flying, and that she lives in such a remote part of Oregon that flying to a con means getting up at 4:30 in the morning and not getting to the con city until after midnight, which results in her needing a travel recovery day prior to the con. She mentioned to her husband, the famous Rocketspouse that she wished they could take the train to C2E2 and he asked why they couldn't. They then looked into it, made an agreement with C2E2 where she would film and tweet about the train ride, and added that they had a wonderful experience. Simone said many Amtrak employees are huge nerds who enjoyed having her on board and that even though it took longer to travel, she was able to work on the train and didn't need a recovery day after arriving in Chicago. Stephens then apologized for getting the panel off track, a wonderful joke that flew over the heads of most of the people in the audience.
Stephens said she wanted the panel to talk about several main things: what's it like writing comics, especially at Marvel; how are writers able to find their your own voice when writing; and how do the writers use social media and what do they think the impact is of social media and how do they use social media.
Writing Comics at Marvel
Rowell said that no one works in comics until they do. She reads comics a lot and they were leaking into her novels. A Marvel editor read her books and reached out to her, and when asked what she might be interested in writing at Marvel said she wanted to bring back the Runaways. Rowell talked about how supportive Nick Lowe, her editor, and Kris Anka, the original artist on her run, were towards her adding that neither of them ever made her feel like she was an outsider. She said the best experience for writing comics is reading comics and that while she began as a huge fan of the X-Men, discovering Runaways had a huge impact on her in that it started her to shift from following characters to following creators.
Ewing said one of the questions she get asked most often is how does she shift from the various genres she writes. She said it's like being asked how eating cereal from a bowl is different from eating ice cream from a bowl, adding that it's all writing. She stressed the need to study and do research not just on characters but also on writing for comics. Ewing mentioned Scott McCloud's books as good lessons for writers and artists and added that she can't stress how important the comics support structure of artists and editors are for writers as well as being willing to ask for feedback.
Simone says the industry has changed and thanks Marvel for introducing so many female-led books. She added that when she first started, she never felt like a woman in comics until people would ask her what it was like to be a woman in comics. Simone said it is rewarding now to see so many diverse stories and voices and that she always asked why the comics industry would want to cut out 50% of the potential audience. As for getting started at Marvel, Joe Quesada called her about her humor column and asked if she would like to take over Deadpool and make it more of a humor comic. Simone said he asked if she knew the character and she of course lied and said yes, then got off the call and began researching the character, culminating in her writing a pitch that was accepted. She said Quesada still is supportive whenever she sees him and added that another higher-up at a comics company once sat her down and told her to act like she belonged at the table because she did. Simone said that up until that point she still didn't feel like she belonged, but after that she knew she did and acted accordingly.
Williams said something she grapples with is thinking she is part of the comics creator community, adding that at times she still feels more a part of fandom and that she doesn't know how not to be a little weird fan goblin online. She said she was so scared when she first started writing because she has no chill about the characters in an almost embarrassing way, but she found people were almost reckless with their encouragement of her work and it made her feel at home in the creative community as well as the fan community. Williams said her saving grace is that she gets so excited about the possibilities presented by the characters she's given that she doesn't have time to freak out about the fact that she is writing these characters. She joked that it took her two weeks to believe she was really going to be writing X-Factor. Williams added that she knows where she wants to go with the book and what characters she wants to bring in.
Finding and Keeping Your Voice as a Writer
Simone said she doesn't know any way to write other than the way she writes. She thinks about what has gone on before, what has worked and what hasn't, and then thinks about if those things will hold up if she returns to those themes and those situations. Simone says she wants to write strong female characters who know who they are and don't apologize for it, characters who are different people with different body shapes. She said this is important to her because there was a long time when all female characters not only looked the same, but had the same motivations.
She said her goal with Wonder Woman was to make the book unapologetically female and there was a moment where it hit her and she went 'Whoa, I'm putting words into Wonder Woman's mouth!' When researching Domino, Simone said it felt like the character had been written almost as several different characters. Domino's past was so disjointed that Simone concentrated on making her one character that incorporated all of Domino's past.
Ewing mentioned the need to know the characters and said when she got the assignment to write several issues of Marvel Team-Up she literally would walk around the house and grab her husband and say "I write words and Peter Parker says the words!" Stephens then interrupted to ask if there was line that Ewing wrote that she didn't think she would get away with that she did or didn't get away with. Ewing laughed and then launched into what she later referred to as Period Gate.
In her Marvel Team-Up issues, Peter Parker did a body swap with Kamala Khan due to the actions of the story's villain. Peter had to navigate the world as a Muslim teen and Kamala had to be a disgraced tech bro. Kamala had a science presentation that she needed Peter to do for her. In the scene, Peter doubles over in so much pain while doing the presentation that he had to be taken to the school nurse. Later, when he and Kamala were talking about it, she accused him of ruining her presentation. Peter responded by saying he was in so much pain he through he was going to die, to which Kamala responded "All that happened was you got a cramp". That particular line got cut and replaced with something more innocuous.
Rowell then asked why the line was cut, and Ewing laughed and said "Marvel didn't want to have to explain periods to readers". Rowell laughed in response and said "I'm menstruating right now and have been all weekend", which brought the house down in laughter. Ewing replied by saying she knows her online haters don't really read her books because if they did they would be complaining a lot more to her. Though she lost the Period Gate battle, Marvel did agree to do the first issue the way Ewing asked. The book was actually two comics with two covers. The Kamala story began on one side, the Peter story on the other, and the two stories met in the middle of the issue.
Turning then to Rowell, she says she likes cleaning things up, and one of the first things she did was read every issue where the Runaways themselves or a Runaways character appeared. The goal was to decide what parts of the Runaways canon resonated as true and what parts felt like they really weren't part of the identity of the characters or the team. Rowell added that when offered the book, she told Marvel she would only do it if she could bring Gert back and keep Gert tat.
Social Media Use and Impact
Williams worked in marketing for a long time and said that Twitter is unique in that it has an agitation filter in its algorithm that results in you seeing things that are designed to make you mad and begin conversation. She added that she loves how Simone uses Twitter for chaotic good, saying she knows when she logs on and finds her timeline completely incomprehensible it's because Gail has been trolling. Williams said she has found the online comics community to be welcoming and supportive of her work.
Simone said she is super quick at Twitter in large part because she is used to being online to talk comics as there is no local comic book store or fans to talk to in person. She thinks it's important to shine a light on some of the negativity because those who are super negative always go after those they think are weak. If you show up to support the people who are the targets of negativity it really annoys those people being negative, which is why she thinks it's important to make sure everyone is supportive against the negativity. Being funny about it keeps her from getting angry and helps encourage the community following her to follow her in supporting people who need support. Simone said she feels that overall the good washes away the negativity, but if you see someone being picked on, you should jump in and support them.
Ewing said she has gotten an absurd amount of racism and sexism on Twitter, but her day job is as a sociologist who studies racism, so when she gets that kind of abuse she filters it through that lens as a sociologist. She feels that the fact that people get so angry at her for writing comics shows her how powerful comics are in the world. She described herself as having a healthy mute and block hygiene and that she no longer has Twitter on her phone, which results in her checking it only once or twice a day. Ewing said she loves being able to follow other creators and the realization that she could become part of the online comics community has helped her. She said you need to decide who you are writing for because you can't write for everybody, and you need to focus on the opinions of the audience you are writing for when you judge whether or not you were a success with a book.
Rowell said she has a younger fanbase who aren't really on social media. She said she didn't have much to add to what the others had said, but mentioned that no one ever talks to her on Twitter about Runaways and that she would love to hear from Runaways Twitter if it exists .
Audience Question Round:
We didn't start out with much time for questions and the first couple were the first 'more of a comment than a question' comments I had heard all weekend. Several audience members thanked Rowell for the impact her YA books had on their lives.
Q: If given free reign to write any character would you write?
A: Ewing: Storm! (This was shouted out before the questioner finished asking her question.)
Rowell: I'm already writing Runaways, the only characters I've ever wanted to write.
Simone: I would love to write Spider-Man. I think I have a few Peter Parker stories in me. (Writer's Note: Marvel! Make this happen!)
Williams: I'm spoiled because I'm already in the X-universe which is filled with the characters I love, so getting to continue to work in the X-Universe would be ideal.
Q: What is the favorite comics you've written?
A: Williams – It's hard to pick a favorite because you get so invested while writing, but Doctor Strange: The End impacted my life in significant ways.
Simone: I've written over 600 comics but if I had to choose one arc it would be Wonder Woman The Circle. My goal there was to tell the story completely from the female perspective.
Ewing: Ironheart changed her life and Riri is like a real person to me, my little sister if you will, and Ironheart #7 is her favorite issue of the series. It has Riri, her best friend Ezekiel, and the Wasp fighting zombies at Midway airport. Ewing said the subtext of the issue is "Eve realizes she is not going to be immediately fired and so she can get wilder and crazier in her writing".
Rowell: Runaways #12 where both Niko and Karolina kiss and Victor and Gert kiss. Runaways #11 when Gert dyes her hair brown.
Q: Why did Gert dye her hair brown?
A: Rowell asks if that was really the questioner's question , who replies with a yes. Rowell said that Gert originally dyed her hair purple so she would stand out and be unique, and it was like needles under her fingernails to come back from the dead to find a lot of people with purple hair. As a result, she decided to dye her hair brown. Rowell noted that it is entirely possible Gert will dye her hair again at some point.
The panel concluded with Stephens encouraging everyone to look for the upcoming podcast of the panel.