Comics For Causes: Planned Parenthood At New York Comic Con

John Odum writes for Bleeding Cool from New York Comic Con 2017:

There've been no shortage of panels at NYCC that engage with the cultural-political nexus in recent years, and 2017 is no exception. But for a unique, full-on plunge into the electoral (and even the partisan), the place to be on Saturday was at the panel held by creators behind Mine! The Kickstarter-funded anthology book from ComicMix is being published not only to raise funds for Planned Parenthood, but also to share stories of the embattled organization's positive impact on women, teens, men – everyone, really.

Given the political environment (particularly last week's passage of a bill outlawing abortion after 20 weeks from the US House of Representatives) and the mood in the room, Moderator Molly Jackson's (of ComicMix) disclaimer early on that she didn't want to get "too political" seemed like a full-on non sequitur.

Comics For Causes: Planned Parenthood At New York Comic Con

The recent legislation (which passed 237-189 largely along party lines) was cited quickly by the panel, ensuring that the Republican Party would take a rhetorical beating in the room early on. While the initial air of urgency (and yes, anger) did eventually give way to a feeling of joyful activism (as such progressive gatherings often do), punches were not being pulled.

But neither was there any shortage of humor. Mindy Newell (veteran of Wonder Woman, Daredevil, and just about everything else) noted that she originally thought "SJW" stood for "Single Jewish Woman." There was also a spirited digression on the proper pronunciation of the word "clitoris."

But the sense of purpose driving the room was always front and center.

"It drives me f-cking nuts," Newell shared, in what would be one of many F-bombs dropped by the veteran comic creator and longtime nurse.

Newell was expressing frustration with what she described as a false portrait by anti-abortion activists that women who receive abortions do so casually.

"[The patients] all have tears in their eyes," she noted emotionally, adding "I've been a nurse for 40 years — nobody goes into the operating room not feeling horrible about this decision, but also knowing its the right one."

Mike Gold (of DC and First Comics fame) granted that anti-abortion activists have every right to object to Planned Parenthood, but that "their right ends with them."

The Mine! anthology is a truly ambitious undertaking. With well over a hundred writers and artists — from the likes of Gail Simone, Neil Gaiman, and Mark Waid to a handful of complete newcomers — the collection should prove to be an unprecedented collaboration upon its release later this year. Underscoring just how many people were involved in its creation, when the panel of seven creators requested that other contributors in the room identify themselves, another seven writers and artists in the audience stood up.

Panelists took significant time identifying the non-abortion services offered by Planned Parenthood and how that broad range of services is reflected in the book's stories. Not only do abortions account for a mere 3% of Planned Parenthood services, it is increasingly serving men — particular with cancer screenings.

Moderator Jackson interjected that they had "tried to have a balanced book" with stories about men, women, straight, LGBT, young and old. "This matters for all of us."

Another panelist took the connection to men out of the clinic and into the public square. "Men have a lot of ability to disrupt the power that they hold by engaging in conversations with each other" Gabby Rivera (America) observed. "There's this idea that dudes talk about women, but in what ways? In fruitful ways?"

But the conversation always returned to the question of access and availability. "A lot of people live nowhere near you can get any kind of medical care, except for Planned Parenthood." Gold noted. "We need those places and they're going away."

Sheilah Villari ( chimed in, drawing attention to the real personal connection so many people have to the organization. "This place saved me when I needed checkups, birth control, everything."

Looking back over past generations, it's likely those personal connections to Planned Parenthood that so transcended party and ideology, which kept it more insulated politically.

By the end of the panel, the discussion was mostly de-partisan, particularly when it was noted that the Republican former First Lady Barbara Bush identifies as pro-choice. Instead, it focused on the more transcendent topic of individual rights — but not without an acknowledgement of how those rights are threatened in a very personal way, on a daily basis.

Gold, who had previously expressed his relief at the presence of security, noted the threats to the institution, as well as to Planned Parenthood staffers on the ground.

"This project would've come out about a year earlier if not for the fact that Planned Parenthood is under such attack," he said, emphasizing the point that clinic workers are "heroes" who "put their lives on the line every single day for our personal freedoms."

"Rights are not rights unless you can use them and get away with it," he added.

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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