The line for the Women of Marvel panel on Sunday at New York Comic Con was as large as a major film event panel, winding down hallways and replete with cosplayers. "Clearly next year we need a bigger room", Jeanine Schaeffer commented to wild applause.
Kelly Sue DeConnick, Sara Pichelli, Janet Lee, Stephanie Hans, Jeanine Schaeffer, Sana Amanat, Lauren Sankovitch, Emily Shaw, Ellie Pyle, and Judy Stephens were all on call for what kept threatening to break into standing ovations as these women of Marvel were announced in turn.
She-Hulk, announced as a new ongoing series a couple of weeks ago got a huge response from the audience, who, to be fair, were already ecstatic to be attending. Exclusive art and the new costume design were revealed in white and lavender.
X-Men, with a new arc starting in issue #7 got a cover reveal. Captain Marvel art was revealed; Amanat commented that you ought to just "wait in your comic store until it arrives", and cosplayers on the book stood up to strut their stuff. DeConnick commented that "this is the issue where she finds her way back in. And also a really important Kit issue. We have a new villain here, too, and she's important".
Avengers Assemble artwork and covers coincided with a 5 part arc coming out of Infinity, with that "young guy" Warren Ellis. "If he works on it, keeps at, he's a special something", DeConnick joked. She says it's an honor to be "beaten at the end of his cane". He's her "favorite comic book writer, save for my husband", she said. "It's hilarious", she said, "See the secret about Warren Ellis is that he's a comedy artist". The first issue #21 is on sale in November with some "Inhumanity hi-jinx".
Loki: Agent of Asgard, announced on Friday, with a seemingly "taller" Loki, written by Al Ewing, drawn by Lee Garbett, features character design with a rather dapper French Revolution style overcoat. "This is the book where we will lie to you, lie to you, lie to you", Sankovitch said. She had a copy of Young Avengers #11 with her for a fan to read to find out "how he got to this state" from his childhood state.
Black Widow, with Phil Noto art, was featured in the slide-show for fans, including cover art for issue #2 and exclusive interior art. Cosplay got its own spotlight, as Judy Stephens (the cosplay blogger for Marvel) discussed. Stephens works on spotlight posts for cosplayers. "Over the years we've seen cosplay explode into insanity. Keep on doing it", she said, "We have cosplay and costuming on each one of our social networks". Plenty of Marvel books feature cosplay photos in the letter pages of their books, the panelists pointed out.
DeConnick, in a tradition on the Women of Marvel panel initiated in 2009, called on the ladies in the room and asserted "Any notion that we have that women don't read comics, we're setting that aside. That's over now". DeConnick asked ladies interested in comics to stand up and addressed them, "We need you to be ready", she said, "There is room up here. Get your shitty comics out of the way now. You will need each other. You will make stories that make you feel connected to others and the world and we will need that from you. Don't be afraid. Start now".
The panel broke early into Q&A:
Q: With the announcement of She-Hulk and Black Widow, what's another female hero you'd like to see on their own book?
A: (various) Jessica Drew, Rogue, Jubilee, Mystique, Storm
Q: My friend, who happens to be female, and I, argue that I make too much of a big deal over female representation in comics…
Kelly Sue DeConnick: She's wrong! It is a big deal. I am willing to make people uncomfortable so that my daughter doesn't have to! I was Smurfette on the Avengers panel yesterday and NO! That's not good enough. I appreciate and I am proud of the progress that's being made and I don't want to sweep it under the table. But this job ain't done. Nobody sit down! [applause interrupted and followed]
Q: Talking about representation of women, women of color and everything—what's the most important message you'd like people to get?
Amanat: We've all felt like outsiders in our own way, and you can use that medium to address people who are outsiders and show that everyone actually is on the same playing field. I feel very lucky as a minority in a minority (medium), I try to use the books to be inclusive. I have some unannounced books coming out in a few weeks that I hope will do that.
DeConnick: I think that the message is that no one is "other". That white males are not the "default human being". There is no such thing.
Q: Thank you for creating more diversity of characters. Ever since Marvel has started to create equal representation, I've seen large new audiences coming in, and they are the nicest, friendliest, most polite…happy and upbeat about life. What can we, as fans, to spread to the general audience out there about who Captain Marvel is, who Sif is…?
Stephens: Cosplay! Cosplay is advertizing without speaking. Walking around this convention, you see an interesting character, and you ask about it, and you think, "Maybe I'll read it". I think maybe you're doing it without even realizing it.
Amanat: We do our best to create content that's going to represent the world in all its forms. What we need from you guys is to go into your comic shop and buy two copies of those books and give one to a friend. We need you to continue to do that. We need you to physically pay 3 extra dollars. We are so broke up here (laughter).
Q: I heard recently that Marvel and Natalie Portman have gotten together. I'm a science student myself, but I gotta admit that I was a little skeptical about that. How genuine is this one? Or is it just promotional?
DeConnick: Who cares if the end result is the same? And we end up with more women in science. I have no way of knowing how sincere the motivations are of those involved. I have a line of t-shirts that I curate for We Love Fine and my commission for that goes to the Girls Leadership Institute. At first, we raised enough to send a girl to camp, and now we're well on our way to a full scholarship. If the people buy the shirt just because they like the design, we still get the same result.
Q: It's still a really sexist industry. But I would love to hear any stories of interactions you've had with dudes who were being sexist, but you walked away from feeling great.
Amanat: I've got one! I actually grew up with two brothers. I had an experience with my first job in comics, and I dealt with a male boss, and actually was not a white male. But he made me feel really really bad about the fact that I knew nothing about comics. I grew up around comics, and watched cartoon shows, and read Archie, but he made me feel really bad for not being a fangirl. It made me feel really crappy about the fact that I was not smart enough to be in the industry. But then that company went under and I got a job at Marvel. And it was a nice "screw you" moment.
Pichelli: Right before I came here to this panel, I was sketching at my table. A guy came to my table, said "Huge fan", and he said at one point, "Oh, you're really talented for being a lady". My reaction was a big smile, because it's not a big deal. It's my working talking, so I don't give a shit! This is going to happen very often, so get ready for that, for the smile.
DeConnick: Every time we get some kind of "garbagey" Tumblr question, I get a thousand extra followers out of my response so I'm ok with it. Sometimes spite is the only reason I get out of the bed in the morning. We tell our daughter "You don't have to be a nice girl, but you have to be kind". I've gotten a "You'd be prettier if you smiled" essentially on a Image promo photo because I didn't smile. I know that [the photographer], like most people have the best intentions, but they are just blowing it.
Q: I want to talk about the queer ladies. I know we are working for more ladies, but how far away from a flagship queer lady like Batwoman?
Schaeffer: Representation for women and LGBTQ and minorities, it's not going to happen if we just sit. We've pushed ourselves outside of our comfort zone to do this thing, even if we don't have life experience of it. I don't know what the time-line is, but it is something that is happening, and that we are working on.
Some of the other audience members with questions and commentary talked about programs for young women to look out for and those seeking advice for mentoring programs. While the books on the panel were very much being celebrated and cheered on, it also felt like a social rally of sorts with plenty of free exchange of information and a two-way street in conversation about the personal struggles for both fans and readers dealing with the comics industry. The upshot was a hell of a lot of common ground between the experiences of female readers, editors, writers, and artists in a widespread uphill struggle, but one that's increasingly generating its own internal momentum.
Hannah Means-Shannon is Senior New York Correspondent at Bleeding Cool, writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org, and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress. Find her bio here.