GENDER AND RACE AT NEW YORK COMIC-CON 2013

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One of the most interesting panels I had the pleasure of attending was Geeks of Color Assemble! Minorities in Fandom and Geek Culture. The panel, with a variety of astounding guests, included award-winning writer N.K. Jemisin, games writer and critic Jeffrey L. Wilson, Emmanuel Ortiz, who runs Nerd Caliber, writer and musician Muse en Lystrala, Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad, founding editor of Islam and Science Fiction, and amazing cosplayers Ger Tysk and Jay Justice.

Moderated by Diana Pho, an Editorial Assistant at Tor Books and the maintainer of the Beyond Victoriana multicultural steampunk website,  asked the panel a battery of interesting questions, ranging from personal experience of racism in geek culture, to representation in the media, to how we can create a stronger fan community. It was amazing to see fans of so many different races coming together, and agreeing on the issues that popular culture faces today.

The panel was an incredible experience, and was, unfortunately, in a very small room. The line, which stretched past the cordoned off area and ran parallel the equally long line for NBC’s Dracula, was cut off about 15 minutes before the doors to the room even opened. The interested and attentiveness of the crowd was great.

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Panels like this one are incredibly important, because being a nerd is all about identifying as an “outcast,” yet so many nerds choose to outcast people who don’t seem to be enough “like” them. The panel emphasized the importance of representation in media, and while this year has shown a lot of improvement, with leading women of color on shows like Elementary and Sleepy Hollow, characters of color in video games like Assassins’ CreedPortaland Mirrors Edge, and comics like Mighty Avengers, featuring a predominantly non-white cast, we still have a long way to go before there’s any sense of equality for people of color.

Equality for women in media was also a buzzword at New York Comic Con this year. Amidst the distasteful advertisements for Arizona Ice Tea and rampant con harassment from attendees and “press” alike, it was nice to see that there were panels that were not only safe spaces for women, but also celebrated them. The Women of Marvel panel did not disappoint in any regards. A Marvel tradition at NYCC since 2009, Women of Marvel features a host of female artists, writers, editors, and various other employees of Mighty Marvel. This year, the line for the panel (which had been moved to a larger room than last year) stretched all the way to the food court in the Javits Center, and was cut off about 30 minutes before the panel doors even opened. Barely making it to the room, I managed to squeeze into a great seat and view the panel for the first time in person.

It’s a rare thing at comic cons, even today, to have an all-female (or even majority female) panel, so it was an especially big treat to be able to get in the panel (even though the panel has been live-blogged and livestreamed since 2010). The room itself was pack, and I would go so far as to say the panel sincerely deserved to be moved to one of the main panel rooms at the convention. Everyone in the room was buzzing with energy and enthusiasm about comics and women in comics.

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The panel was huge, featuring Kelly Sue Deconnick, Sara Pichelli, Janet Lee, Stephanie Hans, Jeanine Schaefer, Sana Amant, Lauren Sankovitch, Emily Shaw, Ellie Pyle, and Judy Stephens, all women who play a number of vital roles at Marvel, from writing and art to media management and cosplay.

Even better was the fact that the audience was majority female. This was actually something I noticed all weekend; NYCC was filled with women. And not just bored looking girlfriends or mothers, but women who were buying comics and action figures, women who cosplaying or in street clothes, women dragging along bored looking boyfriends. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the convention was majority women, but it was at least an equal amount of women to men.

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The panel started out with some new announcements about the female characters of Marvel. The crowd cheered and whooped when a new Black Widow solo series was announced. With beautiful (and, it seems, non-objectifying) art by Phil Noto, written by Nathan Edmondson, the series will focus on Natasha’s life outside of the Avengers, giving the audience a clear look into her head. She will also be engaging in a lot of activity that “her teammates might not be thrilled” about. A stand alone story from the series will also be included in an upcoming All-New Marvel NOW! Point One, coming out in January (this Point One will also feature the introduction of the “new Ms. Marvel”).

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The upcoming She-Hulk solo book was also brought up. After the cancellation of titles like Red She-HulkJourney into Mystery featuring Sif, and, most recently, Fearless Defenders, it’s good to see that Marvel is making a clear effort to repopulate those open spaces with more female-led titles. As I’ve said before, I am extremely excited about She-Hulk, with it’s fun sounding story and the NYCC-exclusively released Amanda Conner variant cover. The book will show how much Jen loves being both a superhero and a lawyer, and was described as contextually similar to Hawkeye. The first issue will also feature a guest star, with the warning “it’s gonna get sassy!”

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Captain Marvel was the next topic of discussion. Fast becoming Marvel’s flagship female, Carol Danvers is taking a (well-deserved) vacation after the upcoming, post-Infinity issue. This next issue promises to be a “big Kit issue,” meaning it will focus on the little girl who looks up to Captain Marvel (and just happens to be her next door neighbor). Kit, Wendy, and the supporting cast of Captain Marvel is part of what makes the title such a special one.

Kelly Sue Deconnick will also be teaming up with Warren Ellis (her “favorite writer (except for [her husband]Matt [Fraction]“) to pen the next arc of Avengers Assemble, which stars a variety of spider-women (Anya, Natasha, and Jessica Drew). Kelly Sue spoke very positively about the experience of writing with Ellis, and crafting a story about three thematically similar, but completely different women.

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The newly introduced Ren will be a big part of the remaining issues of Fearless Defenders, and it was strongly implied that she and Annabell Riggs would become romantically involved.

Loki was also briefly touched upon, and a few audience members were invited up on stage to read the not-then-released Young Avengers #11, which explains Loki’s sudden aging. Obviously a smart move, based on the loud cheering coming from a number of audience members, the book was described as one where “we will lie to you ever issue….and look super handsome doing it!”

Jessica Drew was widely regarded as a crowd- and fan-favorite for getting her own series, and the panel teased that it may be a possibility in the near future. For now, Spider-Woman will be joining the Secret Avengers, brought on by new writer Ales Kot.

Cosplay, and Marvel’s annualCostoberfest, were mentioned by Judy Stephens as a way to get into the comics industry. Judy, speaking from experience, started out as a cosplayer and eventually became both a blogger and the AR Manager for the company.

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Then the panelists asked all the women in the room to stand. Over three-fourths of the room stood up and cheered. Aside from being informative, the panel also became motivational, with Kelly Sue Deconnick delivering a rousing “you can do it together” speech, emphasizing the importance of banding together for women who are interested in the comics industry and making comics. The crowd got a little teary eyed as Kelly Sue and the rest of the panel emphasized that you can “never have too much representation in the media” in regards to female and queer characters and characters of color.

The panel teased that in the coming months, Marvel will have a number of announcements regarding “minority characters,” including characters of different sexuality and race. The panel even stated that Marvel was working towards having a queer flagship character, and is always talking about how to improve representation.

The panel also emphasized that, while Marvel NOW! brought in new readers, the best way to ensure the longevity of titles and characters that you love is to advertised them by word-of-mouth. Pre-ordering books, giving your digital copies to friends, and cosplaying lesser-known characters were all listed as ways to help keep your favorite titles alive.

One audience member asked about the partnership between Marvel and Natalie Portman that is working to find more women in STEM and support female scientists. She questioned if Marvel was doing it to help women, or if they were just trying to get attention. Kelly Sue countered with: “why does it matter?” She went on to extrapolate about a series of Captain Marvel t-shirts offered through We Love Fine. The curation commissions she makes off the t-shirts go to Girls’ Leadership Institution. She explained that whether someone bought a shirt to support the Institution or just because they liked the design, the money was still going to support women, and that was the important thing.

vintage-carolA fan commented that she would like to see more major female scientists in continuity, and the panel told her to keep an eye on the Indestructible Hulk.

The topic of sexualized art was brought up by another audience member. Ellie Pyle commented that it’s not always helpful to lash out at comic artists. “They grew up seeing comic art that was sexist” and may unconsciously emulate what they saw in their youth. “Pointing out the issue without anger” is the best way to approach the problem.

Artist Sara Pichelli commented that one of the worst compliments that she has received at almost every convention is “you’re really talented for being a lady.” That kind of sexist attitude is pervasive in comics for both writers and artists, and is one that truly needs to be done away with.

I wish DC had more women at the convention (this year, I believe only Nicola Scott and Amanda Conner were there, but their panel attendance was limited due to their need to be in the artist alley), or were able to create a Women of DC panel similar to this one. As a woman who loves comics, it’s encouraging to connect with other like-minded women face-to-face. I hope Marvel continues the Women of Marvel panel for years to come, regardless of how many female characters, artists, or writers there are.

This originally appeared in Ellie’s “Heroine Addict”column on the Modern Myths website.

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About Author

Ellie Hillis

Ellie Hillis is a Heroine Addict...which is to say she loves super heroines. A comic historian and an aspiring author, Ellie wrote her thesis on the endurance of superheroines in comics, and has been published in Capes, Cowls & Villains Foul and the Gallery of Evil, both published by Spectrum Games. When she's not reading, writing, or drawing comics, she's probably watching television comedies, making costumes, listening to nerdcore, or analyzing popular culture.