People who have never been to a pop culture convention probably think that it's all fun and games, but what happens when you put nine successful and creative women in one room? Discussion ensues on women-centric topics including sexual harassment, creativity, self-confidence, business networking and how young women can break into the industry.
The Comix Chix panel delved into these issues and more. The panelists were Bonnie Burton (editor, author and show host) Jill Pantozzi (associate editor of The Mary Sue), Joan Hilty (fiction/non-fiction editor), Kate Kotler (host of the Comix Chix podcast), Meghan White (Comix Chix Co-Editor/Contributor), Molly McIsaac (co-star of SyFy's "Fangasm" reality show), Sarah Miller (illustrator and tattoo artist), Nicole Wakelin (writer for the GeekMom web site) and Heidi McDonald (editor-in-chief of comicsbeat.com).
Cosplay and Sexual Harrassment
The panel started with a discussion on sexual harassment, spurred by reports that a male crew from a YouTube channel were "interviewing" female cosplayers at NYCC while staring at their chests and asking pointed questions about their sex lives. The overall tone was a disappointed "Really, is this kind of thing still happening?"
Molly McIssac shared how cosplay helped her get over eating disorders and self-image issues. Cosplayers in the audience had their turns as well. They were invited to come up and speak about the benefits and lessons learned from cosplay.
Fostering Kids' "Geeky" Interests
Nicole Wakelin and panel attendees discussed how parents can positively foster and respect their children's interests, even if those interests are not the same as their parents. "There are things you can do as a parent to encourage them," said Wakelin. "One of my daughters loves to draw and wanted a set of colored pencils more than anything else for her birthday."
Wakelin elaborated via email on this idea: "I think that no matter what a child's interest, parents can find easy ways to support them even if they don't 'get' their child's passions. Still, if your kid falls in love with My Little Pony, it wouldn't hurt to learn what a cutie mark is and to be able to recognize Rainbow Dash."
Breaking Into Creative Fields
Young female creators were invited to come up and talk about their efforts to break into the industry. One young woman who is just starting out as a writer was visibly uncomfortable being in the spotlight, but received advice from the panel on marketing and the importance of networking. She then went forth and wrote about the experience.
Bonnie Burton additionally encouraged anyone who wanted to become an author to write successful creators that they admire and ask how they advanced their own careers; something that she herself did when starting out.
A Word of Warning
Womanthology, a series of books showcasing the work of female comic creators, was praised for its quality. However, Heidi MacDonald and Joan Hilty cautioned the group about collections put together on the basis that "they're all by women."
"Comix Chix" host Kate Kotler agrees. In an email interview, she wrote "I think that Heidi and Joan Hilty had really valid points about this. Honestly, as a journalist, I much prefer to be judged on the merit of my work rather than my gender. And, I think it's important that women in comics be evaluated alongside their male colleagues.
On the other hand, women's anthologies are important to the industry for a couple of really big reasons: They are a great springboard for creators just starting out to get their work published and into the hands of a large number of diverse readers. Also, they are a great way to highlight the outstanding work of underused or lesser known creators already working in the comics industry."
In addition to Womanthology, the organization "Friends of Lulu" which promotes and encourages female participation in the comics industry was praised, as was the PBS documentary "Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines".
Providing Support and Community to Female Creators
Are women-centric creator panels are really needed at cons? Kotler says "I think that panels like this are important for a few reasons: First of all, the female geek community is a very supportive and diverse one. It is important that women who feel isolated or like there is no one to mentor or support them in their endeavors can see that there is a place they can go where like-minded people will listen, talk and give constructive feedback and advice.
"Second, I think that highlighting the accomplishments of women in all aspects of comics is important to the industry; to combat the image that comics are a "boy's thing." Approximately 47 percent of the comic buying demographic are women, and there is growth each year as to the number of female creators doing amazing work. It is really important to highlight that so as to demonstrate that, yes--women can be as successful in comics as men, sometimes even more so.
"Lastly, in the media there is such a bitter back and forth between the "geek girl community" and a particular subset of males (and a few women) who feel we have no place in the greater comics community. It becomes essential to counter that negativity by highlighting the positive contributions of women to the comics community and industry. Panels like Comix Chix Live! are a great place to do that."
How will women get better opportunities? Kotler encourages women to "keep pushing." "Push yourself to create and share your work. Push publishers to consider women as creators by continually submitting to them. In the past five years, the issue of women in comics and pop culture has rapidly accelerated and some really good progress has been made. However, there is still work to do before we can honestly look at the comics industry and say that it is an industry with gender parity.
"As Mahatma Gandhi said, 'You have to be the change you want to see in the world.' That means that the responsibility to foster the success of female comics creators starts with female comics creators. So, keep pushing!"