In a well-attended panel on Sunday at this year’s Comic-Con International in San Diego, Jeanine Schaefer hosted fellow editor Sana Amanat, writers Kelly Sue Deconnick and Marjorie Liu, artist Janet K. Lee, and photographer Judy Stephens held a panel to discuss the role of women — as creators, editors, staffers and superheroes — at Marvel Comics.
To kick things off, Schaefer told the crowd it was Deconnick’s birthday and the entire room joined in on a rousing version of “Happy Birthday” while Deconnick was presented with a chocolate muffin from a nearby Starbucks.
Schaefer then told the crowded room Marvel previously held a similarly themed panel in New York last year and thought it was a great success. She said they were excited to bring the discussion to the San Diego crowd.
Deconnick got the panel moving by asking all the women in the audience who read superhero comics to raise their hand. It appeared that nearly every female in the room raised their hand. Next, she asked any women in the room who aspired to work in the comic industry to stand up. A large number of audience members quickly jumped to their feet.
“Now that we have dispensed with this, we will have no more discussion today whether women read comic books, whether women superhero comic books or whether women can work in this industry,” Deconnick said.
Schaefer told the audience that Marvel was very supportive of the panel. Amanat said its was to point out that there are women working in a largely male dominated industry.
“I love working where I work,” Stephens said. She explained that she thought of Marvel as a family and that the employees there are all very close.
Schaefer then asked the panel how they discovered comic books. Both Amanat and Liu said they found comic books through cartoons, noting the “X-Men” animated series of the 1990s as a large influence. Deconnick said she discovered superhero comics by living on a military base, where a large comic book culture exists. “Heroism is a big deal when you are putting your life on the line every day,” she said. Lee told the audience she had a neighbor that shared Archie comic books with her and her friends, while Stephens admitted to being a huge “anime and manga geek.”
“We all found it and no one was trying to find us,” Schaefer said. “Could you imagine how many more there could be if they were trying to find more like us?”
The panelists moved on to discuss recent comic books that they felt were negatively portraying female characters citing DC Comics recent “Catwoman” series as one example.
“I don’t have a problem with the sexualizing of women, but I have a problem when that’s all there is,” Amanat said.
Deconnick was quick to praise DC Comics, especially the Batman brand. “The Bat office has cultivated a tremendously devoted female following. It is a really fun family to be in.” She pointed out that Gail Simone was one of the best writers in the industry, female or otherwise.
The discussion then moved to the new “Captain Marvel” series Deconnick is writing starring Carol Danvers.
“I was pitching Ms. Marvel in the old costume. You can thank [editor] Steve Wacker for the new costume,” Deconnick said. “I happen to think it looks sexy, a couple of people on the Internet have said they do not.
“It’s not a book for women; it’s a more inclusive book if we are doing it right,” she continued. Deconnick explained that she has no problem with a sexy tone in a book and believed that sexiness was part of superheroes, but that a costume should represent a character and fit who they are, not just showcase body parts. “I’m a big fan of boobs. I have a pair myself; I’m fond of them.”
The panel then opened up to questions from the audience and a large line formed in the center of the room.
One audience member noted that DC Comics has more books named after female protagonists, to which Amanat responded, “There are a lot of powerful female characters [at Marvel]. It’s about what you do with the characters, not the title of the book.”
Another fan asked if we could expect to see Carol Danvers in any upcoming Marvel movies. “I think that’d be fantastic, but it’s so above my pay grade. I don’t know,” Deconnick said.
One woman who was given a chance to read through the first issue of the new “Captain Marvel” series told the panel how much she enjoyed it. She added that she was one of the Batman fans the panel had mentioned earlier. “Take that Gail Simone!” Deconnick yelled.
Finally, an audience member asked what exactly the panelists meant by portraying female characters correctly. “I don’t care if they are villains, I don’t care that they are hyper sexual, I care that they are protagonists in their own stories,” DeConnick said. “If women are not plot points, if women are not things to be rescued. If they are not rewards. If they have agency, then I am content.”
Stay tuned to CBR News for more coverage of Comic-Con International 2012.