Welcome to CBR’s live coverage of Marvel Comics’ Women in Marvel panel at Comic-Con International 2008. Check back here every few minutes for more updates direct from the discussion with
“Dark Tower” co-writer Robin Furth, “NYX” writer Marjorie Liu, “Lords of Avalon” writer Sherrilyn Kenyon, editor Jen Grunwald, “Runaways” colorist Christina Strain,”X-Force” colorst Sonya Obak, “King-Size Spider-Man Special” artist Colleen Coover, “Big Hero Six” colorist Emily Warren, Irene Flores, Occasional Superheroine blogger and Friends of Lulu President Valerie D’Orazio, and Assistant Manager of Sales Communications Jim McCann.
“I perceived this panel as helping to break down the four-color ceiling,” McCann said at the outset. “I wanted to make sure the women got their time to shine.”
The first question came from Mike Choi: How did you break into comics?
Strain said she attended comic-cons and went to art school, eventually getting a job at CrossGen and then Marvel. Obak got her start as an intern at Top Cow. Coover said she began making comics that were totally inappropriate for children (“Small Favors”) before creating “Banana Sunday” for Oni Press. That project caught Marvel’s attention. Flores entered a TOKYOPOP contest and won. D’Orazio began as an assistant editor at Acclaim Comics before becoming a successful blogger and was then asked to pitch for Marvel.
D’Orazio will write the new miniseries “Cloak and Dagger” with artwork by Irene Flores and colors by Emily Warren. The news was met with enthusiastic applause from the San Diego crowd.
Jen Grunwald worked at a comic book store before interning at Marvel and moving up the ranks to editor.
Robin Firth came into comics via Stephen King’s “Dark Tower.” King hired Firth to create a kind of bible of the Dark Tower universe, which led to her co-writing the Dark Tower projects with Peter David.
Liu wrote the X-Men novel “Dark Mirror” that began a “three-year-conversation” that led to NYX.
Kenyon wrote her first comic book when she was six-years-old. “Unbelievably, nobody wanted to publish it.” She graduated to comics strips that she sold for a nickel each throughout grade school and high school. The best-selling novelist finally made it into comics bia Neil Gaiman’s agent.
Strain later said “I want to get it out of people’s head that there is some crazy sexism in comics. I’ll tell you right now it’s not true. My years doing portfolio reviews, I saw tons of girls in portfolio lines. 99% of those girls were holding their boyfriend’s place in line. The ones that were pencillers, they wanted to do anime/manga.” For herself, Strain decided to become a colorist because “my men look like chicks.” “There is no sexism. Nobody would ever know if I was a chick if I signed my name Chris Strain. It only matters how good you are at your job. I don’t think it would be right to have a lot of females in comics just to fill some kind of quota.”
Coover: “Like every other industry on earth, in [decades past] there was plenty of grabbery going in in the offices. We do need to acknowledge that. There was plenty of sexism to go around. But Christina is right. There’s no prejudice against female creators. There were a lot of very talented and popular female creators in [decades past], and I suggest you read some of Trina robbins’ books about comics.”
Firth: “I think being female in any field, sometimes the thing that stops you is yourself. As I talk to women who are interested in writing, I ask if they’ve submitted things. They say no, that they’re afraid they’re not good enough. That’s a tragedy. Those ceilings, we internalize them and they can stop us.”
D’Oroazio: “I have seen some sexism in the comic book industry. But I think now everybody is just trying to give women the most opportunities they possibly can. Now is the best time for women to get into the industry. I don’t think we should completely forget the past, but both Marvel and DC are trying to give women as many opportunities as possible. I’m very excited right now.”
Grunwald: “There’s also a percentage thing. Up until now there haven’t been that many women interested in comics.”
Strain: “With the spread of manga, you see more girls in comics. It’s going to take time. It’s not going to be an immediate turnover, but I think in the next 5-10 years you’re going to see more women. And not because we need to have more women, but because there are more women interested in comics and talented and persistent in getting that job. You’ve got to try. I worked my ASS off to get into comics.”
Liu: “Self-belief is so important in anything you do. But there is a huge divide between perception and reality when it comes to women in comics. The perception is we are a novelty. I see it in comic book stores, with the girls standing in line with their boyfriends. There’s a perception that comic books and comic book writing is just for guys. The interest for girls is there, but there is still this sense that if you try to do this, no matter how good you are, you won’t be accepted because you’re a girl. I think it will change.”
Firth: “When I started getting into comics one of the things that really helped was reading about the comic book women collectives from the 60s.”
The audience then asked some questions.
Does mainstream comics scare women off? Frank Cho does pinups to softcore porn. Are we bringing in and sending them to manga?
Strain: “I think girls are going to manga because it’s more accessible to them. But when I was younger I liked X-Men. But as for Frank Cho, I know a lot of people don’t point this out but men are drawn just as unrealistically as women in comics. They had to put padding on the Superman suit because the guy isn’t built that way. I’ve also had to work on comics where we reduce the size of the man’s ‘package’ because the artist drew it too big.”
Coover: “The Sandman brought a lot of young women into comics. I think what we really need to see more of to bring more women readers is not necessarily a certain genre but a certain amount of meatiness in the story, because I think that’s what women respond to.”
A fan asked, “Do you think there’s a resistance to the male readers? I want to write X-Men, I’m not interested in writing romance stories. I’ve been told to my face girls can’t write super-heroes.”
Coover: “There’s a lady named Gail Simone who’s doing a pretty good job.”
Do you feel that with books like NYX and Birds of Prey it’s easier for women to get into writing superheroes? Liu: “If you want it bad enough, you will get it. Perceptions are changing.”
Grunwald: “There’s less of these guys saying you can’t do this because you’re a girl.”
D’Orazio: “When I was 12 I pitched a Punisher story to Marvel. They were very supportive. They didn’t tell me to write Care Bears. They offered me an internship and I was too young to take it. They told me to get some life experience and I got it and here I am.”
Flores: “Since i’ve started going to portfolio reviews, I’ve never had that ‘hey you’re a girl’ problem. It never occurred to me that I might be rejected just because I’m a girl. I’m going to show them my work and if they don’t like it, I’ll just go somewhere else.”
Strain: “There are girls who love traditional superhero comics. So the more stuff we have available genre-wise, the more women you draw in. Not all women are into romance comics.
Kenyon: “The one time I was rejected for being a woman was in novel publishing. I was begged to submit and when they saw my name on the cover they said we don’t publish romance. It was an assassin story.”
In response to a fan’s question about overt sexuality in the original Cloak and Dagger comics, D’Orazio said nobody has ever told her to increase the sex ante.
Strain: “On Runaways and Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, we had strict guidelines to keep it from being too sexy. Marvel is very good about saying ‘don’t cross this line.’ There’s been never any time when we’ve been told to push the sex.”
What advantages do the female perspective bring to characters and stories?
Liu: “The female perspective is different, and different is good.”
Coover: “You’ll often hear ‘that guy knows how to write female characters.’ Don’t forget that female character is a human character.”
Do you have any thoughts on superhero films bringing in female readers? Strain: “Lots of PEOPLE, really. There are a lot of things out there that are bringing girls in. Different people have different tastes. As much as I love superheroes, my personal interests are different from what’s in the mainstream. I know a lot of guys who say they outgrew superheroes. THose movies are bringing people in, but I think the key to keeping people in comics is diverse material.”
Kenyon: “Anything you can do like Iron Man to get to the widest audience possible is a positive thing.”
Is there any way to make comic books more accessible in terms of women’s appearances? The women in the Iron Man movie don’t have breasts as big as their heads. Coover: “There are whole companies built on a certain style that fall into that aesthetic of large breasts and a certain sort of character. And they’re very popular still. You have local shop owners who get into ordering habits, readers into reading habits. With the trade market getting into bookstores you see more acessibility to general readers. Movies based on comics — not just superheroes, but movies like Ghost World, Watchmen, Road to Perdition. You’ll see more female readers because that gets comics into a wider general audience.”
Liu: “Going back to body image, marketing and fantasy go hand in hand. It seems like that’s part of the entertainment industry. It’d be nice if it’d change, but it seems to be based on the same selling philosophy.”
Strain: “It is changing. Runaways and Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane did not have big breasts!”
Liu: “And NYX!”
Firth: “As somebody who grew up with large breasts, there is something kind of freeing when you see a comic book character zipping across the sky and she also has lots of muscles and she’s not this scrawny little thing, I like that.”
Grunwald: “I hope we don’t get rid of all of them, I kind of like them!”
Firth: “Coming up in Dark Tower is a female gunslinger. She looks real. She’s a young women. She’s swinging her guns just like the guy.”
A fan asked about the Mary Jane statue and the infamous Heroes for HIre cover.
Strain: ‘I don’t care what anybody says, I love Adam Hughes. His wok is more of a play on that stuff. There’s humor to it. What’s wrong with being a little sexy?”
Coover: “One of the things I always liked about She-Hulk is that she has the ability to go back and forth between Jennifer and She-Hulk, but she chooses to become this big bodacious character. A little bit of wink and nod… again there’s muscly fellows who appear to all sorts of people.”
Strain: “There are some male superhero statues… well, if only there were more men built like that.”
Are there any female characters you don’t like?
Strain: “I don’t like Supergirl. I think she’s annoying.”
Grunwald: “I don’t like Emma. She’s a husband-stealer!”