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Gerry Conway on sexism in corporate superhero comics

by  in Comic News Comment

My point was that the ‘mainstream’ isn’t the whole picture. Frankly, to my mind, ‘mainstream’ comics are actually the least interesting and creative comics published today.

Gerry Conway, clarifying and adding context to comments he made at the Television Critics Association panel on PBS’ documentary, Superheroes: The Never-Ending Battle.

It’s always good to hear both sides of the story. Conway took to Twitter this morning to clarify his thoughts from the panel he was on with Superheroes‘ director Michael Kantor and fellow comics makers Todd McFarlane and Len Wein. It was during that panel that Think Progress’ Alyssa Rosenberg asked about sexism in superhero comics and got some disappointing answers.

“I won’t defend any stupid or insensitive remarks I made yesterday,” Conway wrote, “but I’d like to put them in context. The question we were responding to came near the end of the panel and didn’t really fit the subjects we’d been discussing. So in responding to it, speaking only for myself, I was groping to put in the context of what we were talking about – comics as myth. That’s where the clumsy female knight allusion came from. And it was dumb. I felt bad about it at once because the question deserved better.

“Yes, women and minorities and LGBT folk are horribly underrepresented among the creators of mainstream comics. This is not good. But I argue that they aren’t underrepresented among comic creators in general. My point was that the ‘mainstream’ isn’t the whole picture. Frankly, to my mind, ‘mainstream’ comics are actually the least interesting and creative comics published today. I didn’t feel it was my place to say that because the show we were promoting wasn’t about the creativity of current comics.

“The PBS Superheroes documentary is about a specific genre of comics, speaking to a specific audience, and in my case, in a specific time. The questioner who raised the issue of sexism and non-inclusion wanted to talk about something else, certainly worthy, but not our topic. My proper response should have been, ‘Good point. Next?'”

It’s an interesting disconnect. Rosenberg and NPR critic Linda Holmes had been questioning panelists about sexism in the television industry for much of the press tour. It’s an important issue and extends way beyond just comics. As Holmes wrote on the Monkeysee blog, “[T]elevision is much as it’s always been, continuing to churn out 22-minute sitcoms and 43-minute dramas for broadcast television, made largely by teams of white guys in button-downs and greenlit by white executives in suits, mostly about white guys.” It makes sense that Rosenberg – a comics fan – would also take the opportunity to continue asking these kinds of questions at a panel on superheroes.

That the questions took Conway (and perhaps the other panelists) by surprise is fair. What’s interesting though is that Conway not only doesn’t defend his response, but he doesn’t defend the corporate superhero industry either. I want to be really careful about putting words in his mouth, but if I’m reading Rosenberg’s account correctly, Conway is the one who admitted that yes, corporate superhero comics aren’t getting out in front of the culture very well. And he would perhaps agree that it isn’t an ambitious position. What didn’t come across until Conway started tweeting was that he’s also not really okay with that state of affairs.