The Women of Marvel panel opened at New York Comic Con 2012 in a full room, with nearly as many men in attendance as women and some children. The panelists were relaxed and very friendly to each other as panel moderator and editor Jeanine Schaefer introduced them: editor Ellie Pyle, editor Sana Amanat, writer Marjorie Liu, colorist Jordie Bellaire, AR producer and photographer Judy Stephens (who had a great Captain Marvel costume on) and editor Lauren Sankovitch. Schaefer also noted that artist Janet K. Lee was missing but would probably be along later.
After introductions, Schaefer screened a video message from writer Kelly Sue DeConnick. After saying hello to the audience, DeConnick declared the Women in Comics panel to be her perennial favorite, and that she was sorry she wasn’t there this year. DeConnick also had a command directed at those who aspire to work in the industry: “Making a living in any artistic endeavor is really hard work. Start busting your butt…do it now!”
After applause from the audience, Schaefer asked the room, “How many women in here want to make comics? Stand up!” Many stood up, and Schaefer encouraged them to network and talk to each other.
Schaefer asked the panelists, “How did you get into comics?” Pyle liked comics but thought to herself, “You can’t draw, what would you do there?” and instead pursued her interest in theatre until grad school, which she hated. Then, she sent her resume into Marvel.
Amanat said, “I actually have no business being in comics. I fell into it. I thought I was going to be a lawyer, a journalist.” Instead, she got into freelancing, was eventually hired by a formal Marvel editor, who told her there was a job opening, and she applied and got it.
Liu responded, “I was supposed to be a lawyer. I was a lawyer, then I was a novelist, I was supposed to stay a novelist.” At one time, Marvel was developing prose novels and tapped Liu to help. “They needed an X-Men novel, and that was my foot in the door.”
Bellaire said, “I went to art school, I love comics, I learned about coloring.” Stephens also went to art school, and noted she “really, really wanted to be a photographer.” Her skills in web design eventually led her to Marvel.
Sankovitch had somewhat loftier aspirations before coming to comics. “When I was 11, I wanted to be astronaut, but that didn’t pan out.” After some laughter, Sankovitch continued, “I didn’t read comics when I was a kid.” In college, she studied theater and archaeology, and met someone who was a formal Marvel editor. This was her introduction to comics. “There were words and pictures!” Sankovitch joked about her enthused response. Eventually there was an opening at Marvel and she submitted her resume.
Pyle summed up, “The theme here is you never know about how a person you know might be the one who will connect you…but don’t stalk anyone!” Schaefer then added her own experience, “I worked at DC first, then I came over to Marvel” with some mock-boos from the audience for DC, and Schaefer was mock-offended.
Schaefer opened up the panel to questions from the audience interspersed with queries she received before the convention from Twitter and social media. The first questioner mentioned an earlier NYCC panel on gay marriage, and asked about diversity in mainstream comics.
“As someone who is half-Chinese, who’s grown up around a lot of [places], of course!” Liu responded. “I always like to see more diversity in comics. When you look at the diversity of readership, yes, yes, of course, I want comics to reflect the real world. I think Marvel does a good job of doing that.”
The next fan asked the editors, “Has there ever been a story nixed for not representing women well?” There was a chorus of “Yes!” and “Oh yeah!” from all the editors. Schaefer said that in those cases, she’d sometimes get pushback, with creators saying, “She [any random other woman] thought this was okay, so at least one woman likes it!”
“There’s only one thing you need to be an editor, and that is an opinion,” Schaefer said. “I’ve definitely worked with writers and artists who didn’t meet my idea of what a woman should be. … We need to get more women, more minorities, more opinions across the board.”
Schaefer read out a question from social media asking when Sif would get her own title. While there is no solo series planned, Sankovitch said, “There’s a little title called ‘Journey into Mystery.’ We have Sif having her own set of adventures.”
Questioned about Janet Van Dyne, Sankovitch responded, “Brian Bendis killed her,” but followed up with a message of hope for Wasp fans.
“There are things in the works,” she said. “If you’re not already reading ‘Avengers,’ you should read it.”
When Schaefer asked, “Do you need a Women of Marvel Panel?” Cheers, applause, and shouts of “Yes!” were the spontaneous answers from the audience. One fan said, “I don’t think we need it, but we want it!” to more cheers.
Schaefer divulged that, in response to asking this question in social media, “People were super-mad that we were asking the question,” because they, too, wanted the panel. “We want to foster that community.”
Amanat spoke about the need for these kinds of discussions; especially in the male-heavy industry of comics. “When you’re dealing with a male-dominated company, the perception is that men are running the company because men are running the company,” she said. “We’re living in country without a female president. These types of conversations need to happen.”
Liu agreed, and referred to her own experiences as a novelist. “I wrote romance novels,” she said. “I come from a side of publishing that is all women: editors, writers. When I came to comics, it was all dudes! There are so many women working in the industry, but there’s that masculine weight behind the industry, so yes, I think that this is necessary.”
“It’s like a boys’ club,” Amanat added. “People were like ‘You didn’t grow up reading comics! You’re a girl, what do you know?'” The audience applauded.
Schaefer also clarified that it was the panelists, not Marvel, who put the panel together. “I’m glad that you’re all here and supporting us,” she told the crowd.
After Janet K. Lee arrived and apologized for being late, a fan observed that women have historically been predominantly editors and colorists. Did the panelists think that women were less visible, behind the scenes and unsung more often than men?
“Well, I agree that the colorists are the unsung heroes of comics,” Schaefer said. “Jordie, do you want to talk about that a bit?”
In response, Bellaire spoke about her experience as a colorist in comics. “All these women are brilliant colorists. I hear from men, ‘How come all the good colorists are women?’ It’s an unsung job, maybe that’s why men don’t get it.” After a short pause, Bellaire smiled and said, “I like my job!”
Amanat characterized the rise of female editors as something that’s happened only recently over the last couple years, speculating that the higher-ups said to themselves, “Man, these girls are really smart, we have to get more!” Pyle confirmed that “three out of four of the most recent editorial hires were women” and called them out in the audience.
Near the end of the panel, a child took the microphone and nervously asked the panelists, “What did you want to be [as kids]?” Most of the panelists had stories about finding their paths in college and afterwards, but the best answer came from Liu: “I wanted to be an astronaut, I wanted to be a race car driver, I wanted to be Indiana Jones! Then I was writing, and I realized that as a writer, I could be all those things.”