C2E2: Women of Marvel Panel Celebrates over 20 Female-Led Titles

The room was packed for 's Women of Marvel panel, which saw some attendees line up an hour in advance to be sure they would get in. Once they were inside, the audience greeted each new slide, announcement, and comment, with cheers, whoops and applause.

This year's panel was a live-action version of the weekly Women in Marvel podcast, the first time it was done at C2E2. The participants were producer Judy Stephens, who moderated the panel, editor Katie Kubert, assistant editor Emily Shaw, colorist Rachelle Rosenberg, writer Marguerite Bennett, and artists Annie Wu and Stacey Lee.

Stephens led off with a slide of Marvel's female-led titles. "Currently we have 20," she said, to cheers from the audience.

Next, she shared some news and first looks. First came the announcement of the original graphic novel "The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe," by the regular Squirrel Girl team of writer Ryan North and artist Erica Henderson.

Then she unveiled the Mighty Men of Marvel variant cover program, which was met with whoops of delight from the audience. "I have pushed really hard for this" said Kubert. "Anybody who has read a Katie Kubert-edited comic will probably understand that I like some sex appeal in my men in my comics, but that's not what these covers are about. These are about showing our male characters as strong, iconic men who are also attractive."

The third announcement was that Jessica Jones will be guest starring in "Patsy Walker A.K.A. Hellcat" in June. Then, Stephenson turned to some first looks at new art, including Ben Caldwell's art for "A-Force," which is written by Kelly Thompson, Afua Richardson's pages for "Blade," and Moon Girl's new superhero costume from "Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur."

During the audience question-and-answer session, Shaw, Wu and Lee had a lively discussion about costume design. "Especially for female characters, you want them to be very distinct from one another," said Shaw. "They all have different personalities, they all have different origin stories, and you want their costume to tell that story." For Scarlet Witch, she worked with fashion designer Kevin Wada, who approached the costume as something that would actually be worn by a real person. They went with a corseted look, to evoke the romantic, gothic aspects of the character. Ms. Marvel, on the other hand, has a costume that is not skin tight, reflecting the fact that she is still a high school student.

"I try to get into the mind of the character and think a lot about their background," said Wu. "Even details like whether or not they chose the costume for themselves, if they are part of a team, if they are actually superpowered. I worked on Kate Bishop and she's not a superpowered superhero. She's very, very skilled but she can't leap buildings or fly, and that affects how she dresses and how practical her outfits need to be. I like to think about if they dress themselves, how much money do they have, do they have to make their own costume? Details, like how they want to present themselves to the world. Do they want to be weird? Do they want to be stealthy and unnoticed?"

Lee agreed and pointed to a very specific change she had requested: Cutting Silk's hair. "There's a lot of heroines with long black hair," she said. "I wanted her to stand out -- she's kind of perky -- so when they said that I could cut her hair, I was like, 'Yes!' The struggle with female characters is, everybody wants to be cool, and superheroes want to be attractive and sexy, but you don't want to look trashy, like Emma Frost -- some of her old costumes are a little dicey."

Shaw summed it up: "There's a difference between a character who is sexy and owns her sexuality and is just very beautiful and then being sexualized and showing a costume that is just revealing for the reader. Walking that line is very important in costume design and something that these women do really, really well."

In response to several questions, Kubert and Shaw made it clear that the success of female-led titles such as "Silk," "Ms. Marvel" and "Spider-Gwen" has made it easier to pitch more female-led titles -- and bring in more women on the creative side as well.

"Only a couple of years ago, we had a small handful of female-led titles," said Shaw. "It was at this panel that we were like, 'Hey, if you want more female titles, buy them! Go to the store and get them, and we'll make more.' And now you can see we have 20 female-led titles, which is insane, and that's basically half of our line. So just in the last couple of years, it's changed immensely. Behind the scenes, whenever we pitch a new book, pitching a solo female title, it used to be a lot harder to get approved through sales. Now, it's like, absolutely -- go for it."

"As for having female creators behind the scenes work on male characters, I think that's just as important as having them work on female characters," Kubert said, adding that she edits a number of titles featuring solo male characters. "It's really just about being able to connect with the character, whether they are male or female, and getting your voice heard in how you think they should be portrayed, true to who they are. It's important that women creators get behind everything, not just female characters."

Male or female, Kubert said, "Our first jobs as editors are to the characters, making sure that we hold up who they are at their core as both heroes and people."

Kubert was also hopeful the success of the female-led titles will encourage more female creators to come into the field. "Confidence breeds confidence," she said. "A while ago, it was difficult to get our voices heard, but I think seeing that there are good examples of women who are making a difference, who are getting their voices heard, who are building things, hopefully will inspire confidence in others to be like 'OK, it's not that hard. I can do it too.'"

"Also, coming to these conventions and getting a roomful of people willing to hear us talk and willing to see more female titles," said Stephens. "The Internet has changed the way people can get comics, not only digitally but also the way that people can find different ways to read and different ways to find community," and she pointed to the Carol Corps, a network of Carol Danvers fans, as an example of that.

For her part, Bennett hopes the popularity of female characters will allow more scope for characters that aren't perfect. Because for many years women characters were "props," as she put it, the current tendency is to swing the other way and make them flawless. "One of the things I would love to see is women who are not aspirational," she said. "That's one of the things I love that Marvel is giving me to do, is working on Angela [in "Angela: Queen of Hell"]. Angela and Sera are not aspirational characters. They like each other and killing for hire, and that's it. Even growing up, people asked me, who were your favorite heroines growing up? I don't have an answer for that. My favorite characters were the villains, like Catwoman and Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, because they didn't have to be good -- they got to be themselves. More titles means that no woman has to suddenly validate the experience of all women, so having different types of female-led titles, books, movies, what have you, is the way that we get to a richer and more complete stage of art."

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