Last Sunday morning at San Diego's Comic-Con International saw the Women of Marvel panel, where panelists included colorists Christina Strain, Emily Warren, and Laura Martin, "Dark Wolverine" co-writer Marjorie Liu, "X-Men: First Class" backup feature artist Colleen Coover, Collections Editor Jen GrÃ¼nwald, and moderator Jim McCann.
"One of these things is not like the other," McCann joked.
First, McCann announced that "Thor" and "The Stand" colorist Laura Martin is Marvel's newest exclusive creator. He then exited the stage, turning the panel over to the ladies.
GrÃ¼nwald introduced herself as the person responsible for Marvel's trade paperbacks and hardcovers. "The handbooks are my biggest, most fun projects," she said. "I love them but they are a lot of work."
Martin thanked Warren and Strain for helping her color "Secret Invasion." "That was way too much work for one person, so thanks," she said. Strain in turn thanked Martin and Peter Steigerwald for "teaching me everything I know."
After introductions, the floor was opened to questions from attendees. The first fan asked about breaking into comics as a writer. "Mine was a bit of a roundabout way, because I wrote a novel tie-in," Liu said, referring to "X-Men: Dark Mirror." She handed her card to Marvel's Ruwan Jayatilleke at Comic-Con, and after discussions, she accepted her first project, "NYX" volume 2.
"It's incredibly difficult to break in cold," Coover said, citing husband Paul Tobin's experience, as she is not primarily a writer. "No editor is able to look at a script because they don't have time." Coover recommended publishing comics through smaller presses. "That means you also have to find an artist."
Strain added that web comics were a good idea, even if it was stick figures, as is done in "XKCD."
Coover said that even if one's goal is to ultimately write superheroes, their first projects need not be superheroes. She and Tobin published "Banana Sunday" at Oni, which helped both get work at Marvel.
The subject of sexism in the industry came up next, with each of the women saying that it hadn't been a problem for them. "I've been in the industry for a number of years, with a number of publishers," Martin said, "and I've got to say I'm a colorist first, and people generally treat me that way." Martin added that she had heard the horror stories but had not experienced them.
"Most of us work at home alone," Strain added. "My computer is genderless."
Strain touched on the profound lack of female creators in American mainstream comics. "Through the portfolio review, I can tell you on one hand how many women I met who were not holding their boyfriend's place in line." She said that in other countries the makeup of aspiring creators is roughly 50/50, but there is a self-perpetuating perception of comics as male-dominated in America.
"Christina, have you heard the thing, you have so much more subtle color choices because you're a woman?" Martin asked.
"Oh yeah," Strain laughed. The pair cited Jose Villarubia and other impressive male colorists known for their subtler work.
Coover added that the Portland comics scene is about 50% female.
Citing an online article criticizing an X-Men cover she produced with Terry Dodson, Strain said, "Two out of three people who worked on this were women, dude. You don't need to rescue me."
"A lot of times it's men saying it," GrÃ¼nwald added.
"We've all colored a bunch of breasts," Martin said.
Another fan asked about the evolution of female characters in comics and whether more strong female leads will bring in more female readers. "A lot of it really is content. The thing that I'm mostly interested in is romance and slice-of-life books," Strain said. "No amount of female characters in science-fiction fantasy is going to make me like it. Nothing against fantasy, but it's not what I like."
Coover noted that while fans want more female creators, it was worth praising some male creators, as well. "A lot of these guys really want to push the female characters in comics," she said.
Strain said the internet and the advent of fan translations of foreign work has allowed people to read material from all over the world, which has changed what is read. Email also makes collaboration with foreign artists easier, she said.
Martin mentioned the web site Sequential Tart and its promotion of welcoming retailers, promoting Strain to say, "The comic shops are one of the ground-level bad first impressions of comics."
"You walk into a shop and it's mostly all guys, and sometimes they look at you like, 'What the hell are you doing here?'" Liu said. "You can almost feel like you're on a mission from the government, to snatch a mag and get out, because you feel so uncomfortable."
On the subject of women writing men, "I don't care if I'm writing a man or a woman, I care about personality," Liu said of "Dark Wolverine." "If I can take that character and make him interesting and quirky, that's my job and I love it."
Asked what character they'd like to work on, Liu immediately said, "Rogue. She needs some help. The panel agreed that Rogue is a fun character.
"She couldn't kiss anybody, that's the saddest thing ever!" Strain said.
On Marvel's efforts toward promoting female characters, Strain mentioned that fans forget all the series that had been cancelled, such as "Jubilee." "That made me sad, but they are trying. It's expensive to make a comic book, and if you keep publishing books that don't make any money you go out of business. Like CrossGen." Strain and Martin both worked for that publisher.
Coover and Martin added that much of the expense is in printing and distribution, rather than with the creator fees.