On Sunday afternoon, Marvel Comics kicked off its annual “Women of Marvel” panel at New York Comic Con with no less than 16 participants whose roles span from editorial to marketing to creative: Jeanine Schaefer (Senior Manager, Talent Relations), Sana Amanat (Editor, “Ms. Marvel”), Katie Kubert (Editor, “Wolverine and the X-Men”), Ellie Pyle (Associate Editor, “Daredevil”), Emily Shaw (Assistant Editor, “Ultimate Spider-Man”), Judy Stephens (Production and Photographer, Marvel.com), Adri Cowan (Social Media Manager), Kelly Sue DeConnick (writer, “Captain Marvel”), Marguerite Bennett (writer, “Angela: Asgard’s Assassin”), G. Willow Wilson (writer, “Ms. Marvel”), Erica Henderson (artist, “Squirrel Girl”), Stephanie Hans (artist, “Angela: Asgard’s Assassin”), Stacey Lee (artist, “Silk”), Sara Pichelli (artist, “Guardians of the Galaxy”), Jen Grunwald (Trade Paperback Editor), and newcomer Margaret Stohl (“Black Widow” Young Adult Novel). Crowding around one standard-sized panelist table that was far too small for such company, these women took to the stage to talk about their upcoming projects, discuss their experiences in the industry and answer fan questions.
As attendees filed into the room, Kelly Sue DeConnick took to the stage with a few favors for those who arrived in cosplay. Sporting a custom Captain Marvel manicure, DeConnick invited several “Captain Marvel” inspired cosplayers up for giveaways, including 10 postcards that featured Jamie McKelvie’s iconic image of Carol Danvers. “You look good, girl!” she beamed to one young Ms. Marvel cosplayer.
Now a “Women of Marvel” panel tradition, DeConnick proceeded to give a heartfelt speech about women’s involvement in comics. She first asked that all the women in the room who read comics to raise their hands so that “we can now dispel with all questions about ‘how do we get women to read comics? And do women read comics?’ That’s history… women have always read comics.” She then told the women in the audience who currently or aspire to work in comics industry to stand. “Before you sit back down, take a moment and look around at each other,” said DeConnick. “You need community to do this. You need the support of one another. Writers, find artists. Artists, find writers. People who do the whole ballgame yourself, you need to get out of your room every once in a while, find a friend.
“Making a living in any creative endeavor is difficult,” she continued. “The most important bit of advice that we can give you is: You need to start; you need to start now. I am 44 years old and I have two children and I don’t sleep enough… So those of you who are young, especially, but those of you who are even older than me, it is not too late. But you haven’t a moment to spare. You have to start making comics… Be brave. Do it. We believe in you and we are here for each other. Most importantly, we need your voices.”
Jeanine Schaefer then introduced each panelist according to a prepared slide show. Among these, Judy Stephens mentioned “Costoberfest,” which she described as “an annual celebration of cosplay and costuming” that takes place over the month of October; Adri Cowan talked a little about her “Women of Marvel” podcast; and self-described “new kid on the block” Marguerite Bennett announced her upcoming graphic novel adaptation of James Patterson’s “Maximum Ride.”
Following introductions, Schaefer revealed that G. Willow Wilson will be writing an arc of the “X-Men” title starting with its twenty-third issue. “I am so excited,” Wilson enthused, recalling how she and the boy she had a crush on would play Storm and Wolverine on the playground when they were in the fifth grade.
Wilson went on to describe her goals for the arc: “In recent arcs, they’ve been sending the X-Men… into outer space and all over the place, so I thought why not do something totally different and send them into the bowels of the earth to fight something really cool and scary?”
Schaefer moved to the next topic by recalling “Girl Comics,” which Marvel published a few years prior for National Women’s History Month. Next year, “we wanted to do something else to commemorate National Women’s History Month in March, and so for that we’re going to be bringing you some Women of Marvel variants.” Sara Pichelli, Jill Thompson, Vanesa Del Rey, Colleen Duran, Janet Lee, Faith Erin Hicks, Ming Doyle and Erica Henderson will also participate.
Schaefer continued to the next project by calling it “an announcement that has been… teased and teased and teased.” “Beautiful Creatures” co-author Margaret Stohl will pen a “Black Widow” young adult novel in fall 2015, when — in her words — “Black Widow takes over YA for the very first time.” Stohl, while new to the Marvel writing team, “cut [her] teeth on Marvel many, many years ago” as a video game designer. Her past projects include games featuring Spider-Man and Fantastic Four. “This is the badassiest thing I have ever been asked to work on in my life,” Stohl gushed. “It is a full-on dream come true.
“She is the very best hot mess I know,” Stohl said of the character, “She kicks ass. She’s more of a Wolverine than a Captain America. She’s not afraid to be bad, and she’s good. And she is, as we all know, the thing that most doesn’t want you to be reading about her inner personal life, and you will be reading it.”
The announcements didn’t stop there; moving on to the next item on her agenda, Schaefer debuted “Gamora” #1, written by “Guardians of the Galaxy” scriptwriter Nicole Perlman with art by Francesco Mattina. The book will hit stands in spring 2015. “It’s going to be… delving into who Gamora is as a person, as a mercenary,” Schaefer explained, “[We’ll] see her… relationships with everyone, see her struggling with her past and what her future is.”
From there, Schaefer took the panel to the Q&A portion of the panel. The first question tackled the issue of harassment in the comics industry, with the attendee wondering why she wants to break into an industry that can be so hostile towards women. Schaefer took a crack at the question first: “It’s so good to say it out loud,” she encouraged.
“Don’t let them win!” Kubert chimed in.
“This isn’t the only industry, this isn’t the only place where there’s sexism,” said DeConnick. “I challenge you to find a place where there isn’t. I’m sorry, but you fight because you have to. Because we need you.”
“I used to work in video games,” Stohl countered, “and I worked for maybe 10 different publishers and developers, and I have walked in the room… and I did have people say to me, ‘Oh, look, the stripper’s here!’ So, we’ve come a long way…. And I would say that a lot of those studios are still struggling with that, but a lot of them aren’t.”
“And as ugly as some of the stuff that’s happening is, and I do not in any way want to minimize that, it’s also important to find your people,” Wilson added. “If this is where your people are, then you guys can go through this together. And there is a lot of beautiful community that’s happening in the face of that ugliness that’s worth being a part of.”
“Any time you read something like that,” Amanat responded, “or you feel down about yourself, take a mental picture of this room and of this table and say, ‘Screw that.’ Every single time. Just remember this.”
The following question touched upon the lack of women on stage at the general Marvel panels that take place in the biggest panel rooms. “You’re not wrong,” said DeConnick about the audience member’s observation. “Sometimes seeing the picture can paint a powerful image, but you saw the slideshow. You see how many women are on the creative side of this? The presence in editorial is booming! Now there are floods of women coming into editorial. Used to be I knew every woman working in the Big Two [Marvel and DC Comics]. Literally, I knew everyone. I don’t anymore! And that’s amazing! … Next year, I guarantee that [the bigger panels] will look different.”
“Also, I know a lot of us are working on a lot of the things that were announced on that panel,” Kubert added. “I’m working a lot on ‘The Black Vortex’ [crossover event] that was announced. I know a lot of us are behind the scenes.”
The topic of conversation then turned to the lack of women in leading roles in Marvel’s movies. “First off, on the TV side of things, we have ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,’ which is awesome and has a huge cast and I think mostly women who are amazing,” Schaefer answered. “And we have ‘Agent Carter‘… and on the Netflix side of things, ‘Jessica Jones’ is going to be debuting… We’re working on it, because we hear you… Don’t stop asking. Don’t stop asking us, don’t stop consuming this stuff. Get the stuff you want, reject the stuff you don’t want, and just keep on us and we’re going to keep being able to give you the things that you guys are asking for.”
A high school sophomore asked the panel for advice on how to get younger readers into comics, to which Wilson responded without hesitation. “Give your books to your friends,” said Wilson. “I’ve been saying this over and over all weekend, but if we had been doing a lot of the books we are doing now even five years ago, there would not have been the audience response that there is now. But you guys — the fans — are the backbone of this whole thing. It starts with you, anybody that you think you can drag with you to the comic book store on Wednesday… it’s that person-to-person thing. It’s somebody saying ‘I think you might like this.’ There’s no substitute for that word of mouth… so we’re counting on you.”
Cowan also chipped in: “Also, I see a lot on Twitter, a lot of young girls are saying that they’ve seen the movies but they don’t know where to start with the comics. So, sometimes the movies can be… good for anyone resistant to bring them into that universe and that world… Maybe have a themed book club night where everyone has to read the same book.”
“Do you know the Valkyries?” DeConnick asked as Cowan finished her statement. “If any of you work in comic book shops, [artist] Kate Leth leads an organization called the Valkyries. They’re all women owners and employees of comic book shops. They are very well networked. They’re becoming very powerful. It’s actually cool. They’re getting previews that other people don’t have. Support the Valkyries!”
As Schaefer noted that the next question would be the last, she invited the audience to “come find us up here, come find us out there.” Stephens offered up an e-mail address — firstname.lastname@example.org — for attendees to e-mail them questions. Amanat, Stephens, Schaefer and Cowan manage this account.
The last question targeted Stohl specifically and asked if she had any advice for an aspiring writer who wants to work in both comics and YA. “I would the same goes for writing both,” responded Stohl instantly, “which is ‘put your butt in the chair and do it.’ It’s called BIC: butt in chair. I live by those words… I think you got to learn how to set out to write your crappiest book possible because there is art to learning how to finish something… You’ll think of something on the very last page that’s going to change your life, I promise.”
Schaefer and several of the other panelists took pictures of the packed room as this year’s “Women of Marvel” panel concluded with a storm of cheers and applause.
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