For the sixth year in a row, Comic-Con International in San Diego featured the Women of Marvel panel. Sunday morning, "X-Men" editor Jeanine Schaefer moderator Louise Simonson ("Power Pack"), Marvel project manager Jenny Yeats, colorist Christina Strain ("Runaways") and Marvel Augmented Reality manager Judy Stephens as they spoke on their entry into comic books and the future of women in the industry.
The panel began with a video message from writer Kelly Sue DeConnick ("Captain Marvel") who couldn't be in attendance, but expressed heartfelt support nonetheless.
"The Women of Marvel panel is one of my favorites," the writer began. "I want to send out a special message to those of you who want to work in our industry: you can do it. You can absolutely do this thing. However, making a living in any artistic endeavor is hard work, so -- you need to get started right now! Don't wait another day, don't wait for someone to hire you, start making comics right now. Find a friend, maybe someone in this room, introduce yourself and start collaborating. Get those first tries out of the way. They're not going to be very good, it's a big learning process, but you've gotta do it.
"You're gonna be fantastic. I look forward to reading your comics. We need more women in the industry; I personally need more women in the industry. So do it for me," she finished, as the audience erupted in applause. Voices began to murmur and attendees shifted in their seats, possibly looking for their future collaborators.
Schaefer carried on a tradition inspired by DeConnick and asked all of the women in the room who aspired to work in the comics industry to stand up. "Don't be shy," she encouraged. Around forty attendees stood to cheers from the crowd and panelists. Schaefer thanked us for being brave.
The panel began with a discussion about how each woman had broken into the comics industry. Stephens, who is in her seventh year at Marvel, began as an intern and started a softball team to interact with others. After several temp jobs within the company, she settled in her current position. Simonson similarly joined the company volleyball team after coming to Marvel at the insistence of a friend. Yeats began as an intern as well and worked her way into the business development department. Strain came to Marvel after CrossGen Comics folded and took on some small coloring projects before being offered "Runaways." The common thread among all of the women was seeing what they wanted and pursuing it relentlessly.
Schaefer noted that a similarity she saw was how much each panelist had networked, and asked if they felt that putting their faces out there as a woman was a hindrance. Strain shared that she is currently in the processing of transitioning into writing and had forgotten how terrifying it can be to start a conversation with someone new, especially outside of geek culture. Yeats added that everyone should seek out creators they admire and start conversations without losing sight of the fact that "we're all just people."
Strain noted that not many women try to get into comics and that women should use the fact that being a minority can help people remember you. Schaefer suggested that responsible use of various social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr can help build a relationship without the anxiety of face-to-face contact. Simonson, who loves Tumblr, added that everyone should ask questions when they go to signings as a way to build relationships.
Schaefer asked the panelists to discuss their journey with deciding to be a woman in comics who speaks out about their gender in the industry, or if they felt that participation in those discussions marginalized them.
Stephens began by sharing her story of working as a photographer and choosing male-oriented careers. "I've never let anyone push me over," she said. "I've heard of people having issues, but part of the reason I love Marvel is because of my amazing team. We all stand for each other and they are willing to help me out." She added that making yourself strong is important.
Simonson used to hate the idea of women in comics panels because she felt like she was treated like a novelty, the freak woman working among men. But after meeting women who said they were willing to give comics a try because of her presence, she felt a responsibility to share the ways for other women to break into the industry. She made it clear that she hasn't ever felt discriminated against.
Yeats agreed that she had never felt marginalized in her career, but instead felt an overwhelming sense of acceptance. She feels that women in comics panels are important to remind people that they can do it. She used to read live stream blogs of previous panels and think that everyone participating was so cool. She stressed to the audience that even if they weren't editors, writers or artists, that there are places for them in the comics world. "There are jobs for you if you like accounting, if you're good at math and business. If you're a hard worker and you're dedicated to this business, we will find a place for you. We will put you to work."
Strain said she was on board with the women in comics panels because she felt like there was a misperception about how many women truly did work in the industry. She wanted to share her positive experiences in the industry with others, but she did admit to feeling slightly torn about the panels in a certain regard. "The last thing I want to be remembered as is a female colorist, the first thing I want to be remembered as is a friggin' great colorist."
Simonson noted that the discussion was primarily focused on superhero comics and called attention to the fact that there are lots of women doing other kinds of comics. "It's really worth looking out there and seeing what your options are. There are lots of other kinds of stories that can be told, and that women are telling."
Schaefer turned the panel over to audience questions, encouraging participation with variant issues of "X-Men" issue #1 signed by penciller Olivier Copiel, featuring an all-female team.
The first question was asked by very young fan cosplaying She-Hulk like a pro. She asked if Marvel had any plans to do an all-female Avengers team, like Brian Wood's "X-Men." Schaefer wrote the idea down as the audience erupted into applause. She went on to explain that another female-heavy book to check out was "Captain Marvel," and teased that Stephen Wacker, the senior editor on the book, felt that so much was going on with the character in the coming year that there might be more than one ongoing series on the horizon.
The panelists were asked what they thought it would take on the movie side of the superhero industry to create more breakthrough roles for female heroes. Stephens pointed out that many characters portrayed in films so far, including "The Avengers'" Black Widow, rocked. Strain followed by stating that many of the teams shown in films so far had been historically all male, and noted that some female characters, like Wonder Woman, were difficult to write. "Until they get a good, solid script, you're not going to get that movie. Which is probably better than a terrible movie being made."
A fan asked what could be done besides buying comics to support titles they loved. Strain mentioned that "Runaways" lasted as long as it did because of its cult following, and suggested getting online to show support. The importance of pre-ordering books and sharing them with friends was mentioned, as well as the importance of giving feedback.
Schaefer closed the panel by taking a photo of the audience, which she felt was one of the biggest ever. "I'm going to tag every single one of you on Instagram," she joked.
After the panel, fans began introducing themselves to one another and exchanging information, inspired by the overwhelming messages of support, love and dedication from the Marvel crew. One fan in particular that had expressed frustration at sexism she'd encountered in her career was surrounded by a group of new friends offering hugs and advice. Hopefully these moments can remind the talented women of Marvel why sharing their stories is so important, and how many lives they can reach with their encouragement.