SDCC: Women of Marvel Panel Aims to Inspire, Dispel Stereotypes

Marvel has inspired many recently by giving a spotlight to women in the pages of their comic books and within the company. The "Women of Marvel" panel has turned into a convention staple, with Sunday's installment at this year's Comic-Con International in San Diego giving fans a unique perspective into the minds of the company's creative women. Readers were given the chance to glimpse at a couple upcoming projects from Marvel and ask a few questions -- including the headline-making female "Thor" that's starring in her own series from Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman.

Male and females alike rushed their way into the San Diego Convention Center's sizable Room 5AB, nestling themselves in their chairs and anxiously awaiting for the panel to begin. Marvel showed off an all-star cast of ladies who work in a variety of capacities at the company, along with editor-in-chief Axel Alonso, the panel's sole male participant. There were proper introductions for each panel member, including Marvel's social media manager Adri Cowan, Marvel.com's "The Watcher" host Lorraine Cink, Marvel Studios asset manager Alexis Auditore, Marvel Studios producer Victoria Alonso, artist Katie Cook, colorist Rachelle Rosenberg, "Revenge: The Secret Origin of Emily Thorne" writer Erica Schultz, artist Joanna Estep, writer Marguerite Bennett, Axel Alonso and AR manager/cosplay blogger Judy Stephens, serving as moderator.

Not everybody was able to make it to the panel. A couple of Marvel's female editors gave a sweet hello video message to the audience, followed by a taped greeting from Kelly Sue DeConnick, who was unable to attend the panel. She gave some sound advice to those out in the audience who would like to pursue comics one day as a career. "You can do it," DeConnick said. "This thing is absolutely within your reach. Start today and maybe this time next year I'll be reading your comics."

After that, Stephens moved onto a couple of titles that are part of the Marvel line such as "Storm," the freshly announced "Spider-Woman" by Dennis Hopeless and Greg Land (first revealed at this panel) and "Angela: Asgard's Assassin," plus the soon-to-be-relaunched "Thor" featuring a female God of Thunder -- a series that received a swell of applause upon being mentioned.

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Stephens then addressed the panelists, asking each of them how they began working in the comic industry. The panelists expressed gratitude to be sitting at that table, as seen through each of their own stories. "One day I would take my pen and my portfolio over to an artist that I admire and bold headed to whatever editor would put up with me," said Estep, who drew the recently released "100th Anniversary Special: Fantastic Four" one-shot. "Eventually I made friends with a lot of them and then I got all the way up to Marvel."

"I wanted to do oil painting and illustrations," Rosenberg said. "When I found out there was an actual job where all you could do is color and paint artwork I was like, 'Yes, this is perfect!' It's been my journey and I've loved every moment of it."

Next up was the question and answer portion of the panel, where the "Women of Marvel" were faced with a number of tough but thoughtful queries from the audience. The first asked about being able to avoid stereotypes, and if they have more pleasure writing female characters. "The book that I did for Marvel, she's already written as a strong female character," Schultz said of the "Revenge" original graphic novel. "I thought that she really kicks butt but still has a feminine side to her."

The panel also addressed the way comic book characters have been portrayed in TV shows or movies. "It's a very different medium, yet we have to stay true to what they created," Victoria Alonso explained. Her answer began to gradually segue back towards the previous question on stereotypes. "I would like for you to ask for more female characters on film. Most of our actresses that we hire are incredibly smart, sexy and incredibly good performers." Axel Alonso chimed in on the discussion, contributing his take: "If you look at Black Widow, Elektra, She Hulk, you won't find one character there who I think is a stereotype or one character there defined by their looks. Those characters are defined by what they do. We live in a world of pretty people, but they're not defined by their groups."

The questions shifted on the younger audience, asking if there would be more comics, television and movies aimed towards that particular demographic. Victoria Alonso was a hundred percent on board to have more material of that persuasion pop up: "I am ready. I need your help. Write!" Since the panelists also represented the fields of film and television, the question still hung in the air as to whether or not viewers may see Black Widow in her own solo movie. "Scarlett Johansson is a little busy having a baby at the moment," said Victoria Alonso. "We love her. We love her character." She continued to explain to the audience that everybody should run off to see "Lucy," which came out in theaters last weekend.

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Axel Alonso addressed the fact that the shift of women and men working in comics have been changing, and that it's a fantastic sight to see. "It's no secret that comics were more of a boys club than a girls club. There's many more entry points into our world of comics and into the Marvel Universe than there were before. You're looking at a cultural change going on now and I expect to see more and more female creators."

It takes effort to tweak certain characters that haven't been in the spotlight for a while, and that question was addressed to the whole panel about how to bring them back into the fold. "You just work with the creator to see what they might do," Axel Alonso said. "It's up to you to figure out a way to nourish every bit of a character that you can."

One of the questions brought up the new "Thor" series, the one that will see a woman picking up the hammer Mjolnir -- as the original Thor is no longer worthy to do so. She's only referred to as Thor, rather than something like "She-Thor," and there's a really good reason for that. "There can only be one Thor and one character can hold the hammer," Axel Alonso said. "'Miss Thor' was never on the table, but once again that's rooted in the story." Victoria Alonso then addressed the idea of whether or not comics should still refer to characters with the female indicator slapped on the title. "The lack of the female indicator, initially it was 'Captain Marvel' when it happened," Estep said. "I was really happy that they're focusing on the fact that she is a captain, not a woman."

The last question of the panel was addressed to everyone, asking about how fans can get the chance to have more female heroes front and center in their own comics. The consensus was that it's simply a matter of supporting the comics, movies and television shows out there. "I work 20 hours a day to make sure the imagery we bring to film is the best we bring to you," Victoria Alonso said. "When we do see more Captain Marvels, more Gamoras, more Black Widows, we see that and it matters. The women and the men behind us care about what you love and what you want represented."

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