SDCC's Women of Marvel Panel Creates Mixed Feelings
It had the feel of a party or some kind of awesome get together where everyone was both down for the same cause and also just wanted to celebrate and have a good time. In front of us sat some of the most influential women working in comic books today, and when the moderator greeted the overflowing crowd, the response was similar to the type you might expect when a celebrity takes the stage for one of the famous, star-studded Hall H panels.
Even amazing female writers who couldn't be in attendance sent in recorded video encouragement. Kelly Sue DeConnick, the writer of the new Captain Marvel (who is, herself, a female superhero), was adamant in her encouragement to the women in attendance who want to work in the comic book industry.
"You can do it," She commanded, "it is absolutely within your reach! Start making comics now. The first ones you make are not going to be spectacular, but that's okay! It's a process!"
Lorraine Cink, the host of Marvel's online show The Watcher, talked about how her job at Marvel came out of just being a super enthusiastic fangirl.
"The way I got started doing this was by just doing this," She said, "I sat in my living room and made really geeky videos and songs about nerds and pop culture references and silly things and eventually someone noticed it. They saw my videos, I auditioned, and that was that!"
The variety of jobs represented on the panel weren't limited to writers, artists, and actors, however. There was Victoria Alonso who is an executive from Marvel Studios, Adri Cowan who runs Marvel's social media, and perhaps the person with the coolest job on the panel, Alexis Auditore whose job it is to manage the props in all of the Marvel movies.
"There's no one way to get into comics or into any of these worlds," Adri said, "Every one of us started one way and found our way into this amazing family."
The positivity from the panelists was contagious, but that didn't mean that there weren't audience members who had tougher questions for them to answer. For example, in response to a question about the stereotypical overly-sexy female superheroes found in some Marvel comics and movies, Victoria Alonso was quick to defend the company and the actresses who portray the characters.
"They have to be sexy because our characters are sexy," She explained, "But so are the boys. If you want to be fair, they take their shirts off, and we all go 'yeah!'"
The only male on the panel, Axel Alonso (Editor in Chief of Marvel Comics), chimed in as well.
"Speaking about stereotypes," He said, "I think you'll find them less and less. If you take a look at the last wave of Marvel Now titles... Black Widow, Elektra, She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel... you won't find one character there who I think is a stereotype or defined by her looks."
An even more difficult question was posed by two separate audience members when they brought up the lack of "above the line" creative female talent at Marvel. Above the line is an industry term that refers to a writer or artist who not only works on a project but guides, influences, and, in some cases, creates stories and characters. It was brought to the panel's attention that, of all the above the line talent at Marvel, only 11% of it is made up of females.
"It's no secret that for decades comics were more of a boys' club than a girls' club," Axel said, "The long and the short of it is that things are changing."
He went on to explain how two of the brand new Marvel Now titles were offered to female above the line creators, but for different reasons, they were unable to take the jobs. Another audience member then brought up a second statistic about above the line female talent, claiming that of all the major comic book publishers today, in the last ten years female above the line talent has gone up, except at Marvel where it has gone down. The frustrated attendee went on to ask Axel what the everyday comic book reader could do to help convince Marvel to invest in more less-established female creative talent.
"Support books beyond the big selling ones," Axel responded, "We really have to fight hard to get a book like Black Widow even approved in the system. We count on your support!"
Axel then went on the defensive and added, "As for your previous point about us not lining up with the rest of the industry, I'm not sure I agree. I don't want to get talking about statistics or what-have-you, but we're sort of the big leagues. We play a certain game, and that game is telling superhero comics. We have financial imperatives that drive us. We run our business a certain way."
The panel wrapped up with Victoria Alonso emphatically explaining to the room that everyone at Marvel takes the fan base "very seriously." And, as she explained to the audience that she was "getting chills" telling everyone how wrong they were to think that no one cares, Axel began texting on his cell phone and wandered out of the panel.