New York Comic Con 2013 started off with strong Thursday evening with the first of many female-cetric panels, "Women in Comics." It can be tricky to steer such a broad discussion away from the classic (and overwrought) topics the subject tends to gravitate towards, but the panelists did a good job of covering some new ground.
Moderated by Megan Kociolek, the panel featured creators Becky Cloonan (Demo, Batman), Amy Chu (Girl's Night Out), and Erica Schultz (M3) alongside librarians Emily Weisenstein, Claudia McGivney, and Laura Pope-Robbins.
One of the first things posited to the group was which creator they believe has had the most impact on women in the comics universe. Gail Simone was the immediate answer, to general assent and applause. Chu then mentioned that she thought Larry Hama has played a large role in the representation of women in comics.
"Real female characters from comics like G.I. Joe have made a huge difference, historically," she said, elaborating that his depiction of women really set a standard for the industry.
When the creators were asked to share their personal accounts of being women in the industry, the responses were short and positive.
"I've never felt any kind of exclusion or favoritism," said Cloonan. "I've always had a lot of male acquaintances and I think they're on their best behavior around me." Chu likened the ease of her movement into comics to her family. "It's not a big deal to be in comics for me, as a woman," she said. "I grew up with brothers, so I didn't think twice about it. It's adventurous. You've gotta have balls. You've gotta just do it."
The issue of marketing was discussed next, and how higher ups at publishers don't know how to market to certain brackets, like older women, so they don't bother and don't acknowledge that there is a missed opportunity.
"We need less of an attitude of collectibility and more of an attitude of casual readership," said Cloonan. "There's this idea that selling to older women is a gray area. I'm hoping that these girls growing up reading comics will be able to read a mature book later on and it will be marketable to them."
"The focus is really 'Let's move comics to guys!'" said Chu. "Screw that. There's an opportunity here for comics. Comic book stores do not gear towards women. So we need to address the questions about how to reach all readers."
"No one's thinking 'Let's do some cool things for women in graphic novels!'" noted Schultz. "They're thinking 'Look at Hunger Games and Twilight! Let's write stuff about sparkly vampires!'"
The last topic discussed was the panelists favorite female character. Storm, Rogue, and Buffy were mentioned, followed by a short discussion on Wonder Woman.
"Wonder Woman is almost a victim of her success as an icon," said Cloonan. "I think the trouble comes because she's so iconic. Her strength as an icon has almost undermined the ability to market her. We're myth-building and story-telling. Stories have to be retold for younger generations. Wonder Woman just needs her Killing Joke. That one iconic story that everyone will remember. The definitive Wonder Woman story."
Weisenstein added, "Another thing to think about with Wonder Woman is that her backstory has changed so much over the years they don't know what to do with her."
"Wonder Woman went from doing all these awesome things to being the secretary of the JSA," added Kociolek. "She was a reflection of the times."
The panel wound down with a brief Q&A from the audience.
"Wouldn't it be great if we didn't need to have a women in comics panel?" mused Schultz. "If you have talent, nothing else should matter."