Saturday evening at New York Comic Con was jam-packed with fans, many of whom took the time to attend the Women of DC panel.
Moderator Amanda Salmons began the gathering with a little bit of her own experience with panels focusing on women.
“One of the panels that always seemed promising to me was Women in Comics. Promising in the idea that there was a place where I could learn about the creators, colleagues, and what they’re doing in my industry. The reality of that panel usually turned out to be a little different than I was expecting, more along the lines of, ‘Hello token females! Please speak on behalf of all women!’ This is our industry, this is our house. We’ve been here for decades and there were others before us. These artists, writers, and editors here on the panel are the comic book industry. This is their world, our world.”
Salmons went on to introduce the panelists, including Shelly Bond, Bobbie Chase, Marguerite Bennett, Becky Cloonan, Babs Tarr, Gail Simone, Amanda Connor, Meredith Finch, and Caitlin Kittredge.
The first question posed to the guests was if they could remember the moment when they realized that comics were for them, and if so, what happened?
“I got into comics in college,” said Bond. “I was not a comics reader as a kid. I took a screenwriting class, and my teacher showed me a copy of Peter Gross’s Empire Lanes… to explain storyboarding.
And a kid in my class said to me, ‘If you like comics, you should come to the comics store.’ And so I went downtown and walked into a comics store and I was like Dorothy in Oz. I saw the books that would define my career path. I picked up Sandman, Hellblazer, Moon Shadow, and Love and Rockets, and that was it. I knew at that moment I wanted to be a part of this amazing community.
Kittredge said that, like Bond, she also hadn’t read comics as a kid.
“I borrowed my friends Sandman… and then bought all the trades and was completely addicted from that point on. I’ve been reading comics ever since.”
“I was much more of a manga reader,” stated Tarr, “Sailor Moon and Peach Girl and Tramps like Us. I would always practice drawing every different style, and master each one. I don’t think my LCS knew what to do with me then, but Cameron has been helping me get educated, and introducing me to all these great books.
”I’m enjoying it.”
Finch mentioned that she had grown up in a rural community where there were no comic shops. “When I visited my grandparents I would read my parents old comics, so Archie and Veronica. My mom and her sisters had a few romance comics from the fifties. And then I didn’t know comics existed again until David. On our first date he said he did comics, and so he happened to have a couple of his comics in the car, and he gave me his Avengers: Disassembled. I think page three She-Hulk is ripping someone apart, so that was my first exposure to modern comics. It must have been good art because here I am today!”
“I’ve been reading comics almost my whole life,” said Cloonan. “I remember when I was eight years old my dad got me a copy of Silver Surfer Annual #1 from 1988. It was really exciting, and I got really into that. And after reading X-Men #1 by Jim Lee and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
Simone explained that she first got into comics through Batgirl and Barbara Gordon with the syndicated Batman television show.
“Then I found my first Justice League comic at a garage sale,” she said, “and I first saw Wonder Woman. Seeing a female character that didn’t need a Prince Charming come in and make her life happy was very exciting to me at the time, and that’s what turned me into a comic book reader. But I didn’t know I wanted to be a comic book writer until I actually started writing comic books.”
“I actually started with Batman the Animated Series,” said Bennett. “I had such wonderful, judicious parents who didn’t believe that there was such thing as a toy for girls or a toy for boys. And I remember realizing that my parents had told me it was okay to be here, and we’re just waiting on the rest to realize.” 11:50 Connor related to the audience that the tooth once fairy left a nickel and a mad magazine under her pillow. “I always loved drawing and I would spend a lot of time in class drawing,” she said. “I wanted to be a lion tamer, a race car driver, an action movie star, and a superhero. And I thought maybe the next best thing was comic artist.”
Chase was the last to speak on the topic, saying “I answered an ad in the New York Times from Marvel for a publication editor. I took a proofreading test, and I got the job, and I thought I would maybe work there a year. Then someone gave me Daredevil: Born Again and I went back and asked for more. They gave me Love and Rockets and Death: The High Cost of Living and that started it.”
The panel moved on to a more direct line of questioning here, the first going to Kittredge. Salmons inquired about how her work in dark urban fantasy informed her comic book writing.
“Coffin Hill is my first comic,” said Kittredge, “but I’ve written fifteen novels… so it was a really scary change of character for me to start writing comic scripts. Creating Coffin Hill and scripting it was so different and so fun, and there is visual representation.. You have all the dialogue of a novel, but none of the other stuff.”
Tarr was up next, with Salmons asking her how she relates to Batgirl, and how her fashion sense is infused into the characters she’s designing.
“I think I relate to Babs because I was a 21 year old girl at one point,” she replied. “I like drawing her because I know what that’s like. Fashion-wise I’m trying to show personality through fashion with the three main characters. I do put my clothes on a lot of the girls.
When I read comics when I was younger Lois Lane was always wearing really generic shirts, jackets, heels, etc. I add bobby pins sitting around, jewelry on the dresser and side table. Little things to make the world more complete.”
“What is it about Wonder Woman that appeals to you the most, and what will you be bringing to the character?” Salmons asked Finch.
“The aspect of Diana’s character that appeals to me the most is that she so strongly believes in what she believes - she’s going to fight what she believes in. I think a lot of women can really relate to that. Ultimately I’m writing a story that I hope will have an emotional ring to it – that’s resonating to me and to everyone else.”
Cloonan was then asked what the transition from artist to writer was like on Gotham Academy. She responded that her artist, Karl Kerschel, is great and that she doesn’t even have to worry about art direction because she trusts him completely. “He’s got his own vision, and that vision is actually my vision too,” she said. “This book has been great because this is the first book that I’ve really worked with another artist on. It’s made me focus a lot more on the writing.”
The next question went to Simone, who was asked how the creative process differs from a book with DC versus a book from Vertigo.
“They’re totally different,” Simone said. “Secret Six is a book about characters on that scale between hero and villain. So we’re working with team dynamics and tonal differences. With Vertigo and Clean Room it’s something that we’ve created from the ground up that has never existed before. It’s not in the superhero world, it’s about a woman (Astrid) who is the head of a global self-help organization. She has a secret and she believes that other people have secrets that she needs, so if you are taken to the clean room, Astrid will learn all your secrets and own you forever. I like to freak people out!”
Bennett was asked who her favorite characters are to write, to which she responded, “I really love Huntress and Power Girl. I’ve really been blessed that I’ve been able to write these loving relationships between women.”
When asked to describe to the audience one of the brainstorming lunches she has with her husband, Connor said, “We sit around at lunch and go ‘What direction are we going to take Harley in?’ We used to live in Brooklyn, and we tell everyone we moved out because it became too sane, and we went down to Florida. All we have to do is look around at what’s happening and go ‘Oh, that’s a Harley moment.’” Rounding out the panel was a question to Simone concerning the line-up for the new Secret Six. Could she reveal any other characters?
“Well we’ve officially announced Cat-man, Black Alice, and Strix,” she replied. “I’m going to say one more, for the first time here, is the Ventriloquist. You’re welcome for the nightmares!”