SHE MAKES COMICS Docu Director on Trying to Tell the Story of Women and Comic Books

She Makes Comics
Credit: Sequart Research & Literacy Organization

Sequart Publishing and Respect! Films recently released their much-anticipated documentary, She Makes Comics, which provides an overview of the somettimes overlooked involvement of women in the comics publishing industry. The documentary provides viewers with numerous first-hand accounts from creators of all periods and backgrounds from the 1940s up until the present day including writers, artists, editors, and publishers.

In our previous interview, we spoke with producers, Patrick Meaney and Karen Green, as well as the documentary’s director, Marisa Stotter, as they were working to raise funding for this project through Kickstarter. Now with the recent release, Newsarama spoke with Stotter once again about her experience on the other side of film.

Newsarama: Marisa, your Kickstarter was aiming for $41,500 and yet, you were able to raise over $54,000. Has this encouraged you and your producers to consider any future joint ventures?

Marisa Stotter: It's definitely shown us that there is an audience out there for these kinds of projects. Not only are people very interested in comics’ history, but they're also interested in projects that examine diversity and representation in the arts. The success of the Kickstarter was very encouraging, and we look forward to engaging with our supporters again in future endeavors.

Nrama: When we last spoke, you were in the midst of interviewing various writers, artists, editors, and other people within the field of comics who could speak to the significant - if often marginalized - role women have and continue to play in the industry. Since completing the documentary, what elements surprised you the most in your discussions?

Stotter: I was surprised by the similarities in many of the stories we heard. Our interviewees from every decade of comics’ history shared many of the same obstacles, many of the same concerns about their careers. It was disconcerting to realize that Ramona Fradon's feeling of being out of place at the mostly-male DC offices is still shared by women working in comics 50 years later. And yet, at the same time, there's something comforting about knowing that women in comics have these shared experiences and feelings, and that these encourage solidarity among creators. It makes the comics world, especially for women, seem more like a community with shared interests and goals.

Credit: Sequart Research & Literacy Organization

Nrama: Was there one particular interview that stands out the most to you? Why?

Stotter: It's tough to think of just one interview that stands out, but I do have a very vivid memory of our interview with Karen Berger, mostly because I was so nervous at first! Here I was interviewing someone who was responsible for many of my favorite comics, and she was the absolute nicest and most down-to-earth person to speak to. It was such a pleasure, but I couldn't listen to myself when playing back the interview because I was stammering from nerves for the first couple of questions.

Nrama: What was the most difficult aspect of putting this documentary together?

Stotter: It was challenging to distill 100 years’ worth of history into a 70 minute documentary. While we inevitably could not talk about every important female creator in comics history - or even talk to them - we tried to show a representative sample of some of the most interesting women in comics whose stories are worth hearing. We hope that this film will encourage viewers to dive into the history themselves and discover even more female creators than we had time for.

Credit: Sequart Research & Literacy Organization

Nrama: If you could go back six or even 12 months, what advice would you give yourself in terms of approaching this documentary?

Stotter: I would have tried to narrow my focus at the start. In the beginning, I had the ambition of covering the entire history of women in comics. I soon realized that that was simply not feasible to do in a feature documentary, and even if it was, the film would have painted with such broad strokes as to lose its emotional impact.

Nrama: However, you do still cover comics' earliest beginnings (in the U.S.) and bring viewers up to the present day. Does this documentary deliver the impact you hoped it would? What are some of its strongest moments?

Stotter: I think it does. As I said, we tried to balance a fairly broad survey of the history with some focus on particular stories that we felt were representative of women's achievements at various points in comics’ history. The process of filming the interviews helped us to determine how to proceed, since often times an interview would lead us in an interesting direction and sort of narrow our focus for us. I think the film's strengths are in the individual stories we tell, particularly Wendy Pini's story. I think every female fan or creator has had moments when they've been told that their interest in comics is not "feminine" and that they shouldn't waste their time with comics. Wendy's journey of overcoming those obstacles to become such a legendary figure in independent comics is very inspiring, I think.

Nrama: Inevitably, there are sound bites and clips that get left out of a film like this due to editorial decisions surrounding time constraints, the desire to maintain a particular narrative, and other practical matters. What were some of the moments you recorded that you wished the viewing audience could see but were unable to include?

Stotter: There were some interviews that were very difficult to cut down. We ultimately chose to include some extended interviews on the DVD release, since they are so rich with interesting stories.

Nrama: The Jackie Ormes mini-documentary didn't make it into the regular release although she does get mentioned in the film. Why did you find it necessary to develop Ormes' story into its own "mini" documentary? When we originally spoke, you mentioned the intent was to focus primarily on the 1950s up to the present for more practical concerns. What caused you to change your mind?

Credit: Sequart Research & Literacy Organization

Stotter: As we dove into the research, we found that there were actually far more women cartoonists who were working in the decades prior to the 1950s, enough for us to realize that excluding them entirely would be a disservice to our project's mission. We broadened our scope a bit to include many of them, and Jackie Ormes is one of them. Her story we found particularly interesting because of her personal life. She was a real star in the black press, enough of one to hobnob with prominent black celebrities of the 30s and 40s - and land on an FBI watch list for associating with alleged communists. Her story was so fascinating on numerous levels, and we felt that it wasn't enough to simply address the fact that she existed. We wanted to expand upon her story and highlight how important her contributions were to elevating depictions of middle class black life at a time when most newspaper images of African Americans were offensive stereotypes and caricatures.

Nrama: How did this get delayed from being included in She Makes Comics regular release? How will audiences be able to access it?

Stotter: There was a technical issue in getting it on to the DVD, and instead of delaying the release until January, we decided to release She Makes Comics as-is and release the Jackie Ormes doc a bit later. We will be sending it to our Kickstarter backers in January and will ensure that it is easily accessible. Anyone with questions on how to watch it is free to contact us.

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