This weekend, women who proudly call themselves "geek girls" will gather for the first convention named in their honor.
GeekGirlCon, the first of what organizers are hoping is an annual event, will take place in Seattle this weekend, celebrating female involvement in "math, the sciences, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, fiction, gaming and more."
The women behind the event are fans of everything from Star Wars to Star Trek, from comics to gaming, and are hoping to attract multitudes of other women like them.
But Erica McGillivray, the president and marketing director of GeekGirlCon, is particularly obsessed with comic books.
"[Erica] has one of the most impressive comic-book themed apartments I've ever seen in person," said Kiri Callaghan, GeekGirlCon's PR manager.
As part of our continuing Pro-Girls series, Newsarama spoke with McGillivray about GeekGirlCon, about attracting female comic book readers, and about how to get more women involved in making comics.
Newsarama: Erica, what's your background, and how did you get involved with GeekGirlCon?
Erica McGillivray : My professional background is in e-commerce, specifically search engine optimization, social media, community building, and where it all collides. I'd heard about GeekGirlCon on Twitter, and then again, at a local ladies comic book night. I went to the first meeting and volunteered to be marketing director, and now I'm in both that role and was elected as president. Because I've been a passionate geek and interested in social justice my entire life, joining GeekGirlCon was a no brainer. Especially as I met all the wonderful people involved in making it happen.
Nrama: What's the idea behind the con?
McGillivray: GeekGirlCon is a celebration of geeky women. We seek to support a broad range of geeky interests from comic books and sci-fi to technology and science to gaming and cosplay. GeekGirlCon wants to showcase the history, current happenings, and the future of geeky women and our interests. In addition to just our convention, we've put on over 40 events both online and offline in the past year. Everyone is welcome to our convention and events.
Nrama: We've heard from many creators and people involved in the comic book industry that there are more women interested in comics than ever before. And other formerly male-centered fandoms have seen an influx of women. Why do you think more women are interested in fandom-related pursuits?
McGillivray: In my own experience, women fans love sharing their geeky interests in a way to easily let others join in. Not to discount our zine-making foremothers, but the internet has really provided a safety blanket to create "women's circles." We can use pseudonyms to hide either our gender from sexist fanboys (aka the trolls) and we can engage in making safe spaces for ourselves while connecting with fellow fangirls from all around the world. I think women are drawn to fandom-related pursuits because other women are doing it and they have direct role models that they see producing fannish things, whether it's fan art, fan fiction, cosplay, crafts, or just general good meta decisions and debated. Which any fanboy making fun of a woman for writing fan fiction needs to check the last time he argued for hours about who would win Batman or Superman with his buddies. I personally have attended fan conventions just to meet some of my friends and my favorite fan fiction authors without the draw of "celebrities."
Nrama: Why do you think comics have previously been such a male-dominated fandom? Do you think that's changing?
McGillivray: I love comic books, but if they have one major Achilles heel (that is killing them), it's lack of diversity -- in terms of characters, storylines, and creators. I've been to the comic book convention of 300 people where I was the only woman there who wasn't there to just help out behind a vendor booth. I go back and forth a lot on if that's changing. Every once in a while, I get an inkling that the publishers are starting to understand that it needs to change; that in order to revive the comic book industry, stories need to appeal beyond straight, cisgendered, able-bodied white dudes.
There's a whole big world out there of people who love a good story and -- especially if we're talking superhero comics -- need heroes. In particular, the success of Marvel's movies have proven that people want heroes. We want Tony Starks and Thors and Steve Rogers. And hey, people also want Pepper Potts and Nick Furys and Sifs. Why isn't even 40% of the audience going to see these movies also checking out the comic books they're based on? Why weren't free copies of comics given out in theaters? Why isn't there a package of comics that a retailer can hand a customer, who does come into a shop after one of the movies and who wants to read the books? A few weeks ago, I watched my very knowledgeable LCS owner struggle to find the right Captain America for a customer interested in them due to the movie.
Put more women in the books. Put more minorities in the books. Hire creators who are like these characters they're writing or drawing. Just the amount of money that Womanthology raised shows that there's not only a pool of talent, but a public who's thirsty for a real change. Not just relaunching your 52 titles. I'm not as pessimistic as Grant Morrison about the state of comics; I'm holding out hope that this is the low point before they evolve into what's next for comics. If hammer pants can make a comeback, so can comic books.
Nrama: Is there anything else you think would have to change to get more girls interested in comics and eventually in pursuing careers in comics?
McGillivray: More women creators and characters would definitely help create a more welcoming environment. But on top of that, marketing and editorial also needs to move in a director that encompasses more than just white men ages 18-45. Look what you're putting on the covers, especially compared to the inside.
For instance, I loved Karl Bollers' Emma Frost series, but the Greg Horn covers were atrocious. The story was about a high school and starting college-aged Emma discovering her mutant powers; while the majority of the covers were of a sexed-up, ridiculous (even for Emma) adult Emma Frost. It made no marketing logic considering it was a comic aimed at younger readers, especially girls. I know many people who would've loved it, but didn't pick it up solely based on the covers.
I wish the "Big 2" publishers in general would actually market toward women. Give me some events about She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, and Black Canary. Sell me shoes with Manhunter on them or a Batwoman toothbrush. I'm standing here with my wallet open.
Nrama: There's been concern recently with the fact that so few women work on the creative side of the comic book industry. In your opinion, what would have to change to get more women involved as creators?
McGillivray: Hire them. Continue to hire the many who do work in comics and do a wonderful job. Poach new ones from the world of literature, film and TV, or heck, even webcomics, which are perhaps easiest and most obvious source. Why haven't they hired Kate Beaton (Hark A Vagrant!) or Megan Rose Gedris (Lesbian Pirates From Outer Space)? Their substantial portfolios are online with easy counts of their audience. In addition, by hiring more women creators, there are then female-identified role models for the next generation to look for inspiration in.
Nrama: Is there anything the creative side of the comic community could do to make the industry more gender-balanced?
McGillivray: I actually do think this is an area where things are improving. I do actually see inklings of movement on the creative side to be more gender-balanced and to want it.
C.B. Cebulski does a great job at putting on talks about how to break into the industry and fostering new artists.
Terry Moore did some How to Draw Comics, specifically focusing #1 on how to draw realistic looking women.
Warren Ellis does a wonderful job at telling his audience about creative women, especially artists, he admires on his blog.
Gail Simone often tumbles fanart and encourages dialog about how to get into the industry on her blog.
Creators want to continue to do what they love, and I think the vast majority of them know that they need to attract the other half of the population to their medium for it to continue and maybe even grow.
At GeekGirlCon, we're bringing and showcasing women comic book creators and "female-friendly" male characters who can inspire those coming to our convention.
Some math: women + ethnic and racial minorities + queer people + disabled = the majority of the world's population and the largest potential audience. Except to continue the status quo of the white heteronormative patriarchy, I don't understand why any industry continues to only serve the white male market. Of course, comic books aren't the only industry that does this and makes me scratch my head.
I want more variety of stories and characters. I want more women in the industry to identify with. I want the industry to feel like less of a boys only club. Changing the industry to encourage more women working in comics can only lead to more market opportunity and more creative opportunity.
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything else you hope to see in the future regarding women and comics?
McGillivray: Personally, I want to start writing deeper posts about gender-in-comics so I want more complex stories. Critiquing a Mike Deodato cover where every woman's legs are 6 feet tall; her waist is too tiny to fit in organs; her back is arched at an angle that makes Cirque du Soleil performers cringe; and her boobs are just oddly uniformed no matter what angle she's standing at -- that's easy. Saying when Frank Miller writes women, they're either violently killed, raped, or whores. Simple. I want to dig in deeper. I want to talk about gender expression, and not just stereotypes that strictly adhere to the gender binary (whether male or female). I want there to be a plethora of diverse characters so the next generation never says "if only Wonder Woman was as cool as Batman." (For the record, she is.)
GeekGirlCon is dedicated to celebrating female involvement in all fields of math, the sciences, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, fiction, gaming, and more. The first annual convention is October 8 & 9, 2011 in Seattle. For more details, visit the GeekGirlCon website at www.geekgirlcon.com.
- PRO-GIRLS Pt 1: Where Are the Working Women in Comics?
- PRO-GIRLS Pt 2: History's Role in Comics' Gender Disparity
- PRO-GIRLS Pt 3: Marvel Editor Jeanine Schaefer Weighs In
- PRO-GIRLS Part 4: Female Characters, Alternative Genres