Through March 7, 2014, Sequart Publishing and Respect! Films are teaming up once again to kickstart their next collaborative documentary: She Makes Comics. It's fully funded, by fans still have the day to get in on the action. Billed as "a documentary film about the untold history of women in comic books, celebrating female creators and fans alike," this film will not only bring the talents of Patrick Meaney (Producer) and Jordan Rennert (Producer / Director of Photography) back together, but it will also be the (feature length) directorial debut for Marissa Stotter.
Earlier this month, Newsarama had the opportunity to talk to both Stotter and Meaney as well as co-producer and creative consultant, Karen Green, about the latest joint venture between Sequart and Respect! Films.
Newsarama: Marissa, Karen, the press release mentions that one of the aims of this documentary is to "bust up the “boys’ club” of the comic book world" and recount "the story of women in the comics industry and in fan culture since the Golden Age of the medium." This first question may seem obvious to many, but what prompted the decision to tell this story? Does the comics industry still need "busting up"?
Marissa Stotter: I think this is a story that's been itching to be told since comics became "cool" in mainstream culture. Even with pop cultural success, the most common notions about comics are still stuck in the 80s. When people think about comic books, they often think of mainstream superhero titles and their typically young, male demographic. They usually don't think of women reading or creating comics, and those who do assume that women have only just begun breaking in over the past decade. What they don't necessarily know is that women have been illustrating iconic superheroes since the 1950s, or that there was a whole underground movement of feminist comics in the 1970s. They also may not know that women are more visible and vocal in comics now more than ever, thanks to the rise of indie comics, webcomics, and the comic-con circuit. She Makes Comics will show a side of comics history that is very different from the dominant narrative.
Karen Green: It feels to me that Marisa makes the points I would have hit on – that there are and always have been more women in comics than many people assume, and that that makes the recent upsurge (or, perhaps, merely, awareness of) sexual harassment and/or insensitivity issues all the more incomprehensible.
Nrama: What's your personal connection (if any) to this subject matter?
Stotter: I've been reading comics since I was young, but it wasn't until a few years ago that I really got into the online fan culture. I learned quickly that there are so many smart women thinking critically about comics and daring to broach issues that are uncomfortable but vital to address. They are talking about harassment at conventions, hostility in comic shops, frustration with the depiction of the female body in art, and disappointment in how few women creators have achieved mainstream success compared to their male peers. Having these conversations on the Internet feels productive, but never quite satisfying enough bouncing around the Internet echo chamber. We hope that our film will prompt comics creators and fans, regardless of gender, to confront these very real problems and start coming up with solutions.
Patrick Meaney: It's been interesting talking to editors for the big two who say that they receive very, very few submissions from women. Part of the point of this film is to show that there is a long tradition of women working in comics, and to make it clear that there is a place for all kinds of voices in the industry.
Green: I think I might add that I've long thought that those typical con "Women in Comics" panels felt passé, in part because it felt like a ghettoization of women cartoonists and in part because 4 or 5 women trying to address decades of history and countless women professionals is a lot to ask of one hour. But a documentary like She Makes Comics is bringing together scores of people to tell a coherent and organized history--less a reminder of, oh, yeah, there are women in comics, and more this is the story of women in comics. The documentary will offer a coherent history, a through-line. And, frankly, what's exciting for me about my own role as creative consultant is realizing that there are SO MANY interesting women in comics that we can't even begin to speak to all of them--that would require a mini-series, not a documentary. The Kickstarter page doesn't name all the people we've got on our wishlist, and I think backers and viewers will be pleasantly surprised to see not only how many women we're talking to, but the amazing range of ages and roles that these women represent.
Nrama: That's a great lead in to my next question! Who are some of the people viewers expect to hear from in this documentary?
Stotter: Our aim is to provide as comprehensive a history as we can, and that means interviewing both men and women from various eras of comics history. Our Kickstarter trailer just scratches the surface, but it already includes some significant figures in comics such as Joyce Farmer, Paul Levitz, Karen Berger, and Jackie Estrada. We plan to interview many more, including creators involved in underground comics in the '70s and popular webcomics creators of the modern age.
Meaney: With all the docs we've done, the goal is to let as many of the people who made history tell their stories in their own words. Thankfully, most of the major pioneers of women in comics are still alive, and we want to capture all those stories right from the people who lived them.
Nrama: The release date isn't until January 2015, correct? Is there anyone else you're hoping to bring into the discussion?
Stotter: We haven't set an exact release date yet, but we plan to have the film completed by early 2015. We're already off to a great start and will keep up the momentum as we continue interviewing and filming at upcoming conventions. Of course, we will keep our backers posted on the progress we make every step of the way.
Meaney: I'd guess by the end of the project, we'll have interviewed around 40 or 50 people, so it's going to be pretty thorough.
Nrama: On the Sequart website, you mention that this documentary "will explore the early contributions female artists made to superhero comics in the ‘50s and ‘60s" up to the present day. Are there also plans to cover women's contributions prior to this era as well, i.e. Jackie Ormes or Ruth Atkinson from the 1930s and 40s?
Stotter: We do plan to touch on the 30s and 40s. Sadly, there are few figures from that period whose stories we can get on camera, but the Golden Age is too important (and fascinating) to ignore. Interestingly, women made up the majority of comics readers up until the 50s, and we hope to explore why readership dropped off and how it's changed since then.
Nrama: Shifting gears back to the Kickstarter Project, this isn't Sequart or Respect! Films' first time running a successful Kickstarter to fund a documentary. What sort of risks do you foresee in this venture compared to others? What lessons have you learned along the way that you think will help you find further success?
Meaney: The biggest risk here is just the size of the project. Image was based almost entirely in California, so there weren't many travel costs, but this is a project that's bigger in scale and is going to take a lot more resources than any of those. But, I think we've shown people that we can make great films and deliver on what we promise, so hopefully we'll get the support we need to make the film happen.
The Kickstarter for "She Makes Comics" will run until March 7th and interested fans can find more information about this documentary on the project website here. For those who have already backed the project or want to, Meaney also promises some lucky fans will even have the opportunity to record a short video expressing their love of comics and have it included in the documentary (details available here).