The New York Comic Con Women of Marvel panel this year started as it has for years, with an inspirational message from Kelly Sue DeConnick.
"I would like all of the women in the room who read comics to raise your hands," she said. "So we can now dispel with all questions about 'How do we get women to read comics?' and 'Do women read comics?' That's history, ok? Women have always read comics.”
"How many of you are currently or are aspiring to work in our industry?" DeConnick asked. "I want you to stand up. Before you sit down, take a moment and look around at each other. You need community to do this. You need the support of one another. Making a living in any creative endeavor is very difficult and the most important bit of advice that we can give you is that you need to start. You need to start now.
"Your first comics are going to suck," she continued. "That is okay. The only way to get to those second and third comics is to write the first ones. The only way out of the woods is through. Don't put them off. Showing up and doing the work is the hard part. Be brave. Do it. We believe in you and we are here for each other. We need your voices."
Moderator Jeanine Schaefer went on to introduce the rest of the panel, which included Sana Amanat, Katie Kubert, Ellie Pyle, Emily Shaw, Judy Stephens, Stacey Lee, Adri Cowan, Marguerite Bennett, G. Willow Wilson, Margaret Stohl, Erica Henderson, Stephanie Hans, Sara Pichelli, and Jen Grünwald.
The first order of business was to go through the annual slideshow, which included announcements for Women of Marvel variant covers for Women's History Month, an ongoing series for Gamora written by Nicole Perlman the first screenwriter of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, a Black Widow YA novel, and G. Willow Wilson as the next writer for the all-female X-Men series.
The panel moved on to questions from the audience, the first of which concerned the problems the comics industry still faces in spite of all the progress that had been made, and how that can be really discouraging to women trying to break into the industry.
"Don't let them win!" said Pyle. "If this is your dream and something that you're passionate about, don't let them ruin your dream. All of us up here have persevered through all of that stuff. Just keep going, keep doing it."
"While we were here doing this slideshow, a specific death threat to Anita Sarkesian showed up in my Twitter feed, where I was mentioned," said DeConnick. "It is still ugly out there. I don't want to be the bearer of bad tidings, but this isn't the only place that there is sexism. I challenge you to find a place where there isn't. You fight because you have to, because we need you."
Stohl spoke up about her experience in the gaming industry, saying "I was always the only woman, because I was a designer. And I would walk in the room and I did have people say to me, 'Oh look, the stripper is here.' So we've come a long way. I would say that a lot of those game studios are still struggling with that, but a lot of them aren't. So stuff does change."
"Any time you read anything like that or you feel down about yourself, take a mental picture of this room and of this table and say 'Screw that,'" said Sanat. "Every single time. Just remember this."
The next question was regarding the Marvel Cup of Joe panel, and how there was only one woman on it. "Looking at this table is really inspiring... but why aren't there more women up on the big panel in the bigger room?"
"You're not wrong," said DeConnick. "Sometimes the pictures can paint a powerful image, but you saw the slideshow. You see how many women are on the creative side of this. The presence in editorial is booming and now there are floods of women coming in. It used to be that I knew every woman working in the Big Two. Like, literally everyone. I don't anymore, and that's amazing.
Every woman up here is making efforts to get more women in," she added. "It's happening. Bear with us. Next year I guarantee that panel will look different."
"I'm wondering if you know of any other media plans for strong female characters to be the leads?" an audience member asked.
"First off, on the TV side of things, we have Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," Schaefer said. "And we have Agent Carter. On the other side of things, Jessica Jones is going to be debuting. So we're working on it, because we hear you. So don't stop asking. Don't stop asking, don't stop consuming, just keep on us so we can give you the things you're asking for."
DeConnick noted that last year the AV Club reported that in US films, women had thirty percent of the speaking roles and were fifteen perfect of the protagonists, which is down one percent since ten years ago. "So make noise!" she said.
The next question was how to get younger readers into comics.
"It starts with you guys," said Wilson. "I've been saying this all weekend, but if we had been doing a lot of the books we're doing now even five years ago, there would not have been the audience response that there is now. You guys are the backbone of this whole thing. It's that person to person thing. There is no substitute for word of mouth, so we're counting on you.
"I would also say that we have a lot of younger teens reading online," Stohl said. "So there is a community. I would also say that with the YA stuff, Marvel is hardcore about it. It's not a watered down version of what a fangirl would want, so I would say that will extend to a pretty mainstream audience as well."
"Sometimes the movies can be a good thing for anyone resistant," added Cowan. "They can bring them into that world. Maybe start a book club!"
The last question of the afternoon was for Stohl, with the fan asking if she has any advice for an aspiring writer who has a foot in both the comic and gaming worlds.
“Put your butt in the chair and do it," Stohl responded. "There is an art to learning how to finish something. So just do something terrible, but you’ll think of something to do on the last page that will change your life, I promise you.”