PRO-GIRLS Pt 3: Marvel Editor JEANINE SCHAEFER Weighs In

Girl Comics #1

Even before all the recent fervor about women in comics hit the internet, a group of female editors at Marvel spearheaded an effort toward recognizing female creators with a project called Girl Comics.

The person behind the comic's origin was Marvel editor Jeanine Schafer, and because of her efforts with other female editors, Girl Comics was published by Marvel as a three-issue anthology with work by female creators like Kathryn Immonen, Marjorie Liu, Louise Simonson, Amanda Conner, Ann Nocenti, Devin Grayson, G. Willow Wilson, Valerie D'Orazio, Ming Doyle and more.

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The Girl Comics series, which began in March 2010, got enough support from the publisher that Marvel ended up declaring a "Year of Marvel Women" in 2010-2011. Other comics have followed suit, including the Kickstarter-funded  Womanthology comic that starts later this year.

It's not the first time Schaefer's efforts toward making female-friendly comics have gotten attention. In 2007, when she was an editor at DC Comics, she helped with efforts to make a more female-friendly Supergirl title.

As we continue our Progirl series about women in comics, we talked to Schaefer about all the current discussion about female creators, as well as the efforts she's made to showcase the talented women already in the industry.

Newsarama: Jeanine, let's start by talking about how Girl Comics came about. What was the purpose of the three issues, and do you think it made a difference in the marketplace for female creators?

Jeanine Schaefer: She-Hulk’s 30th Anniversary and National Women’s History month coincided and I thought it would be the perfect time to try something I’d been thinking about for a long time, which was a big jam book with women working on all aspects.

And we specifically wanted to spotlight women who are currently making comics as their living, and get out there that there are women in all facets of the industry (from writing and drawing to lettering, production, proof-reading, editing, designing, etc.). It was also to give some history on the women who helped to pave the way for women working in comics now -- we did biographical write-ups on a number of women who have worked in comics (and specifically at Marvel) as early as the 40s, and how their contributions have shaped the company we are, and the books you read now.

Also, it was just fun to work with all women, in an industry that is mostly known for “boy stuff”.

These creators would have been working with or without Girl Comics, and that was sort of the point. But the goal was to create awareness, and keep the conversation going and it definitely did that -- I’ve talked with women and girls at conventions who say seeing all those women working together reinforced their want to break in and make comics, so as far as I’m concerned that’s a big win! As for the women who worked on Girl Comics, they’re all currently still working, whether it's at Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, or self-publishing, doing webcomics, or, in a few cases, running their own design companies.

Girl Comics #2

As this debate rages on, I keep hearing the question, "well, where are these women who want to do super hero comics?" Girl Comics is only a fraction of that answer.

Side note: It was the women in editorial that came up with the fully-realized concept for Girl Comics, as well as the name itself. The fact that the name was such a point of contention just proves once again that no one woman can make decisions that all women in comics (or people who care about women in comics) will be happy with. It would be a very boring industry if that were the case.

Nrama: Let's talk about how someone like you would be attracted to comic books as a career. What got you interested in working in comics? Were you aware that it was a male-dominated industry, and did that play any role in your career decision?

Schaefer: The short answer is that I love comics, nothing more complicated than that. I knew comics were considered a thing "for boys" when I was a kid, but seeing women's names in the comics I read definitely made it less of an odd thing for me to want to pursue a career in the industry. And when I was in college the internet helped a lot in terms of connecting with other women who read, created and in general thought critically about comics.

Nrama: Why do you think there are fewer women than men working in the creative side of the comic book industry?

Schaefer: I assume by “industry” you mean mainstream comics, so that’s what I’m going to talk about. It's a self-perpetuating cycle, isn't it – in terms of who works on comics, there are fewer women than men in credited roles, so fewer women realize there are opportunities for them and strive to break in, so there are fewer credited women, etc.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that there aren’t women working in prominent, credited roles in comics – in fact, we have more female artists and writers in regular rotation than ever. Marvel’s biggest news story in recent months was the new Ultimate Spider-Man being revealed as Miles Morales; the artist on that book is Sara Pichelli, who also designed Miles, his supporting cast and the new costume. And the associate editor on that book is also a woman, Sana Amanat.

Nrama: What are the challenges of working in a male-dominated industry?

Schaefer: Here’s what I wish someone had told me when I started: one of the biggest challenges is not letting the chatter in, not psyching yourself out.

Especially when you start out, there are going to be people telling you what to do and how to think, but for women there’s an added layer of people telling you what kind of feminism is acceptable, and you spend your time wondering should I say more, should I say less, how does it affect Women in Comics every time I open my mouth, am I alienating the men around me by talking about women in comics or even just by having opinions. In the end, though, you have to accept that it’s going to be like that until you find your legs (and maybe even past that) and it’s on you to figure out how you’re going to let that impact you.

That’s not to say no one else is responsible; Some guys going to treat you like an alien, some guys are going to treat you like a secretary, some women are going to see you as the enemy. The internet is going to tell you women just don’t like comics, that there’s no such thing as sexism, that feminism is hurting women, implying that even when you have opinions, they don’t count because you’re a woman and "the powers that be" are men and so you’re powerless (this is getting super specific, I know, don’t get me started).

Girl Comics #3

There’s no easy answer, but it feels better to know you’re not the only one with these tiny doubts burrowing in the back of your brain. You try to let it roll off your back. You find like-minded people, both men and women, and colleagues that support you (as I have been fortunate enough to do). You make the best comics you know how.

Nrama: Do you think the industry could do anything to welcome or encourage more women into the creative side of comics?

Schaefer: Industry aside, it would be great if we, the comics community at large, could at the same time acknowledge that there are already women working in comics (both the mainstream and in general), but also that we need to keep the discussion going. Because, honestly, picking and choosing amongst who “counts” when talking about women in comics and who doesn’t makes me want to set the internet on fire.

Nrama: What would be the benefit of having more women working in the comic book industry?

Schaefer: Varied points of view can only help a storytelling industry. Obviously, there is no one background that is common to all women, but any woman will bring with her a different baseline life-experience that will inform a completely different point of view – and that is invaluable to a creative industry, in the doors onto new stories it can open and the connection it can have with a more varied audience.

Nrama: The larger publishers of comic books have usually (with some notable exceptions) targeted comics toward male readers, which is currently the core audience. Would you like to see that change? How? And would it affect the number of women working in comics?

Schaefer: I’ve always said it’s not about changing what comics are, it’s about taking down the No Girls Allowed sign that sometimes gets hung on the clubhouse door. That sign is mostly made up of totally unconscious choices on the parts of people who have been making comics in a male-dominated industry, so continuing this discussion, accepting that there’s another way we can tap into the women who want to and already are reading and making is the only thing that will affect the number of women working in mainstream comics.

Nrama: Anything else you want to add about the subject?

Schaefer: I don’t want it to get lost while we’re talking about the challenges and what could be better that I have met amazing women through comics, some of which I’m honored to get to work with and also call my close friends.

Women are here, have always been here, and are making every genre of comic you can think of, at every publisher putting out comics right now.

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