New York Comic Con Round-Up: Women in Comics and Juno Meets Aliens in New Teen Sci-Fi Classic

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Saturday might have been the busiest day of New York Comic Con, but two of the best panels of the entire weekend didn't happen until Sunday. It was an exciting day for women working in comics and for sci-fi fans looking for fresh new female protagonists. The crowds might have died down, but passions were high and some panelists were ready for a lively debate, including Martin Leicht, Isla Neal, and Alex de Campi.

First up was “Creating Comics with Two X-Chromosomes: Real Talk with Image's Female Creators.” The panel consisted entirely of female writers, artists, and colorists who have a long history in the comic book industry and a long history leading panels on women in the comic book industry. They have already talked at length about how women are drawn and written as sex objects, so they turned the topic on its head and spoke about how they as women write male characters. What do women find sexy, and is it different from what men think that women find sexy? Many of the women complained that sexy male characters were typically white and unrealistically muscular. There are other kinds of sexy. For some women, (the late) Michael Clarke Duncan or Adrian Brody is sexy, but how many comic book characters look like Duncan or Brody?

Of course once they opened it up for questions, they did spend some time talking about how to write a distinctly female character. One of the male attendees wanted to know how he could write better female characters instead of just a male character in a female body. Their answer was to simply understand that there are many kinds of women just like there are many kinds of men. If you are unsure how a woman would react to a situation, ask a woman. Heck, ask several women. Talk to women and read about women who are like your character. Also, remember that not every woman will react the same way, and a well-written female character doesn't have to be Super Woman. Men and women don't always do the right thing. They aren't always noble. Sometimes they turn cowardly and run the other way, and that can be far more interesting than someone who is just good.

“Strong female characters” don't just need variety in their behavior, though. The panel were frustrated that there still isn't enough variety in how women are drawn. Not all teen girls have flat stomachs and wear cropped tops, low-riding jeans, and visible thongs. It is a problem when a woman looks at a character's body and outfit and it doesn't resemble anything they see in real life. One panelist shared that she wrote a character who had gone through some depression and was lounging around in her sweat pants for months, and for the first time in ages, she has to get dressed for a job interview. She is shocked to discover that her work pants don't fit anymore. The problem she ran into with the story was that her collaborating artist would not draw the character fat enough. He kept trying to give the character a small waist and hips. She had to convince him that he had to draw her as heavier to preserve the integrity of the character and situation, and more importantly, that he could draw a woman who didn't have a stereotypically Perfect Body. It isn't a crime to draw a woman who has a stomach, and artists can't fall into the trap of using male and female body prototypes for every character.

The most contentious topic of discussion, however, was female comic book fans and their place in the greater comic book fan community. A younger male attendee went on a bit of a rant about a group of women at the 2012 MoCCA who hosted a party exclusively for female comic book fans. He saw it as exclusion and sexist against men. The response from the panel was swift and unforgiving. Alex de Campi (Valentine, Smoke) pointed out that there wasn't a single female speaker at MorrisonCon this year and bluntly replied, “This is a privilege issue. When minorities get together to enjoy comics and you're mad that you weren't invited, f--- you. That's our right.” I resisted the urge to run up to the stage and give de Campi a hug and a high-five. Other panelists tried to soften the blow slightly and sympathized with the young man that he was sad because he wanted to hang with the ladies, but they explained that if these women wanted to have their own party, he should respect that. There are tons of parties for male comic book fans, and one exclusively female comic book party is not proof of sexism against men.

Inadvertently, another audience member brought up the issue of female comic book fans. She didn't really have a question for the panel but wanted to take a moment to praise panelist Fiona Staple's work on Saga's infamous breast feeding cover. The audience member was a new mother and a blogger, and she had shared the cover with her readership who is mostly new mothers, many of whom are completely unfamiliar with comic books. The response was overwhelming. Mothers from across the country loved the cover and wanted to know more about the comic and the image's context. This story was the perfect example of why more female comic book creators will lead to more female comic book fans. Staple's artwork was strong and beautiful, and it struck a chord with women who otherwise might have never picked up a comic book. Public breast feeding has been a hot topic in our culture in recent years. Even in 2012, there are not a lot of women in pop culture as a whole that are shown breast feeding and it isn't treated as a joke, a sign of weakness, or disgusting. Right here, this is how you get more female readership, by treating women and women's issues seriously.

Once the panel wrapped up, I headed over for my last event of New York Comic Con, “From Leia to Buffy: Creating Strong Female Characters in Sci-Fi & Fantasy” with authors Isla Neal and Martin Leicht. In actuality, it was Isla Neal and Martin Leicht talking about their new book Mothership with some talk of Buffy, Molly Ringwald, and Ramona Quimby thrown in. Fortunately, Mothership is a fantastic book, a wonderfully charming mix of Juno and Alien with a healthy dose of Whedon-esque dialogue and John Hughes teen angst. It also helped that Neal and Leicht were very entertaining speakers and had no trouble getting the crowd excited about their book. Immediately after the panel was over, about a dozen audience members ran over to the Barnes and Noble booth to buy Mothership, but unfortunately, the booth was completely unprepared and only had one copy on hand. As luck would have it, though, Neal and Leicht had a stack of copies on hand, and they signed a copy for me. I started reading it that night on the way home. I finished it in less than a day and haven't stopped raving about it since then. Mothership has the potential to be a new sci-fi comedy classic, and with the announcement that it is only the first book in a new series, I can't wait for the further adventures of Elvie Nara.

Overall, New York Comic Con 2012 was a great experience. I met a lot of very talented writers and artists, got hooked on Mothership and TRON: Uprising, and learned about everything from vampires to the challenges facing female comic book creators. Despite a few disappointments, I walked away from the weekend feeling exhausted but at the same time excitedly counting down the days until next year's New York Comic Con.

Nov
02
2012
Rachel Kolb • Staff Writer

I love movies, writing, and breaking into song in public. You can follow me on Twitter @rachelekolb or check out more of my work at http://rachelekolb.wordpress.com.

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