Women of DC Entertainment

New York Comic Con was, to my knowledge, a vastly improved convention in regards to its treatment of women. The addition of an explicit non-harassment policy, the presence of Geek Girl HQ, frequent reminders about consent, and a general tone of increased sensitivity showed that the convention was making an active effort. Nonetheless, comics remain an undeniably unfriendly field for female fans and creators alike and likely will until the companies themselves make gender equality the industry norm.

In a promising step, NYCC 2014 marked the first convention where DC and Marvel both held panels focused on the role of women in comics. DC was first, assembling a table of talented writers and artists.

“This is our world,” said moderator Amanda Salmons. Salmons, the owner of Muse Comics and Games, said that the women in comics panels always held tremendous potential in her eyes, but tended to encourage panelists to put words in others’ mouths and focus purely on the negative. Instead she opted to give fans a chance to hear from female creators, the way they always have from men in the industry.

The panel was composed of Shelly Bond, executive editor of DC’s Vertigo imprint; Caitlin Kittredge, novelist and writer of Vertigo’s Coffin Hill; Batgirl of Burnside artist, Babs Tarr; Meredith Finch, the soon-to-be writer of Wonder Woman; co-writer of Gotham Academy, Becky Cloonan; feminist icon and writer of the upcoming Secret Six series, Gail Simone; Marguerite Bennett, writer for DC’s Earth-2 and Earth-2: World’s End; Harley Quinn co-writer, Amanda Conner; and Bobbi Chase, DC’s editorial director.

Neil Gaiman’s Sandman proved a common entry point for the panelists.

Salmon’s first question was about how the panelists came to comics. For Bond, her gateway was a comics screenwriting class. Peter Gross’ Empire Lanes was used as an example of storyboarding and, when Bond reacted, a fellow student directed her to a comic shop. Bond described her first moments in the store as being like stepping into Oz. She cited Sandman, Hellblazer, Moonshadow, and Love and Rockets among her early pulls and said that she immediately knew that this is what she wanted to do with her life.

Kittredge’s introduction came out of necessity. Living in a cheap apartment far from her college and located along a bus line colloquially referred to as “the meth bus”, Kittredge found herself in need of something to occupy herself, lest her drug addled fellow passengers approach her. When she ran out of books to read a friend lent her Sandman and before long she had purchased and devoured the entire series, despite being poor enough that she needed to live in a cheap apartment far from her college and located along a bus line colloquially referred to as “the meth bus”.

Tarr was more of a manga person in her youth. She admitted that she had tried her local comic shop but the staff seemed unsure of what to do with her. Nonetheless, her experimentation with manga-styled artwork led her into the industry and she’s since been exploring more of the American comic market.

Merideth Finch’s first comics were her mother’s old Archies, still kept at her grandparents’ house. Though she greatly enjoyed them, she didn’t really pick up another comic until she met her husband, David. She recalled asking him what he did on their first date and misunderstanding his answer to mean newspaper comics before he corrected her. She also remembered how he “just happened to have” some of his comics with him.

Becky Cloonan’s first comic was Silver Surfer Annual #1, a gift from her father.

Becky Cloonan said that she’s been reading comics since childhood and cited her father reading her Silver Surfer Annual #1 as her first experience with them. Reading X-Men #1 pushed her past the point of no return.

Simone grew up in a rural home with no access to comics, but she fell in love with Barbara Gordon through the Batman television series, awed by a woman who neither needed a man to rescue her nor to complete her. Later she would discover books like Elfquest and Sandman but she didn’t realize that she wanted to be a comic writer until she tried it. Needless to say, she took to it like a fish to water.

Bennett had a similar story, but instead of Batman ’66 and Barbara Gordon it was Batman: The Animated Series and Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and Harley Quinn. She too had tried to expand into comics when she was young, only to find her local store unwelcoming and foreign. Thankfully her parents had instilled in her the confidence to know that she could do anything she wanted and that the problem was with the store, not with her. Good parenting, Bennetts.

Amanda Conner’s first experience with comics came when she lost a tooth. She went to sleep one night and awoke to find the tooth fairy had left a nickel and a MAD Magazine under her pillow. The story quickly inspired a wave of envy from the other panelists, who never got such thoughtful gifts from the fairy. Conner had a slew of impressive aspirations as a child, including being a superhero, however she wasn’t sure how to do that. Realizing that superpowers are hard to come by, she settled for being a comic artist.

Bobbi Chase read Archie Comics and Richie Rich as a child, but didn’t go much further until after college. Needing a job, she answered an ad in the New York Times for an editorial position at Marvel. Though she admits that she didn’t really know much about comics when she started, she quickly discovered comics like “Daredevil: Born Again” and fell in love with the medium. She claims it was the humanity of the story that spoke to her.

With that, Salmons asked each of the panelists a little about their own work and process. Kittredge was first and Salmons asked how being a novelist affected her comic writing. Kittredge said that she loves the presence of both text and visuals and the ability to transmit an understanding of the scene instantly. She also praised her artist, Inaki Miranda, heavily, saying that working with an artist is like having backup.

Babs Tarr’s question was about how she related to Barbara Gordon and how that affected the fashions of the title. Tarr said that she remembered being twenty-one and that connecting with that made the book a lot of fun to draw. She also explained some  of the fashion choices in the series. Barbara Gordon, for instance, is a tomboy in grad school and has neither the time nor the interest to devote to being a fashionista, though she still tries to find clothes that are comfortable and make her feel good about herself. Her roommate, Frankie, has bolder tastes and her friend, Dinah Drake is a little edgier, as her leather-clad alterego, Black Canary, would imply. While Dinah probably has the closest taste to Babs’ own, all three characters often end up in clothes that Tarr owns.

Babs Tarr sees Barbara Gordon in “stuff that’s comfortable and cute.”

Tarr also says that she’s tired of comic worlds that ignore the basic realities of being a woman in the modern world. “When I did pick up comics when I was younger, Lois Lane would always be wearing a generic jacket and generic heels,” she said “You could tell the dude didn’t take the time to look up what business ladies were wearing in that day and age. It would take me out of the story. I would be reading, and be like, really? Those shoes?” Tarr says that she tries to draw a world that contains those kind of conscious choices, even the ones that aren’t technically in the script, citing the presence of bobby pins lying around Barbara’s apartment as an example.

Asked about Wonder Woman, Finch said that the element of the Amazon princess that she connected to most to was her absolute dedication to her own sense of right and wrong. “I think most women can really relate to that,” she said. Finch has come under fire in recent months for her lack of experience, the seemingly corporate priorities she’s advanced, and an interview in which she and her husband seemed hesitant to label Wonder Woman a feminist hero. While we won’t know how accurate these criticisms are until next month, it is nice to hear Finch attributing real and uniquely feminine strength to Diana.

Salmons asked Becky Cloonan what it was like working with Gotham Academy artist Karl Kerschl and if her experience as an artist affected her collaboration. Cloonan said that working with an artist with real vision made the process significantly easier and really strengthened her skills as a writer.

Asked about Secret Six, Gail Simone said that the new series will open with the six protagonists(?) all trapped in a room. She also warned that something has happened to change Catman and that he’s not happy about it.

Simone also has a new series called Clean Room coming from Vertigo. Salmons asked if the process for writing the two series was different. Gail said that Clean Room was entirely new ground, a sort of “psychological horror thriller fantasy.”

Bennett was asked who her favorite Earth-2 characters are, to which she unreservedly responded Huntress and Power Girl. For Bennett, the opportunity to write a truly loving relationship between two women is an enormous privilege.

Finally Salmons asked Amanda Conner about the lunches that she and her husband, Jimmy Palmiotti, reportedly take to work on Harley Quinn. According to Conner, it’s less a matter of complex plotting than picking a direction and finding the madness in the world. “We used to live in Brooklyn,” she told the crowd,” but it got too sane, so we moved to Florida.” Whether you find that funny or depressing, it’s been a boon to the duo. They just look at the world around them and think, “yeah, that’s a Harley moment.”

Conner also clarified her view of her protagonist, stating that Harley is, undoubtedly “a murderous psychopath, but she’s a lovable murderous psychopath.” “She’s always chasing happy.”

The Ventriloquist is the newest member of Gail Simone’s new Secret Six.

In one of the most interesting moments of the panel, Caitlin Kittredge spoke about New England’s impact, not only on her writing but on herself. “New England history is all based around horrible things,” she told us, citing an old landmark made famous by the mass death that occurred there. In that atmosphere, it’s hard to think that one wouldn’t be affected, she said, and that will play a role in Eve Coffin’s story.

Salmons also asked Simone if she could reveal who would comprise the Six. Frequent Gail Simone favorites Catman, Black Alice, and Strix had been previously announced, but she revealed that the new version of the Ventriloquist she created will also be a part of the team. “You’re welcome for the nightmares,” Simone said with a smile.

Cloonan was asked if she was pulling from her own experiences of high school for Gotham Academy. Her general answer was yes, but she doesn’t see it as an autobiographical work, not even through the lens of her characters. Instead, her memories inform how the characters react to their experiences.

The panel ended with a question to Conner, her favorite moment on Harley Quinn. She answered that issue #8’s scatological humor and Harley and Ivy’s animal rescue adventure ranked highly. That said, there are plenty of ideas she loves that didn’t make it into the final book. Conner said that she and Jimmy could easily fill a website with all the things editorial didn’t allow them to do. Unfortunately starting such a website is on that list as well.

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