Several panels at Comikaze focused on inclusion. I wrote earlier about the “Making Comics Great for Children panel.” Two other panels I made room for in the crowded schedule were “Gender in Pop Culture” and “Anything That Loves,” which explored the experience of readers and creators who fall outside the traditional “fan boy” stereotype or simply the male stereotype.
The “Gender in Pop Culture” panel examined the role of gender, and of women particularly, in comics and other media, as readers, viewers, creators, or characters. The contributors were: Kristin Hackett (Fangasm, co-creator of www. wearpinkwednesdays.com, www.superspacechick.com, Video Hostess at Midtown Comics), Sterling Gates (Supergirl, New Krypton), Bryan Q. Miller (Batgirl, Smallville), Alan Kistler (Spider-Man Trivia Book, Batman Trivia Book, Game of Thrones Cookbook), and Susan Eisenberg (Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, Injustice). Observations that are worth sharing because I agreed with them or that were wise and surprising include:
- Female characters in mainstream media typically occupy “slots” such as the humorless badass, the bombshell who ultimately acquires insight, the sweetheart, etc. Women and girls are cast as fully drawn characters less frequently than men or boys (who are more often the central characters).
- For commentary worth following on women in media, the panel recommended Feminist Frequency on YouTube (also on Twitter and Tumblr).
- They had a discussion of the Doctor Who female companions, and especially the early years with Barbara (the second female companion), who was smart and resourceful and strong at a time when secondary female roles tended more toward wallpaper. Tom Baker, the fourth Doctor, was the first to insist that the companions had to be special to qualify to travel in the TARDIS.
- Panelists pointed out that fictional women thrive in well-written female friendships, like Buffy and Willow, Xena and Gabrielle, and even mother-daughter Lorelei and Rory of the Gilmore Girls.
- Fans will spend money to support good writing and production, so if spending money accomplishes those goals, the fan support and success follow.
- Supporting your favorite shows or books by posting on message boards is worth your effort; publishers and producers pay attention to comments from fans motivated enough to post in an environment that requires the investment of a registration or subscription.
The second panel honed in on the emergence of gay, lesbian, bi, transexual, and queer stories, creators, and readers in comics and pop culture. The panel was made up of contributors to a comic anthology on that theme, “QU33R“: Zan Christensen (Anything That Loves, Northwest Press), Sam Saturday (Why Do You Cry When I’m On Top?), MariNaomi (Kiss and Tell), Nick Leonard (Boy Trouble), and Josh Trujillo (The Reason for Dragons).
This was the last panel of the con for me and I was pretty crispy by this time. The panelists were enjoying talking, with a lot of back and forth, generating conversations rather than simple solo comments. They appreciated the opportunity to work on a book with so many contributors and as diverse as QU33R.
One discussion centered on the theory that some heterosexuals are antagonistic to gays as a subconscious defense against their subliminal gay traits, and that by a parallel analysis, much of the rancor directed toward the bi community may arise from violent resistance to one’s own subliminal bi leanings. To handle this sort of resistance or antagonism, the panelists suggested humor.
One strategy for progress the panelists use is to give real-life antagonists a stand-in character in the story, and address their concerns and positions through the story without abusing, misrepresenting, or obliterating them. Making reasoned arguments through the story can be persuasive in a friendly, nonthreatening voice.
Besides the panels, I also saw the Northwest Press and Prism Comics booth and picked up the Prism comics guide to LGBT comics (dated from 2009-2010), which has an amusing cover riffing off of the “marriage of Superman” cover from the Superman issue, “The Wedding Album.” The guide offers rundowns of popular series (from 2009-2010), descriptions of various jobs in the comics industry by way of interviews at Prism Comics, and recommendation lists: one from readers, and my favorite, a nicely composed list from a librarian for LGBTQ-friendly comics.
The two panels were informative and fun; it was especially great just to hear such creative types riffing off of each other and enjoying the make-up of the panel. I left the con with hope for accelerating progress for women and other fish swimming upstream in our mutating pop culture.