Special Edition NYC: Creating Comics: The Real Stories

This panel, at 2:30 on Sunday, was the biggest panel I went to all weekend, probably the best attended, and snuck itself in under the radar as the “women in comics” panel without feeling like it had to sell itself that way. All of these things I applaud. Moderated by Jill Pantozzi, Editor in Chief of The Mary Sue (an excellent blog, which I recommend to all of you), the panel featured Annie Wu (Hawkeye, Black Canary), Katie Cook (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Gronk), Marjorie Liu (Monteress, X-23, Dark Wolverine), Marguerite Bennett (A-Force, Bombshells, Butterfly), Kate Leth (Edward Scissorhands, Bravest Warriors, Power Up), Becky Cloonan (Gotham Academy, Southern Cross, Demeter), and Dylan Meconis (PvP, Bite Me, Family Man). This was the first panel I attended that suffered not only from the bad sound quality of Theater 1 and it’s bigger brother, Theater 2, but also a severe lack of mics.

The panel began by going around and talking about comics that were on the shelves that the panelists were really liking, but really got going when the question was posed as to how the creators got over crippling doubts, such that artists get all the time. Bennett responded that she goes “until it snaps my last nerve, then I put on a bitchin’ dress and order a cocktail,” which was probably the most optimistic answer; Meconis said she makes dinner, because “if I screw up dinner, I can just order pizza. And you can do the same thing with art.

A lot of the creators on the panel got their start and built their skills as writers doing some shape or form of fanfiction, which eventually turned into licensed work for a lot of them. They addressed the fact that licensed comics essentially are fanfiction, you just get to create canon when you’re hired to write the licensed stuff. Later in the panel, they described fics that they’ve written, all of which I am in the process of trying to track down. Bennett wrote one called “Wolverine Adopts Me,” which has to be perfect, Leth wrote a Harry Potter one (Lucius + Hermoine, because why not), and two from hit crime procedural Without A Trace; Marjorie wrote Deadpool, X-Men and Punisher ones, among others; Cook produced a lot of Daria fanart; Mecoris was once one of the top 20 Hunchback of Notre Dame fic writers; Wu got into the industry by posting fanart of the Justice League as a rock band (and now she is drawing a book where Black Canary is in a rock band), and art of the Venture Bros., which got her a job on the show as a storyboard artist; Cloonan is in two fanfics. Leth also mentions that, in a Community-style fic where Kieron Gillen is the Dean and Jamie McKelvie is Jeff Winger, she is Britta. She is still not pleased about this.

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The conversation turned to the building amount of representation for women and people of color in mainstream media. In response to the female Ghostbusters movie and the accompanying male fans afraid it would ruin the original, Leth stated, “I have 0% empathy for people who have been pandered to 100% of the time who get offended by females ... They burned all prints of the original Ghostbusters! They killed Bill Murray!”

The creators discussed things that were inspirational to them when they were stuck. Leth counted Sailor Moon and Steven Universe among her biggest inspirations at the moment; Mecoris likes reading “turgid 19th century British novels” because there are no descriptions and rarely characters talking to each other, so they’re kind of the opposite of comics; Cloonan “listens to enough metal to build a bomb shelter,” and brought up her first comic ever, Silver Surfer Annual #1 in 1988; Liu listens to a lot of 80’s power ballads; Cook listens to movie soundtracks and audio books (and warns that the Jurassic Park audiobook is very different from the movie; Wu enjoys showtunes (“I love a good ‘I Want’ song”); and Bennett “wanders around in a robe, eating blue cheese olives and listening to Florence + The Machine.”

The conversation turned to the topic of “cross-identifying,” whereby people of color, LGBTQ folks, and women have to learn to identify with main characters on shows who are generally straight, white dudes. Wu told a story about watching Fresh Off the Boat and seeing a moment that was her childhood and thinking, “wow, this must be what straight, white dudes feel like all the time.” All the creators had stories about ways the industry had been unfriendly to them in passive (or outright) ways, and the most egregious was Liu being told by publishers that she should change her last name because “no one will buy a romance novel from a woman with a Chinese last name.”

The panel soon wrapped up, and went long enough that there wasn’t really time for questions. It was a lot of fun, and definitely got me excited for new work coming up from these panelists, like Black Canary, Power Up, and Monteress, as well as interested in checking out other work I wasn’t familiar with, like PvP.