Don’t you have it when you go to a comic convention for a website, and then realise you forgot to send a bunch of panel reports, sitting in your Out tray? That’s what happened to David Pierce at C2E2. But that’s okay David, better late than never! We’have been running these over the last couple of days…
Saturday morning at C2E2 saw a panel presented by Geeks Out, a LGBT organization that seeks to facilitate interaction locally, globally, and virtually, both to celebrate our shared geekiness and to focus and promote the unique LGBT voice within that community. Geeks Out seeks to empower LGBT geeks and to offer and maintain a visible and vivacious queer presence at geek events, fostering inclusivity and openness within our community.
The panel was led by Nicole Gitau, Vice-President of Geeks Out, and featured panelists Aria Baci, Editrix in Chief of Geeks Out website; Amber Garza of Sequential Rights, which represents international rights licensing for Image, Skybound, Magnetic Press, and Legendary; Jennie Wood the creator of Boy Like Me and Flutter; Kiki Jenkins, who writes, draws, and produces the comic Idolon and is also a professional concept artist for the game and film industry; and Tana Ford, artist on Silk and creator of the Duck series of graphic novels.
Gitau opened by asking the panel what their first comic was and what made them want to create comics. She added that Y The Last Man was her first comic, and though it was about a man, he was alone in a world of women. A couple of panelists mentioned Sailor Moon and a couple mention the X-Men, with Ford explaining that as a community of people different from what was regarded as ‘normal’ in society made X-Men an escape that was relatable to her. Baci cited her older sisters back issues of Love and Rockets. Garza discussed Femforce which she found as a local liquor store, the only place in her area for comics. She added that while the costumes were often exploitative, the women weren’t cat fighting but worked together as a team, and the one male associated with the team took what had been the traditionally female role as window dressing.
The panelists were then asked if they had any industry role models. A number of panelists cited Gail Simone as an industry influence. Garza mentioned Karen Berger, who she felt was able to go as far as she did just because of how good she was at her job and who developed respect not just among the writers and artist she worked with but among the industry as a whole. Ford mentioned Marvel editor Sana Amanat, saying that Amanat was an upcoming force to be reckoned with.
The discussion turned to whether or not there were times in the panelists’ careers when they felt they needed to hide who they were. Wood stated that she uses her real name and not her pen name when working with other publishers because she is worried that publishers might find the personal things in her work, not just the sexual but what she writes about mental health issues. Wood said she got her start self-publishing a memoir and that she wants her entire body of work associated with her, adding that no one at Marvel has ever attempted to censor or block her. Garza said her prior background and career was in law, and that it was as a lawyer that she felt she had to hide who she was. She said working at Sequential Rights was her dream job, getting to openly be herself while actively looking for international audiences for the books she represents.
Gitau next asked the group if there was a difference between their private and public personas and, if so, how they managed that difference. The discussion that followed centered primarily on social media, with Garza saying Facebook filtering of followers helped her maintain some personal privacy. Jenkins said she tends to be very public even though her girlfriend is very private, so Jenkins is very careful with what public information she shares about her girlfriend. She stressed how important it was not to let people take your joy away, to which Ford added that the block button is your friend. Wood stated that while she is shy in person, her public persona takes on that of her more forward characters, saying that she has been told numerous times by fans that those characters have helped them the most and that if the more forward persona helps people, she owes it to them to present that.
The group was also asked who their community was, and if they ever felt they needed to be a representative of that community. Baci said she feels kike she has become a gateway to comics for her non-comics queer community and that within the comics’ queer community meeting one person opens you up to their community. Jenkins said her community was other writers and artists, the Geeks Out community as a whole, and that she didn’t ever try to speak for that entire community. Ford talked about a passage from Natalie Goldberg’s book on writing ‘Writing Down The Bones’ where Goldberg discusses teaching rural students in Minnesota. The class became aware Goldberg was Jewish and she became aware that she was the definition of Jewish for most of the class. Ford explained that even though she doesn’t try to speak for the entire community, she needs to be aware that for some people she does represent the entire community, though as queer characters become more prevalent and queer culture saturates the mainstream this becomes less of an issue.
Gitau polled the panel about the controversy surrounding David Gabriel’s comments on diversity. Ford answered by saying people want diversity and that the fact on the ground is that diversity sells. She stressed that what was needed though wasn’t just diversity, but good stories and representation behind the page.
The first audience question asked the panel if they ever pulled back on showing negative representations of their community. The questioner was a writer who said he was having difficulty when trying to write about qualities that for many were stereotypes and clichés. Garza pointed out that people’s lived experiences can include things that are stereotypes or clichés. Ford added that writing about your authentic lived experiences matters to readers who appreciate seeing their experiences reflected in comics. Garza then continued from that point, saying that the magic of fiction is that it allows us to share the experiences of others and thus create a greater understanding of those experiences. “It helps us to see the world through the eyes of other people.”
I’m going to pause a minute here to inject a personal observation. I’m a 57-year old straight white male. I purchased my first comic with allowance money at the age of 8 in 1967, Fantastic Four #67, and have been collecting comics on a weekly basis since I was 16. That’s five decades worth of stories created by people who look like me, about people who look like me, aimed primarily at people who look like me. I still love Spider-Man, still love Batman, and will be thrilled as hell when Marvel finally relaunches the Fantastic Four, but for the most part the books I love the most right now are stories created by people who don’t look like me, about people who don’t look like me, and not aimed at people who don’t look like me. I love having my world opened up by reading about the experiences of others. But I digress.
The panel closed with a question asking if queerness was a fad and if anything special was lost as queerness becomes more mainstream. The panel as a whole openly rejected both of these ideas, with many panelists echoing the idea that queerness has been a part of life for centuries and that if anything has changed it was that it has become more open and accepted and that even if some specialness has been lost, what has been gained in being able to live one’s life more openly offsets any loss.