Written by Joe Glass:
Ending Thursday night at the New York Comic Con 2017 was TimesOUT’s, the New York Times’ LGBTQ and Allies Affinity Network, 6th annual LGBTQ comicsa panel. Hosted by Jude Biersdorfer and organized by artist Jamie Fay and featuring a panel including Jennie Wood, Vita Ayala, Desiree Rodriguez, Amy Reeder, Tee Franklin and Gail Simone, the panel looked to focus on women who created and worked on some of the most beloved LGBTQ characters.
Starting with Rodriguez, on her very first panel, Biersdorfer asked her to discuss her essay about her disappointment of the casting of Maggie Sawyer in the Supergirl show. Rodriguez basically summed it down to how they promoted it as a Hispanic woman of color, but the character was actually cast with a white Italian woman. She pointed out that the lack of knowledge of the Latinx community and the diversity of those falling within is the problem more than anything else, and how that is something that needs to be worked on by Hollywood and media at large.
Franklin on Bingo Love, mentioning again today’s news that the book is to be published at Image Comics and that, if she isn’t mistaken, she may be the first black woman to get a series at Image. She went on to thank those in the room who had backed the book on Kickstarter, saying how she could not have done it without them.
Franklin talked about how she just wanted something that really added diversity and showed body shapes that aren’t shown, wondering if maybe they were ‘not allowed’, to which Simone commented how it ‘looks sexy as fuck though’. Franklin wanted to create a happily ever after, something that gives hope because that is something the youth don’t get to see in media at the moment, she wanted to give that hope even through something difficult like leaving your husband for the woman you really love.
Wood is asked next about Flutter, and what it was like seeing it grow and even be optioned as a TV show, Wood says it’s nerve wracking going to TV, as TV handles LGBTQ characters horribly most of the time. She says she was very lucky that Dark Horse Entertainment found her. She said that Flutter has always been a collaboration, originally a collaboration with the artist and now a collaboration with the TV people. The final trade of Flutter is coming out, a third and final part of the trilogy.
On to Ayala, asked about her Black Mask Comics work, Our Work Fills The Pews. She says thematically it’s about how people in power turn marginalized people against each other to stay in power, and what you have to do as a person to survive. She discussed how it was initially when they were developing it it was much more satirical, but now feels more frighteningly possible. The plot sees women kept in internment camps for their own protection, and queer people, the only way they can survive, is to work for the government. When the lead Marcus, a gay man working for the government, stumbles across a young girl in the wild, he has to decide if he is going to be responsible for caging her.
Ayala says the idea of having to do things just to get by is something that many can relate to. In terms of the difference between working on creator owned work and work for hire/franchised characters, Ayala says in some cases creator owned is so much more work, you have to do it all, but with work for hire, sure you have to fall within continuity to some extent, but it’s all there. You’re playing in a world already created, and it’s a lot of fun.
Moving onto Simone, any particular queer character she created that she got the most fan feedback to? Simone says it’s a tough question, but she says probably the most is Alyssa in Batgirl, but there was a lot of fans happy with Catman, Scandal Savage, even Sivante back in Birds of Prey.
Discussing the David Gabriel of Marvel comments about how they found that people didn’t want diversity, and the backlash therein, how do the comics creators feel about it. Franklin mentioned it was back around the time that Bingo Love’s Kickstarter was happening, and given how insanely well that did, she immediately saw those comments as suspect. Franklin said that if all you are doing is marketing your books to the same ‘white, boring comic internet sites’ then how can you be surprised. She talked about you could be marketing to mommy sites, to little kids sites, to all those YouTubers who could be helping marketing as well. And if you ‘don’t season your comics, people are gonna be sick of getting the same meal’.
Ayala then brought up a point, but unfortunately her mic didn’t seem to be working, but seemed to saying something about how back in the day, comics seemed to be happy with any sales on all comics, but nowadays it feels like the industry and publishers are acting like why should they be excited about that one book selling 200,000 comics when they had another sell 1,000,000.
Simone says people don’t like to be told what they should be reading, and one of the first things she said to publishers is why are they cutting out so much of their potential audience, having gone to cons and shows and seeing the kind of audience that was actually there. She said we all need to support the projects we like, and the things that we like, that may well lead to them being seen as part of the mainstream industry too. Simone reiterated Franklin’s point about how publishers goes to the same market again and again, working on old market information.
Franklin talked about how a FOC tweet for Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur got 2 million Twitter impressions on her RT alone…if the publisher was pushing that kind of thing more, then who knows the levels it would be hitting. She said Bingo Love got so much steam because she didn’t just go to the same old comics sites, she went to Huffington Post: Black Voices and more, and that became her audience.
Rodriguez discussed how the Direct Market is a stagnated, broken system, and that the marketing system to the same old websites etc is also stagnated and broken for much the same reason. She discussed how Manga is a huge market, because it caters to a really open market that western comics are just not tapping into. She works at a comic shop, and mentions how it is a struggle, and the publishers aren’t helping. She said in her cab, her taxi driver was amazed to learn that comics are still being made, and being made in America. The publishers are just not doing enough to market to build the audience and find the readers.
Wood talks about how representation matters, and the very first show she did was NYCC, and it’s all about putting yourself out there because the audience is out there, and they are looking for these kinds of books. Simone reiterated to share those books you find and you love, and shout it loud and proud, and if you want to make comics, keep working, don’t sit back.
Franklin praised Simone as comics fairy godmother, championing so much. Many of the panellists are also sharing the love for Simone. Simone discussed being invited to a panel at SDCC, an LGBTQ panel in the second biggest hall at the venue, and they filled the room. Now, the programming has changed, and instead of one panel in the second biggest room, there’s now a whole raft of LGBTQ programming.
In these times of social and political unrest, do they find they are writing reactively or just the worlds they wish could be true. Wood discusses rewriting Flutter volume three after the election as it could no longer be including the first female President, but instead felt she had to respond to the outcome of the real election. Ayala said it’s nearly impossible to write something that doesn’t touch on the things you are passionate about in your life. Simone agrees, it doesn’t matter what kind of story she is writing, she will always wind up bringing it up in the story as it feels like a safe space to talk about these things.
What did the panel think of the Wonder Woman movie? Simone, of course, loved it. She admit it may not have been a perfect movie, but probably about as perfect as you can get right now, she felt that it often seems Wonder Woman could only be one thing: she could be a warrior, but she couldn’t be compassionate; she could be compassionate but not the warrior etc. What she loved that the film got right was it wrote Wonder Woman as being able to be all those things at once.
Ayala loved it too, saying she saw it in the theatre a couple times, and she never does that. Simone repeated how the film made her cry, and she never cries at movies as she’s normally perpetually deconstructing them. Ayala then brought up Robyn Wright, to applause in the room. Rodriguez joked about the Amazon Island scenes had her shook, she was like ‘sign me up’! She brought up the No Man’s Land scene, to appreciative groans throughout the room as it seems many here appreciated that. Rodriguez said she wanted women who are powerful, but that that can be lighter, it doesn’t have to be dark.
Simone talked about seeing Wonder Woman in a comic as a young girl changed her viewpoint, so she imagined all these young girls seeing this film but perhaps more than that, all the young boys watching it, it was important and powerful too. She really feels culturally that Wonder Woman is a game changer.
Franklin asked Simone when we can get some more Starblossom? The character who appeared in Simone’s Wonder Woman 75th anniversary issue story. Simone said there’s no solid announcements, but she feels it will be happening.
How do you promote a story that is likely to cause the mainstream to react badly or have questions? Simone discusses how Alyssa Yeoh had a huge positive response, but also a small negative response. Simone says when you have all those people who being positive and getting something out of it and talking to people about it, then she just cannot give a shit about that small negative group anymore. It’s going to happen, as long as you know that going in, but don’t give a shit about them, and do what you want to do. You don’t have to have every single person love your work. She says to those who threaten to boycott her work, do it, she’d rather that then have them constantly having a go on twitter about it.
Wood says to shut it all out, go with your gut, those opinions don’t matter.
Thoughts on Batgirl movie by Joss Whedon? Franklin – “Heeeeeeell to the no!” Anything you want to see? Rodriguez “Joss Whedon not directing it.” Simone says it’s still very early days, who knows what will happen, but she says Batgirl needs to be brilliant, and inspirational, and as long as they do that, she’s happy with it.
How do they write with verisimilitude when writing characters that aren’t the same identities as them? Franklin says you do your research, and if that’s not enough get sensitivity readers, and if that’s not enough, well, then you don’t need to be writing it. Research and listen.
An America Chavez cosplayer and teacher thanked the panellists for giving them the tools to give comics and representation to the kids who really need it.