The Lady Editors of Marvel Talk ‘Girl Comics’ [Girl Week]
When people think about “women in comics,” all too often the first names that come to mind are characters like Wonder Woman, She-Hulk, or Catwoman — rather than the increasing number of female writers and artists in superhero comics who actually bring our favorite heroes to life.
Last December, Marvel Comics announced a new anthology called “Girl Comics” as part of their year-long Marvel Women project, a book that would be written, illustrated, colored, and lettered entirely by female creators. “Girl Comics” #1 hits comic book shops this Wednesday, and has the distinction of being edited by four female Marvel editors: Jeanine Schaefer, Lauren Sankovitch, Sana Amanat, and Rachel Pinnelas.
All four women sat down to talk with ComicsAlliance as we begin our own Girl Week celebration, for a roundtable discussion of “Girl Comics,” the controversy it inspired in the comics blogosphere, and how they’re working to get more ladies into the business of making — and buying — Marvel comics.
ComicsAlliance: So how did the idea for “Girl Comics” originally come about?
Jeanine Schaefer: [Senior VP] David Gabriel and [Marketing Manager] Arune Singh brought up the fact that 2010 was the 30th anniversary of She-Hulk, and they wanted to do something to celebrate that. I knew that it was also the 30th anniversary of the Women’s History Project, and I wanted to do something that focused not just on our female characters but on our female creators, who are writing and drawing comics and winning Eisners.
CA: And Marvel was receptive to the idea?
JS: Absolutely. [Editor-in-Chief] Joe [Quesada] loved it, and he just said, “do it.” So it was immediately up and running. It was pretty awesome.CA: Were you surprised at all at some of the negative reactions to the name and concept of “Girl Comics” — particularly from feminists who objected to the name or concept of the book?
Rachel Pinnelas: Not at all.
JS: It was something that we were anticipating. There was a lot of thought that went into it, and what we should expect, ranging from the very, very good reactions to the opposite.
CA: So you came in expecting backlash?
JS: Definitely. Every time we thought we were close to a name, I said, “OK, let’s think of eighty more names and pick apart every single one again!” I was a crazy slavedriver about it. “Girl Comics” was actually one of the first ones we thought of, and then we went through seventy-five more, but we kept coming back to it. I love it, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.
Lauren Sankovitch: We kept coming back to it, and it felt right. It kind of encompassed everything we were trying to do.
JS: A lot of people kept saying, “Do we have to put ‘girl’ on it? Do we have to point out that it’s women? Won’t it be enough that it’s being done by women?” And it made me feel kind of like we were being ashamed. Because we were putting this whole thing together, and talking about how it’s being written and drawn and edited and lettered by women, and then we’re going to step away at the last second from flat out saying women made this? And I know some people take issue with the word “girl,” but I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with it.
CA: I just realized that right before we met up, I sent you an e-mail that said, “I’m the girl in the pink sweater.”
Sana Amanat: I don’t think there’s necessarily a negative connotation for the word “girl.” I just think it’s a different point in your life, and that’s something that we can all tap into. I feel like people get stuck on the terms “woman” and “girl” and on gender stereotypes, but there’s nothing wrong with being a girl.
JS: I talked to a lot of people who said, shouldn’t this be “Women’s Comics”? Or “Woman Comics”?” And I thought, yes, let’s call it “Women Being Proper and Making Comics Professionally as a Business Comics.” Or “Businesswomen Publications.”
CA: I’ve heard similar sorts of complaints about “Women in Comics” panels at conventions, and the idea that they ghettoize female creators. Where is that line between marginalizing and spotlighting women in comics?
JS: If you go to a Vertigo [Comics] panel, three-quarters of the Vertigo panel is women, so it’s not like the only panel women can be on at a convention is a Women in Comics panel, and it’s the same thing with this. If you look at our catalogue, we have some women who are staples as our creators that we work with a lot. And especially now, we’re trying to work with them and see where they would fit. So to say it’s ghettoizing them or marginalizing them – I think that would be more valid if we didn’t see women doing other comics at Marvel… But it is something I am concerned about, and something I think about a lot.
SA: I just think if you think about it in a larger context… the reality is that there haven’t been that many women in mainstream comics. For people who don’t really think about it, why not say, here are women who are contributing to comics, and they’re doing a great job. They just happen to be women in a boys club. They do fun comics – why not highlight that and talk about them and enjoy them? Why not feature that content? I think it can be as simple as that, but I think it gets over-dramatized.
JS: Nobody wants to think, oh, we’ve been keeping women down. Everybody wants to say, “Can’t we just be people?” But that’s really easy to say when you’re in that 95% majority.
CA: Do you think there’s been any backlash from male fans over “Girl Comics”?
JS: I think there is a worry that things might change now. There are a few people who say that they’d feel embarrassed to buy a comic that says “Girl Comics.” They have this idea that they can’t buy a comic that’s not specifically marketed towards them, and if they feel even the tiniest bit ignored, that they don’t want anything to do with it.
CA: That’s funny, because I’m pretty sure I’ve been buying mainstream comics for the last 15 years that weren’t marketed towards me.
SA: A few months ago we were talking about girl-friendly content, and how to define that… I think people are becoming a little more aware of what girls are looking to for. Not to say that girls aren’t looking for superhero comics and don’t enjoy them, but I think there’s a space there that is yet to be filled, that we are hopefully going to explore and be more creative with that. That’s something I’m very excited to do. But how can we create more content girls will like? How can we make the comic book shops a little bit more girl-friendly? I don’t think there’s a very simple answer.
LS: There is no combination where if you put this thing together with this character in this story then all girls will like it. That j
ust doesn’t exist. But we can make it apparent that we do give a damn about women reading comics. That when you walk in [to the store] it’s not just marketed aggressively just towards men all the time.
CA: What are your thoughts on the over-sexualization of women in superhero comics, particularly if you’re trying to bring more female readers into the fold?
JS: There’s that age-old argument where people defend it by saying, “the men are wearing spandex too!” I’m not saying that they shouldn’t wear spandex anymore and [women] should dress up in Victorian clothing where they’re completely covered up and you can’t see any cleavage. Women have breasts; we can see them if they’re wearing spandex, and it’s ok. But there’s a difference between saying, “This page is hot and I like looking at it because everyone on it is attractive,’ and sexualization where they’re twisted around weirdly. The difference in their facial expressions is so important, too. It’s one thing to have your cleavage out and look like a sexy badass superhero, but if they’ve got pornface and their boobs hanging out, then you’re not servicing the character.
SA: I feel like you can have sexy and beautifully drawn women who are ridiculously good-looking without having outlandish proportions and body positions. I’ve noticed that when women draw – you don’t see that ridiculousness, but you do see the sexiness.
JS: Some people like those kinds of comics. And there can be both. It’s not like women are coming in to comics and so all the sexy things you look at are going to be obliterated.
CA: “Girl Comics” is only one project in the larger Marvel Women project, and we’ve definitely seen some announcements of new one-shots, like the “Sif” comic with Kelly Sue Deconnick, and the “Her-Oes” miniseries. Will there be more integration of women into the bigger ongoing Marvel titles as well?
JS: I really think it’s about having the right person for the right job. I want to say yes. And Marjorie Liu is writing “Dark Wolverine” right now, and we’re talking about developing some more projects.
LS: She’s also going to be writing “Black Widow.” Not only is she writing a prominent launch for one of our biggest characters; it’s also a female character.
SA: It’s also been nice, because it’s a great testing ground for us to work with certain female creators that we probably wouldn’t have been able to work with before, to see how they work with Marvel and Marvel creators. And who knows? Now we’re getting used to what their style is and how they could fit… It is really hard to get really talented writers and artists for the right projects, and I think this just opens up the [talent] pool that much more.
CA: So you want to be careful not to just shoehorn people into projects as a form of affirmative action.
JS: That, to me, is worse.
LS: It’s not just the creators that are actually involved in the initiatives; I’ve had my regular creators, both male and female, say, “Hey, I heard about this or I saw this. Can we work with this person?” So we’re building bridges for those people. One of the things that’s been the most exciting to me is going to cons and talking to people, and raising awareness. There’s still a vast group of people, especially young women, who are not aware of the role that women play in comics. I have them come up to me at every convention. They come up to me and say, “My guy friends tell me there are no women in comics.” And that’s very much not the case. So I think this is an excellent chance to show that being a girl does not exclude you from being able to succeed in this field. I think that’s one of the most powerful things coming out of this.