Captains of Industry: Jeanine Schaefer Previews the Women At Marvel Panel [SDCC 2013]
The Women of Marvel panel is back at San Diego this Sunday morning in room 5AB at 11:15am. Now in its sixth year at Comic-Con (with appearances at other shows like C2E2 and New York Comic Con), the panel has become an institution, shining a light on what it's like to be a woman working in comics and offering advice to women who want to enter the industry.
This year's panel features writer and editor Louise Simonson (Power Pack, X-Factor), colorist Christina Strain (Runaways, Daughters of the Dragon), Marvel Augmented Reality manager and cosplay blogger Judy Stephens, and Marvel project manager Jenny Yeats.
The panel is once again moderated by X-Men editor Jeanine Schaefer. ComicsAlliance spoke to Schaefer to talk about her plans for this year's panel, and what she sees as the big challenges and the big changes for women working in the industry.
ComicsAlliance: Tell me about this year's panel! Anything special planned?
Jeanine Schaefer: We do have some special things planned! We've got another short video from Kelly Sue [DeConnick, writer of Captain Marvel], and I'll have some great and rare comics giveaways -- X-Men #1 variants signed by Olivier [Coipel]! I'm also hoping we'll have a special last minute drop by from someone who couldn't make the panel, but I don't want to say her name for fear of making her disappear!
CA: It's only been nine months since the New York "Women at Marvel" panel, but are you seeing signs of a positive shift in how women in the industry are perceived?
JS: Absolutely! Really, I think the real shift is less in how women are perceived and more that they are perceived, as comics pros and fans. It’s not as shocking to people that women read comics, and people are coming to realize that women are already a huge and valid part of the fanbase.
That’s not just in the last nine months, mind you, that’s been happening over many years. But what makes now different is that now it’s an ever present conversation, which is pretty awesome.
CA: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing women in comics today?
JS: Oh, man. I mean, honestly, there are a few that I can see off the bat. Being taken seriously (by pros and fans) for one thing. Becoming a part of that category of "woman in comics," which I think can be a double-edged sword. Maybe odd to say in an interview about the Women of Marvel panel, but I do think it's something we all have to deal with at one point.
And to be honest, just making the leap into deciding to make comics your business. I'm not saying it's not hard for everyone, it's a tough industry to crack into. But when you see people who look like you in the comics and making the comics, it makes it easier to imagine a path you can follow, and I think a lot of people dismiss that. I mean, I first thought I could even get into comics because I saw women’s names on stuff. Louise Simonson and Karen Berger and Shelly Bond and Ann Nocenti, Lynda Barry and Colleen Doran and Jill Thompson.
CA: Is there anything you think people could do -- both readers and professionals -- to support women working in comics?
JS: The main things readers can do are buy the books that women put out, and spread the word. You really do vote with your wallet. I get asked tons of questions about books by women that have been cancelled, with the idea that we cancelled them because when we need to make a budget cut, we cut the people we feel don’t matter, which couldn't be further from the truth. Trust me, if something is selling, we want to sell it, for as long as humanly possible!
As for comics pros, I think we need to be on the lookout for people who might have a different voice. I'm not saying hire a woman because she’s a woman, but I am saying that we can’t wait for people to come to us, especially when we’re interested in what someone with a totally different life experience might have to say.
CA: Do you think female readers and male readers engage with comics fandom differently?
JS: Strictly from my own personal experience, if there is a difference, I think the way women engage might only differ from men because of learned behavior. Like, I would assume that, regardless of gender, fans are fans -– I see similar behavior between comics fans and baseball fans and movie buffs.
However, and this is just personal experience, coming into comics fandom as a woman taught me real quick that I couldn't engage in stuff the same way most of my comic shop probably did. For good or ill, I was treated differently, especially when I didn't have many girlfriends who read comics, and I had to figure out how to interact with fandom my own way. I found out the hard way that it’s wasn't as easy as seeing someone reading a comic and saying to them, oh, I read comics, too!
I think it’s one of the reasons why my (limited and completely unscientific) findings have been that fandom on sites like LiveJournal (yes, I'm old) and Tumblr are predominantly female. It’s why there are huge, well-trafficked fandom hubs that are run entirely by women. We needed a place to gather in large groups, and it’s easier to do it in a way that’s at least semi-anonymous because a lot of us have probably been burned before.
CA: There were no female-led books at Marvel about a year ago. Now we have Captain Marvel, Fearless Defenders, X-Men, FF, Uncanny X-Force -- but we lost Journey Into Mystery and Red She-Hulk. Where do you expect things to be in another year?
JS: So many things I want to talk about and I can talk about none of them! Commenters everywhere are pre-pissed that I'm not properly answering this question with solid info! Losing those books was a huge bummer, especially [Journey Into Mystery], which I loved. But I know that Marvel is committed to not only trying to elevate books with female leads, but to continue to work with more women in the year to come.
Also come talk to me in six months, seriously.
CA: What makes a successful Women at Marvel panel?
JS: Ahaha, uh, me not being too hungover to turn on a computer? Are there kids reading this? Sorry, but seriously, drink more coffee before work functions, everyone, this is a true life lesson.
In all seriousness, this panel has gotten so exciting because of the energy and passion the fans bring to it. Walking into that room at NYCC and seeing how many people were there, I turned to [Marvel editor] Sana [Amanat] and was like, um, are we in the wrong room? Not that I don’t think this is important -- I think we should do a triple feature and book the big room! But it seems to be growing exponentially and it’s exciting that people continue to want to be involved.
Also, I will say, this is called the Women of Marvel panel, and yeah, we talk about how awesome we all are (because trufax), but I’d like to think we shoot as straight as humanly possible when getting into the nitty gritty.
And the more we do it, the more we understand how to talk about the subject -- when I was on my first Women of Marvel panel, I had no idea where the boundaries were, what I could/should say. But as I've done them, I know I feel more comfortable being a little more frank, and it seems like everyone else does, too. I know I'm buoyed up by the other girls on the panel, I know we all have each other’s backs, even when our views on something might differ.
And not for nothing, it really does help to work for Marvel, where the discussion is encouraged. We might not be perfect, but man, we’re trying.
CA: What's the message you hope to send the audience away with at the end of this year's panel?
JS: That the Women of Marvel initiative wasn't an experiment, that it’s important to us as a company because we know how important it is to the fans and we're always working to do it better. That there’s no wrong way to be a comic fan, that there’s a community for everyone waiting to accept you.
CA: Finally; is there any way for people to get involved?
JS: Yes! Even if you can’t be there, send us questions on Twitter and Tumblr! I'm @J9Schaefer on Twitter, or you can send questions to my askbox (firstname.lastname@example.org). We'll answer them on the panel, and assemble everyone's answers to post on Tumblr. Last year we had so many questions we couldn't possibly get to them all, so this year I want to give the Q&A a little more breathing room.
And of course, if you’re in San Diego, make sure you come by the panel, or swing by the Marvel booth!
The Women of Marvel panel takes place on Sunday at 11:15am in room 5AB at San Diego Comic-Con.