Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Baltimore Comic-Con: Women in the Comics Industry

by Jeff Bartlett

I hope that you, dear readers, will forgive the tardiness of this article and check-out the works of these two phenomenal women I interviewed at Baltimore Comic-Con.

Rachel Deering

Rachel Deering lives in Columbus, Ohio and is the self-published author of the indie comic Anathema. She describes Anathema as a passion project designed to subvert the horror genre. She seeks to emphasize atmosphere over simple gore or shock value, and much as Joss Whedon sought to do with Buffy: The Vampire Slayer she also seeks to subvert the traditional role of women in horror. Feminist issues tackled in the pages I read ranged from the line between women as sexually empowered vs. powerless sex objects to sexuality—the protagonist is a lesbian (and werewolf, by-the-by)—to the role of the church as a tool of patriarchal dominance. 

Rachel Deering at Baltimore Comic-Con.
On a lark, I asked her if she ever looked at her work and wiped that she had stayed into sexism or experienced the sort of internalized misogyny Aine described in her article. She said no, though she was once accused of being a man hater who made all her villains men and wondered if her protagonist were a Gary make, would she get the same question? She also felt the "big boobed" monster in issue 2 was decidedly female and did not devote any further time to the question.

Despite the comic being described as a “horror book,” Ms. Deering said that at its heart it is about pure, positive, and noble aspirations. Ms. Deering describes her protagonist as a woman “who is not afraid to show and have emotions. She is multi-faceted. This book is about her journey to save her lover’s soul. And she will do anything to save this love.”

She told me she found an artist and gathered enough money to pay to produce three pages. She took those three pages to Kickstarter and managed to raise $32,000 to start publishing the book. As of the date of our interview Ms. Deering has published two issues which are both available via digital distribution at her online store. To buy them in print, it is best to try and find her at a convention.

It is staggering to me that Ms. Deering has been unable to has been unable to get publisher or brick-and-mortar comic book store support. The production value of her books is far beyond anything would have expected from a crowd-sourced book. The first two issues are beautifully illustrated by Christopher Mooneyham. The book is printed on high quality paper with heavy stock glossy covers. The book simply looks and feels like a professional production worthy of any major comic-book publisher. Take the time to swing by Ms. Deering’s website and see what she has been able to create through her own blood, sweat and tears. I found her to be the sort of inspirational figure that demands I face the uncomfortable question of what have I done with my life, and why haven’t I worked harder to make my dreams a reality.

Elizabeth Gordon

I met Elizabeth Gordon when I swung by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) booth. As some of you know, I am a lawyer and pretty passionate about first amendment law. When I asked them about volunteer opportunities they directed me to Ms. Elizabeth Gordon. Ms. Gordon is a long time comics geek. Her gateway drug was Twisted Sisters which was an anthology of comic art from female creators and edited Diane Noomin and from there it was a short road to Sandman, undeniably the heroin of the geek world.

Elizabeth Gordon (image from her site)
Ms. Gordon is one of those people that you never hear of but plays an essential role in making sure the comic book industry survives. For the last decade she has either professionally or voluntarily worked with the CBLDF and SPX (the Small Press Expo) where she served on a steering committee and worked as an editor on one of their anthologies.

Having been a geek girl more than a decade and being on a first name basis with many of the big names in comic books, she had a unique perspective on the state of misogyny and our hobby. This series of blog posts certainly evidences a heightened awareness of sexism in geek culture, and with the overwhelming coverage the topic has gotten for the past two years it is easy to think that geek culture is just a bubbling cesspool of hostility towards women. But Ms. Gordon does not see it that way at all. 

Ms. Gordon remembers when she first started going into comic-book stores in the 90s that men would leer at her or follow her around, they were stunned to see a girl in their comic-book store. Now, when she enters a comic book store it is usually no big deal. She also says that it is her sincere belief that even within the major publishing houses such as DC and Marvel who have been raked over the coals by the comics press for sexism in their comic books (and, in my opinion, rightly so), things are getting much better. This all leads me to suspect that the heightened awareness of sexism is a product of improving attitudes towards the role of women in geek and mainstream culture. However, the increased coverage makes us more aware of the problems and paradoxically creates the impression that things have gotten worse.

Although things are getting better, she was quick to point out that there is a big difference between the major comics publishing houses and the indie prints. She has been attending SPX since 2003 and said that while even in the indie industry men still outnumber women, the attitudes towards female creators were more positive and there is less of a perception of female creators as “other.”

Ms. Gordon and I had a fascinating discussion about Princess Leia and Wonder Woman, both modern female icons cos-played endlessly at geek conventions but whose backgrounds contain elements that, as best, must be described as awkwardly misogynistic. For those not-in-the-know, Wonder Woman was created by a bondage fetishist which is why, for much of her early history, her weakness was to be tied up. She lost all of her powers once bound. Slave Leia pretty much speaks for herself. Perhaps a topic for a future blog post?

She is local to DC and if you are looking to volunteer with either CBLDF or SPX, she is a great contact person. Drop me a line and I’ll forward your information to her.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, working at a Comic-Con is no easy feat. It payed my mortgage broker penrith agent. It's a serious trade and women know how to rock it, too.