featurebanner_femaleheroes_senyAMBER LOVE 15-JUNE-2014 It was standing room only at the REIMAGINING THE FEMALE HERO panel at the SPECIAL EDITION NYC comic con. Ben Saunders, professor at the University of Oregon moderated the panelists: Jenny Frison, Emanuela Lupacchino, Marguerite Bennett, Gail Simone and Amy Reeder.

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For one hour some of the most successful comics creators working today talked about their own careers including advice they chose to ignore and the differences on how they approach characters that male creators/editors don’t necessarily bring to them.

“It turns out girls like action-adventure stories, like superhero stories, always have liked them. But a lot of the female fans that I teach feel like they have to battle with publishers, with store owners, with – let us say – certain male dominated enclaves of fandom, to be taken seriously by an audience.” Ben Saunders

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“We are women, not aliens.” Emanuela Lupacchino

I was surprised to hear about Gail Simone’s early days in comics where she said that since “Gail” can be male or female, most people thought she was a man before seeing photos and talking to her. Marguerite Bennett had different issues about her name; coming from a background as a novelist, she was originally instructed to publish using gender neutral initials or a pen name. I knew that was the case decades ago, but I can’t believe it’s still in our contemporary issue of sexism.

JENNY FRISON ART
JENNY FRISON ART

The panelists discussed their favorite characters: She-Ra, Sailor Moon, Lois Lane, Jem, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Red Sonja and Vampirella. The creators covered how they needed to convince others that characters could in fact be strong, independent and heroic while once in a while date or cry. It doesn’t automatically turn a warrior book into a mushy romance book. In detail, Simone covered how Barbara Gordon’s character cycle should inspire readers.

Without identifying the character, Saunders opened the topic of sexualization vs. a character who can have a sexual identity and sex life in stories; it’s likely he was referencing She-Hulk. The topic of sexualization in regards to Red Sonja’s bikini was explained by Jenny Frison; it’s how she’s presented and who the character is that makes the difference. Sonja would never present herself spread eagle and sucking her thumb, for example. It’s up to the creators to make sure that Sonja’s integrity is in tact. Frison also recognizes that Vampirella’s costume is even more ridiculous but since it’s comics, it can work. Part of the new RED SONJA series plan at Dynamite Entertainment is that Frison would draw the main cover and all the variants would be drawn by other female creators; Simone said none of the women to date have refused to draw Sonja in her chain mail bikini, no matter how ridiculous.

“The women are sexy but the men are the same.” Emanuela Lupacchino

Reeder gave great points about how there’s no diversity in the figures of characters. She’s seen them where all the breasts are the same size and they have expressionless faces and their stories are missing personhood.

“Red Sonja would never try to look sexy!” Jenny Frison

ny special edition comic conThe panelists fielded a question from the audience about whether or not they care about the Bechdel Test. They don’t seem to. There are valid stories where female characters do care about a singular male protagonist. BIRDS OF PREY was Simone’s own mission in making a female buddy cop series but not to pass any kind of test, only to make an interesting story that could fill a void. Bennett says Bechdel is in her head in an aspect but that she’s not using it as any kind of checklist.

My heart skipped a beat when Reeder answered which character she’s loved to work on with no restrictions and she said Madame Xanadu. I discovered Reeder’s work from when she worked with Matt Wagner on that limited series. It’s one of my favorites.

THIS IS ONLY ONE SIDE OF THE ROOM.
THIS IS ONLY ONE SIDE OF THE ROOM.

“They identified better with Skrulls than women.” Saunders on Kirby/Lee