DC Women Kicking Ass has an extended interview with a comics reader who goes by the handle Kyrax2, and who spent her time at Comic Con with her daughter, both of them dressed up as characters, going to panels and asking the top figures in the DC Comics universe about representation of women in character lineups, on covers, and among the creative staff of the label. It sounds like it was not a fun experience for her:
I started to mention the panels I’d previously attended. There was immediate hostility from the audience, with someone shouting, “We know!” as I began. Then I asked the question that had been bothering me since the night before, ever since I’d started thinking about the all-male composition of almost every panel I’d attended: “Are you committed to hiring more women?”
Didio responded, “I’m committed to hiring the absolute best writers and artists.”
I looked at the all-male panel and said, “Are you saying you can’t find any great women writers or artists?”
There was a furious reaction from the audience. People yelled at me to ‘sit down!’ and shouted out Gail Simone’s name over and over again. I said, “Yes, I met Gail Simone yesterday. I like her very much. But I’ve attended all these other panels, and with the exception of her and one female editor, they’ve all been male.”
I was again surprised by the audience’s reaction. If people liked Gail so much, didn’t they want to see more female writers and artists like her? It also felt very much like Gail was being used as a token female that everyone could point to and say, “Look! We have Gail! What’s wrong with you?” I didn’t hear any other name being called out.
I’m trying to decide if I think this sounds like it was a productive enterprise. I tend to prefer cajoling, jollying, and gentle shaming to confrontation, but then, the nice people at CAP have seen fit to give me this awesome platform from which to beat my favorite horses, dead or living. And I think media representation is one area where it can be productive to forcefully make people aware of their biases and blind spots even if it makes them uncomfortable. Watching or reading things with only white people, or only men, as stars may not be an active act of racism or sexism, but that doesn’t mean that passivity doesn’t have real impacts on the diversity of our stories and of our entertainment industry workforce, and it’s an act, intentional or no, of self-denial, locking yourself out of things that could illuminate your world.
So was this an effective way of waking people up? It certainly sounds like the most verbal people in the crowds were the ones who wanted to shut up Kyrax2, the panel attendance equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and singing nonsense, though I imagine that also served as a fairly indelible image for some of the more thoughtful people in the crowds who saw her. And given the venue, I’m not really shocked. I’m planning my first trip to Comic Con next year, so I don’t have first-hand experience of this, but it sounds like the event’s gotten so big that from a thematic and mission sense, it’s hard for it to maintain a coherent identity. I’m sure there are people for whom the presence of Twilight at Comic Con is a desecration, and people for whom anything that interrupts their opportunity to have contact with creators and actors in a really positive way is deeply upsetting. I respect that — though I don’t really think folks on panels should ever have a tough pass from difficult but fair questions. That said, next year it would be great to see this as a movement, a lot of women, and men who are their allies, and folks of color, and white folks, getting together to brainstorm questions in advance to elicit a lot of detailed information and reactions from artists, and to demonstrate widespread support for the idea that comics and geek culture get more interesting as they get more diverse. (And if someone is out there doing that, loop me in. I promise I’ll go as Jennifer Walters!) Lone heroes can accomplish a lot deploying the same power — or asking the same questions — over and over. But sometimes, it take the X-Men or the Avengers to win one of the bigger fights.