Agent Roffey continues her coverage of Boston Comic Con looking at women in comics
” I don’t need Agent Thompson’s approval or The President’s. I know my value.–Anyone’s else’s opinion doesn’t really matter.”
– Agent Peggy Carter
I went on a mission to find the women at Boston Comic Con. I’ve been reading comics for thirty plus years, and the biggest change over the years has been the growth of the women writers, artists, and fans. When I was eight years old, my brother and I would spend the weekend at the local comic shop, and while I never felt out of place, I felt like the sole female comic-lover in the world. In more recent years there has been an embracing of female writers, artists, and fans, and of course, the strong female characters who have become the focus of Marvel and DC Comics this year, with both franchises adding several all-women titles.
You might wonder why I’m writing about women in comics on a page called The Good Men Project. The representation of women in any art form can have an impact on how women are perceived. If those characters are only drawn and written and colored by men, rather than in collaboration with women, you would be missing at least half of the picture–much like The Good Men Project invites men and women to write for them, because it presents a broader picture of what a “good man” is. I was able to speak to both women and men about the inclusion of women in the comic book world, and you could see how much the landscape has changed over the past several years as opposed to when I was a kid.
Take the writing duo of Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti (DC Comics, Harley Quinn and Power Girl.) Sitting beside Mr. Palmiotti, Ms. Conner carried on amiable banter with him while I waited in one of the most consistently long lines of the Con to have them sign a few significant titles.
I had the opportunity to ask Conner what changes she felt had occurred for women in comics over the past several years. She and Palmiotti exchanged amused looks, and you might guess that their collaboration has made them completely comfortable with one another. In actuality, it’s because they’re a married couple who sometimes collaborate.
“I mean it’s way different than it was fifteen years ago. Way, way different. I used to come to conventions back then and it was just–“. She waved a hand in a sort of dismissal of the experience back then as compared to now. “You have to be yourself,” Palmiotti interjected. “Man or woman, it doesn’t matter, you just have to be yourself. And that goes for everywhere, not just comics.”
They chatted with me for a few more gracious moments. It was one of the highlights of my Boston Comic Con experience.
I wasn’t the only one concerned about women in comics. During a Marvel panel, an audience member asked how the artists handled the drawing of female characters so that they wouldn’t be completely unrealistic body images. Phil Noto (Marvel Comics, Black Widow) and Erica Henderson (Marvel Comics, Squirrel Girl) both gave thoughtful answers during the panel, as seen in the “Drawing Real Female Characters” video below:
What interested me most was that it wasn’t a pat answer. Both Noto and Henderson draw characters that are more realistic in terms of body proportion–in other words, they walk the talk. Below are samples of Noto’s and Henderson’s cover art:
I had the chance to ask Erica Henderson what she felt had changed over the past fifteen years that allowed women artists to really break into mainstream comics. “I think most editors today–it’s not that they’re “willing to work” with women, it’s that it’s just not an issue for them. It’s not an issue.”
Heading my list of comic book women, though, is Marvel’s decorated colorist, Laura Martin. Her work is vibrant and beautiful, and in fact I used a magazine with her artwork in it to make a pair of fantastic comic book heels. While I asked her to sign my shoe (she was delighted, and took a picture), I asked her about the growth of the female fan base and the love of strong female characters.
“I started in 1995 and there weren’t a lot of women in comics. And what we saw were there were all these young girls who liked Japanese manga and anime and now those women are grown and working…and so that has sort of transitioned to comics…and it’s really great to see that –all those grown women who love manga and now love comics.”
And didn’t they just? There were grown women–young and (ahem) less young–who were embracing the strong female characters of comics, anime, manga, and other fandom, as well as those who were intrepid enough to cross the gender spectrum and dress as Captain America or Joker or Thor (okay, so Thor is female in the comic now too!) or Venom.
I cosplayed as both Catwoman and Agent Carter–two very different kinds of strong women. I love the ability to find so many different kinds of women in comics and television/movies from which to choose. Catwoman on the surface might seem like a simple character, she’s far more complex than she seems, often caught between self interest and doing what’s right. There is NO other character like Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell)! Typically, when a strong female character is portrayed on TV she’s either emotionally stunted or superhuman. Peggy Carter is neither –she’s strong and empathetic. She’s very brave, bright and funny, but she’s not perfect and that grounds her humanity. “She has heart”, as my mother would say. When I finally get around to growing up, I want to be just like her! I can’t wait for season two of Marvel’s Agent Carter.
As I waited in line to meet Hayley Atwell, I met Shirley from Boston (right), who told me that she had scored an early-released Agent Carter POP figure she wanted Hayley Atwell to sign. Shirley also told me she promised herself she’d only buy female POP figures during the Con. We bonded for a few moments, and it made me keep an eye out for other female POPs. Turned out there were a lot. I picked up the Agent Carter POP and forced myself to wait on the Kayley Frye (Firefly) until a later date. There were also female action figures, posters, character t-shirts, and even a Peggy Carter for President T-shirt that said “I know my value.”
While I won’t say we’ve got gender equality in the merchandise. I will say that over the years the Female toys and merchandise at the Cons (though not in mainstream stores) has improved. (And as Phil Noto said in the Marvel panel, I suspect that the outcry over #WheresNatasha will result in more Black Widow merchandise after Captain America: Civil War hits theaters.) I went to Boston Comic Con to find and talk to some really great women, and I wasn’t disappointed!
Cover Art ~ Sandy Roffey
Interior Art ~ Karen Hallion Illustrations-Society 6 / Sandy Roffey