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Kapow: The Sausage-Fest Con

The self styled UK version of the massive San Diego Comic Con, Kapow! has come under fire for one key glaring omission in its lineup: every single guest = male.

Termed a Sausage-Fest by weary female comic readers across the UK, the lineup has since been amended to include Melinda Gebbie of Lost Girls and Anarchy Comics fame. But that still leaves the Con with an eye-watering ratio of 49 men to one woman guest.

[See the 2012 update here - Women in Comics: Kapow! No Women at Cons]

Take a ChanceCatie Murphy (not a guest)'s creator owned comic.

Kapow! Comic Con is the brainchild of Mark Millar, the Scottish comics maestro responsible for the massive success of Kick-Ass, as well as writing for several of the big Marvel and DC titles and his own other creator owned properties. He is also the creator of comics mag slash lads mag CLiNT, the title alone (think about it) further driving this comics for men only image.

"You realise this is being put together by 5 women, don’t you? The reason the comic guests are mostly male is because the biggest names in UK comics are male. Who is the big British female pro they’re missing here?" was Millar's response, which is telling. By asking who is missing it would seem that none were actually asked in the first place: ruling out that this is perhaps the unhappy coincidence of potential guests being unable to attend.

The claim that there are no big British female professionals is ably demolished by Splinister, but this argument is rather misleading given that the male lineup includes both international guests and guests from outside the comics industry.

Millar has worked with many women within the industry in the past, who are quick to state that the exclusion of women from the Kapow! lineup is unlikely to be intentional; I think that's something most of us can probably agree with, but it is rather beside the point. Equally beside the point is how many women are behind the scenes at the Con: it's nice to know they're there but that doesn't give the Con a free pass to then have only men at the visible end. This is 2011 after all.

The exclusion of female guests from this new Comic Con sets a dangerous precedent; the claim that there are no female creators in the UK to ask to attend even more so. Whether this gender divide was intentional or an oversight, the result is the same: a further step towards the comic industry stepping backwards towards the incorrect stereotype that comics are for men only - no girls allowed!

Historically it has always been more difficult for women creators to get into the industry, for women to get realistic representation within the comics themselves, and for women fans to have their voices heard.

In the 80s and 90s things really started moving in the right direction, with the Riot Grrrl movement encouraging self publishing through zines, Alison Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For comic strip becoming a landmark within popular culture and leaving behind the legacy of the Bechdel Test, and the success of Sequential Tart, the comics webzine run by women that is still here today.

We've seen more women writers and artists break into DC and Marvel (the Big Two) as well as continuing to prosper with the smaller publishers and Indie press. Gail Simone introduced all comic readers to the concept of Women in Refrigerators: the trope that describes the hugely common phenomenon of female characters being killed or traumatised as a plot point for a male character.

Women in RefrigeratorsThe classic refrigerator scene.

The Big Two have made noises that seems to indicate they are aware of their female audience and how we are continuing to grow and flourish. That we don't just read romance comics and family dramas, but enjoy our Batman and X-Men just as much. That we'd like to see more women creators getting into this male dominated field. That we appreciate the male creators who acknowledge that they have it easier because of their gender presentation. That women want to see a spectrum of female body types and characters within their comics, just as male characters already have.

All of this is positive growth towards an industry that accepts that women are as likely to consume their product as men are. But there is still so much more to be done. The UK is a long way behind the US in terms of women being able to break into the industry; a Con's further silencing of women voices in UK comics does little to help.

Targetting males of a certain age the way that CLiNT does may well maximise magazine sales. It may well make the magazine more commercial, and that success may then be turned to spotlight more comics rather than celebrities, and perhaps women that aren't just for ogling or disrespecting.

But a Comic Con? Of any size? Cons have always been the event that women can feel free to come out of the geek closet for, to meet up with their friends in their fandoms, and to have a really kick arse time in a normally male-dominated interest. If a Con is unwelcoming to women, excluding women from the guest list with the creator saying that the UK has no women to step up for comics: that is a very sad day for Comic Cons indeed.

Kapow! Comic Con is in its first year. One woman has been added to the lineup. I won't be attending this year. I'm hopeful that the organisers will take this reaction on board, that they'll listen to the disappointed fans who are pointing to the bigger and more established London MCM Expo with its fantastically diverse lineup, and come back next year with a stronger show.

Because a Comic Con without women, is weak indeed.

Melinda Gebbie

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