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Women in Comics: Kapow! No Women at Cons

In 2011 and in its debut year, Mark Millar's Kapow! Comic Con was referred to as the Sausage-Fest Con due to the entire guest line-up being male. After fans started complaining noisily online, two women guests were subsequently added to the event.

This year it seems history is doomed to repeat itself, with 40 comic industry guests now announced, and no women to be seen. Unlike the larger London MCM Expo the following week, Kapow! is focused very much on superhero comics, and the argument is that while there are women working in comics in the UK, they are working in indie and non-mainstream comics (ie not DC, Marvel or 2000 AD).

[ETA 15/2/12 - women guests (plural!) are attending both Kapow! and the London Super Comic Con - more details here!]

I chatted with Mark Millar (and Gail Simone) on twitter to see what he thought, and I would love to hear from the male guests who are attending and the female non-guests too!

Becky Cloonan and Karrie Fransman

Me: Hi Mark, will there be women guests announced for Kapow? I'd like to cover the event for the mainstream press but women in comics are my preferred niche, particularly given its popularity at the moment. Cheers :)

Mark: Half the movie and TV guests are women, but most of big selling comic creators are men, sadly, and this show has 750 seater hall so only Marvel, DC, 2000AD, Clint and Millarworld in terms of comics. Some 100 seater rooms have been arranged for work-shops by several pros and I think there's a couple of all-women books being previewed here. But we're a very mainstream show and female comic creators tend to do non-superhero stuff. Other shows like MCM have a great line-up of female pros on the UK scene so I'd recommend you cover them if that's the focus of their article [your work]. Similarly, we're not using anyone from TV or cinema who doesn't have a huge show or movie coming up. It's totally mainstream.

Me: So it's more indicative of the lack of (UK) women in the mainstream comics industry than anything else, rather than a fault of the Con itself. I appreciate the clarification :) I'll be there still as at least a fan mind!

Mark: I actually think it's no bad thing having women work outside the current mainstream as 6 billion people DON'T read comics and less than 400,000 in America do. Somebody, somewhere is going to do a comic that everyone picks up, but it won't be superhero. It's too niche for a global market. I'd hate to say all creators in the same genre so I think the explosion of female pros outside Marvel and DC is healthy and will, I think, lead to a massive expansion as mainstream women tend to read more than men.

Me: I hope so - graphic novels are the one expanding genre in book publishing, and Jonathan Cape and co seem to be making a massive push. Unfortunately, it's hard to come across these creators outside of book events. People like Karrie Fransman, and Becky Cloonan are real draws for female fans. Do you think Kapow will broaden from the superhero focus in the future?

Mark: Not in short term. Lucy and Sarah simply choosing biggest sellers. Only non-super comics like Walking Dead, etc, will feature. Other shows cater for small press, etc, but they're keeping this just to massive sellers, massive actors, massive directors, etc

Me: It's a shame none of the women at DC/Marvel could make it, as that would be brilliant press, but maybe we'll get a UK Geek Grrrl Con soon if demand is high.

@Comixace: mainstream? Like Dork Diaries or Tamara Drewe? You seem to be planning some kind of stinky mancave on purpose.

Mark: Groan.

Me: I'm not sure those are the best examples for a superhero con :) More along the lines of Simone and Liu for that.

Mark: Lucy and Sarah's budget only stretched to one big US comic guest and Joe Q basically trumps all. PS Terry [Dodson] was in town.

Me: Yeah, I can understand that - like you said earlier, the problem lies with what is mainstream and the industry in general. It's unfair to pin it all on one convention. Which hopefully I've made clear in my piece! It's the overall situation, not a blame game :)

Mark: But again, I see it as healthy that the non superhero books are an easier read for non comics people. I think it would be depressing to see someone with a unique voice conforming to company superheroes. Scott Pilgrim outsold JLA in 2011.  I like the fact that there's all manner of comics out there working the different demographics. But Lucy and Sarah are the sole investors in Kapow. This is their biz and so they purposely aim at Marvel, DC, etc. Other shows do small press, etc, too, but Kapow only shoots for biggest names in comics, movies, regardless of gender.

@Comixace: Mark, I know you know better than non-superhero = non-mainstream. Surprised to see the show limiting its audience. Just sad that after all these years-and all the mainstream success of superheroes-it's still seen as men only.

Mark: Heidi, tell me which female creator we should have on our Marvel or DC panels? Now tell me which big book we should have on a panel that can fill a 750 seater hall with Marvel, the movies, etc. We will happily book any that works, but anything not 2000AD, Marvel, DC, Walking Dead, etc, will not fill 750 seats. The fact that female creators don't tend to work at those companies not our fault.

@Comixace: Marjorie Liu, Sara Pichelli (European), Gail Simone. Guests Paul Grist and Shaky Kane will not fill 750 room hall. and I adore Shaky Kane and Paul Grist don't get me wrong.

Mark: Marjorie and Gail need to be flown in. Paul and Shaky live nearby. Seriously, who do you suggest? Plus Paul and Shaky on Image panel. This really is ridiculous.

@davidmacho: sorry to interrupt, but may I suggest... Emma Rios? :)

Mark: If she pays her own way like all the other guests she's very welcome. Is she Marvel, DC or Image?

Me: Also Alex de Campi, Denise Mina and Becky Cloonan with her ace Conan work. an all woman panel would certainly fill that space I'm sure. Plenty of Womanthology fans.

@davidmacho: I cannot speak for her since I do't work with her, I was suggesting her as a guest to your show :) oh, and she's marvel, of course. Spier-Island: Cloak & Dagger with Nick Spencer, among others :)

Gail Simone: What about the great @leahmoore?

Mark: Leah was obviously high on the list, but she and John both unavailable that weekend, sadly. Do you guys honestly think 5 women running a con would PURPOSELY omit female creators? Why??

@tropicalsteve: Amanda Conner is huge right now and is absolutely worth flying in.

Me: Because it happened last year? Because women are often an afterthought in comics still? It doesn't really matter if it's purposely or accidental - no women at all sends a clear message to women fans. That we're not wanted. That seems to be the feeling I'm getting from fellow writers anyway.

Mark: Amanda Conner is great. I love her. But their budget was one big US flight and Joe Q is it. Denise is a friend and would need to be flown down from here. Becky is in US, but totally. If she's here bring it on. This is genuinely mental. It happened last year for same reason: Very few nearby big name female pros. Also, why would 5 women running a show deliberately exclude women? Again, which big name pro is missing?

Gail: Mark, do you get the impression I am criticizing you? I'm a little confused. Fair enough about @leahmoore. I just like their work so much I want them at EVERY con. :)

Me: ditto, this isn't about one con, but it is about fan feedback. Omitting women looks bad.  Becky's said on twitter she'll be there as a fan but obviously I can't speak for her! Would love to see her there. the lack of women in UK superhero comics is clear, but it does mean women are excluded.

Mark: Women aren't omitted, Laura. It's RUN by women.

Me: But those aren't the women fans see so they don't feel represented. I understand that it's a superhero con but unfortunately that does mean no women guests. It would be nice (not required) for the con to branch out a little for women fans. until the industry catches up at least. A step in the right direction for progression and all that jazz :)

@sarawestrop: Mark thats not the point. Women just want to see themselves represented at cons not because its run by them

Mark:  I think tokenism is insulting. Also, the girls are running a business. They did (and should) choose biggest names they can get.

Me: tokenism isn't insulting, and isn't really tokenism when women fans are genuinely asking for more representation.

Mark: Aaaand I'm outta here. Please direct all further tweets about gender equality on the Kapow panels to the 5 women who run @kapowcon :)

@Comixace: Mark, I know you and the five women mean well. But when even well-meaning smart people can't move the needle it is demoralizing.

Me:  Exactly, it's about the industry really. And it's not that a Con *should* do something, just the idea that it would be nice if they did as there's quite the growing women in comics movement right now. I certainly wish Kapow all the best and I'm hoping to get down for it - Scotland is very far!

@Comixace: agree on that. Well put.


Millar is correct of course in that the large mainstream comic publishers have very few women creators on the books compared to men - something that is addressed elsewhere on this site(!). However, the fact remains that a guest list with no women is not terribly appealing to women fans, nor to many male fans either, and there are women who are involved in more mainstream comics in the UK who are appearing elsewhere: Denise Mina (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) for example. Becky Cloonan (Conan the Barbarian) too is attending Kapow! but not as a guest.

Fish + Chocolate by Kate BrownFish + Chocolate by Kate Brown

If my coverage isn't welcome and would be more suited to MCM, does that mean that as a fan I should take that advice too? I am hoping to make Kapow! this year as I adore Warren Ellis, but if I knew Becky Cloonan was a guest there I'd book my ticket right now just to try and get a copy of Wolves!

This lack of women is by no means unique to Kapow! The more diverse London MCM Expo is by far the odd one out. Their last convention in October had a guest list that was around 40% women. In contrast, the London Super Comic Convention has one woman amongst its 50 comics guests (2%), and San Diego Comic Con has currently announced a guest list of 58 with 5 women (9%).

Why does MCM have so many women? Because it covers manga as well as comics, and small press as well as the mainstream. But what does "mainstream" really mean in these cases? Mainstream equals the big money books and the big publicity publishers - DC, Marvel, The Walking Dead and so on. However with Graphic Novels continually expanding as a successful genre, many book publishers are keen to push their own works. Jonathan Cape in particular has a great catalogue of new and upcoming releases by women creators, and SelfMadeHero is also keen to promote women in comics.

Team Girl ComicsTeam Girl Comics

The Comics strand at this months Glasgow Film Festival - also called Kapow! and with Mark Millar as ambassador - has an event with Kate Brown (creator of the wonderful Fish + Chocolate) and a Women in Comics panel with Denise Mina, Kate Brown, Penny Sharp and Gillian Hatcher (Team Girl Comic).

What these events serve to do is not only entice the dedicated superhero comics readers, but readers of other comic genres too. When integrated into a larger con, these also appeal to those fans who are there through the reach of the superhero movies but not impressed by the comics themselves. With the growing female readership of comics, and the larger female readership of graphic novels and books, is it a mistake to say only superhero or big money titles are the "mainstream"?

And if we want things to change, if we want women to be more comfortable attending comic cons and spending their money, shouldn't we strive to ensure they are represented by the guests themselves? We all know by now that there are far less women than men in "mainstream" comics, and we know that superhero comics need to expand their readership in order to survive. Perhaps more comic cons should take note of the lack of bad press surrounding MCM.

Dotter of Her Father's Eyes by Mary TalbotDotter of her Father's Eyes by Mary Talbot

Given my other job as a bookseller, I am particularly disappointed not to see Karrie Fransman (The House that Groaned), Mary Talbot (Dotter of her Father's Eyes), Alex de Campi (Smoke) and Emma Rendel (The Vicar Woman) on the guest list along with Kate Brown and Denise Mina. As a superhero fan I'm disappointed not to see any of Gail Simone, Nicola Scott, Amanda Conner, Ann Nocenti, Marjorie Liu, Jill Thompson... or of course, any of the women listed in my Women in Comics: A Reading List.

Please note, I'm not saying ALL of these women should be at any one comic convention, least of all Kapow! Just, y'know, more than none would be nice.

So where does the blame lie? Where should anger be directed? It's difficult because the problem of lack of diversity in comic creators is part of an overall lack of diversity in the media portrayals of our own cultures. Superhero comics do have less women than men creators, and less women than men fans - yet superhero movies have just as many fans across the board. The superhero movies though still struggle with an out of balance cast, as do most films in the whole industry. Independent, small press and non-mainstream comics have more women creators than superhero comics but the numbers are still disproportionate. Women have long attended comic conventions but the number of women ticket buyers is growing, as is the number of conventions.

Do we blame then the organisers of conventions, or the industry as a whole? The fans who attend regardless or the male guests who worry not about the status quo?

The Vicar Woman by Emma RendelThe Vicar Woman by Emma Rendel

The simple answer is of course, that it's just not that simple. Institutional problems take a long time to fix, and if you think the issue of women in comics is no big deal then take a minute to consider the falling comic sales and the number of women requesting change (plus the number of women in the book buying market!).

One step that can, and should, be taken is to speak out. Fans should speak out about the lack of women guests and creators in the industry. Male guests should speak out about the lack of women guests and creators in the industry. Publishers should speak out about the lack of women guests and creators in the industry. If we're not "mainstream" enough then we'll damn well get shouting so we can't be ignored.

If you don't want to listen or it doesn't effect you, that's fine. But the rest of us will keep trying to get "more than none" women guests at comic cons. And maybe start up that Geek Grrrl Con while we're at it!

Read more:
Women in Comics: Tokenism 


ETA. Paul Cornell (guest at Kapow!) via Twitter: I think: gender parity on *every* panel at *every* convention. Sure, it's treating the disease from the symptoms up. But it'd be a start. No, people who are arguing for less. 50/50, all the time. It's the only way. Putting that in place would start the virtuous circle that would get us to the point of all panelists being the best possible.

Gail Simone via Twitter: 
Me: Hi Gail - I was wondering whether you'd been given an invite to the Kapow Comic Con in the UK? No women on the guest list of 40.

Gail:  I have not been invited to Kapow yet...didn't they have the same thing last year, no female comics guests?

Gail: People have the right to pick the guest list they want for events, but it's a shame they couldn't find ONE woman.

Comments (4) Trackbacks (0)
  1. While I agree with the fact there’s sexism in comics, unfortunately, I think the brick is being thrown towards the wrong glass ceiling here….

    My viewpoint…

    • You seem to be saying the same thing – that this is the state of the industry rather than the fault of any one con, that Kapow is not required to have women creators, but that it would be nice given fans have been asking for 2 years in a row now – so I guess you get to share the brick! :)

  2. Jesus…poor Mark Millar. I hurt for him reading that…uh…”interview” isn’t the word, but it’s the first one that comes to mind.

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