My recent friendly argument with Mark Millar on Twitter about women guests at the Kapow! Comic Con seems to have brought "women in comics" to the forefront of the comics headlines in the UK again, with Kapow!, Super London Comic Con, MCM Comic Con, and Thought Bubble all eager to announce that they do in fact have women guests, and in the case of the latter two, as a main part of their programme.
I was interested then to see what discussions would be present at the Women in Comics panel at the comics strand of the Glasgow Film Festival, also called Kapow, and with Mark Millar as patron. Chaired by Ariadne Cass-Maran of Graphic Scotland, the panel featured: Denise Mina, crime author and Vertigo writer; Kate Brown, comics writer/artist; Rhianna Pratchett, games and comic writer; Gillian Hatcher, editor of Team Girl Comic, an all woman anthology from a Glasgow collective; and Penny Sharp, an animator and contributor to Team Girl Comic. A very late addition to the panel was Charlie Adlard, artist of The Walking Dead.
This write up is an almost complete transcript of the proceedings given a full write up. Normally for interviews I produce (when allowed!) a full transcript but when covering a group discussion I felt that much of the tone would be lost without me properly contextualising what was going on.
Kate Brown at her earlier panel (write up coming soon!)
Denise Mina, writer of A Sickness in the Family, Hellblazer and the upcoming The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo comic adaptation, was the first to introduce herself: "My experience from being a woman writing crime novels feels like 30 years ago crime novels were in exactly the same position that comics are in now with regard to gender. You had to pretend you were a man to get published, it was very helpful if you pretended never to have kids or any female type activities, and if you could go to the bar and get slaughtered all night that would be great, and then if you were in a punch up with some sailors that again would promote your work.
"These kind of panels, there should be men on this panel. If we're talking about gender there should be men on it. I'm not reproaching anyone who's organised it, because I really understand why it's been set up, but... if you're talking about gender it should be half men, half women and women should attack the men. No! But seriously, we should have men in on it because gender is an issue for them as well, and I think a lot of male creatives feel very constrained by that sort of gendery nonsense and the need for fast punch ups. And it's supposed to be a freeing thing for everyone addressing gender.
"I think that is the issue and we need to come at it from an oblique angle."
Cass-Maran then addressed the audience, asking if there were any men who would like to join the panel, and after a lack of volunteers one voice spoke up, "Well, I'll come up if you want?", and Charlie Adlard joined the women on stage to a round of applause.
Charlie Adlard at his earlier panel (write up coming soon!)
Rhianna Pratchett, writer on the Mirror's Edge and Overlord games amongst others, and of the Mirror's Edge comic miniseries, was next to introduce herself: "Again it's been an area where there are very few women working, you really had to be – to a degree – one of the boys. It's changed a lot recently over the last 5 years. It was very interesting coming from video games and doing comic work. There's a big difference in the way they work narratively, but there are definite crossovers between the ways in which women as developers and female characters are represented in games and the way they're represented in comics."
Kate Brown, creator of the wonderful Fish + Chocolate (one of my favourite comics of last year), and writer/artist on The Phoenix, Nelson and many others, was next: "One of the reasons I wanted to make it [Fish + Chocolate] was because I was at a point in my life where I'd grown out of a lot of the stuff I had been reading. I used to read a lot of Japanese import manga often aimed at teen girls, which I loved when I was younger but had grown out of it a little bit. I found that there was not really anything that I wanted to progress on to. One of the reasons that I made the book was because it was something I would have wanted to read - I figured that if I was in that situation there might be other people in that situation as well.
"I want diversity in comics and I think that there are a lot of gaps in the market that need to be filled and I think to fill those we need lots of different people making comics from all walks of life, who have lots of different experiences and come from lots of different backgrounds."
Gil Hatcher, a cartoonist and illustrator as well as editor of Team Girl Comic, is a prominent voice in Scottish comics: "I'd been making small press comics myself for a couple of years and I felt like I didn't really have any female friends to join in the fun and make comics with and sell comics, and I thought why don't I try and find all these other girls in Glasgow that were making comics. We all came together and there's over 20 of us now, and the idea is in some sense to promote women in comics, but at the same time the biggest emphasis for us is just to have fun, and it's all about making comics that we want to make and just really enjoying the process of making them and selling them and being a small community."
Penny Sharp, an artist and animator of multi-layered work, member of c/o:minx and Team Girl: "I use comics myself when I do workshops with kids or adults to do stories as I work in film and animation. We use storyboarding and narrative and use it within our own work. I'm more of a fine artist than a graphic artist but I do use elements of comics in a lot of my work and a lot of my workshops and teaching."
Team Girl Comic
Finally the new addition to the lineup, Charlie Adlard, artist on The Walkind Dead, Judge Dredd, Dances with Demons, The X-Files, White Death (and much more!) introduced himself as the token man: "I work on the incredibly male Walking Dead, which has a male writer, a male artist, male colourist, male letterer, male editor, and pretty much everyone that works at Image is male as well. So yeah, I'm representing 'the men'."
Cass-Maran joked, "you're not just representing the men, you're representing the man!"
Adlard laughed, "As you can see, I'm a manly man!".
Launching straight into the discussion, Adlard was asked why there were no women where he worked. "Well, specifically in the American comicbook industry I think it's fairly self evident", Adlard began, "it's a horrendously superhero dominated genre which is the field of 'the man' because it's the most incredibly, as everyone knows, sexist genre you could possibly imagine with all these scantily clad females wandering around in their tight lycra. Unfortunately, well fortunately for myself, I'm not particularly into the superhero genre thankfully but I’ve never been that comfortable with it for various reasons. And I think because of that, the comics industry, the American comics industry specifically has because of it's obsession with superheroes, everything else has snowballed in to the fact that it's a completely male orientated industry even if you're not drawing superheroes.
"That's why I personally quite often find myself turning to Europe. I find it rather ridiculous that us as Britain, we have such an obsession with a country 3000 miles away across the Atlantic ocean in terms of comics, and we hardly know what's coming over here, the 20 plus miles that the English Channel [is]."
As Cass-Maran pointed out, some women have broken through into that industry however, women such as Denise Mina who is writing the upcoming Millenium Trilogy comics for Vertigo. Mina is quick to correct her however in this specific instance. "But that's a European thing," Mina explained, "Stieg Larsson's estate asked for me, and I'm quite sure that if it had been left to an American company it wouldn't have been a female writer."
Cover to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (art by Lee Bermejo)
"Even at Vertigo, apart from yourself,” said Adlard, “I am trying to think of – I mean obviously I know the two editors there that are female, but apart from yourself is there another female?"
"Gail Simone," offered Brown.
"I think this problem is something that artists working in a commercial field will always come up against," explained Mina, "which is we make something and that's a lovely thing, and then someone else has to sell it, and that's a different thing. People think that making something, if it doesn’t sell it means it's not valid. It doesn’t mean that at all, it just means it's not selling which is a completely different sphere. But if you don't like working in newsagents all day and doing this at night, you have to engage with that and practically what sells for them are superhero books. But practically what's happening is the market is contracting because not everyone wants to read them, and there are huge holes in the market!
"So what we as creatives have to do is let them know that there are other forms of storytelling, that women are going into comic book shops. I do readings to crime audiences, and quite often they're nearly all women from 30 to 60 and if you mention comics the one thing they'll say is 'I don’t know how to find the sorts of comics I want to read'. Our task is to show them they can make money out of that and then they'll start promoting that."
"My very non-comics reading friend," Brown added, "I was speaking to her a while ago and she said, 'I cannot imagine a comic that is not like X-Men,' because she's never seen anything like that before. I know, it sounds 'har har har' but to her, she was like, 'but that's what they're for'. And I think that's probably the attitude of quite a few non-comics people.
"It does filter down that it is very superhero dominated in this country and in America, and making recognition and getting stuff out there, it means a lot of legwork on behalf of people who are doing it."
It's widely known that in self publishing comics and small press, the gender split is incredibly balanced. "At Thought Bubble last year," Hatcher reminded us, "it was more or less 50/50. There was definitely no shortage of female comic creators."
[There's evidently a big difference in what is out there, in terms of creators of comics, and what is being promoted – what is seen as marketable. As Mina rightly pointed out though, the superhero market is continually contracting, and in book publishing in particular we are seeing more women created graphic novels climbing the charts.]
"Movies as well," said Brown, "film tie-ins are going to be – because more people watch films than they read comics – so they're going to be thinking about Watchman – Watchmen, not the Watchman!"
"That's the low budget version!" laughed Mina.
(I can't recommend this book highly enough!)
"Do you think that the comics industry suffers from being a bit too insular as an entertainment medium?" asked Pratchett. "I was thinking computer games used to have the same problem, there are people who couldn't conceive of a computer game where you didn't shoot cops and run over prostitutes, that kind of thing. And I think what's helped a lot is game reviews sites all over the place, particularly online and there's a lot of fan stuff, it's covered in things like The Guardian, and not just reviewing games but talking about things that are happening in the industry, places like Forbes, Wired – they're all covering games, they're covering all different aspects whether it be reviews or a particular news story or a trend, it's getting more coverage."
"I'm very ignorant of computer games," admitted Adlard, "but I've always assumed it's a broader issue. The film industry is incredibly male dominated, I always assumed the computer games industry is incredibly male dominated or am I wrong?"
"Yes and no," explained Pratchett, "I think there are far more women getting recognition because of what they're doing rather than because they're women. You're never going to get away from that completely but in the sphere I work in I can name half a dozen women that are doing great things in narrative: Amy Hennig is the creative director of the Uncharted games; Mary DeMarle is the lead writer on Deus Ex: Human Revolution; Karen Traviss writing Gears of War, the real kind of space marine 'grr' stuff; and there's me and I tend to do more female characters, still quite violent, interesting worlds. I tend to be the one who writes more female protagonists, but across the spectrum they're doing all kinds of interesting stuff."
"Has that been quite recent then, the development of more women in games?" asked Brown. "I actually think that female representation in terms of characters in games is a lot better than it used to be, and better than it is in comics. I was trying to think of any main female characters that aren't in some way fetishised or a bit sexualised..."
"We've been through that in games," said Pratchett, "and we're sort of coming out the other side."
On the overhead, there were slides showing the character Faith from Mirror's Edge who is wearing, as the panel noted, sensible clothing! "That was a fairly refreshing change for games as well," noted Pratchett, "she's dressed for what she's doing! She's got combat pants and a vest top, she's got small boobs, there's no midriff. Both male and female gamers responded really well – you know, she didn’t have big boobs and hey, the world didn't explode, it was okay!
"As people respond positively to female characters dressed for what they're doing, we'll see more of that. People will relax, they've seen it happen, it's okay, it didn't lose sales because of that and, you know, we can try it again."
Faith kicks ass in the cover to Mirror's Edge #3
"Where did the preposti-boobs come from?" asked Mina. "I need to write to this guy and say, 'please, no more nut smuggling zeppelins', because the boobs were just taking over the panel! The boobs were everywhere! Why? What is it with these enormous gazongas?!"
Brown revealed that that very topic had come up at Thought Bubble, and apparently DC or Marvel actually have a chart that shows what size the boobs should be depending on the age of the woman!
The first question from the audience asked what the panel thought of Nelson, a beautiful UK anthology title that came out last year, telling the life of one woman one year per chapter, and has (at least) 12 women on the list of 50 contributors. (Incidentally, Kate Brown's chapter of Nelson is hilarious!)
"Nelson was still conceived by men though," Brown reminded us.
Talking about women in publishing then and their role in controlling the narrative, Cass-Maran turned to Hatcher. "That's very flattering to call me a publisher," laughed Hatcher. "If you're putting out small press comics you have complete control over everything, which is fantastic. Obviously you have problems when it comes to things like distribution and quality of printing. For Team Girl Comic, it's an anthology and the thing we want to demonstrate is that although we're all girls and women, we can do so many different things – I prefer not to try and edit it too much. We'd like it to be suitable for all ages because we like the idea that a little girl could pick it up and she might think some of the stories are boring or weird but she can at least look at it and be inspired.
"The idea is that some people can do autobiographical stuff, then you'll have something which is about zombies, and then next you might have something which is about daft animals. Just showing that yeah, okay, we're all women but this is actually a very diverse product.
"Our readership is about 50/50 male and female, it doesn't just appeal to girls."
Team Girl Comic #3
"What are people's views actually on specifically marketing towards a gender?", asked Brown. "I know Pat Mills is very very keen to bring back the Golden Age of girls comics in the UK. He's written about how he has specific formulas on what girls definitely like – sorry, it sounds like I'm taking the piss, I'm not taking the piss, but that's what he was saying! He has these very strong ideas, but as you say, you were just women writing comics, not aiming them towards anything."
"Not specifically no," agreed Hatcher. "We can't help it being a little bit girly but we're not setting out to do that. It was just ourselves, our personalities."
"I think that's the way to do it," said Adlard, "if you start doing stuff that you think is specifically for women, you start to get into that dangerous area where the rest of the industry look at you and think, 'oh, that's the women, that's what they do'. It's better when, like you say, you do whatever you think is good."
The panel was next asked their opinion on Alison Bechdel's Fun Home.
"Alison Bechdel gave us the Bechdel test did she not?", Brown asked to affirmation. "Which I think has been very interesting to run by a few comics!"
Cass-Maran revealed that she had applied the Bechdel tests to various bestseller lists of comics and graphic novels and that hardly anything had passed apart from a few bizarre examples (eg, The Volgan Wars "because it had a couple of psychotic robot nurses having a chat").
"All the Bechdel Test was able to tell me," laughed Cass-Maran, "was that we live in a patriarchy. And I was shocked! Shocked, I tell you."
Fun Home - one of the comics I studied last semester!
"I think Fun Home's a brilliant example," said Mina, "because I think that shows you, I think there's a danger of women ghettoising themselves in comics where all we do is write narratives about feelings or traumatic events in our past. I think Fun Home's a perfect example of a coming of age story that it is a novel, it's just a beautiful, utterly engaging story about the truth of someone's life. I give that book to everyone I meet actually!
"I really love superhero books and I think most people don't read because they want to have their heart enlarged, most people read to keep their faces busy, or because there's nothing on telly, or because they just love comics. We have to accept that narrative does lots of things, and it doesn't change people's souls all the time, sometimes they just want to keep their eyes busy. And I like men fighting, I think we all do secretly! But... this narrative form is so rich, and it's so underused, that's what's really heartbreaking about it."
The next question has an audience member stating that they don't mind being ghettoised, and that surely something is better than nothing which was the current option for her daughter. Having grown up reading the Jinty and the Misty, the audience member did not feel they were particularly girly, just spooky and interesting, and couldn't understand how they were ever determined as not being commercial enough. When was this gap in the market created?
"When they started putting free gifts on them," suggested Adlard. A small discussion in the audience centres around publishers being told by newsagents and shops that free toys were mandatory if they wanted their titles stocked, and that mandatory toys help to further devalue the actual comics.
Another audience member mentioned that Pat Mills has previously talked about the sales figures of all these girls comics that closed being to die for by today’s standards. [We're talking upwards of 100,000 sales wise for each of the many titles!]
"It's scary when you hear about the sales figures of say, the male bastion of British comics, 2000 AD," said Adlard. "That only exists because of the nostalgia value. I think it only survives because if it ever went people would just, that tiny tiny bit of fandom would just kick up such a fuss."
The next audience question pointed to writers like Joss Whedon who write strong women characters, and asked if there is value to creators like these so that the perception is not that it is only women who write strong women characters, and that these stories appeal to everyone.
Lots of appreciation (well deserved!) for Greg Rucka's Batwoman followed, along with the agreement that we need men to back up feminism.
And she continues to kick ass!
"I think that's a point worth making," said Hatcher, "that it's not just women who can make good female characters – women can make good male characters and men can make good female characters, there's nothing inherently impossible about that."
"Even from my perspective in Walking Dead," Adlard added, "after Rick, the next two strongest characters are Michonne and Andrea, two girls. So I think we're kinda 50/50, Robert [Kirkman] is really writing as good women as he's writing men."
"From a commercial perspective," said Mina, "I think that's really astute and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a great example of that. There's a big tradition of feminist crime writing in Britain and the States, feminist crime writers who got fed up with 'down these lonely streets a man must go alone', so we all started writing feminist crime fiction where women were actors and they sorted things out and they didn't take any shit and all that kind of thing.
"The original title for Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was 'Men Who Hate Women' and in translation it was the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. She's 23 but she's a girl. And that has sold enormously and it's basically the same rape-revenge narrative that all feminist crime writers have been writing for the past 20 years but until men start making money out of it, it will not become mainstream.
"If we really wanted quite a quick revolution in gender numbers, what we should do is we should sell an idea that's a really feminised idea to a man and then he can sell it to other men and it'll become commercially viable! Because it's not about truth and justice, it's about business. That's really heartbreaking but once you realise that and get your head round it, it'll become a lot easier to challenge actually. You have really lovely people working in the comics industry, the mainstream comics industry like superheroes, like working at Vertigo, and they're trying to make a business work and it's tough, really tough now. I think one of the reasons that it's tough is because the numbers are always decreasing, because all these potholes are not being filled.
"It's not malevolent, and it's not an orchestrated campaign against women, they just can't work out how to make it sell."
[At this point I have decided I want to marry Denise Mina.]
"Yeah, we did have the Minx line," said Brown, "and that obviously went after a year or something. That was DC, so it's not like they didn't try, it's just what to do with it, where do we go with it, are we stretching too far, how to market it-"
"Even something like the Minx line I felt," Adlard stated, "was almost shining a spotlight too much on the fact it was female creators. You'd feel like, I can imagine the fans sort of backing away from it just because - it's really hard to explain..."
"It was mostly men, was it not?" asked Brown.
"Was it mostly men?" Adlard asked in surprise.
"It was actually," Hatcher laughed.
"Oh. Well, there you go," laughed Adlard.
Cass-Maran pointed out that this is a very common and interesting reaction to anything that is perceived as being for women or as a feminist thing.
"But do you know why," Mina added, "because you don't come to comics because you want your political parameterless expanded. You come to comics for fun. And actually men here, what we've done, what my generation have done with feminism is fuck things up royal. We've got to the stage where we've alienated people so much that when they hear 'feminism' they think either I'm wrong or you're standing up on my behalf and I don't really want you to. It's a dirty word."
"You mentioned Gail Simone before," said Adlard, "and obviously the generation before Louise Simonson, two women that write superhero comics and no one makes a big fanfare of that. They sort of just, they were just there. It wasn't a big fanfare, 'here comes a woman!' They started doing it and everyone seemed to accept because there wasn't that issue around it."
"I think we should Spartacus it," said Mina, "I think everybody should say 'I'm a feminist' all the time. Actually, if you want to discombobulate people tell them you're a feminist out of the blue, because it'll make them shit themselves. It's quite good actually, it's quite powerful."
A Minx comic I just read (and loved) recently.
The next audience member said that as a woman collective, Team Girl Comic has a political message to it, that it's challenging a stereotype in the industry.
"I think that's your perception," said Sharp. "From where I come from I've been in all girl bands and I've also got another comic group that's all female as well, I just personally find it a lot easier to work in a group of females. We're talking about stuff, any kind of stuff, and you can kind of put your pictures in there at the same time. When I’ve been to [other] meetings before, and it's all about 'look at my pictures, look at my pictures' and there's too much of a focus for me. Team Girl has a different agenda."
"Well, slightly," Hatcher explained, "the main focus of being all female is for the community, for the collective, for the individuals within it. Like you said, I do think women have a particular problem when it comes to self-confidence, whether it's a comic or something you've written, or something creative and standing up on a stage and presenting that to other people. The reason we're all female is not so much to blow our own trumpet and look at us, there is an element of that from a purely business point of view, it's a unique selling point, but that's not really why we do it, it's more for the individuals within the group rather than trying to project some kind of political message. And people seem to like it, it seems to work."
The next audience member said that because she likes superhero comics, and draws superhero comics herself, that she feels not as legitimate in these kind of discussions, and that women can and do like everything that men do.
"There's obviously nothing wrong with that," Brown answered, "most of my female friends also read superhero stuff, I think it's just the fact that for the people that don't like that there is the other side to it and that's not as represented. I don't think you're not legitimised at all!"
"Last year for the Glasgow Comic Con," Hatcher said, "we ran a workshop, thinking more about young girls, like children, and trying to talk about what they wanted from comics, and we couldn't get people to stop talking about X-Men! There were guys there too but it was all the girls getting really excited talking about X-Men and the New 52 and stuff and it wasn't really what we were meant to be talking about. They were all really excited about that and we actually had a brilliant time. It wasn't what we were expecting but it was great just to have loads of women in a room getting really excited debating across the room about X-Men, it was fun."
"I think that's the thing when you talk about gender," said Mina, "as soon as you start defining it, you're excluding people, and that's how you alienate people."
"There's one comic we haven't mentioned," Adlard suggested, "and that's The Phoenix."
A really awesome comic. Not just for kids! :P
Adlard pointed out that Brown was involved in that comic and asked whether any other women were involved. (The Phoenix is a UK kids weekly comic that is completely amazing!)
"Simone Lia...," began Brown.
"Sarah McIntyre!" was called from the audience.
"She's not in it yet, she's got something lined up with Philip Reeve," Brown answered.
"Right, I get the impression," said Adlard, "I'll be the first to admit I haven't seen it yet, but I get the impression and same with DFC, that the intention is to set [it] up to be a good comic book. Plain and simple as that. No other parameters. Y'know, good stories by anybody, a good comic book. And I think going back to when you were going on about girls comics from the 70s, 80s, whatever, and how they weren't girly girly but sort of about anything, I think something like The Phoenix is probably the only shining light on a commercial level at that level, that's got money behind it and everything, that could possibly succeed in this market, and especially the UK market. And embrace all sorts of creators who will come in – because there is no agenda to it is there?"
"No, there's no [set] style either-," Brown answered.
"Yeah, and it doesn't have to be science fiction or horror or thriller," said Adlard. "And I think that could be quite interesting, and if it works, great. That could be the next-"
"If? When!" laughed Brown. "Positivity Charlie!"
The same audience member mentions that art is often what comics are judged on first when browsing. She says she loves the Mirror's Edge artwork up on the slides which Rhianna is quick to point out isn't hers! (Pratchett is the writer.)
Cover to Mirror's Edge #4 - I am also in love with this character!
"The covers from Mirror's Edge," Pratchett answered, "I was really pleased with them. They're very very strong, there's a nice mixture between the static images and very very active images. None of them are sexualised in any way – in some of them you can't even tell if she has boobs or not! She's clearly quite muscular in some of them as well. I have accidentally made my career about writing violent women, or women in violent situations, and the fact that I've kept getting work in that, and that's spilled over to comics, and now I'm doing more of that in movies as well – there is a big market for it. There are so many female protagonists. Some are done well in games, some aren't, some are very heavily sexualised, some are written by women, some are written by men.
"It used to be the case that women in games, it felt a little more tokenistic and we do have women games groups, and we do have special interest groups, and we do have conferences... but they're also all over the place just doing stuff. I'm kinda unique in the fact that I'm doing a lot with female characters – that's just coincidence! As I said, there's plenty of others working very male dominated areas like sci-fi as well. I didn't realise until I did more research that I thought comics would be a little bit further along, actually I think games are in some respects, but we're treading the same path and there is hope.
"I don't know why there aren't so many women writers, I don't know if the industry is keeping them out, they're just not interested, they don't think they'll be able to change anything, why have we got to this stage?"
"I cannot answer that," laughed Brown. "What you were saying actually, I think in a way that's a great benefit, it's obviously a very immediate thing to look at artwork. It can also be a hindrance though – some people have no interest in black and white comics, so they're going to be missing out on loads of awesome stuff because they just don't like the artwork. Which is a problem I think. A lot of manga – I’ve come across so many people who won't touch anything from Japan."
A bit of side discussion followed about how preconceptions of what comics/manga might be like can put people off from even trying them, when it could in fact be their favourite story ever.
If you have not bought this, DO IT NOW. Brilliant stuff.
A man from the audience next asked Penny Sharp in particular about her comment about preferring to work with women, and that he was reading into her words that perhaps she thought boys were too competitive. Cue some bristling from some of my fellow audience members!
Penny explained that in all her history of being in an all girls band, working in the animation industry and so on that she'd always found it difficult, for example, to join a band with guys in it, and that in the animation industry her ideas would often be credited to one of the men instead.
"I don't know, I don't know what it is," Sharp continued. "Maybe I'm just too quiet, or maybe it's because I'm a woman."
The same questioner then asked whether Sharp then thought she had to be more manly in a man's world.
"I try hard!" Sharp growled in a deep voice. "I've got a whole series of moustaches!"
The same questioner asked the rest of the panel what their experiences were.
"Can I tell you a wee story about DC, working with DC?" Mina began. "There was a big stooshie, a bit of an argument, and this was like New York aggression versus Glaswegian aggression. They sent me this very angry e-mail saying, 'how could you do this? We can't believe you've done this, this could jeopardise the whole project,' and I sent one back saying, 'fuck you, fuck off' – sorry, I'm gonna swear now – 'fuck off, don't fucking talk to me like that, I'm making my kids tea, don't fucking talk to me like that,' and this went backwards and forwards and then the guy said, 'this isn't working by e-mail,' and I said, 'right pal, phone me and we'll sort this out once and for all'. Which in Glasgow is quite a reconciliatory thing to say I feel! And there was a real pause of about 20 minutes, which in an e-mail barrage is quite a long time, and then he sent me this EE Cummings line – it was all lower cased – 'I don't want to fight'!
"So I think, maybe you should just work with people who don't live in Glasgow!"
[Denise Mina is really kicking arse!]
A Walking Dead cover featuring Michonne.
The next question was from me! I started by mentioning my argument on Twitter with Mark Millar about Kapow! which inadvertently outed me to a very enthusiastic reception, and as the panel were running out of time I kept it brief and asked what the panel's thoughts were on the idea of tokenism at comic conventions, the term "tokenism" being used as a defence to simply not have women, and the implication that women were not as deserving of being guests at these events.
"I think you have to start somewhere," answered Pratchett, "it's something that happened in games, and you know, we used to have 'women in games' panels and when there weren't as many they used to kind of get rounded up – that still happens, now they're just all over the place talking about their jobs, and I think that's just how it goes. Sometimes you have to relax. When I first went into the industry, and I do end up working with lads, I do really like working with women as well, I don't get as much of an opportunity, but generally it works because I am a massive geek and I can prove that to any man and then they instantly relax and I'm one of them, it's all good.
"But when I first started out I didn't want anything to do with 'women in games' because I felt I didn't want to be defined by what really was an accident of birth, and I wanted to talk about narrative and issues of story and comedy in games and things like that, not about my boobs which seemed to obsess everyone else apart from me. It's not important, I don't think about being female all the time, I think about being a writer because that is my choice, being female is not my choice – that just happened!
"I used to really balk against it. Now I’m much more open to doing things like that because I think, yeah, I have to start somewhere, you have to involve people in it. I might not be attracted to going to see a panel talking about a lot of women – although I am now! - and talk about what I see as female issues in games or that sort of thing, but other people might and that might get them in and that's great.
"It's just finding those doors and letting people in. It doesn't matter how they get in.. as long as they're in, it's all good."
"What Rhianna said!" Brown laughed.
"Also, can I just say,” Mina began, “these things are not a prize, these are promotional events. I often come to these things and hear about people and read them subsequently. You don't get to be on the panel because you're a woman, and they need some women. When women are on the panel, whatever the motivation, it means other people hear about them and start reading them. It's dead important so good for you."
An earlier (all ages) comic from Kate Brown.
The guy in the audience who asked the previous question asked if he could respond to the comment about tokenism, saying that it wasn't just important that women were there but that they were good, and that if they were "shite" they would do a lot of damage.
"What would you consider shite though?" asked Brown.
The audience member said he worked in comedy and that a token comedian of any "token subsection of wherever" was "not as funny of the rest of them, they're not doing anybody any favours".
"That's a fairly solid ballpark but in comics I think it's going to be all over the place," Brown countered, "some people are going to think that person's artwork is shit, I can assure them people think Picasso's artwork is shit but he's done a lot for art history as a whole right?! I don't think that's quite... who knows what shite is? It's not a solid thing, who's good and who's not good."
An audience member also spoke up to say that when a white male comedian is shite people don't generalise that all white male comedians are therefore shite.
The previous male audience member argued that we were talking about sex and gender and that it's important women aren't seen as not good enough as was the unfortunate case in comedy.
"Those are brutal audiences, and comics are a lot less brutal," Mina reminded him.
I then accidentally had the last word on the last question which wasn't a question – just to say that it wasn't "tokenism" if there were lots of women waiting to stand up and take those spots, which there absolutely are, which all the panel agreed with.
Thanks to all the ladies involved in organising this panel and appearing on it, it was a great discussion!
Ariadne Cass-Maran - graphicscotland.co.uk
Denise Mina - denisemina.co.uk
Kate Brown - danse-macabre.nu
Rhianna Pratchett - rhiannapratchett.com
Gil Hatcher - gillhatcher.tumblr.com
Penny Sharp - pennysharp.com
Team Girl Comic - teamgirlcomic.tumblr.com
Photos provided by Jonathan Mayo - jmayo.net