Women of Comics II at Paradise Comic Con

The Women of Comics II symposium took the stage yesterday afternoon at the Paradise Comics Toronto Comic Con, giving the convention a chance to highlight top female writers, artists and editors from the wide world of comics and graphic novels. Comics remain field largely run by and marketed for men - and featuring women who usually look like this - so the challenges facing female comics creators is probably worth a convention all its own.

Through a series of panels, and by showcasing some of the best female talent in the industry today, the Women of Comics organizers were able to put together an engaging pulsecheck of the state of women in comics, from the heights of Vertigo to the self-publishing indies. And yeah, it didn't hurt that the goings were often hilarious as the women speakers described their topsy-turvy role in a boy-dominated world.

The first panel yesterday morning was Meet the Editors, featuring four women who have ascended to a job that one of them described as the "greatest job that no one knows about" - editing comics. Shelly Bond from Vertigo was on hand (Fables is among her current crop of titles), as was Joan Hilty of DC (currently editing the current run - har har - of The Flash), Robyn Moore (who edits Strangers in Paradise) and Renee Witterstaetter (She-Hulk). Witterstaetter described the job as being like a casting director, bringing together the best talent (writer, artist, inker, letterer) and serving as occasional psychologist/mom/best friend, too. All women nearly had stars in their eyes when describing the occasional magic that occurs when they find just the right combination of talent to really make something special.

For each, however, getting to their current level of success was a long and often tough slog. "Mentoring works a little easier for guys because of sheer force of numbers," Hilty described, "but women have to work at it a bit more." For up-and-comers in the audience, Bond offered the quintessential up-and-comer advice of the 21st century: "self-publish." With so many low-cost print and lower-cost web alternatives out there, the best way to bust into the field is DIY.

The next panel of the day was on the "Visual Language of Comics," and featured a small army battalion of female artists: Diana Tamblyn, Raina Telgemeier, Christine Norrie, Tara McPherson, Svetlana Chmakova, Janet Hetherington, and my new personal hero, Faith Erin Hicks. The women spoke about the visual side of the medium at great length, describing how and why they got into the field, how they feel about the incursions of digital art on the industry, and a getting into a fairly lively round-table on whether or not art school was worth it. (I can relate, [cough] York Film [cough].)

Inevitably, the panelists were asked which Marvel or DC character they would want to take over if they could have total control. Hicks, whose first graphic novel (about zombies - yay zombies! - called Zombies Calling) is being published by SLG in November, quipped "I'd do Wonder Woman and I'd give her some pants." In fact, Wonder Woman proved to be the strong contender overall - and not necessarily because of any great love of what's been done with the character before, but rather a pervading belief that something good could be done with her, which hasn't been cracked yet.

The symposium was also used as a launching pad for the new Minx line of graphic novels. Shelly Bond returned to the stage to outline Vertigo's plans for the new line, bringing lead Minx author Cecil Castellucci with her. Minx is aimed at a relatively-untapped sector of the (American) comics marketplace, teen girls. It will feature a series of paperbacks by writers and artists from both the comics world and young adult fiction, and as with any such squarely-focused imprints, is already drawing some expected fire for what the line is doing. Nevertheless, market growth is market growth, and Minx looks primed to take advantage of the increasing hunger for girl-centric titles in North America, as evidenced by climbing manga sales and pop star showboat pieces.

Women of Comics was a fun and enthusiastic live-fire round yesterday. There are a few more panels today - check out the WOC web site for details. The Paradise Comics Toronto Comic Con is taking place all weekend at the Direct Energy Centre.

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