Panel Discussion on “Women in Comics”
Yesterday, a panel discussion took place at the Long Beach Comic Expo which focussed on women in comics. Moderated by Barbra Dillon, the panel “Women in Comics” featured Agnes Garbowska, Cat Staggs, and Taki Soma. Largely schewing a focus on gender or women-specific issues, the panelists mostly focussed on working in the comics industry. However, they did mention that this is a new phenomenon, as one’s work speaking for oneself is new, as Garbowska pointed out.
Garbowska then said simply, “If you want to get into comics, be a good storyteller” and work on your drawing skills. Now, “your portfolio is what speaks to editors.” And, “if you can’t work, make work,” she said, pointing out that she started doing webcomics, then she began getting hired. One “always has to be proactive, because if you stop, they’ll stop hiring you.” Garbowska also pointed out that “if you’re looking to get work, do good work.” Also, “saying no is dangerous”; saying no to an editor is not good, she warned.
“Getting out and getting your face in front of people is important” in getting work, said Staggs. “Social networking is important: conventions are 70% networking, although, with the Internet, you can network from home.”
Looking at the Internet and social media ended up being a significant discussion topic for the panel, especially looking at Facebook and Twitter. While the panelists noted that it’s important to use the Internet and social media, they also observed that, when they’re working, it can be hard to spend much time on various social media platforms. “I’ve been trying to filter everyone to my Facebook page,” noted Garbowska. As to updating her website, she said that she doesn’t have time to update it or other platforms, since her focus is all on “deadlines; I don’t have time” to work on it and “there’s just no time; we work so many hours.” “The last thing we have is to update my website,” Garbowska said, “If it was one click away, I would do it.” “My website tends to go into hibernation at the end of con season,” said Staggs, noting that now, most of her Internet attention focusses on Facebook and Twitter. Soma said she usually uses to involve herself in a “conversation with the public.”
When asked about diversity, they answered that they seek to include it. “I try to make it a point to include as much diversity as I can even if it’s just background,” said Staggs. “I make a conscious effort to at least include something as much as I can.” Further noting about sexual orientation diversity, however, she pointed out that “you can’t draw a sexuality” just by looking at the characters. Garbowska said that “very slowly, some comics are getting diverse”, although her work only involves “pastel ponies”, so it’s not really relevant to her work. Staggs also pointed out that “I think pop culture is a really fantastic vehicle for social change.” However, she noted that “sometimes, diversity is seen as gimmicky.” Yet, the trend will continue to grow to include more diversity “because there are so many cool things happening and more acceptance,” said Garbowska.
While the panelists did discuss gender and being women in comics, one got a sense that they really did not want it to be an issue. This aspirational hope of a new reality where gender was a non-issue colored their responses. Staggs articulated this aspiration when she said “I think we still have to have labels even though we don’t want to have them.” Furthermore, she said, “I think we’re rapidly moving to get rid of labels.” Indeed, Garbowska agreed with her, “you have to be very careful making labels.”
They do not feel as if their gender has negatively affected their work prospects. Personally, I have not experienced – that I am aware of – missing out on an opportunity” because she’s a woman or a lesbian. “I’ve gotten people asking for the man who drew this stuff,” said Soma, which Staggs had also experienced at comics conventions.
The lack of women at comics conventions used to be an issue, pointed out Garbowska. Although, “now, women are comfortable going to conventions.” This has further led to more women attending comics conventions, since “women like knowing there are women in comics.”