Comics With A Cause At Comic-Con? Hell, Yeah!

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San Diego Comic-Con is all about celebrating pop-culture entertainment, and you’ll find plenty of pro-social issues while you’re there! I sat down with publishers and creators for an inside scoop.

+ The Feminist Start of DC Comics

Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson has a pretty cool family connection, and she also knows how family helped shape DC Comics’ early empowerment of women. “My grandfather was Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, and he started the first original modern comic book, [which] became DC Comics in a couple of years,” she said. “My great-grandmother, his mother, was a suffragette, and that’s why our name is hyphenated Wheeler-Nicholson: she always kept her maiden name, Wheeler. My grandfather, growing up in a house with strong women, kept the name as well. In his early comics, he was one of the few people to hire a lot of women as writers. Just recently I came out with a book of my grandfather’s early adventure stories — pre-comic books — called ‘The Texas Siberian Trail.’ It traces his life from his military career, and the interesting thing is he was a very early proponent of integration in the armed services.”

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Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson shows the start of DC Comics.

+ IDW Publishing

When Sarah Gaydos came to IDW as an editor, she wanted to do something different, so she did a gender swap with the characters in the “Star Trek” comics. “My writer and I were thinking, ‘If you have similar characteristics to Captain Kirk, it would be a different experience if you’re a woman, because the brashness that’s respected in Kirk as a man is often interpreted as being bossy in women.” The comic was able to take on double standards.

+ Prism Comics

If you’re an LGBTQ creator with LGBTQ comics, you need to check out Prism. “Prism is a nonprofit that promotes LGBTQ comics creators and comics,” explained board member Tara Madison Avery. “We work the convention circuit all through the country. We have panel discussions about LGBTQ issues, including the very first transgender panel in Comic-Con history. We’ve had our Gays in Comics panel going for 27 years.”

+ Anne Elizabeth & Marjorie Liu

Comics writers Anne Elizabeth and Marjorie Liu were sharing a booth at Comic-Con and they’re passionate about women in comics. Anne, whose teen comics “Pulse of Power” and “Pendulum” have been featured on “The Big Bang Theory,” said, “I think it’s really important for women to be represented as strong, viable, realistic human beings and their figures are not always curvy in the way people think they need to be depicted. I get questions quite often — because my comics are for teens — about how to deal with bullying, how to talk to parents, how to feel about body issues. I’m honored and thrilled to give a little bit of my heart and soul, saying, ‘Believe in yourself. Live your dreams, and live them boldly.’”

Marjorie brought up an excellent and not-often-thought-of point. “I’ve always had a problem with the term ‘strong female character,’ because I believe it implies women aren’t strong and we have to add it to their character,” she said. “Women are already strong. I think it’s important for young girls and young women to see characters in comics who are fully realized and who aren’t defined by their looks or how men perceived them or whether or not they’re ‘one of the boys.’ I write a lot of urban fantasy novels, I write comic books like Black Widow, and I think what unites all these characters is that they all have a code of honor and a strong sense of self.”

+ First Second

“There’s always been a strand of First Second that’s very much to do with human race issues, world affairs, starting with ‘Deogratias,’ which is about the genocide in Rwanda,” said First Second’s Editorial Director Mark Siegel. “We’ve had projects like ‘The Silence of Our Friends,’ a memoir of the Civil Rights Movement. Then we have ‘Zahra’s Paradise,’ from a couple of Muslim creators, about the stolen elections in Iran. That one wasn’t just commenting on the news; it was taking part in it as an activist art. We do many things, but with this thread of titles, we’re realizing a dream I had when starting First Second: comics at the heart of relevant, human rights changes that are happening in our world today.”

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+ Dark Horse

Dark Horse has an interesting take on the Lara Croft character: they’re going to revitalize her as a real character, not just a body, and they’ve hired a feminist writer to do so. “‘Tomb Raider’ was so laden with over-the-top sexual references,” said Director of Public Relations Jeremy Atkins. “This is less about having a buxom heroine that a female audience couldn’t really relate to at all, but a real character written by comics writer Gail Simone, an outspoken feminist. Also, we’ve working with Brian Wood with ‘The Massive‘ about a group of environmentalists and he worked with an anti-whaling organization for it.”

+ Sailor Moon

+ Watch Sailor Moon Trailer

A lot of us grew up watching “Sailor Moon,” but did you know “Sailor Moon” was heavily edited for American audiences? “When ‘Sailor Moon’ originally aired in the 90s, it was cut for content,” said Charlene Ingram of VIZ. “While this show was enjoyed by kids of the same age in Japan, the cultural differences meant some things were deemed way too controversial for American kids. Some of those things included genders and relationships. Even some of the empowering female stuff got cut. Two of the generals, Zoisite and Kunzite, are male and have a relationship. But in the 90s version, they turned one of the boys into a woman so it would be ‘okay.’” Got you bummed? Not to worry: VIZ is coming out with an uncut “Sailor Moon”! “I think this shows how far America has come, that these relationships are no longer controversial,” said Charlene.

+ March: Book Two

Andrew Aydin has an update on the second book he’s penning with Congressman John Lewis about the Civil Rights Movement. “‘March: Book Two’ shows the Birmingham campaign and March on Washington, how nonviolence can be used to highlight injustice,” he said. “In all of these, you have young people leading the charge. They were 16, 17, 20, 22-years-old. I think we need to show that so kids in this generation know what they’re capable of doing.” You can preorder now!

+ Mary Bellamy

While many at Comic-Con were talking about equality in comics, Mary Bellamy showed we still have a ways to go. “I always wanted to do stories with female characters, and when I got into animation, I did a lot of freelance things,” she said. “When we were pitching, we were encouraged to change the characters into boy characters. Women read comics just as much as the boys to, but it seems to be a male-dominated field, so I’m trying to bridge the gap by publishing my own books.” You can check out her pro-girl comics at her website.

+ A Prehistory of Women in Comics (And Today’s Media)

At the Illustration House booth, Jaleen Grove was a treasure trove on how early magazine illustrations shaped both comics … and ideals about women today. “Illustration was seen more widely than any other media. I’m talking roughly 1890s to 1930s,” she said. “Women were encouraged that they got to see themselves in the public eye in a way they never had been before. The tradeoff was they were very idealized and they had to live up to standards of beauty. Many women found niches in illustration art, often doing illustrations of children, because it was seen as a women’s subject.” We can see how these influences are still alive today.

+ Ramona Fradon & Trina Robbins

Ramona Fradon and Trina Robbins are icons in the comics field, and it was interesting to hear how they’d had different experiences. “I don’t think my experience has been any different from a man,” Ramona said when asked about being a woman in comics. “I think that in comics, as with a lot of the other arts, people are interested in what you can do.”

Trina, though, described the underground comics world being like a boys’ club she wasn’t invited into. So she and other women made their own comics. “I produced the very first all-woman comic book in the world, in 1970,” she said. Her new book, “Pretty in Ink,” is about women cartoonists, and only the latest book by this herstorian of women in comics.

+ Zenescope

While many comics publishers still shy away from female leads, Zenescope makes a point of mostly publishing comics with heroines, including comics with a new female Robyn Hood who’s meant to be way cooler than all the male Robin Hoods. “I think the whole industry needs to move toward not being afraid to have female leads,” said editor-in-chief Ralph Tedesco. “We have a higher level of female readers than most companies and we don’t have many titles with male characters as the lead.”


+ Archie Comics

Anyone else notice how pro-social Archie’s been getting lately? “We try to touch a little bit on everything, and covering pro-social issues naturally happened,” said President Mike Pellerito. “We chose to cover things like [LGBTQ rights and gun violence] because it’s something every kid is going to deal with in some way, shape or form. There’s no preaching. It’s supposed to be a place of acceptance.”

Photo: (Taylor Hite, Amazon)

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