The Women of Marvel panel at New York Comic Con saw editor Jeanine Schaefer, Lauren Sankovitch, Colleen Coover, Rachel Pinellas, Christina Strain, Sana Amanat, Grace Randolph, and Stepanie Hans talking about their secret origins in comics and sharing advice and stories with both female and male fans.
Grace Randolph said that she got into comics via Archie, but said, "I think when your start realizing that Archie just needs to choose, it's time to stop reading Archie." She then began with Marvel's "Age of Apocalypse."
Coover spoke about the evolution of comics and comics reading through the '80s and '90s, which influenced her own career and independent comics. "But I really love superheroes, and am so happy to be working on them with Marvel."
Rachel Panellas said her first comic was Marvel's "Gargoyles" #4, which she was too young for at the time but was very interested in the art. "Then I got older, and 'Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay' came out, and I thought, wow, comics can be literary, and that started by long descent into reading a ton of them."
Sankovitch confessed that she did not read comics as a kid, but 'I love cards, I loved reading the back of them and reciting them to everyone and be very annoying—I'm a stats nerd." She got into comics when former Marvel editor Molly Lazer introduced her to Crossgen's "Sojourn."
Amanat said she began getting into comics because her brothers were into science fiction and eventually got into comics while working for Virgin Comics. "I learned so much about what you can do in comics," she said, "and ever since then I was won."
Strain cited "the drama between Gambit and Rogue" as something that could pull women into comics, particularly through the '90s X-Men cartoon. Randolph added shows with strong female characters, "like Batman the Animated series," with Strain chirping in to mention April O'Neil from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Strain noted that Marvel "has always been a bit more social than DC—it all began with Spider-Man," which could be more appealing to female readers. Coover added that, with Marvel, the characters seemed to be closer. "Claremont, I'm not going to say he was writing a soap opera, but he kind of was."
Strain joked, "I don't want to keep coming back to Gambit and Rogue, but—they can't touch each other! I just want them to kiss and make out! [The drama] makes them more relatable."
Amanat noted that the X-Men cartoon did not talk down to kids, which was another part of its appeal, unlike, for example, Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. Sankovitch added, "Kimberly the Pink Ranger was always to reliant on her White Ranger to come save her." Sankovitch did add, though, that, "I had a crush on Tommy; I still have a crush on Tommy." Strain wrapped up by saying, "Storm wouldn't live in anyone's shadow," pointing out a woman dressed as Storm in the front row.
Schaefer then opened the floor to Q&A.
The first question was for the editors, asking how they got into editing for comics. Amanat was working in publishing and after a period of freelancing she wound up at Virgin Comics. 'They had no idea what to do with me; 'you can edit, you're ok to talk to...'" But she was shown how her skills related to comics editorial and "how to help writers and artists reach their absolute potential."
Sankovitch began editing for a smaller company before Molly Lazer let her know about an opening at Marvel. "Editing the comics, at least when I started, was very different from what I expected. The experience of being all over the place in publishing really helped."
Schaefer said she's often asked what she majored in at university. "If you ask everybody at Marvel, men and women, there is no [set] major; musical theatre was a big one." Schaefer began at DC, where "we're doing this thing called 'Infinite Crisis'—do it!" She later crossed town to Marvel, which she described as "super supportive and encouraging," with initiatives such as the "Year of Women at Marvel" and "Girl Comics."
Pinellas said her background is in architecture and enjoyed that her current editorial role lets her "put comics together." Schaefer joked that, "I know it sound like we're saying, 'Step 1: Have an Idea, Step 2: _____, Step 3: Profit!'"
A male fan asked how Marvel is targeting female readers who might never get beyond "Sandman" or "Buffy." "You should be giving them 'Runaways' and 'Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane,'" Strain said. Coover promoted her husband Paul Tobin's work on the "Marvel Adventures" titles, which have strong and engaging female characters.
"There's something a bit daunting about giving them 'Thor' #603," Strain said. "Make sure you're playing to their interests," she added, and "don't shy away from manga and indie comics." Coover again suggested something "continuity-light." Strain mentioned minis and team books as a good way to take "small steps" to introduce women to comics.
"If she likes spy stuff, espionage stuff, give her 'Black Widow,'" Pinellas said, using genre as a good way to hook new readers.
"What I love about 'Ultimate Spider-Man,' as much as I love the action, it focuses on relationship and character development," Amanat said.
"Don't give her 'Siege!'" Strain urged, after a discussion of many characters in an intense situation building off major continuity. "But still buy 'Siege,'" Amanat added.
Asked about breaking in, Randolph said she went to film school and started emailing comics editors. "Which is the great thing about comics—you can do that! And they'll respond!" Even so, it took her four years to get her first assignment.
Coover added, "you have to start by making comics; you don't have to get an assignment to make comics," she said, encouraging aspiring creators to go the indie route. "If you're not the greatest artist, that's ok—the important part is to be able to tell a story."
She continued by saying that "you have to be able to come up with an idea, sometimes at a moment's notice, and be willing to change it."
Strain added that "you can't start by writing 'X-Men;' you have to earn it. And there's so many 'X-Men,' you might be writing 'X-Men and Friends.'"
While it's been recommended at other con panels that writers find an artist, Strain said this was not necessarily important and Randolph confessed she'd never been able to do so. "I got in on spec scripts," Randolph said.
A fan asked whether current events influence storytelling, and Sankovitch said "Civil War" was an example of a story reflecting the time. "Marvel's not meant to be a soapbox," she said, "but we want our world to be a reflection of the complex world we live in." The important thing is to have the characters feel real and react to situations in the way that real people would.
Amanat added that, "I don't think you can not be influenced by what's going on in the world and have an artistic reaction to it."
The panelists were asked about comics they enjoy that they're not working on. Randolph praised "Avengers Prime" as "a new take for Bendis," and Hans cited "Mouse Guard" and "Fables." Sankovich offered "Ultimate Spider-Man," which she used to edit—"I miss it," she said, adding she also likes "Unwritten."
"Is it cheating to say my husband's book that hasn't come out yet?" Coover asked, referring to Tobin's "Spider-Girl." Strain said Terry's Moore's "Echo," while Schaefer praised 'Amazing Spider-Man."
A fan asked about the tradition of Marvel's social issues and the sense of responsibility. "I feel like my moral compass was instilled by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby," Coover said. "I guess my parents had something to do with it, too," she joked.
A woman in the audience asked whether the panelists think sex appeal weakens otherwise strong female characters. "For superheroes, I think it's a balance between showing a sexy woman, a beautiful woman, but also a very powerful woman," Amanat said. "We always try to be very tasteful," adding, "the boob and the butt shot, where she's all twisted—I hate when an artist brings that to me. I can't move that way, she can't move that way."
Randolph joked that, "guys in comics are walking around in tights, too," with Strain adding, "sometimes they're drawn with their butts out."
The panelists were asked which costumes they'd like to change. "I think a lot of costumes are designed without thinking about how often they'll need to be drawn," Coover said. "Kirby was great at designing simple costumes." Strain added that "coloring Niko [in 'Runaways'] is a pain in the butt."
"Can we be done with French cuts?" Coover said, with Hans, who is French, asking what this was. Coover explained and Strain said, "I think this comes from guys who don't read magazines with fashion in them."