“I don’t have an inspirational story, but I do have a terrible story that actually happened to me. When I was in college, I went into my local comic store to pick up my pulls, and there was a guy behind the counter… He was an aspiring artist, and he didn’t see me come in. I get my comics, I go up to the counter, and I see that he’s drawing me, as a superhero, in a very scanty costume, with enormous breasts. I was just like, ‘So, not going to be buying these, and never coming back here again. And I would not be able to walk if my breasts were that big!’”
Gwenda Bond, YA author, writer of Lois Lane: Fallout and Lois Lane: Double Down, was asked in the “Creating a Safe Space for Female Readers” panel Saturday about a time she had to, as a woman, stand up for herself in a comic space. This was her story, and it was the tone of much of the panel, although many laughs were also had. Bond and Laurenn McCubbin, comic and graphic artist, led a sometimes raucous, sometimes raw discussion on how being labeled a fake geek girl or being sexualized rather than taken seriously is enough to send too many female-identified fans back into the reading closet.
Bond talked about how she tries—and encourages others—to reach out when she sees women having a hard time being involved in the community, even if it’s a behind-the-scenes message of support. While sticking up for each other in public is always the ideal, not everyone can do that for a variety of reasons, but we can all reach out and let another woman know she isn’t alone.
Another issue Bond passionately took up the mantle for was one of letting newbies be newbies. “New readers coming in to the space, one thing you can immediately do to make them feel more welcome is don’t expect them to have boned-up on the history the day before, and [don’t] judge people for not necessarily knowing those things,” she reminded us.
McCubbin, who has done extensive projects with sex workers for her art and social projects, and has illustrated for Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse, talked about how “exhausted” she is by women being expected to be the same, to act in a similar manner, especially in comics. “I would like a hero who is maybe not good at being a hero because I’m not sure I would be good at being a hero,” she said to laughter and cheers.
In her answer to the question of when she’s had to stand up for herself in the comic world, McCubbin talked extensively about payment. About women getting paid (or often, not getting paid) and the importance of fighting for what you deserve, rather than working for free. It was her “being-labeled-a bad-feminist” moment, telling a publisher that they needed to pay their contributors—all women—for an anthology, rather than putting their funds toward more publishing.
The panelists and the members of the audience were all on the same page, it seemed, about making equality in fandom tangible, not only for female-identified fans but for everyone. It’s not about taking anything away from male fans, it’s about making everything as accessible and welcoming as possible for all of us. It’s a reminder, as McCubbin eloquently explained: “It’s just ingrained in us, if we have the upper hand on something, we see equality as a loss… it’s like ‘if you get that, I don’t get that.’ And it’s like no, dude, there’s ice cream for everyone. We’re all going to get ice cream, and we’ll make more ice cream!”
If we take nothing else away from this panel, it’s that we have a much larger community discussion to have, and that women supporting each other, and men letting us belong, is the only way the community will continue to grow and become more vibrant. And if you’re bothered by someone else being a fan in a different way than you are, McCubbin would like you to “suck it up and move on. We need to make more room.”