She Can Fly: I Took My Mom to Comic Con

I sat on the bus, bag of newly purchased, unread Wednesday comics on my lap, suitcase underneath my feet on the luggage deck below. It was my yearly pilgrimage to the mecca that was New York Comic Con.

But this year was a little different; a little more filled with anxiety–not borne of my upcoming interviews with Greg Pak or the guys behind the Venture Bros or Leila del Duca and Joe Keating–instead, it was because my mother could be accompanying me to Comic Con.

I was in love with comics from childhood: Calvin and Hobbes and Liberty Meadows inspired me to learn how to read, I loved to illustrate my own stories, and the day I found out my older brother had a collection of X-Men and Spider-man comics under his bunk bed was the day I aspired to steal them and start my own collection.

My mom never really got it. My older sister never had a comic book phase (as far as I knew), and my brother grew out of his at the age of 13. So when I started reading comics and manga actively at 13, and kept reading them staunchly and stubbornly through high school and beyond, I think my mom started to get confused. On some level, I think she worried my reading comics was a form of arrested development; a desire to remain childish and detached from adulthood. In a word: immature.

What she didn’t know was that my love of comics made me grow and improve. I began searching for literary allusions in comic strips for extra credit in English classes. I relished in finding graphic novel adaptations of historical stories and “great literature.” I applied art history to pop culture, and examined the difference between high and low culture (and if there even was a difference to begin with). I started writing, and my writing improved because I was absorbing so many different writers’ styles, tones, and genres. All of this happened because of comic books.

But I never really told my mom about the intellectual side of my hobby. All she knew was I spent too much money on anime, manga, and comics, and she didn’t really understand why an adult would be interested in that kind of stuff.

The bus ride to New York City was uneventful. I read my weekly pull, checked Twitter for updates on who had already arrived at the convention, and fidgeted impatiently for my impending arrival at Penn Station. When the bus finally pulled in, I was quick to escape and make my way to the hotel, where my mom had already arrived.

My mother is a watercolor artist who is nationally, and internationally, known and ranked. She studied fine art for most of her life, and comics represented, for her, a baffling antithesis to John Singer Sargent and van Gogh.

The small pieces of anime and manga she witnessed me watch and read looked the same. The characters were interchangeable, and if you swapped their hairstyles, they looked like one another (which is a fair critique). She felt I was limiting my artistic ability by only drawing cartoons, and not participating in life drawing and classic art classes.

I met my mom at the hotel, and we spent the evening in the city, eating at a deli, seeing the sights, looking at off Broadway plays and comedy shows we could go to. When we finally returned to the hotel, we both readied our costumes for the next day, my first (and her only) day at the con.

Cosplay, another hobby of mine, was much less baffling to mom. In addition to being an artist, she was also a theater major in college, and did costume designing as a job. Mom helped me make my very first cosplay when I was 16, and didn’t question my enthusiasm or interest in learning how to sew. When I told her that part of my convention experience was dressing up in costume and taking pictures, she jumped at the idea. She loved it, and wanted to dress up along with me.

I began to share historical insight I had on different characters and costumes; I sent her emails with pictures of Catwoman’s different costumes, stories about the Black Canary mother-daughter legacy, offering up thoughts and ideas on different comic heroines and cartoon stars she could dress as.

She changed her mind (first Catwoman, then Supergirl, then the 80’s show Space Cats) until she finally settled on a her own design: a 50’s housewife-style Supergirl.

12144779_10208194810015093_1624722004017802763_nDressed in our finest, we made the short trek to the Javits Center, and both sorely regretted our choice of high heels as our footwear, and that’s when she saw it: the three block long line of people, in costumes and nerdy shirts, who already had their tickets for the con.

“Is the line always like this?” She asked.

“Yeah, New York’s numbers rival that of San Diego Comic Con.”

She nodded, amazed. “What’s it like inside the convention?”

I paused for a moment before I answered, “huge.”

In the weeks before the convention, she emailed me, concerned; “are people okay with their pictures being taken?”

I had to laugh to myself. “Absolutely! People love it, but do make sure to ask them, first.”

tumblr_nw6p6kVbnr1tvmnaho1_1280When we got past the line, and into the blacktop area of the convention, people began to stop mom, asking her for pictures. Every ten or so feet, another person asked her for a photo, and she glowed, pleased that her effort and hard work was being acknowledged. She gawked at a massive Hulkbuster Iron Man costume, and complimented a small child on her Supergirl costume.

She pointed to a group of men in the same masked costumes, “look at all those Spider-men!”

I snorted, “that’s actually a bunch of Deadpools, mom, but that was a good guess.”

The day was a blur. She was amazed at the size of the convention, even on its most docile day (Thursday), it was bustling with energy. The moment we entered the Artist Alley, something suddenly clicked for her.

As we passed the rows and rows of artists and writers, and I pointed out some of the people I had interviewed, or was planning to interview, she nodded, studying each artist’s banner and prints.

As we left the hall, she turned to me. “I finally get it now.”

“Get what?”

“I get why you like comics. It seemed like you always used to read things that all looked the same….same art, same color, same style. But looking at all those artists in there, the huge variety, I get it. I see how beautiful some of the art is, how many different styles and kinds of stories they are telling. I understand why you love comics.”

As an adult, I like to think I have a pretty good relationship with my mother. We talk openly and frankly, and I feel lucky to be able to be so honest with her.


Taking mom to NYCC was completely intimidating and totally exciting. I wanted her to understand that I am truly passionate about comics as a medium and an art, but also as a piece of history and as a reflection of popular culture and society. I couldn’t think of a more perfect convention to take her to, with New York Comic Con’s strict anti-harassment policy, family friendly vibe, and variety of programming ranging from critiques on representation to artist profiles.

I think the experience helped her really understand the industry of nerds, and I got a chance to share a big part of my world with her.

A week after the convention, I got a phone call.

“So, do you think your dad would want to go with us next year?”

My dad? A smart, hugely nerdy man who wasn’t the biggest fan of crowds?

“Gosh, mom, I don’t know, maybe? I definitely think it would be fun to have him come.”

She laughed. “What do you think we could get him to dress as?”

Maybe that’s a blog post for next year.

She Can Fly: Women Of… Panels

This isn’t going to be an article pitting Marvel against DC. Both companies do a lot of good, and a lot of bad. Yes, their subject matter is the same, but they are two very different corporate beasts.

Beyond that, this isn’t about pitting the women of Marvel against the women of DC. Women are already forced into unnecessary competition with one another on a daily basis. In the ideal world that comicbooks can create, this shouldn’t happen (at least, not without good, plot driven reason). This is more a constructive critique of what ‘Women In Comics’ panels do, can do, and should do.

For years, Sundays at New York Comic Con have been a very special day for Marvel. That’s when the Women of Marvel panel (which has been running for about six consecutive years, I believe) occurs. The panel is always all-female, and features writers, artists, editors, social media managers, cosplay gurus, and other women who work at Marvel. The panel is always big and the crowd attending it is always bigger.

This year, the panel was a little later in the day, and there were people camping out inside the room two panels in advance. Right before Women in Marvel was Axel in Charge, and about 75-80% of the audience stuck around.

DC has never done a women focused panel. In the past two or three years, it would have been difficult for them to, considering they had only a small portion of female creators—though a notable number of female executives. This year marked the first ever Women of DC panel, which was on Saturday night at NYCC. It was well attended, with a line forming at the start of the panel prior to it.

Marvel’s panel featured Jeanine Schaefer, Sana Amanat, Katie Kubert, Ellie Pyle, Emily Shaw, Judy Stevens, Ari Cowan, Kelly Sue Deconnick, G. Willow Wilson, Marguerite Bennett, Margaret Stohl, Erica Henderson, Stephanie Hans, Stacey Lee, Sara Pichelli, and Jen Greenwald.

DC’s panel included Shelly Bond, Bobbi Chase, Marguerite Bennett, Becky Cloonan, Amanda Conner, Meredith Finch, Caitlin Kitridge, Gail Simone, and Babs Tarr.

Each panel started with basic announcements. For Marvel, it included: Gamora getting her own solo series in the spring, written by Nicole Perlman; Women of Marvel variants to most titles, which are coming out in March 2015; G. Willow Wilson writing the next arc for the all-female X-Men; Black Widow to star in Marvel’s next foray into novels in Fall 2015, with a Young Adult book penned by Margaret Stohl. Of Natasha, Margaret said “she’s more of a Wolverine than a Cap…she’s badass”; and a plug for the company’s Women of Marvel podcast.

DC focused less on announcements, and more on a back and forth between the moderator and the panelists. DC still had a few new announcements, with Gail Simone’s long-awaited return to writing the Secret Six team she revealed a little bit more about the first issue. The title will feature Catman, Black Alice, Strix, and the Ventriloquist. Issue #1 starts in a room where all the characters are forced together. Something significant has changed with Catman. It was also mentioned that Catman’s bisexuality will play a part in the title.

In addition to Secret Six, Simone is also penning Clean Room, a psychological horror that is “disturbing, but you don’t know why at first.” It stars two female leads. Astrid is a corporate bigwig and has a “clean room” under the building where she can take your secrets and “own you forever.” The point of view character, Chloe, is a journalist who is going after Astrid due to the death of her boyfriend.

The Women of Marvel panel was, as it has been for the past three years, a celebration of the women who attended it. “The fans are the backbone to this whole thing.” The panel started with the now traditional “raise your hand if you read comics, stand up if you make comics,” with a plea that women need to help each other, become allies, and make comics together. The panel in general was full of pithy quotes, often coming from Kelly Sue, who has been a very verbal supporter of women in comics, with an emphasis that fans decide what happens to comics with their money. “Don’t stop asking, don’t stop consuming. Reject the stuff you don’t like, accept the stuff you do.”

Kamala Khan was praised as the poster child for successful new characters. Digital sales on the title are incredible, and the panel stated they hoped to continue Kamala’s success and that it would encourage more new female characters, and characters of color, to have successful titles.

The moderator of the DC panel started by asking how everyone on the panel got in to comics, reading them and working with them. Shelly cited titles Sandman, Hellblazer, and Love & Rockets as her inspiration for getting into the industry, but admitted she didn’t start reading comics until college. Much of the panel was similar. Meredith Finch read Archie as a kid, but didn’t know about mainstream comics until her first date with her (now husband) David, where he showed her his work.

Bobbie first got into the comics field when she answered an ad in the New York Times, but she had no idea who the Fantastic Four were. She ended up reading and falling in love with Daredevil and has been working in comics since. One panelist commented on the unfriendliness of comic stores; “I remember going into a comic book store to follow up and Catwoman and it was unwelcoming, but I know I was allowed to be there, everyone else just had to figure that out too.” Babs Tarr was one of the only panelists who couldn’t think of a time when she didn’t read comics in some sense. She cited manga like Sailor Moon and Peach Girl as comics that inspired her.

The moderator also asked about what it’s like to work on comics. Caitlin Kitridge commented that Coffin Hill is her first comic, but she’s written 15 novels. She said that comic scripts are a big change from novels, but the visual is such a great aspect to have. Becky Cloonan commented that Gotham Academy is “the first book I’ve worked with another artist on. It’s made me focus a lot more on my writing…Having to write out art direction has made me a much stronger writer.”

Babs Tarr emphasized the importance of differentiating characters through fashion. “Each character needs their own style to show their personality. You don’t get to see Babs outside of the suit a lot…When I picked up comics, Lois Lane was always in a generic jacket and heels and it took me out of the story. You could tell it was drawn by guys.” Babs sees herself as the audience for the revamped Batgirl title. She collaborates heavily with her writing team and makes a lot of suggestions.

Meredith Finch touched on taking over the iconic female title at DC. “Wonder Woman believes in what she believes in and is willing to stand up for that. I think a lot of women can identify with that.” On the idea of including or emphasizing feminism in the book, she responded, “I don’t have an agenda, I just want people to connect with her in a different way than she has been shown in the past

When asked what she liked best about writing Earth 2 Worlds End, Marguerite Bennett said she loves Huntress and Power Girl and loves writing a loving relationship between women. “Their friendship brings levity and joy” to what is otherwise a dark title.

Amanda Conner agreed that Power Girl was a fun character to write. On bringing her into the Harley Quinn title, she said “We love PG so much, we just had to put her in Harley for a few issues!” She also commented that Harley is an incredibly fun character to write, because she’s “a loveable, murderous psychopath. She’s always chasing happy, and she’s totally devoted to her friends and the people she loves.” And while they got away with innuendo, big time violence, and poo flinging, Amanda joked that she and Jimmy wanted to start a website called “things we weren’t allowed to do in Harley Quinn this week.”

Marvel opened the floor to questions about 15 minutes in, and fans of all races and genders rushed to ask their queries.

The first question tackled a pervasive issue in the comics industry: harassment, sexism, and racism. The panel commended the questioner, “it’s good to say the issues out loud…I’m going to make the choice to keep going and keep fighting.” Kelly Sue spoke out, “Don’t let them win. Keep going, keep doing it…This isn’t the only place with sexism. We fight because we have to, because we need to.”

Another fan pointed out the Cup of Joe panel (to be touched on in my Marvel panels review) was almost entirely populated by men and asked “why aren’t there more women on the big panels in the big rooms.” The panel lamented, but was hopeful, “bear with us, next year, I guarantee that there will be more women on panels.”

Despite the earlier news that the Fantastic Four was ending, a male fan asked for an Invisible Woman solo, to which the panel said “there are creators interested in that.” Another male fan asked for a Scarlet Witch solo title. They commented that she will be a big player in an upcoming story (likely something to do with “No More Mutants” which was just hinted at in Previews for January), but remained tight lipped.

A number of fans asked for more female leads in all media. The panel agreed, but pointed out that Agents of SHIELD is a majority female cast, and both Agent Carter and Jessica Jones have their own solo shows, on ABC and Netflix respectively.

Meanwhile, the DC panel did not open the floor to questions. That’s my biggest qualm about their panel. The moderator, a woman who owns and runs a comic store, made the focus of the panel more about her personal journey with comics than about the power of the fans.

Women absolutely need support when it comes to being a part of comics—consuming them, creating them, being a part of fandom—and the DC panel lacked that sense of nurture which is ever present in the Marvel panel. While the DC panel was interesting, and a wonderfully positive thing to see come from DC, it lacked support of the fans. The emphasis on creators over consumers is ill-advised with a niche media like comics, and it shows that this particular panel was not clued in to what companies need to do to support their female fans.

I was so happy to see a Women of DC panel, and to see Marvel continue their Women of panel for another great year. Next year, I hope to see DC engaging with their audience instead of poo-pooing, or totally ignoring, them.

She Can Fly: NYCC Recap

New York Comic Con has skyrocketed from being the biggest East Coast comic convention, to being bigger than San Diego Comic Con this year. With over 151,000 attendees for the 2014 event, NYCC is now the biggest pop culture/media/comic book convention in North America, and with that comes a lot of new ground for the con.Last year, NYCC had some advertisements that were fairly notorious. I remember sitting in a Friday morning panel with a friend as we watched the Arizona Ice Tea “Big Cans” advertisement and just feeling deflated. Is this really what advertisers think nerds want? Is this really what advertisers think sells product? The room was at least 50% women, but when the ad came on, basically everyone of any gender groaned and rolled their eyes at the pandering sexism on the screen.

This year, NYCC had an attitude change. Thanks to the popular feminist site the Mary Sue, New York Comic Con acknowledged and supported female attendees, with a number of panels focused on female characters and fandom, a very present and clearly defined harassment policy, and the amazing quiet space offered by the Mary Sue’s Geek Girl Headquarters. The Mary Sue headed a number of panels, focusing on female characters, female creators, harassment (#YesAllGeeks), and female gamers (specifically tabletop and LARPing), but they weren’t the only organization supporting women in the industry. Marvel had their 6th annual Women of Marvel panel, which was so well attended, people lined up for it two panels in advance, and DC, for the first time ever, offered a Women of DC Entertainment panel (more on that in another article).

The convention also offered a number of panels on race, sexuality, and supporting transgendered characters in comics and popculture, all of which were extremely well attended, often having to turn away a substantial line of people interested in attending the panels. Most of these panels were relegated to smaller rooms, but the absolute enthusiasm and interest of the attendees (and the number of people who weren’t even able to get into the panels) will hopefully lead to these presentations getting large rooms next year.

scfnycc01I was told that the prevalence harassment policy, banners of which peppered all the hallways of the convention, was encourage directly by the women of the Mary Sue, but NYCC clearly went beyond the call of duty, with their mobile app also had a section with the policy laid out, and a place to privately report any violations of the policy or situations that made attendees uncomfortable.The policy outlined everything, from picture policies to cosplay commentary to bathroom policing. Staff in NYCC shirts were also all over the convention center, and available to handle any accusations of harassment that were brought up to them. Compared to SDCC’s lack of any concrete policy (or PAX’s inherent issues with diversity), NYCC really shined as an example of how to handle and present an anti-harassment policy.

The Mary Sue’s Geek Girl Headquarters was also an amazing addition to the con. I discovered it my second day there, when my phone battery had died and the high heels I was wearing for my cosplay were killing me. On the end of the convention with the two biggest panel rooms, the Mary Sue took over one of the smaller rooms in the convention center and converted it into a female-friendly lounge, which plugs, free wireless, and books, games, and friendly people. Throughout the weekend, I stopped by Geek Girl Headquarters to charge my phone, Tweet, eat lunch, and take a break. I met a number of friendly fellow geeks, and even ran into creators like Kelly Sue Deconnick and Sam Maggs, the editor of the Mary Sue and author of the Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy (who excitedly complimented me on my Squirrel Girl costume).

scfnycc02While PAX tried to manufacture a “safe space” for their East Coast convention–in the form of the “diversity lounge”–the Mary Sue actually succeeded at providing a real safe space without a forced air of superiority, weird implications that women and people of color should be separate from the rest of the convention, or NYCC trying to advertise it as a “look how great we are” selling point. Instead, the convention mentioned it in the program booklet, and the Mary Sue advertised the space online through the hashtag #GGHQ, but it remained something of a secret to many of the convention goers who didn’t roam the far ends of the hall. That said, every time I was there, the room was always full of people, but they were more than happy to make space for one more, offering access to outlets, chairs, beanbags, games, free posters, and more whenever a newcomer arrived.

The con had some other changes to: it offered an advanced line to get wristbands for events in the big screening room (though it was not made incredibly clear at the start of the con, most people who used the system applauded it, as it prevented panel camping and the “first come first serve” attitude from past years), three food trucks were parked outside of the convention center to offer a respite from traditional con food (Korean BBQ, Sulvaki, and Mac and cheese were the truck options), and, much like last year, all passes were magnetized so attendees could tap in and out of the convention (to prevent, I assume, badge sharing and other issues that often plague conventions), which helped shorten some of the lines.

scfnycc03NYCC ballooning in size could have been a horrible issue, but the convention handled it about as gracefully as could be done.  While the convention was crowded and, at times, overwhelming, it still felt like New York Comic Con, but an improved version of NYCC. I felt safe at this convention, as a woman, as a cosplayer, and as a journalist, and that feeling is so important.

Check back for more NYCC posts, including comic announcements from the weekend, panel reviews and critiques, and creator interviews!