Organize: Making space for women in comics.
Two weeks ago in a modestly sized pub in Bath, UK, an intimate gathering of comic book creators and fans came together for the inaugural Comic Book Slumber Party. The one day event, organized by Hannah Chapman, included all of the trappings of a much larger convention: speakers, workshops, games, drinking, and drawing. In addition to earning course credit, Chapman’s aim for CBSP was to bring attention to women creating comics. Having more than a handful of very talented guests certainly helped accomplish that goal, but what took the event from good idea to successful endeavor was the audience. People came! They stayed, they listened, created, shared, and a few even stayed the entire day. Hannah isn’t new to creating lasting events; she founded the monthly Ladies’ Night event at Graham Crackers Comics in Chicago, IL during her semester studying abroad (full disclosure: I witnessed the inception of GCComics Ladies’ Night firsthand. I’m the moderator!). Considering what she has accomplished in one year, we can’t wait to see what she plans to conquer next. For now, here is what she had to say about her experience creating Comic Book Slumber Party.
Megan Byrd: Hannah, tell us a little bit about what made you spearhead the organization of Comic Book Slumber Party. What was your main influence? Was it in response to what you saw in the North American comic book scene? Was this simply the coolest way to fulfill your uni course assignment?
Hannah Chapman: Although I was really cheeky and managed to make it part of my degree, I had already planned on organising some kind of event promoting female creators in the UK – I just managed to kill two birds with one stone! I was heavily influenced by my experience organising Graham Crackers Comic’s Ladies Night and spending time at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF). Both events made it clear to me that it needed to be about more than the commonly perceived idea of what comics are – that they’re made by a wide range of people and they’re about a tonne of different stuff. It’s difficult to respond to the North American comic book scene in the UK – they’re just not the same. We have a handful of amazing comic book shops around the country and comic events are simply not as prevalent. I’d like to say the indie scene in the UK is bigger than the mainstream, but who knows.
MB: Being the founder of Graham Crackers Ladies’ Night, you have experience in creating female-centric events. Since part of the aim of CBSP was to showcase female creators and reach out to female readers, this is clearly a cause of importance to you. What draws you to creating these events and why do you feel they are necessary?
HC: I guess the thing that draws me to it is because the main festivals seem so desperate to pretend like it’s not a problem anymore, which is total bull. One panel of women during a male-centric event does not reflect the staggeringly diverse group of people that are interested in comics. I wish events like this weren’t necessary but until we start seeing a broader spectrum of creators invited to speak at these events then they still will be. That said, I’m not entirely sure CBSP will remain an event focusing solely on female creators in the future, because there’s so many other groups that are poorly represented within the comics community. Maybe events promoting diversity is more productive than just women. To quote Mean Girls – “I just have a lot of feelings.”
MB: There is often push-back within the comic book journalism community whenever one addresses issues facing women in comics, whether it is about creators, fans, or the portrayal of women in comics. A recent example being the negative and at times borderline abusive response Laura Sneddon received after writing about the disparity between male and female winners at the British Comic Awards.
Did you experience any negative reaction to organizing this event that focuses on women in comics?
HC: The responses to stuff like this makes me want to crawl into a cave and ignore the world, but then I remember that doing that won’t change anything and I get over it mostly. I’ve been really lucky that the response to CBSP (and GCC’s Ladies’ Night) has been so overwhelmingly positive. And even people who don’t think events solely focusing on women are the best way to deal with the issue have told me their opinion in a super constructive and polite way. I think being a bit of a non-entity helps, because flapping your mouth about me wouldn’t garner much attention.
MB: If your success rate with organizing events and creating comics continues, I doubt you’ll consider yourself a non-entity for much longer! You began organizing CBSP well in advance of the event date. What was the timeline like? Where does a first-time con organizer start?
HC: Planning it almost a year in advance was the best and worst idea in almost equal parts. Around Christmas, after confirming the guest speakers, the venue, the posters etc there was a period where nobody seemed to care and I worried that on the day not one person would turn up. And then maybe a month or so before there was a bit of a snowball effect as more and more people heard about it via Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter. I think the week before things really blew up and it was really exciting. CBSP also cost a tonne of money and I needed a long time to figure out the funding, sponsorship etc. Doing it in advance meant we got to be included in the Bath Lit Fest too which was awesome as we attracted loads more sponsorship that way.
BUT – if you want to organise something don’t feel like you need a whole tonne of time to do it. I organised the first Ladies’ Night in under a month so it CAN be done! If you’re interested in your own event then find a venue, find a guest speaker (or plan an activity) and go from there.
MB: Was it difficult attracting exhibitors to this inaugural event? Did you attract all of the creators you wanted?
HC: The incredible Donya Todd (who designed the poster, logo, and general branding) suggested that I just email every single person I would like to meet from the UK comics scene. So I did that, and surprisingly they all said yes. So it was a big deal to me that Gemma Correll, Lizzy Stewart, Philippa Rice, Isabel Greenberg, and Disa Wallander were there on the day. It was way easier than it should have been.
MB: Since CBSP was part of a larger event, the Bath Literary Fest, did this present any complications as far as attracting your intended audience? Was it a benefit or obstacle?
HC: As I touched upon before, being part of the Lit Fest helped secure some much needed sponsorship and it also meant that the Lit Fest will be looking more closely at comics in the future. I don’t think anyone looked at the poster/website/etc and thought “What? The Lit Fest? Screw that noise!” so as far as I can tell it was purely beneficial. It also meant I got a couple of extra stewards at each event and got to talk comics with the Creative Director so yeah, I was thrilled.
MB: CBSP had a noticeable online presence, in main part due to your utilization of twitter, tumblr, and facebook to get the word out about the show. What do you think other event organizers could learn from your grassroots approach? Do you think other cons big and small do enough to reach their intended audiences?
HC: I don’t know that they do. I knew that when it came to Tumblr the best way was to have a super sexy poster that people would want to reblog because it looked so damned good. And that worked! It also helped that the exhibitors blogged/tweeted about the event because I got to reach their followers too. Something I love that both Thought Bubble and TCAF do really well is Twitter! Whoever is in charge of their twitter handles is great because it’s like tweeting a person – not an event. I don’t think I did that as well. Ooh, and I always drool over the TCAF posters so I think they’re doing that really well too. I guess you kind of have to put stuff out there that people will want to see, otherwise who cares! A load of feedback said that CBSP was badly advertised – so next time I need to be way more proactive when it comes to putting up posters and flyering.
MB: Tell us a bit about the event itself. Did everything go as planned? Any surprises good or bad?
HC: The event was SO MUCH FUN – but did not all go as planned. Mainly because we (Myself, two of the guest speakers and some friends) stayed up late the night before playing Carcassonne and then took way too long picking up the equipment in the morning. By the time I got to the venue there were loads of people waiting for the first workshop to start – should I admit that? Maybe not. But once we were in there we got into the swing of it and things went really smoothly. The environment really helped, it was such a cute venue that the whole thing was really relaxed and I think that made people a lot more at ease. We just sat around in the pub, talking, drawing, listening to the guest speakers. Some of the workshops had drawing games like Consequences, and a game where you’d draw a panel of a comic and then pass it along to the next person. The talks were all really great – Lizzy Stewart and Philippa Rice offered insight into the career of a freelance illustrator and professional comics creator. It was also nice to meet people from all over the country – one chap came all the way from Edinburgh for the day which was crazy cool.
MB: Now that the convention has come and gone, what have you learned? What would / will you do differently next time around?
HC: I’ve learnt that I am rubbish at putting up posters and speaking into microphones. If I were to do it again, and I will, then I’d maybe not have so many events in one day. It was a lot to pack in and a few of the hardcore visitors (who were there for about 12 hours) were definitely flagging by the Drink n Draw. It’s also made me really interested in creating events that don’t focus solely on female creators – so CBSP will evolve, as the comics industry will also do with time. I also learned that people who read or make comics are an awesome bunch of people and I could spend hours and hours and hours hanging out with them. Talking comics is the best.
MB: What was the turnout?
HC: Over the course of the day we saw about 100 people pass through, which was great. The space could only legally house 80 so that’s a great turnout.
MB: What is next on the horizon for you? Will you now re-focus on creating your own work or is there another equally ambitious event in the works?
HC: I owe it to my degree to take some time out and focus on my classes but I don’t know how likely it is that it’ll happen. I’m in the midst of co-editing an incredible Ladies Night anthology which will be out later this year, I’m working on a comic about South Africa, and we’re in the process of planning CBSP events for London and Bristol which is really really really cool.
* * *
Keep an eye on Hannah’s future projects at www.hannahkchapman.co.uk and look for her upcoming story in the Ladies’ Night Anthology: Chicago (coming this May).