I was taken to my very first con in 2011 by my unapologetically geeky, big sister. Back then, Emerald City Comic Con’s exhibition floor spanned only half of the fourth floor’s ballrooms. In 2014, the entire Washington State Convention Centre is home to the northwest coast’s premiere comic book and pop culture convention. With so much to see and do, how will a 3 day pass begin to cover it?
Day 1: The first day of Emerald City 2013 became (not so fondly) known as “line-con.” Normally we would arrive at the convention centre around 2pm on the Friday and walk right in for a preview. That year was not the case. We spent three hours in the longest line in memory, only to get in and realize the day was over. This year Emerald City changed their pick up rules, but we would not come unprepared for line-con. Arriving an hour early, we found only two other attendees in line ahead of us. A good sign of things to come. Plastered around the will-call area, and in fact all over the convention centre, were the Costumes Are Not Consent posters. Given the recent marketing disaster in Toronto coupled with the publicized discomfort of cosplayers at other cons, this was an even better sign.
The first panel we attended was Women-Exposed!, which featured six accomplished, female illustrators speaking about their experiences in the industry. I have never been interested in illustration, but the hope of a good discussion on women in the comic industry sounded intriguing. I won’t lie, I tuned out a bit at any illustration-specific talk as I have the artistic talent of a three year-old. Possibly less.
But one of the discussion topics that caught my attention is the idea that women approach art from a different viewpoint than the “angry, young men” that currently make up most of the industry. And what women will produce will look different because of that. Diana Harlan Stein quipped that sometimes she might draw T&A (and make more money for it) but sometimes she wants to draw something fluffy and cute, and both are okay. I like Diana’s pluck but I’m not sure I want to categorize the industry as being filled with angry, young men (although I’m sure they’re out there). If both a male and a female artist submit a portfolio and both are rejected, Heather Hudson pointed out, the man is more likely to resubmit all new work and be persistent. The woman is more likely to fade away. Maybe we are more tentative due to the industry being dominated by men, but whatever we do, ladies, please don’t fade away. Surviving critique is a skill that we all must learn.
Echo Chernik then regaled us with the story of how she changed her name. Her original first name was something quite feminine. When she was hired for a project, and the manager found out she was a woman, he said he would have to call her back. He never did. She made the decision to change to her more gender-neutral middle name, and was hired in 6 months with an income increase that was enough to raise an eyebrow. This story more than the others shows me just how hard these women worked to become part of this industry. Thankfully it seems that the industry is turning, and the fact that these six women can sit up there and share their continued experiences in comics proves that.
A panel that I was especially looking forward to is “Something Terrible” with Dean Trippe. After a wonderful conversation with him on the show floor earlier, I decided I had to see him speak, and I was not disappointed. Accompanied by Kate Leth, Dean dove into his journey of making this eighteen page comic chronicling his experience with childhood sexual violence and how super heroes helped him to heal. Dean was inspired by other industry professionals who came out with their own stories and Dean had been writing to them, expressing his thanks. He started by writing to these individuals, expressing thanks for their bravery and soon after, he decided that he should share his own story. Dean said that throughout the journey, from the initial trauma to making “Something Terrible”, the one moment he truly felt brave was when he decided to put his story out there. There are so few mediums speaking to this issue and he needed to add his voice in the best way he knew how.
Kate added that no one has ever said anything like this before and to have that in comics is crazy. She then shared her own story of self-harm and depression in her youth. She too wrote a comic chronicling this struggle—comics, she said, open the floodgates of communication. Both panelists talked about the hundreds—for Dean, thousands—of letters from fans, telling their own personal stories and thanking Dean and Kate for opening up. The worst thing that could have happened to him, happened, Dean said, but it has helped him to help others, and he wouldn’t change anything.
How he and Kate are kept it together, I have no idea, because all I could think was, why I didn’t bring tissue? Every now and then one of them would crack a joke but it felt almost inappropriate to laugh.
Towards the end of the panel they opened the floor to questions. Often at panels, questions are preceded with a five minute-plus speech by the speaker that is not always relevant and more often than not, irritating. But at this panel, these stories were welcomed and embraced. Cue me needing more tissue. The last young woman to speak did not have a question for Dean or Kate, she simply wanted to thank them and tell them to keep doing what they are doing because the more stories like theirs that are shared, the easier it will be for future generations to stand up for themselves—unlike herself. At this point I lost it, and both Kate and Dean told this young woman how brave she was and how big of a hug she would be getting when the panel is over.
I was so emotionally shaken after this panel that I wasn’t quite sure what I want to do next. I perused the floor a bit, before preparing for my last panel of the day, Editing Comics the BOOM! Studios way. I was riding high after two great panels, especially considering this particular one is supposed to give me tips for how to get my dream job. Now, the panelists were lovely and the discussion fairly lively, but what did I learn at this panel? Not much. There was very little discussion on editing comics itself, and more talk about the relationship between a writer and an editor. When asked how one gets into editing comics, we were simply told that internships are good, or to find some facet—any facet—of the publishing industry and start there. That’s not broad at all. At one point I was so tired from the long day that I zoned out, but given the discussion, I’m fairly certain I didn’t miss anything. I should have joined Lar De Souza’s Adult Origami instead.
Things I learned: I have zero artistic talent and anyone who does makes me insanely jealous; women still have it hard in the industry but that doesn’t mean it’s not getting better; I should always have tissue on hand.