With several months to go until its estimated January 2015 delivery date, production for the documentary She Makes Comics is well underway, and director Marisa Stotter has spent the last little while staring at hours of raw footage. After rounds of interviews at the recent Emerald City Comic Con and with the San Diego Comic Con coming up, there will be lots more of this for Stotter as she and her team weave together the bits and pieces of this groundbreaking and eye opening documentary.
When we featured She Makes Comics as our Kickstarter of the Week, the crowd-funded documentary had just a few more dollars to go to meet its goal. It met that goal and surpassed it by over $10,000, unlocking its first stretch goal, a mini-documentary featuring Jackie Ormes, who is considered the first African-American female cartoonist.
Stotter was thrilled when she woke up to the news about the successful funding. “I was hopeful for attention and interest,” she says, “but nothing can prepare you for almost 1,500 people saying, ‘Yes, I’m with you and I want to support your project.’”
For Stotter, it validated everything she’d felt growing up as a geek. She was originally introduced to all things geeky by her brother, an avid Magic: The Gathering player. When her brother took her to a Magic tournament, no one would play with her, the lone female, and she was made to feel that she had no right to share in their interest. Many of us can sympathize with young Stotter’s feelings of discouragement when it comes to our beloved geeky interests. While her detractors may not have intended to alienate her as a female trying to participate in a so-called boys club, the stereotypical attitude and insidious discrimination can be very influential to a young child.
Fortunately, one day Stotter’s view changed when she stepped into a comic shop and met the owners, a husband and wife team. “She was so knowledgeable and helpful and involved,” explains Stotter. “She was so excited to bestow her knowledge upon me.”
From there, Stotter delved further into the comics culture via the internet where communities like Livejournal allowed fans to connect with each other and share their love of the medium. The internet was where Stotter discovered more and more people discussing women within the industry and the issues surrounding them. As with current times, some of the issues were negative, but far more were positive experiences. Most importantly, it made Stotter realize that women have always been involved in this industry.
From there, ideas germinated and came to fruition in She Makes Comics, a documentary that “seeks to tell the untold history of the industry” and show that women have always been major contributors. While it will touch on some of the negative issues, as Stotter feels it is “extremely important to bring them out of the echo chamber of the internet,” the focus will remain on the positive. “We don’t want to scare people away, but rather encourage them to join in on a world that is actually quite positive.”
By its very nature, Stotter describes the documentary as positive and uplifting. It reveals that women were involved long before Superman came on the scene in the 1940s. “It’s hard to determine the social climate for them then,” she says, “but I’m inclined to believe that drawing comics was not a fit for women during that time.” Yet as early as 1917, a sixteen year old girl had her first comic published in a national magazine. While the information is scarce for such accomplishments, as Stotter digs deeper and deeper, she continues to be amazed by what she finds. “There are a number of women who achieved some level of notoriety in their produced work.”
As difficult as it has been for Stotter to find information on women in the industry, the “whitewashing of history” is as prevalent in comics as it is in many other mediums. That’s why she was floored to discover Jackie Ormes creating sequential art as early as the 1920s. Stotter felt that Orme’s contribution to the industry as both a female and a person of color deserved a greater spotlight, hence Ormes’ ten to fifteen minute addition to the She Makes Comics documentary.
As important as it is to understand the history of women in comics, the documentary will definitely cover a lot of the present. Emerald City Comic Con provided the backdrop for several interviews, including Colleen Coover, Amy Chu, Becky Cloonan, G. Willow Wilson, and Kelly Sue DeConnick. The reactions from participants has been very positive, with a lot of people–male and female–excited to be involved and tell their story.
Though the crew is taking a break from interviews right now to work on the laborious editing process, they will pick up again shortly to add even more interviews to the twenty or so they have already gathered thus far. But this documentary won’t just be about the industry professionals. “We don’t want to ignore that fans are such a huge part of this.” She Makes Comics is accepting submissions from fans to bookend the documentary with a collage of positive messages expressing why they love comics.
“For me, this project is about reaching those young women who still fear setting foot in a comic shop or a convention. I want to show them that there are already so many women in comics ready to welcome newcomers with open arms. She Makes Comics will show a whole new generation of readers and aspiring creators that women have always been involved in comics — and there’s plenty of room for more.”