I was excited about attending Saturday’s “Reimagining the Female Hero” panel from the first time I saw it on the Special Edition: NYC app. No matter that it didn’t say who the panelists would be aside from moderator Ben Saunders, I knew from the description that this was going to be all about kick-ass women characters, a favorite subject of mine. What I didn’t expect was that it is apparently a favorite subject (or at least a very interesting one) to a multitude of other people as well. As I made my way over to where the panels were located about fifteen minutes early, I saw a very long queue. A quick chat with the person at the end of the line revealed that we were all there for the “Female Hero” talk. I expressed some surprise about the turnout, and the woman in line ahead of me agreed, saying “I expected it to just be some women in a room—girl power!” My thoughts exactly. When we were admitted to the crowded panel room, however, I could see that it was far from just women in the room: there were a large number of men, and even better, there were a bunch of kids, both girls and boys. There were a fair number of kids at Special Edition in general, possibly due to it taking place over Father’s Day weekend, but I wasn’t expecting to see them at a panel about female heroes. Again, my expectations were shattered and I was glad of it. I think it’s vital that kids are a part of the ongoing conversation about women in comics, to both learn what has come before and to help determine what comes next.
The panel itself was a great assembly of talent, with both rising and established stars: Marguerite Bennett, Jenny Frison, Emanuela Lupacchino, Amy Reeder, and Gail Simone. And while it bore certain similarities to the MoCCA Fest panel I attended back in April, especially in the topics that were explored, there were certain differences as well. For instance, the women on Saturday’s panel have all worked with some of the bigger publishers in comics, so there wasn’t the same independent comic voice that MoCCA Fest offered. Some of the Special Edition panelists had collaborated together previously and obviously felt comfortable talking with each other, which gave their panel more of a conversational flow than the discussion in April had. There was definitely a shared passion for strong female protagonists which in turn really engaged the audience. It was a pleasure to attend.
Some of my favorite moments were hearing about the panelists’ beginnings in comics when asked whether they had ever been given the impression that comics were for men and not women. Marguerite said that she had been encouraged to work under a pen name or at the very least her initials and had thought about it for roughly “thirty seconds” before rejecting the idea completely. Gail did not have to go through this because her name can be considered unisex, but consciously set out to prove that female characters had more value than just being plot devices to be “chopped up and put in freezers.” She credited the internet giving fans a voice for the changes that have happened to this model. I also enjoyed the question about the Bechdel test which Marguerite answered by saying that the problem was not so much women talking to each other in movies but the classifications of movies: basically if there are two females leads in a movie, it’s classified as a “chick flick,” no matter what the actual genre is.
I walked away from the panel feeling energized by the discussion, but with a sense of how much ground still has to be covered. Still, I’m hopeful that some of the kids who were in the audience will grow up to follow the panelists’ lead in creating the comics of the future. And I’m confident that someday we’ll get to a point where we don’t have to ponder why many women heroes started as sidekicks and can simply enjoy a majority of kick-ass women characters who have always been leading ladies.