By Andrea Ayres
The panel Be Your Own Superhero: Intersectional Feminism in Comics offered attendees a guide to navigating comics and fandom through the lens of feminism.
Moderated by Sam Maggs, author of The Fangirls Guide to the Galaxy, the informal discussion centered around intersectional feminism and why representation matters as a fan and creator. Maggs began the discussion by asking each of the panelists about what character they felt represented them growing up.
For Christina “Steenz” Stewart (Lion Forge Comics), who grew up watching (and still watches) cartoons, the character Susie Carmichael (voiced by Cree Summer) from the Nickelodeon cartoon series The Rugrats resonated with her. Robbie Thompson (Supernatural) said he was taken with the character R2-D2 from Star Wars. Thompson told the audience about getting the action figure with his brother as a young child prior to the movie’s release, “My brother got a golden god and I got like, a trash can but he’s kinda sarcastic so I kinda liked it.”
The panelists moved on to explain their journey to becoming intersectional feminists and what it means to practice a feminism that includes everyone. Cait Brennan (Debutante) talked about coming out as trans in the ‘80s and how feminism seemed so natural until moving to San Francisco, where she experienced trans-exclusionary feminism. “That put me off a bit at first, I wondered if feminism is a thing that does not include me? Obviously that was not a majority view. To me it became very clear that it has to include everybody. That was the beginning of that intersectional thought for me. We’re all in it together.”
Rose Knight (Women Write About Comics) talked about navigating the field of journalism with white privilege. She said it is a constant process of unlearning her privilege through discussions, books, and listening to others. Several of the panelists noted the role of Twitter in their ongoing edification.
Maggs then asked each panelist to explain how intersectional feminism has influenced their creative work and process. Steenz took the opportunity to talk about how for her, it isn’t simply about representing race or seeing a particular race represented but rather about creating characters for audiences who can really see themselves in the big and small stuff. In little details like with stretch marks or shyness.
In her upcoming work Heroine Complex, Kuhn talked about how important it was to create characters who were not only friends but were also two-Asians simply having fun. Kuhn noted how people of color in many comic-narratives “aren’t always having a lot of fun.” The audience and panelists laughed and nodded knowingly. Kuhn wanted to flip that narrative and say look we can eat bad junk food, have crushes, and sing to karaoke.
Knowing when to ask for help, knowing when to research was an element that had numerous reprisals during the course of the hour long discussion. Thompson said, ‘Start at Google, don’t end there.” While Knight encouraged attendees to become more comfortable with asking for people to look at your work and say, “Hey, is this okay?”
Talking about creating intersectional content, Susan Polo (Polygon) talked about her YouTube series “Issue at Hand.” The series is a kind of how-to guide for those either new to comics or wanting to learn more. Polo says, “I just know the new audience for comics is less white and less male, and to talk to a new audience about how to find themselves in comics, is something I find personally exciting and fulfilling.”
The main crux of the discussion was coming from a place of understanding that feminism must include everyone, the creators produce should reflect a diverse world and diverse reality. At one point, Knight quipped, “There’s nothing radical about being whiteness.” The panelists were encouraged by recent advancements in geekdom like Rae from Star Wars or the recent announcement of the 13th Doctor, but notes that as fans we have to remind ourselves to ask the question, okay who isn’t included here, who isn’t being represented? Or as Steenz put it always ask “Who are are you leaving behind?”