Okay by now you’ve all heard about how the topic of women working in superhero comics (and women geeks, but that’s another post) was the talk of the town at Comic-Con. At each of the daily DC New 52 panels, a woman dressed as Batgirl would ask about more women characters, what characters her daughter should dress as and more, to an increasingly hostile reception among other attendees. There’s much more on this woman and her reception on the internet but we’ll get to that in a moment.
I was only able to attend one DC New 52 panel, and it was the first one on Thursday, the one that has gotten a particular soundbite spread all around the internet. DC has made all their panels available as podcasts, and I guess if you are a real Kremlinologist you’ll want to comb over these tapes for clues and evidence. I do want to talk about the panel I attended, because there are some things that happened that I witnessed that I haven’t seen reported, and some other private moments that I witnessed that I think add to the whole picture. So here’s what I know:
This first panel was a hot ticket as everyone thought this would be where the most sparks flew. I attended the panel with our own first timer, Ali Colluccio. The line was humongous — I really didn’t think we’d get in. Ironically, we were standing only two people behind Rich Johnston, who as busily posting and taking phone calls even while standing in line — that guy worked his ass off at the Con, for sure.
As Ali and I chatted we got into a conversation with the man standing in front of us, who managed a store in Burbank called Emerald Knights. He introduced himself and gave me his card,
but it doesn’t have his name on it, and I didn’t write it down, so I’ll call him The Owner. his name is Jason. Of course I asked him what he thought of the relaunch, and he was generally positive. However, he said “I’m concerned that they’ve gone from 12% women to 1% women creators.”
I allowed that I was surprised to hear a MAN saying this, as it usually seemed to be the female element that was complaining. Jason told us that his wife is a writer, and he sees getting more women in the business as part of growing it. Clearly a man of vision!
When we got into the room (just about the last to get in, I might add!) few seats remained so Ali and I and Jason all sat in the far left of the room. The panel began — you can read my live blog here. Ali and I both had our laptops out taking notes, so we were both head down working.
And then this happened:
It is, of course, Jason who yelled out the “Hire More Women” comment, and the 12-to-1% statistic. Dan DiDio runs a pretty aggressive panel, but the badgering tone that came out of transcripts is pretty clear in the audio. Jason didn’t have a list of people to be hired at hand, so didn’t answer right away.
What you can’t tell from the audio is that the first person to suggest a name was Rich Johnston, who yelled out “Alex DeCampi!” — that’s why Dan sounds so brusque about that suggestion. (Plus, I don’t think Alex is much interested in working for the Big Two at this point.) It was Ali who yelled out “Nicola Scott!” — just after the audio cut out, someone else suggested Carla Speed McNeill. I myself yelled out a name that I can’t even remember now (I think I told Rich about it later so maybe he does.) I think it might have been M.K. Reed or Faith Erin Hicks.
You can listen to the rest of the panel in the DC podcast. However, what no one has reported is that after the panel, Dan DiDio came over to talk to Rhe Owner, in a very polite and friendly manner, about three feet away from me. I was busy packing up my gear, and I don’t work for the News of the World, so I wouldn’t write about a private conversation, and I wasn’t standing around listening. However I did hear Dan say the following to Jason:
“We’re just trying to hire the best people–”
And then…I saw red.
I’m sure I sounded really screechy but at this point I couldn’t keep my mouth shut and blurted out “But some of the best people ARE women!”
Dan turned to me and said “I know that. And we are trying.”
He wasn’t at all as confrontational in this private moment as he was on the panel, to his credit, but it wasn’t really the place for a long conversation, so I left him to talk to Jason, who is free to chime in with any of his thoughts on the incident.
Dan repeated a variation on the “We’re trying to hire the best people,” line on several other panels when confronted with The Woman Question, so it’s pretty clear that this is his standard line. Now, maybe it means “the best people for the book no matter whoever they are” but it ALSO SOUNDS like he’s saying “We are hiring the best people, who are only 1% women.”
I’m going to analyze the fallout from all of this in a later post, but it’s instructive to read the DC Women Kicking Ass’s interview with Kyrax2, the Batgirl who came to Gotham to bedevil DC.
The thing I don’t understand, is why Didio is so actively hostile to questions about female creators? Consider a couple of other ways the conversation could have gone: Q: Are you committed to hiring more women? A: Yes. (cheers from the audience, I sit down)
Kyrax2 mentions that Paul Cornell, at least, had a more conciliatory response:
On the other hand, Paul Cornell came directly to where I was sitting as soon as the New 52 panel ended and said, “I heard what you said, and I’d like to take a minute to try to sell to you directly.” He told me that his new swords and sorcery comic, Demon Knights, would have a majority female cast and that he was committed to keeping it that way. I am utterly uninterested in swords and sorcery, but I will be subscribing to a full year of Demon Knights anyway, because Paul Cornell made me feel like he cared about my opinion, both as a fan and as a human being.
I don’t know if Dan Didio knew that Jason was a retailer, but whether he did or not, it’s to his credit that he did come over after the panel to address him directly. I might be entering the realm of opinion here, but if you listen to panels with Dan DiDio on them, as noted, he likes to be confrontational — it’s his style. He also, as I’ve noted before, likes to tweak fanboys and fangirls by teasing the things they want the most.
Some of this makes sense — J.K. Rowling is the prime example of how ignoring fan requests makes material stronger and keeps them on the hook even longer.
But I think this whole incident shows that this confrontational, “Who should we hire???” attitude is an example of diminishing returns. Is it SO HARD for Dan DiDio to say “We are trying to get more women involved. Next.” Instead of using the word “best” which doesn’t make anyone look good.
Occam’s Razor. Maybe DC is struggling to find women creators who can write their books, in an attempt to broaden their audience, but no one has shown up yet.
Or maybe DC doesn’t think women are good at writing and drawing superheroes. I can tell you for a fact that when I worked there (1999-2002), there were several editors who felt this way. I know because they told me, clearly and to my face.
That was nearly a decade ago, and perhaps the corporate culture has changed entirely since then. Perhaps this idea has been eradicated from the halls, banned from the watercooler and held up to scorn.
Or maybe it still lingers in closets and dark corners.
To be honest, I don’t know which it is.
But the phrase “We’re trying to hire the best people,” used over and over again, SUGGESTS that the idea hasn’t entirely gone away.
Even if it isn’t true.
Mr. DiDio, tear down those walls. You say you want a new audience?
To be continued.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.