By Andrea Ayres
By 9:45 a.m. the line for Gay’s question and answer session was already snaking its way down the hallway.
When Gay entered the room at 10:30, the audience erupted in applause. This was a crowd clearly familiar with her work beyond the comic-world. Gay’s previous books include Bad Feminist, Difficult Women and most recently, Hunger.
Gay took a seat at the table and announced she’d be spending the hour answering questions. Immediately a fan jumped up from their seat and ran to the microphone to ask how she prepared for writing the comic World of Wakanda. Gay, whose work has traditionally been longform says, “I was really worried when I first started writing. I read two books on how to write comics, I read the DC book and the Marvel book and you know what? The DC book is better.” Adding, “Marvel continuity became my worst enemy, turns out you can’t rewrite Marvel canon.”
Gay, who read a lot of Archie as a child but admits hasn’t kept up with comics over the years said she also read Saga and Monstrous to help her prepare. The limitation of space was difficult for the author at first, “but then I just decided to make it work. I started to think how am I going to develop a love story between two lesbians and not have them die?”
The audience laughed at the response, an obvious reference to the ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope which introduces lesbian, bi, or gay lovers only to tragically kill one or both of them off shortly thereafter.
She spoke about her experience working with Marvel and the future for Wakanda’s two main characters Ayo and Aneka. Gay says she absolutely sees a future for them, though she admits their stories may continue under a different banner. The good news, she says, is that Marvel is open to seeing more from her. Though part of the difficulty for Marvel is in how they choose to market comics to black and gay communities. Gay says part of the problem is that these communities are often unaware of where to find the comic book stores in their towns.
Asked about her greatest hopes and fears for Marvel’s upcoming Blank Panther movie Gay said her greatest hope was that people would come and support the movie, but that this was also her greatest fear. She broke into a smile and added, “I don’t care if that movie shits the bed, I’m going to see that movie 20 times.”
Asked to give some pointers on what we can do to help promote more diversity in the comics industry and beyond Gay offered some simple advice. Buy the work of diverse creators. Support and consume what they create and most importantly, give them the room to fail. It was a message that deeply resonated with those in the audience as they nodded their heads in approval.
Numerous questions were prompted Gay to offer opinions on the latest pop culture successes, failures, and controversies. Not one to shy away from any one of those topics, she happily acquiesced. The recent announcement of HBO’s new show Confederate, from Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, was a topic ripe for comment. Gay wondered what it says about our imaginations that the only world we can seemingly imagine is one where the Confederacy won the Civil War. “What about if the Native Americans had won the war and this was still their land? What if Mexico had won the war?”
When questioned about how her feelings regarding the current political climate and its impact on her work Gay admitted it’s been difficult. Not only has she had trouble writing non-fiction since the November election but she’s also had to moderate her use of Twitter. While a prolific Twitter-user herself, Gay is careful to not use it as a substitute for engagement with political process, “Tweeting is not going to change anything in the political process and it’s dangerous to think it will.”
Sofia Coppola’s latest film, a remake of the 1971 American Southern Gothic, The Beguiled has been roundly criticized for its complete erasure of black women from the Civil War. When asked for her opinion on the film Gay smirked, “I think it’s a disgrace but it’s also Sofia Coppola and I don’t expect her to be on the avant garde of dealing with reality.”
It was a candid response, perhaps one not expected by the audience. Especially at a time where people anticipate the carefully orchestrated soundbite. It’s that kind of openness that has garnered Gay so many fans and loyal readers. Gay commanded the room for the hour with a mixture of humor and honesty. She traverses topics many would find difficult with an almost enviable ease. That’s not to say it’s easy, it’s simply a familiarity with issues that comes from someone who, as she puts it, thinks slow and writes fast.
Gay is unapologetically interested in pop-culture and doesn’t understand the bad wrap it receives. For her, politics, literature, and pop culture exist on a spectrum. At a space like Comic-Con, filled with those who are unabashedly interested in media in all of its forms and permutations, that kind of viewpoint is welcomingly disarming. Several in the audience thanked Gay for the way she treats and responds to pop culture. Gay says she knows humans are flawed and she allows them their humanity in that way but, she says, we must all also be accountable for ourselves and one another.
As the hour concluded Gay thanked everyone for attending. The audience responded by jumping to their feet to give her a standing ovation.