How does she do it? “Don’t ask for permission,” advised panelist Debbie Daughetee of Kymera Press. Women-owned and operated comic publishers met online for WonderCon 2021 to share their unvarnished experiences of life in the publishing industry.

Daughetee and co-panelists Sandy King (Storm King Comics), Wendy Chin-Tanner (A Wave Blue World), Tina Fine (Off Girl), Enrica Jang (Red Stylo Media) and C. Spike Trotman (Iron Circus Comics) discussed lessons learned, challenges, and wins. Protip from Trotman: delegate work before you stress vomit.

women publishers WonderCon 2020

Moderator Lys Fulda of consulting firm Sphinx Public Relations noted that this panel had also appeared at San Diego Comic Con International and New York Comic Con. Clearly, it’s a topic that resonates. “The struggle is real,” Fulda said.

Many publishers on the panel have missions of lifting up others. Daughetee’s Kymera Press exclusively publishes female creators. Trotman focuses on underrepresented voices at Iron Circus Comics. Chin-Tanner and her husband Tyler Chin-Tanner look for socially conscious stories and diverse voices at A Wave Blue World. Jang’s Red Stylo has a publishing cooperative to support fellow indie publishers.

Storm King Comics logoMost of the publishers also put out stories that don’t appeal to the “cape crowd,” as Trotman puts it. King’s Storm King Comics, co-founded with her husband, legendary director John Carpenter, is a horror and sci-fi publisher, and Fine’s Off Girl is also horror, while others run the gamut from fantasy to erotic to political.

If these panelists are any indication, the path to becoming a comics publisher is frequently non-linear. They hail from worlds like screenwriting (King, Daughetee, and Fine) and sociology/literature (Chin-Tanner). Jang and Trotman noted that they started their companies almost “accidentally” on the road to making comics/editing and self-publishing, respectively.

iron circus logoEarly skeptics—who might have assumed their origins or genre choices meant some lack of seriousness—were soon proven wrong. Trotman said, “There are definitely folks who behave as if you are […] a person who has just shown up at a wedding reception without an invitation, expecting to sit at the table.” Other panelists nodded appreciatively. “’Nobody wants [what Iron Circus publishes],’ they would say, with absolute confidence. It’s like, okay, cool, I’ll just be over here making $100,000 every time I launch a Kickstarter…”

a wave blue world WonderConChin-Tanner added, “As a literary writer, as a literary artist, I think I was probably seen as being somewhat of an interloper.” Her answer was to own it. “That’s what I bring to the table in [A Wave Blue World].”

Kymera Press logo WonderConDaughetee recalled some incredulity at her endeavor: “With Kymera Press I was told I couldn’t make a go of a company that used all women writers and artists, that I had to have men artists at least.” It was the inspiration for her company’s motto: We’re Not Asking for Permission.

red stylo logoJang found the publishing community welcoming from the beginning, speculating that might be due to her start at smaller conventions.

Once they’d shown their faces on the proverbial industry block a while, panelists recalled visible traction and support for their work. King remembered, “My big thing was to have some of the heavy hitters come by and start thumbing through my books and feeling the embossing on them. And the day that one of them came by and he’s going through and said, ‘Nice paper,’ I said, ‘YES!’” Once she’d proven she was sticking around, she found the community a welcoming place.

For Daughetee, validation came in the form of customers approaching her booth: “We have fathers coming by our table and saying, ‘Do you have anything for teenage girls to read?’ I’m saying, ‘Yes!’ Because they’re looking for strong female protagonists, diversity, and all of that kind of stuff.”

Panelists also discussed growing pains, work-life balance, and the value of delegating work to others. There’s a temptation to do everything yourself as an indie publisher… which, Trotman noted, must be resisted. And for those considering their line of work, off girl logo WonderConthe publishers had many gems to share. Persistence and fostering community were recurring themes. “Don’t let anyone tell you something can’t be done,” Fine said. “Follow your gut, follow your heart, seek out people supportive of you, whether in STEM or a comic.”

Although it’s sad we couldn’t gather in person for WonderCon 2021, one perk of WonderCon@Home is the ability to watch panels after the event launch. Check out the full panel here for more great insights!