Series covering “Writing Women Friendly Comics” panel at 2015 Gen Con, with moderator Bill Willingham.
Why are you writing this?
It’s exhausting to deal with an endless array of discrimination, from low-level microaggressions to harassment to laws and policies meant to exclude your identity, and more. I only have to deal with some types of discrimination because although I have marginalized identities that consistently face oppression in society, I also have privileges identities as well (woohoo, the complexities of intersectionality). Note: if you want to learn more about these terms, here are good links:
I am writing this because I am angry that marginalized voices are left out of conversations in pop culture – women, people of color, people with disabilities, LGB people, trans* individuals, veterans, low-income folks, and more. There have been quite a few foolish events (like the all-male ‘women in comics’ panel) and we honestly just need to stop this bullshit.
This “Writing Women Friendly Comics” panel happened and a popular creator (Bill Willingham) turned it into a destructive mess. I am writing this report to provide evidence that a) it happened, so that b) it will hopefully not happen again. WE ARE BETTER THAN THIS.
But I LOVE Fables! And/or other Bill Willingham works!
*hands you a tissue and drink of choice* I know. It sucks when someone we really appreciative, perhaps even someone who has inspired us or who’s work helped us get through a difficult time, does something shitty and shows that they do not possess the awareness to be considerate of other people on a micro and macro scale. Don’t feel bad. We all have our “problematic favs”, aka things/people we love even when those things/people contribute to systemic oppression. I love Marvel movies so much even though they only perpetuate this idea that white cis able-bodied men are worth being heroes.
Should you stop supporting Bill Willingham’s work? That’s your call. At the end of the day, purchasing someone’s products is a stamp of approval for their work and their behavior. But on the other end, Bill isn’t the only human working on Fables or other works. His products include other people. Yet, perhaps not purchasing Bill’s works will encourage folks to not work with him, and perhaps help him to realize that uncool acts of his need to be reassessed. Or, maybe not. There are lots of ways to go on this and your purchasing is a personal choice.
Ultimately, Bill Willingham is only one part of a much larger problem – that the comic industry (like every other industry) is rooted in sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, classism, and many other societal ills.
Whoa, that’s super intense. Why do you keep talking about sexism and racism and all that?
It’s common for folks to wave their hands away and go “it’s not that serious” when outlining issues related to identity, especially in regards to pop culture. However, in this day and age, media is so pervasive in our lives – television, internet, film, literature, and more – that it often has just as much (if not more) effect on socializing us throughout life as the people who raise us.
In the United States, one of our beloved morals is that everyone has freedom and the autonomy to make something of their life – “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”. This is actually a fallacy. There are different barriers presented to people who have marginalized identities. The United States was originally designed to uphold white able-bodied straight cis Christian men – essentially upholding the values these people were taught in their European home countries. Sure, over time the U.S. has begun to recognize that people with different identities have rights as well and the country has progressed. But there are still many barriers in place.
Racism, sexism, and other ‘isms are more than blatant offenses like name calling – they are tiny decisions like speaking over a woman or not going out of one’s way to make sure women are on a panel that is supposed to talk about women.
For the current topic of comic books, while there has been progression and growing openness to creators and characters with different backgrounds, there are still plenty of barriers. So when a well-known creator at a major convention acts in this sort of manner, it just further normalizes that some voices are more important than others. This is discouraging if you’re not in the majority and results in fewer marginalized individuals to want to pursue this career and perpetuates the idea to other folks in the majority that it’s normal for a white man to speak down to women and people of color.
HOLD UP. Just who the hell are you, anyway? Why should I believe a damn thing you say?!
I’ve already read some internet comments (a foolhardy task, but I was curious) after The Mary Sue article came out and know there are people who don’t trust that the accounts were correct and also don’t believe The Mary Sue has any ethics in journalism.
I get that. Really, why should you believe someone you’ve never met before? I could be catfishing you all, mwahahaha! Except I’m not. And I ask that you believe the corroborating accounts in The Mary Sue and in my report. Too often women and other marginalized folks are not believe when they give personal accounts of their experience, even though that courtesy is often afforded to people in our society with privilege (male, white, upper-class, Christian – take your pick of identities. Oh, and ps: being privileged is not a bad thing, just a fact).
I did not expect the panel to go the way it did – I only meant to bring my 3 year old iPhone 4 (yay free phones) to take notes since my friends couldn’t intend. But when Bill started the session off as he did, I sure wish I had a better phone with more memory to record. Alas.
So, since you’re unsure if you can trust some random woman on the internet who is speaking out publicly about a favored comic creator, let me give my background:
My name is Niki Messmore. I graduated from Bowling Green State University (BGSU) with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a minor in History. I worked for five years in the nonprofit and education sector, including time as the director of a small nonprofit that supported after-school programs for youth and other volunteer management positions. In 2014 I graduated from Indiana University with a Masters in Higher Education & Student Affairs. During this time I learned critical research skills and have written multiple research papers addressing theory, management, identity development, law, and more. Currently I work at a university in Indianapolis managing alternative break programs, supervising scholarship students, implementing campus-wide days of service events, and coordinating a first-year student community.
I have the skills and integrity to write about this event and other issues.
But you’re biased! Because you’re a woman!
What an assumption! Yes, I am a woman. But the concept of “bias” originates from watching Law & Order in how it is used in our lexicon today – like the world is a black and white courtroom. We shout that folks are biased when they speak to their experiences because we have idealized what it means to “be un-biased”. We believe that the best reports are cold Emma Frost-esque accounts where the writing is robotic and the person is a complete outside observer.
That isn’t how it works. Humans are shaped by their identity and how they have moved through the world, including what they see on TV, how they were raised, and more. We are ALL biased, if that’s the word you desire to use.
Historically, the concept of bias is most often applied to people who are already marginalized in this world – we don’t believe queer people when they discuss discrimination, we don’t believe people of color when they report police harassment, we don’t believe women when they say they’ve been raped, etc. We (society) tend to only believe it when that person is privileged, such as when a white person speaks about racism or a straight person speaks out about LGBT* issues.
What some of you in the internet world are looking for, just doesn’t exist. Don’t discard a report because it differs from your beliefs and claim ‘bias’. I have worked and reworked this report to be as clear as possible. So, read all of it again with an open mind