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How “Writing Women Friendly Comics” Panel turned into the “Bill Willingham Show” ( Part 1/3)

How “Writing Women Friendly Comics” Panel turned into the “Bill Willingham Show”
A Full Report on the Less Than Friendly Side of GenCon 2015
By Niki Messmore, M.S. Higher Education & Student Affairs

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [FAQs]

You know what’s the perfect way to moderate a “writing women friendly comics” panel? To have a man interrupt every woman that speaks and then center the conversation on himself.

At least, that’s how the “Writing Women Friendly Comics” panel at GenCon 2015 happened, with moderator Bill Willingham (writer and artist).

I know that if he is reading this, Bill Willingham may bristle at this introduction. He stated to The Mary Sue in an interview earlier this year that he bristles when conversations start off in an accusatory tone. Yet considering how he began Thursday’s panel, I think he can take it.

This is a report detailing the “Writing Women Friendly Comics” panel at GenCon, hosted by the Writer’s Symposium, and resulting in quite a bit of press. I attended the panel, took detailed notes, spoke to both Bill Willingham and Marc Tassin (head of Gen Con’s Writer Symposium), and conversed with folks on Twitter.

Oh yeah – and I’m also the woman who called out to Bill Willingham at the panel, interrupting him and pointing out his consistent interrupting.

GenCon 2015: "Writing Women Friendly Comics" panel

GenCon 2015: “Writing Women Friendly Comics” panel. L-R: Willingham, Ha, Pete, Zub, Roberson, Dawson

INTRODUCTION
This following report will cover the panel, provide background information on his this panel happened, Twitter talk, and will include some commentary. I hope to provide an account of what occurred with integrity, since there are quite a few folks who don’t believe the article The Mary Sue (TMS) published on Friday: “[UPDATED] Dissenting Opinions May Occur: Some Thoughts on Yesterday’s Troubling “Writing Women Friendly Comics” Panel”. I warn you, my report is over 6,000 words so I’ve broken it up into several posts (links will be included). But I didn’t want to leave anything out. If you like, I worked everything into headings by topic so if you are skimming you have an easier time of it.

If you have any questions about who I am, why I’m writing this, and why you can trust my word, see the FAQs.

Disclaimer: “Quotation marks” = direct quote. Ellipses (…) mean I couldn’t write fast enough to capture everything and I’ll put the quote in context. Since I was taking notes, I was not able to notate everything that was said but I do stand behind what I captured. Placing something in [brackets] means I, as the writer, add in context to the quote. As much as necessary I include hyperlinks to back up my references and give the reader the option to do further research. When there is a large amount of dialogue, I’ll write it out in a more-so script format that journalistic/research piece because this is a blog and already this report is long enough. Finally, I separate my commentary from the account to provide the reader with an breakdown of all the going-ons; it gets sassier as the report continues.

SYNOPSIS
In case you don’t want the detailed notes, here’s what you need to know:

  1. Bill Willingham (comic writer and artist) worked with the Writer’s Symposium at Gen Con to establish a comic writing track, and he organized a panel called “Writing Women-Friendly Comics”
  2. The description for the panel gets published in May. It is written in such a way that it’s clear that males are the intended audience for the panel. When women are described akin to aliens (what comics do they like and it is even possible to please them?) and the text reads “Are you damned no matter what you do? Is it a good idea to try to write to a specific readership?”, well that is clearly not the way you would write if you expected women to attend. Following it up with a snippy “Note that this isn’t a Women in Comics panel. Dissenting opinions may occur” meant Willingham was immediately on the defensive and this women-friendly panel ain’t sounding friendly to women.
  3. Also in May, it is revealed that all the panelists are male. The Mary Sue runs an article and folks are rightfully outraged. Women creators volunteer as tribute and the panel is integrated.
  4. The panel occurs at Gen Con. The panelists are lovely but Bill Willingham as moderator has a clear agenda. He does not want to acknowledge that identity makes an impact when telling a story and he consistently interrupts women on the panel and in the audience.
  5. I called him out towards the end, interrupting him from the crowd. Another woman did as well. Bill is very displeased and doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong.
  6. The next day I speak to Bill. He’s “said all that needs to be said” yesterday and doesn’t believe he did anything wrong. He follows up a day or so later tweeting his official response on the panel, and it’s a YouTube video of dancing baby girls.
  7. I also spoke the organizer of the Writer’s Symposium to express my concern and learn how this oversight happened. It was a great conversation and this report will go further into it.
  8. I and other folks who were there tweeted about it; Gail Simone and others picked up on it (a Storify of tweets I sampled can be found here; quite a bit of outrage). The Mary Sue wrote a follow-up and quoted attendees along with reactions from the two women panelists. At least one bookstore, Tubby & Coo’s in New Orleans, have boycotted Fables due to Willingham’s mad mod skills (mad, as in not cool but he literally made folks mad).

BACKGROUND – BEFORE GENCON
On July 23, 2015, The Mary Sue (TMS) broke the story that GenCon (North America’s largest gaming convention) would be hosting a panel titled “Writing Women Friendly Comics” and that the panel was all men. This was to be hosted by the “Writer’s Symposium” (WS), which is a speculative fiction writing conferences in its 21st year and sponsors over 140 hours of programming at GenCon. They have different tracks and this year was the first “coming writing track”.

Considering that The Mary Sue and others had written articles on Denver Comic Con’s “Women in Comics” panel with all men in May 2015, the all-male panel was certainly a *headdesk* moment. However, that same day, Marc Tassin (the one-person show of WS), stated that TMS’s article had multiple women reach out to him to be on the panel. Hooray!

NEXT – Part 2

PS: I know this is a fairly long blog series, so please just listen to Marko from Saga (Vaughn/Staples – aka they created one of the greatest series of all time)

saga please keep reading

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [FAQs]

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#BillFriendlyComics – Panel Transcript with notes (2/3)

Part 2/3 covering “Writing Women Friendly Comics” panel at 2015 Gen Con, with moderator Bill Willingham.

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [FAQs]

THE PANEL
Featured on the panel were (in order of seating, L-R):
Bill Willingham (Fables), moderator and organizer
Gene Ha (Top Ten), panelist
Alina Pete (Weregeek), panelist
Jim Zub (Samurai Jack), panelist
Chris Roberson (iZombie), panelist
Delilah S. Dawson (Monkeybrain Comics, Hit), panelist

Identity, especially when speaking on identity issues, matters. Identity influences our experiences and perspectives. Therefore, based on self-identifying statements, bios, and observations (forgive me if I am incorrect and notify me to make corrections), the panel consisted of three White males, one Asian American man and son of Korean immigrants, one multiracial woman of Native American and White descent, and one White woman. No identifying information on sexuality, gender identity, disability, or class were provided.

WRITING WOMEN FRIENDLY COMICS – THE PANEL HAPPENS!
I arrived to the panel apprehensive but in good spirits. I chatted with some other women in line and found out that most of us had heard of the panel thanks to The Mary Sue (TMS). In fact, according to Tassin, that article increased registration for the Writer’s Symposium (WS). While I was indeed apprehensive due to how the panel was originally set-up, I felt hopeful since WS had accepted new women panelists so openly.

It starts.

The first thing that moderator Bill Willingham said?

“This is NOT a women in comics panel…A certain rabble-rousing website [The Mary Sue] with no journalistic integrity whatsoever tried to redefine this as a women in comics panel…”

I was taken aback. What a sharp-tongued remark. This was certainly not a friendly way to begin a panel discussing women friendly comics. It’s even more surprising because although TMS compared this panel to Denver Comic Con’s “Women in Comics” panel they never called it that. Also ironic is Willingham provided an interview to TMS just a few months ago. I suppose TMS had integrity when they were giving positive publicity.

The rest of the panelists introduced themselves. Zub even said “when I heard there were not going to be any women on this panel I wanted to say ‘let’s not have it” and he was glad that there were now women panelists.

After introductions, Willingham followed up with stating that “I wrote this without trying to appeal to any audience…” and that he was here because he’s “been accused” of writing women friendly comics; providing rationale for his presence. He asked panelists if they try to appeal to different audiences in their work.

Roberson stated “Was iZombie designed to be women friendly? I kind of had an agenda. I’m quietly an angry progressive. I was intentional in constructing a cast that was representational of America…It was a little intentional…there are no straight white men [in my story].” He spoke a bit more on that.

Willingham moved from that question to addressing the audience. He asked for three women of what makes women friendly comics. Woohoo! What a kickass way to start things off! Women in the audience responded that they like comics where the woman has agency, where she’s not just a sidekick, and more.

Willingham followed up with audience members, seeking to figure out what exactly makes a comic woman friendly. He stated that he wanted “to construct the panel because that was the topic at the time, which is women friendly comics…”

Zub added how there are similar problems with kid’s books as well, and gave the example of how boys are taught not to empathize with female protagonists and that this carries on in their readings.

Wllingham: “…so are the rules [to writing women friendly comics]”?”

Zub: “I don’t think there should be rules. We shouldn’t pander – just not sexualize people [and do stereotypes].”

Willingham followed up by asking Delilah S. Dawson what was women friendly for her. She spoke of loving Wonder Woman as a kid and later as an adult walking into a comic store. She described her experience of scanning the comic book covers and how the featured women were over-sexualized. “Spiderwoman not for me…Wonder Woman not for me…and then I saw Saga with a woman breast feeding and said THATS FOR ME!” Essentially, the way that women in comics were over-sexualized was a major turn-off.

Willingham pushed back at Dawson, interrupting and saying “Are you representative of all women?”

Dawson seemed a bit surprised at that comment and stated “No! I said it was right for me.”

Then Willingham says that “yes, that’s [women] a broad demographic”

…and then Willingham added an anecdote of how a couple women enjoyed more of his erotica work; presumably working to argue that over-sexualized female characters can be appreciated by women.

Commentary: BILL. REALLY? So he speaks over a woman’s experience of disliking how so many comic characters are over-sexualized by throwing out a minor anecdote of how some women actually like that sort of thing. This is a covert act of sexism, to discount a marginalized perspective by overshadowing it with an anecdote of how ‘but actually you’re wrong.” Bill, if you wanted a panel on “Writing Women Friendly Comics” maybe you shouldn’t, ya know, actually discount what the women on your panel say and actually, ya know, LISTEN TO THEM.

Thank goodness for Roberson, who continued the panel stating “…this is why it goes back to the representation thing. I am a straight white middle-class man. I want to make the writing representative of the world but I don’t want to speak for other people.”

Commentary: This is a GREAT RESPONSE! Nice male allying action, Chris Roberson.

Willingham doesn’t get it. “Why can’t you speak for people?”

Ha jumps in, providing an example of the film “City of God” which is an Indian film and takes place in India. It was well-received in India but American audiences became too conscious of it and didn’t like the negative portrayals of India. In an attempt to support India, they denounced the film and encouraged people not to see it. Meanwhile, Indians in India were confused and wanted overseas audiences to watch the film and support its revenue. Ha explains that this is an example of why you cannot speak for other people – you don’t actually understand what they want or need.

Zub adds on. “You have to be careful, not to speak for other people…” His Japanese comic “Wayward” takes place in Japan. They work to maintain social consciousness of their story. Zub’s co-writer is raising a family there and they have a scholar to read over and give feedback. Zub states “there is value that we can tell a good character story” and describes how Japan has embraced the book – “and it’s not like they don’t have comic books.”

But “…we used to treasure outside views”, responds Willingham.

Alina Pete speaks up and comments on Warpath, Marvel’s Native American hero, and his very stereotypical outfit. She adds that “if you’re part of an underrepresented group you feel happy to at least be included, even if it is done poorly” and discusses the concept of appropriation (see: cultural appropriation). She states that appropriation is “bad”.

“Why?” Willingham is curious why appropriation is bad.

Pete gives the example of a writing about a Lithuanian ditch digger. She could write about a character who is a Lithuanian ditch digger, but she doesn’t know that experience. It’s very likely that a real Lithuanian ditch digger would read it and say ‘that’s not my experience’ and a slim chance that they would think it’s like their experience. That is why appropriation is bad (and speaks to the other panelists describing why you can’t try to speak for other people).

Willingham cuts in again, asking if people knew who wrote “Arabian Nights”. The panelists respond it was a French guy and Willingham is gleeful and says yes, a French guy. He describes how great the story is and that we have this story because of an outside voice.

Commentary: Bill incorporates white supremacy here – as in, he is working to uphold white voices above people of color by using this example to allow for white voices to tell the stories of people of color. Check your facts, Bill. Arabian Nights was NOT WRITTEN BY A FRENCH AUTHOR. It was translated by Antoine Galland into French from Syrian and other texts. Galland is not a trustworthy translator, as he added several tales not included in the original text and his Arabian Nights includes negative portrayals of Arab society and Africans that colored the lens through which Europe saw the people of these lands. So quite honestly, this is actually a great example of why people should not write about the experiences of people/societies with different identities without a great deal of research (if they write it at all) because it perpetuates systemic oppression. Great job, Bill!

However, then the BEST PART OF THE ENTIRE PANEL HAPPENED.

#LikeABoss

#LikeABoss (ps: so sorry I have an iPhone 4 and the photo is fuzzy!)

Willingham finished up his lecture with “Is appropriation bad? I bristle at that.” He goes on to say that if it was bad, “the sin of bad writing” will make sure it is not successful, evoking a capitalist argument.

Dawson jumped in. “…I don’t want to be that person but that’s because you’re a white dude! You have privilege.”

Commentary: Yesssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss. The entire audience responded with enthusiasm – up to this point there were many frustrated and angry faces.

Sputtering, Willingham responds. “I don’t think being a white dude is a crime!”

Dawson: “I don’t think so either – I married one!”

Commentary: Omg yesssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss

Willingham: And I don’t think it’s [being a white male] a disqualification!

Willimgham then gave an example of a white dude anthropologist who learned Mayan things or something. To be honest, he rambled. The audience was mostly full of confused faces. Essentially he was comparing a white male anthropologist and a young Mayan girl, the former speaks English and the latter does not. If the white male anthropologist writes a book on it, that makes him an authority because the girl can’t write on it.  Willingham said “And we have someone who can’t really speak to it, who is the authoritarian here?”

Commentary: The Mayan girl. Duh. An outsider can never truly know the experience of a situation if they cannot, have not experienced it. Bill is really on some white supremacist bullshit if he thinks that a white man can write better on an indigenous society than the indigenous people themselves.

Zub spoke next to the concept of listening to other voices outside one’s identity. He said his wife really helped him grow to understand women’s issues and experiences. “My wife has been giving me insight…she says ‘please give me the confidence of a mediocre white man.’ I look at her and think god dammit, you’re so right. I do feel with a story I can write well but I take care so I don’t assume my opinion takes precedent.”

Commentary:  PRAISE BE TO JIM ZUB’S WIFE! “Please give me the confidence of a mediocre white man”, indeed! Perhaps after this panel it should be changed to “Please give me the confidence of Bill Willingham”. And way to go, Jim, listening to women’s opinions and taking it to heart!

“I don’t like the generalization!” Willingham is unhappy with Zub’s comment. Things are feeling tenser by the minute, with each interruption and denial of experiences and perspectives that Willingham delivers.

Pete responds to Willingham by sharing her story. Pete: “I am half native and my sister is fully. We have different experiences due to color. I walk into a store [and everything’s fine]…and she gets security on her.” Pete goes on to describe how people of color can’t talk back to authority, mentions police brutality, and other examples.

Commentary: All the love to Alina Pete for further introducing intersectionality to the conversation and sharing her experiences! I was very impressed that she spoke on Native American issues and also issues faced by other racial minority groups. It is important that this happens, for too often discussions on women usually equate to leaving all other marginalized identities out of the scenario. Again, this is why representation matters. A person with a multiracial background can speak to their experience and are also more likely to talk about race issues than a white person (note: this is a burden an unfair to them at the same time to always have to be the person to bring race up).

Then, the most “what the fuck” comment occurs:

Willingham: But “the most homogenous white group is the Appalachian and why aren’t they running the place?”

Bill, stop. This is getting embarrassing.

Commentary: What Willingham attempts to argue here is that the people of Appalachia are all white (which actually isn’t completely true) and are also in extreme poverty. So, he’s arguing that if white people are so supreme, then why are white people in Appalachia without power? Oh Bill.  This is almost a comical lack of critical thinking. There’s this thing called intersectionality, as in a human being has many intersecting identities. Race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status – these and more all affect how human beings move through the world. White people can totally have white privilege and experience discrimination due to poverty or other issues. People who perpetuate white supremacy enjoy using the people of Appalachia as a strawman argument against the concept of white privilege. But again, here is Bill trying to speak for a group that he’s not a member of – the people of Appalachia are not asking to be your strawman argument, Bill.

Anyways, that Appalachia comment got the audience very riled up – there were annoyed murmurs and rustles as folks turned in the seat to see how others were reacting. A half-dozen audience members raise their hands in the air.

Roberson speaks up, describing him as progressive, anti-racist, and more. He said “and while I am not overtly sexist I did realize I wrote male protagonists with last name and women always first name [i.e., more respect is given to males and women are treated as ‘girls’]….And I found I would do it in comic panels…” Roberson worked to share the concept that privilege limits our lens and a person can perpetuate sexism without consciously realizing it.  He stated, amidst his explanation of his privilege, “I am the product of a sexist society.”

Commentary: Um hai Chris Roberson, many shiny gold ally stars for you. That is a TERRIFIC RESPONSE! It’s wonderful when men help to explain the concept of male privilege and sexism to other men, as people with privilege statistically listen better when other privileged folks discuss oppression. Yes, we are ALL products of a sexist society. When we recognize that, we gain awareness and we can work on taking sexist actions and language out of our day-to-day lives and work towards making society less sexist.

Now Willingham takes questions.

There were many hands up and Willingham selects a younger white male audience member standing in the back. There are murmurs of dissent – after this people were rather outraged that the first person Willingham allows questions at a “writing women friendly comics” panel is a white male. LoLz.

The audience member defers; he clearly didn’t think he had it right. Willingham responds that overall he was there first. As an observer at the panel, I’m honestly not quite sure but I do think it speaks something that the audience member recognized that perhaps he was not actually the first one to raise his hand. Who knows.

This audience member? Amazing.

He states that he identifies as a person who is disabled and that he is on the autism spectrum, among other things. He stated “historically the disabled community has not been able to speak for themselves…and I think that speaks to how communities – disabled, women, black, [etc] and how we feel. We’ve seen it done over and over how it’s done in a paternalistic way.” The audience member really is trying to support this idea that people with privilege need to question whether they are the best ones to write stories involving marginalized groups. Fantastic! Issues of disability and ableism are far too often overlooked in discussions on media representation.

Zub follows up with “there are so few times to tell these stories” and we don’t give them to the communities to tell them. He provides an example of when he was asked to pitch a black superhero (he wouldn’t say who) writing project and didn’t understand why he was asked and questioned the publisher.

Willingham: “Should we get the best female that’s available or just any female…?” He’s clearly struggling with the idea that identity plays a role in who and how stories are written. In fact, the whole panel feels, at this point, like it is meant to personally educate Willingham on how to write women friendly comics.

Ha talks about writing a story on two white sisters and how he did his due diligence by talking to the daughters of friends to try to get into the mindset.

Commentary: It is awesome that the panelists are trying to educate Willingham on these issues. It just sucks that this panel Willingham created is so self-serving, as he agitates the audience.

Now Willingham asks for a second audience question. He calls on a woman in a white necklace.

Audience member: “Going back to misappropriation, I too am in a tribe and am light skinned. Their experiences are far different…” She speaks about how her grandmother worked to ‘pass’ as light-skinned and Bill interrupts her.

Willingham: “I know there have been blacks trying to pass as white did that happen to Native Americans too?”

Commentary: Bill, it’s GREAT that you want to know that. Really. But there’s this thing called Google. This woman of color is not here to educate you.

Audience member responds to his question and continues. “We have a lot of white people who follow our tribes and exotify us—”

Willingham: “sure, saying they are 1/32…”

Commentary: At this point, pretty much everyone in the audience wanted Bill to shut up. A moderator is meant to moderate the panelists and ask questions, not talk over 50% of the time, interrupt the panelists (definitely the women; the men as well but not as much) and the women audience members. A moderator is not meant to ask questions and then answer all of them too. SIGH.

Audience member discusses all the “wise Indian” articles and memes that go around the internet and how they were written by white women trying to win contests in Reader’s Digest.

Pete talks, seconding this concept.

Audience member: “…there’s a lot of disingenuous when white people write our stories…I’m fine with white people writing Native American stories if they reach out to the tribe…”

Willingham: “There’s not a thing I disagree with that…” and then he goes on to talk about a story he wrote; something about a Chinese person.

Commentary: Honestly I and the rest of the audience were confused. I could not keep track of Bill’s anecdote. I really feel like he just was trying to give examples of how he as a white male could write any type of story and it would work, and he almost came off as desperate to gain approval for this. Like he wanted the rest of us to be “Why, of course, Bill! You can write anything! You’re so great! It’s totally not racist or sexist, the things you do!” Give me the confidence of a mediocre white man, indeed!

Audience member talks about how people can do research.

Willingham: “…that’s what they did, was read..”

Pete: “Wouldn’t it be better if they read that up and then fostered that author?”

Commentary: Yesssssssssssssssssssss Alina Pete! That’s the big problem in media. Privileged identities think they can play Pokemon and “Catch ‘em All!”, i.e. catch all these exotic and different experiences and then write about them – and PROFIT FROM THEM. Our society would be much better if we strove for authenticity and supported people with marginalized identities on how to foster their talent so they can tell their own stories, instead of someone with no personal understanding distorting experiences in their work.

Willingham: “No other person would have written that story.”

What Willingham said is an incorrect answer. Not "lying" perchance, but I bet Saga's Lying Cat would have something to say...

What Willingham said is an incorrect answer. Not “lying” perchance, but I bet Saga’s Lying Cat would have something to say…

Commentary: At this point, Willingham is truly pushing an agenda that promotes privilege. He desperately wants to prove that his methods are excellent and require no questioning. It’s quite sexist and racist of Willingham to presume that no other person could have written that story. Having a white penis doesn’t make you God, Bill. You can’t tell all the stories. You have a limited perspective as a white cis male human in a society that values white people, men, and cisgender folks above others. And that’s okay. We all have perspectives that are limited to our experiences and identities. Just stop trying to appropriate the stories and experiences of other people without critical thought.

Wllingham approved the third and final question. He selected the woman behind me who I had been chatting with in line.

The third audience member follow’s up on Willingham’s previous question earlier in the panel of whether it was better to hire good female writers or just any female writer. There is a lot of sexism within that question/statement that Willingham stated (the notion that only a few good female writers exist when it’s more likely that Willingham’s lens is sexist and he doesn’t give credit to many people outside his perspective), and while she doesn’t explicitly say that, she does elaborate that in this day and age there are plenty of women writers.

Willingam interrupts. Again.

I SPEAK UP. I had been growing incensed at Willingham’s behavior this entire panel.

I called out “Could you please let her speak? You keep interrupting the women on the panel and in the audience!”

Willingham looks flabbergasted. Hard to say why. Perhaps it was because I was interrupting him, or questioning his authority, or honestly surprising him because he didn’t realize his behavior this panel was awful. Or maybe a mix of all of this.

Willingham: “I respectfully disagree.”

He goes on to argue against my assertion and then just looks at me (I sat third row, on the end, almost directly in front of him) and goes “Really?” with a squint and scrunched-up face. I respond affirmatively. Willingham just looks angry. I’m not quite sure what else he said but Gene Ha began to talk.

However, as Ha begins to speak, Willingham interrupts him.

The audience is quite unhappy.

A woman in the second row on the opposite side of me shouts to point out that Willingham keeps “interrupting women, and now minorities!” In my account on The Mary Sue, I mistakenly identified her as a woman of color, but I realize I was looking at the woman sitting near her (hard to see from my perspective. This woman has identified herself on Twitter and in The Mary Sue comments as Jamie Isfeld (@jamieisfeld), a writer for Winnipeg is Nerdy.

Willingham’s ‘aghast’ face is quite comical when you realize the irony of him hating to be interrupted.

Ha continues what he was trying to talk about – that one needs to talk to the women in the communities to gain insight.

Willingham still isn’t buying it. He challenges Ha’s ideas by saying …” but what if I really wanted you but nope, you’re not qualified” due to Ha’s identity, and giving an example of writing about a military experience.

Ha has a really beautiful moment where he discusses how he could interview someone at a deep level to try to gain all the insight he could on how to write a character from a different background, or that person with the insight could write the story themselves.

Willingham provides another example – this time it was on a WWII Ice Carrier and what if he found it, does he just get someone else to write about it?

Reactions in the room...

Reactions in the room…

Reactions in the room...

Reactions in the room…

Reactions in the room...

Reactions in the room…

Commentary: Willingham is like a pitbull, clinging relentlessly to his tired ideals. Except, pitbulls are cuddly and not sexist or racist.

Ha responds but I honestly tune out at this time. Willingham is just desperately seeking a stamp of approval to do whatever he wants.

All of a sudden, time is up. Willingham ends the panel. The audience grumbles. Roberson quickly shouts out tips for writing and Pete informs the audience to forget publishers and the option to self-publish exists.

The panel didn’t go as expected, but the rest of the panelists: you were wonderful, and thank you.

deadpool awesome

~FIN~

NEXT – Part 3

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [FAQs]

#BillFriendlyComics: Follow-up (3/3)

Part 3/3 covering “Writing Women Friendly Comics” panel at 2015 Gen Con, with moderator Bill Willingham.

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [FAQs]

FOLLOW-UP
I tweeted about my experience the following morning (Friday) and began working on this blog post. I gave a quote to The Mary Sue, but I was not comfortable with writing a report documenting this panel without first speaking to Willingham or The Writer’s Symposium. I saw via a quick internet search that the former has previous documented issues with women and minorities via his comics and public talks. Clearly Willingham’s past issues haven’t affected his popularity. It’s likely that this report won’t do that either. However, if I am going to publicly decry someone on the internet, I like to provide an opportunity for meaningful dialogue first. My ultimate goal is to work towards ending sexism, and I have a better chance of doing that if I dialogue first with the people responsible for creating a sexist environment.

bill willingham

FOLLOW-UP WITH BILL WILLINGHAM
I attended another “Writer’s Symposium” panel on comic writing with Willingham moderating. It was remarkable how much more subdued he was, although he still took up most of the air time. Bill, you just need to stop moderating. You’re not very good at it – you enjoy giving your own opinion too much.

I waited to speak to Willingham after the panel, even giving him directions to the restaurant that Zub was telling him about; they were going to have dinner that night.

I greeted Willingham (I was the last person waiting at that point; his assistant was the only other person there) and asked if he wanted to have a dialogue on what happened at the panel yesterday.

“I think I said all that needs to be said.”

I try to talk to him, because it was a pretty dismissive response that he gave me.

Willingham speaks a bit more about the panel.

“…That thing about me interrupting people was hogwash!”

I allow myself a small smile. The day before I was dressed in regular clothes. Today I was dressed in a cloak and fortune telling outfit. I guess he didn’t recognize me?

“That was me, actually.”

He pauses (surprise!), and then proceeds to say “Do you get how moderating works? You have to interrupt people to make sure they don’t dialogue too long.”

“Yes, but you really weren’t letting people talk.” I decline to ask Willingham if he actually understands how moderating works, because observation shows he clearly doesn’t. I also think about the linguistic research that shows how men perceive women to speak more often than they actually do and how men are prone to interrupt women in order to demonstrate power and status (read up on it: source1, source2, source3…).

Willingham responds by saying he really didn’t interrupt or talk that much.

“I kept track of how much you spoke”; I took careful notes.

This conversation is going nowhere. He doesn’t believe he did anything wrong. Ah, to have the confidence of a mediocre white man

I don’t know how to end this experience. But I hold out hope. “Okay, well I just wanted to offer the chance to talk.”

“I think I said all that needs to be said.”

Yep, you sure did. You sure did.

We parted ways. Hey, at least I tried.

genconWS

 

 

 

FOLLOW-UP WITH MARC TASSIN, ORGANIZER OF GENCON’S WRITER SYMPOSIUM
The day of the panel (Thursday) I had tweeted to GenCon’s Writer Symposium (WS) with a question on if I could arrange to talk to Bill Willingham. Tassin responded and gave a contact email so I could share my concerns with him. I emailed Friday morning and then Friday afternoon, after I spoke to Willingham, I approached Marc at the WS tables.

He greeted me warmly and invited to me sit with him at the back of the open author’s room to speak privately. I appreciate him doing this – critique is not easy to swallow and as a man, I wonder if he was worried at me being an angry or hysterical woman. Of course, I was apprehensive about meeting him as well – how could I be sure he, as a man who was in charge of putting Willingham on that stage, support my concerns and work to make sure they don’t happen again?

We had a promising forty-five minute talk. Here are some take-aways, separated by subject for the folks who don’t have time to read this incredibly long report and just need to scan:

Who is Marc Tassin? What is the Writer’s Symposium?
Tassin is a one-person show. This was his 4th year organizing GenCon’s The Writer’s Symposum.

Why is GenCon even hosting a comic writing track? That’s for Comic Con!
Tassin is a fan of comics but his realm is fiction writing, as that’s what WS is really geared towards. Somehow he got connected to Bill Willingham, who agreed to be on a WS panel. Willingham was enthused about a comic writing track and agreed to plan it. Tassin took the opportunity of Willingham’s perceived expertise (I say perceived because while he’s a popular comic creator he was not an expert on the panel we are discussing). Essentially, it was delegated to Willingham. However, Tassin said “the buck stops with me” and takes full responsibility as the person in charge for what happened.

Why a “Writing Women Friendly Comics” Panel? And why no women??
If you read the beginning of my account of the panel, you saw that Willingham wanted to do the topic because women in comics was a trending item at the time. Tassin spoke to me about how he envisions the diversity of WS to grow every year so it becomes a richer experience as it provides many different perspectives.

Tassin wrote about the process for selection panelists on his website addressing the all-male panel. Essentially, they had about 50/50 invites to male and female creators. The men who received the invitations responded affirmatively but the women did not. I addressed the issue that only four women were invited and one can’t only ask the busiest women in comics. Tassin stated that since the male panelists had Eisner awards, he wanted all the panelists to be at that level in their career, speaking to experience of how difficult it can be to be relatively inexperienced on a panel compared to the other panelists.

In regards to the confusion that Gail Simone expressed on Twitter, Tassin stated that it was a third party who asked her at a convention and she stated that she couldn’t do the panel.

Tassin decided not to cancel the panel when there were no women because he thought the topic was important and hoped if there was audience participation it could work.

From how I see it, Willingham asked people he knew well (thanks to Twitter and in person, I’ve seen him engage with at least 2 of the male panelists in a friendly manner) and that’s probably why those folks said “yes”. I’m going out on a limb and thinking that perhaps Willingham doesn’t know many female creators and if so, it’s not a friendly relationship. If you only extend invitations to your friends, you’re only going to get a group of people you know – and since humans generally interact with people that have similar identities, that’s why there is not a lot of diversity on panels organized like this.

For the record, Tassin stated that he tried to get the word out and ask people for suggestions so he can invite people who he is unfamiliar with, so please send WS many suggestions for the future.

ANALYSIS OF THE PANEL
This panel really didn’t stand a chance. The contributions of the panelists were amazing and beautiful, but Willingham was the wrong person for the job. Although he is praised for writing women, he has a poor history of interacting with them at cons – and frankly, Fables has quite a bit of critique for its portrayals of women as well.

Then there’s the panel itself. It’s described as:
–    Short Description: What is a comic for women? Is it a good idea to try to write to a specific readership? Is it even possible? Explore this topic with our distinguished guests.

–    Long Description: Writing women friendly comics has gathered a a lot of attention in comics these days, and it’s become a source of much debate and controversy. What is a comic for women? Are you damned no matter what you do? Is it a good idea to try to write to a specific readership? Is it even possible? Note that this isn’t a Women in Comics panel. Dissenting opinions may occur.

Straight off the bat, this description is NOT friendly. It’s written to a male audience – take note at how it speaks of women like they are aliens. Clearly, Willingham’s audience that he had in mind were male aspiring comic creators; hammering down the irony of the description wondering if something should be geared towards a specific audience. Then the “Are you damned no matter what you do?” signifies that the hackles are already raised on the part of the organizer – it indicates frustration and bitterness at the idea that women just can’t accept what they have and move on.

The fuel behind “this isn’t a women in comics” panel is laughable. If you are discussing women friendly comics then you ARE discussing women in comics. Comics that are friendly to women feature well-written women characters and one typically finds that women writers and artists do a great job at capturing female characters. The attempt to separate themselves from the scandal at Denver Comic Con is misguided.

Finally – dissenting opinions may occur? Yup, this panel sounds hella friendly to all the ladiez.

SO WHAT NOW?
GenCon’s Writer’s Symposium
I feel confident after my discussion with Marc Tassin, the organizer behind GenCon’s The Writer’s Symposium, that he took my concerns seriously. We spoke about how to work to improve the process of finding creators and I believe that next year will be better. I recommend that everyone who wants a diverse line-up at future events email Contact@genconwriters.com with suggestions. Tassin is a one-person show and we can never expect one person to find a way to create something that speaks to everyone. GS needs support by having recommendations sent their way. I hope that Tassin works to find an advisory team who can provide solid council and ideas, as ‘many hands make light work’.

Bill Willingham
Considering that Willingham’s “official response” to all of this was to call it “hysteria” on Twitter and show a picture of twin baby girls giggling and dancing, I don’t think he gives a damn about our opinions.

So, I encourage you to make him give a damn.

  1. Tweet him using #BillFriendlyComics (since that panel was really just about comics that were friendly to him)
  2. Email the coordinators for any convention that invites him to speak and request that they not provide Willingham yet another forum to espouse views that discredit women and other minorities.
  3. And money talks. I don’t want to advocate for a boycott of his products (for complicated reasons that can be read in the FAQs) but I do advise that you recognize your options.
  4. Tell the folks running conventions to invite folks from diverse backgrounds onto their panels – even if (and especially!) if the panel is not about a specific identity/diversity talk! There are folks who are putting together lists to make your search easier! Check out Comic Book Women, the Cartoonist of Color database, or Prism Comic’s database of LGBTQ+ creators! 🙂

QUESTIONS, COMMENTS, AND CONCERNS

Feel free to leave them in the comments. Don’t be surprised if I take 2 weeks to respond, as my schedule is intense this month. Please be respectful. Any rudeness, threats, or more will result in a screenshot, deletion, and (depending on the severity), reported to the FBI’s local office. Please don’t be a dick, and remember that I am an actual human being. It seems when women talk about sexism on the internet, people think it’s cool to forget what it means to be human and engage in greater savagery than beasts. So be cool, folks.

Also, see FAQs for further wonderings about who I am and why I wrote this.

deadpool cool story bro

Thanks, Wade…

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[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [FAQs]

#BillFriendlyComics: FAQs for the “Writing Women-Friendly Comics” Critique

Series covering “Writing Women Friendly Comics” panel at 2015 Gen Con, with moderator Bill Willingham.

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [FAQs]

FAQs

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

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[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [FAQs]

bill