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
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.
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.
In case you don’t want the detailed notes, here’s what you need to know:
- 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”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)