A great deal has been made in the last few years about the gender divide in the comics industry. Whether it’s the tired trope of the Fake Nerd Girl rearing its neckbearded head for the umpteenth time, the ongoing discussion of female representation on the page and in the industry, and the bizarre holdover belief shouted from the moldy basements of a nation that comics simply aren’t for girls, clearly it’s a discussion worth having. This is particularly true when you consider the fact that women in comics isn’t some kind of nouveau concept – there have been female creators and fans since the Golden Age – it’s just they haven’t gotten the kind of attention they deserve.
Thankfully that’s a cultural trend undergoing considerable change in 2014 – change typified by projects like She Makes Comics, an independent documentary film currently being jointly produced by Respect! Films and Sequart, the same people who brought us Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods and Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts. The project is currently in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign that director Marisa Stotter hopes will allow the production team to move forward with their next round of interviews and have the film in the can later in the year. I caught up with Marisa to ask her about the genesis of She Makes Comics and the role of women in the history of this storied medium.
Dork Shelf: Even today there seems to be an underlying sentiment that comics “aren’t for girls”. To what extent is this true, if at all, and why do you think the industry gravitated away from topics that interested female creators and fans?
Marisa Stotter: It’s weird to me how pervasive the idea still is, given the incontrovertible proof that women do read comics and even make up a significant portion of the readership – almost half, according to the most recent research. I think that the major comics publishers need to get with the times and conduct some market research themselves. They alienated female readers once before, at the dawn of the Silver Age when the industry focused heavily on superheroes at the expense of other genres that appealed more to women. They continued to do so over the years by establishing an industry practice of portraying women in sexist and often times misogynistic ways. And yet, women still read and continue to read male-targeted superhero stories, more so today than ever before. I don’t have a degree in business, but alienating potentially one half of your customers just seems like bad business, and I’m surprised that the industry still wrestles with this issue today.
DS: Sequart and Respect Films have worked together on several projects in the past. Have you worked with this particular team before, or is it unique to this project? What was the creative process that led to “She Makes Comics”?
MS: I started working with Respect Films late last year, and She Makes Comics is the first major project I’m producing with them. While some other projects were winding down, I had the chance to pitch an idea I’d had for quite some time. I’d been following the various online discussions about the state of women in the medium, and I thought that a film would be a great way to bring some of these issues into the mainstream of the comics world, where they deserve recognition.
DS: What challenges did you face in assembling the huge list of creators and fans the film will highlight? How did you get the word out and approach present and former industry professionals about being featured?
MS: Interestingly, it wasn’t too hard to create a list (which continues to grow each day!) of the people we want to interview. We are fortunate to have the expertise of Karen Green, comics and graphic novels librarian at Columbia and co-producer of the film.We’ve also had the assistance of the Women in Comics wiki’s curator. The only major challenge we’ve encountered so far is in finding women who worked in comics in the Golden and Silver Ages, when there were relatively few female pros with widespread recognition. Some of them have since passed, so we won’t be able to get as many first-hand accounts as we’d like. But we will certainly do our best to find other people who can fill in the gaps, so to speak.
Getting in touch with potential interviewees has also been a smooth process for us. We have many contacts from previous Respect films and Sequart, and most of the women and men we’ve contacted about She Makes Comics have been very receptive. Coordinating schedules and traveling is tough sometimes, but when is it not? With the money we raise through Kickstarter, we’ll be able to travel even more and film more people whose stories we want to capture.
DS: You have some exceptional incentives on Kickstarter! Did you leave the choice of what would be offered up to the contributing artists, or did you seek out artists willing to create specific subject matter?
MS: We had some specific ideas in mind for premium rewards and approached certain artists about them – the one-page comics illustrating the film, for example, were something we’d wanted to do from the very beginning. In other cases, we were contacted by people who offered us some rewards to put up. I’m still fielding emails from very generous people who want to donate premiums to our campaign!
DS: Kickstarter has really picked up steam lately as a crowdsourcing resource. What has your Kickstarter experience been like? Is it a tool you’d recommend to other aspiring filmmakers? What kind of feedback have you received through the lens of Kickstarter?
MS: This is my first time using Kickstarter as a project creator, and it’s been a whirlwind! From the initial excitement after we went live to the deluge of pledges and press requests we got in the subsequent days… it’s been thrilling, at times overwhelming, but overall a wonderful experience. I’d definitely recommend crowdfunding to creators of any kind who can find a passionate demographic for their work. My biggest piece of advice to anyone who’s thinking of going this route is to craft your campaign ahead of time. The momentum of a campaign will not sustain itself, so you need to constantly stoke the fire with updates and special rewards. Studying other successful (and failed) campaigns was very useful for us in creating our plan.
DS: Without giving too much away, to what extent will fans feature in “She Makes Comics”, and in what capacity?
MS: We’re definitely going to feature fandom and convention culture in the film. We are talking to creators and cosplayers who are prominent in the fan community, but we also want to hear from everyday fans. In addition to conducting interviews ourselves, we put out a call on our Kickstarter for short video submissions from fans in which they answer the question “What do you love about comics?” Our hope is to feature many of these videos as a show of solidarity among fans.
DS: You mention you’ve been shooting over the past year. To date, what has been your favourite story to come out of the project? Most notable interview? Most ridiculous travel experience?
MS: One of the most memorable moments for me is actually a very recent interview we did with writer Felicia Henderson. She was very candid and honest about her experiences as a woman of color writing for DC Comics. Felicia was brought on a few years ago to write Static Shock when it was first brought back, and her hiring provoked racist and sexist fan “outrage.” It was eye-opening to hear her talk first-hand about experiences that I’d mainly read about in blog posts online. I’m honored that Felicia chose to share her story with us.
Most ridiculous travel experience? Well, we haven’t traveled much yet, but Jordan and I did take a road trip down to San Diego for some interviews. Getting up at 5 am seemed ridiculous to me!
DS: By shedding light on the influence and contributions of female artists, writers, editors, and other creators in the comics industry, what do you think/hope the outcome will be within fandom and elsewhere?
MS: I hope that this film will accomplish two things. First, the film will raise awareness of the fact that women are a part of the medium, have been for decades, and will continue to be for many more to come. I think that the more people realize this and accept it, the less sexism and discrimination we’ll see in the industry and in fandom. I also hope that the film will inspire women and girls who may be interested in comics but are a bit intimidated. I like to think of She Makes Comics as a kind of welcome wagon in which women from every decade of the medium’s existence demonstrate that newcomers are not alone.
DS: Which is more important – inciting a new generation of girls to pick up comics, or changing the existing perception of women in comics within fandom as it exists today?
MS: I don’t think one is any more important than the other; both are issues worth addressing. But I think that changing the perception of women in comics and celebrating women’s involvement in the medium will show newcomers that they are not alone entering into this world, paving the way for a new generation to read and create comics.
DS: Assuming the film goes ahead as planned, where do you plan to shop it in terms of being seen by the public? Are you going to focus more on the convention-going crowd or are you hoping for a wider release to reach more audiences?
MS: We’ll definitely be bringing She Makes Comics to some conventions, including San Diego in July. But we also are looking into other distribution opportunities that will help us reach a broader audience. I think that our film is one that would interest anyone concerned about gender equality and social justice, even if they do not have a particular interest in comics. To us, this is an important subject within an enduring artistic and cultural institution, deserving of attention and recognition in our society at large.
Thanks to Marisa Stotter for taking the time to chat with us about her film. You can find out more about “She Makes Comics”, their outstanding team, and the amazing individuals contributing to their project, all at their Kickstarter page. Their campaign is running until midnight on Friday, March 7, and there are still plenty of incentives left for fans interested in helping support a living piece of comic history.