Fanboy Comics’ Managing Editor Barbra Dillon introduced artist Agnes Garbowska (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, My Little Pony: Friends Forever, Fathom: Kiani), artist Cat Staggs (Topps’ Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith sketch cards, Orphan Black) and writer/artist Taki Soma (Rapture, Bitch Planet, The United States of Murder Inc.), who were participants in the “Celebrating Women in Comics” panel Sunday morning at the Long Beach Comic Expo.
To start the hour off, Dillon asked the panelists if they identified themselves as women artists or creators. All of the women agreed that they saw themselves as creators. Soma stated that it was “good to see more women in comics” today. Staggs said that, unfortunately, the camaraderie among female creators tends to be a double-edged sword and either falls to catty behavior or a genuine sense of community. Soma added that in Portland, Oregon, where she resides, there are several creator groups, while Garbowska promoted the use of the internet where creators could connect and they could find valuable resources and networking opportunities.
What led the creators to get their start in the comic book industry? For Soma, she was attending a con and shared her portfolio, which led to her first job. Staggs leveraged a severance package from a job she left to establish herself as an artist, and then she networked online. Garbowska was on a path to a career in management when she attended a comic convention. She realized that she didn’t care for animating; however being an artist did. She went back to school to hone her skills. Her first job was Black Bastard. Each agreed that transitioning to creating full-time was scary and required hard work, but well worth it.
Dillon asked how important critique and criticism has been for each creator. “Don’t take it personally,” Garbowska said about going through a portfolio review. She advised to develop a thick skin. Staggs agreed. She said it is tough, but stated that creators do not have to take everything to heart; however, she did reveal that probably 80-90% of a critique is accurate. Soma accepts feedback because she and the other creators agreed that reviews are useful.
Marketing is a crucial facet for the creator. Garbowska revealed that she markets herself as a brand and when she has a creator-owned project, she will market it heavily; however, for established licensed products, she’ll make announcements on her various social media tools, but leaves the bulk of the marketing to the publisher. Her strategy is to filter her news and activities to her fan page, as well as Twitter. Garbowska is a proponent of linking accounts. Staggs also markets her creator-owned projects because she owns it and it is on her to get the word out. She typically uses Twitter and will update her website during the comic convention season. Soma says there is a fan page; however, like Staggs, she often uses Twitter because it is a quick update and does not eat up too much of her available time. All were in agreement that with social media outlets it is critical to keep negativity to a minimum and focus on the positive.
Dillon asked the women their thoughts about diversity and whether we have achieved it. Soma stated she thought the industry is definitely working towards it. She provided the example of The United States of Murder Inc. in which she shaded everyone the same color and expected she would receive negative comments – she didn’t. Staggs shared that she makes a conscious effort to include diversity, especially in projects she is working on in which the race/gender has not be identified in the script. Garbowska said that portraying diversity in My Little Pony franchise where all the ponies are pastel is difficult. Generally, the women were seeing more diversity and acceptance of race, gender, and sexual orientation.
What other issues did the panelists feel strongly about? In response to the boy who committed suicide after being bullied about his affinity to My Little Pony, Staggs said she illustrated her wife’s short story about a boy who liked Wonder Woman, but he was ridiculed for it; however, when the superheroine shows up and gives the boy a kiss, the boy was suddenly the coolest kid to all his friends. Garbowska said that when she attended New York Comic Con, she was on a panel that explored the world of bronies. During that panel, she pointedly asked the audience, “What if you replace ponies with turtles?”
The last topic touched on was the concept of labels. Garbowska mentioned that she had experienced the backlash of “All-Ages” comics versus “Independent” comics, where the former threw fans off. She explained that adults think it is kids comics and kids thinks the comics are for young, child-age-focused comics. To her, the “All-Ages” label is the kiss of death. Staggs also cautioned the use of labels, but believes that the industry is at that awkward point where labels are still needed, but that we were definitely moving away from them. Kind of like “women artists” versus “creators.”