Host Leonard Sultana starts off on the right note by joking about being a middle-age, cis “bloke” hosting a panel on female comic creators.
Sonia Leong, is a manga artist who has extended into franchise such as Doctor Who too. Laura Howell is a cartoonist for The Beano, but previously drew BOOM! Studios’ Regular Show and Uncle Grandpa titles. Anna Morozova has been drawing for 2000 AD, as well as freelancing as a commercial artist too.
Why then do we still have female centric panels at comic-cons in this day and age? Morozova gets the ball rolling by opening up to her own experiences breaking into 2000 AD. Graduating from art college, Morozova, she landed a gig at 2000 AD and was covered by a few media outlets after the college wrote about her. But, while including a picture of her they didn’t include any art. And so, many people commented on this being simply a diversity hire because art wasn’t included and Morozova didn’t have a social media presence. But, once she had rectified this, the naysayers were persuaded that it was her talent that got her the job and nothing else. Thankfully, since then she has not experienced anything similar, even though the fan-base is still very make dominated.
Howell discussed her goal for all her artwork, “Make something funny.” After all, this is a panel on celebrating female creators not necessarily directing the male-centric dominance of the industry.
Leong was more blunt, saying she was initially annoyed to be invited yet again to a panel like this one. But, she caveated that by emphasises that she does support representation.
I have seen Leong a good few times before, and on panels like this, and always find her engaging and informative. And she didn’t disappoint this time round either speaking very passionately about the subject. Her annoyance at token hiring is palpable, having seen this first hand many a time before.
Pat Mills’ ex-wife, Morozova points out, was the co-creator of Slaine, but that is often forgotten. She was the artist who drew the first strip, and the editor at the time kept on asking her to make cosmetic changes over and over again. Changes no male artist was asked to do. This seems to have been the pattern for the few female creators working in UK comics at the time, reflecting the ingrained sexism seeped throughout society in that era.
Of course, the anonymity of artists in UK comics of the past was also a problem, as Howell discusses, making it hard t recognise any artist, let alone the few female artist working on strips of the era.
Leong talks about Manga, an art form in which there is a good deal of female artists. And it was Manga, out of all the various comics she read, that caught her eye and inspired her. Never formally trained in art, it was the manga comics of her childhood that were her tutors.
As a kid, however, maybe we just want to be engaged? We don’t necessarily care about the names. And even when the names are included it can’t be all that clearer. Howell mentions that on The Beano, there is an artist called Shannon. Turns out Shannon is a man, when Howell aways thought Shannon to be a man. Furthermore, Howell posits, maybe girls are brought up to be more sensible than boys? And so, girls aren’t necessarily drawn to comics, and particularly the type of humour comics of the UK. And maybe that may be another underlying societal symptom behind the small number of female comic book artists even today.
So, what has changed?
Leong puts part of it down to the increase in technology, printing in particular, and reading habits. There has been a rise in interest in autobiographical comics, and many female creators often produce comics in this genre. Plus, printing allows creators of any background to self-publish more easily too. Once invisible voices can now be heard. And even if it’s to a small readership that can grow.
Leong brings up the subject of “whisper networks” which still need to exist because they can still be targeted when publicly commenting. And so, finding a safe space like a “whisper network” can be the only respite from this seemingly constant barrage. Leong admits to be very opinionated and so maybe, out of all the panelists, she is the most targeted.
Howell, having once worked as a book editor, saw more female representation in thus field than in comics. So, it’s not the rule that all hierarchies are patriarchal. As a teacher myself, I took have seen this in education with many more school leaders being female.
SelfMadeHero have recently run a programme to identify and train up more diverse would-be comic book creators, who have now completed the training and entering into comics. Being proactive in this way, and other progressive means, is still one of the most powerful ways forward.
And finally, after a pretty heavy, but important discussion, we move onto the artwork itself. Morozova did admit that she will always put a little bit of herself into her art while Howell admits she could more easily include more female characters in her own work. After all, even Minnie the Minx was created by a man and drawn mainly by men. Howell tries to counter this by trying to feminise her more in subtle ways. Morozova admits to reading The Beano and recognises Howell’s art stands out. Leong remembers a school visit where no-one would believe she was female until she showed up! So, there is still an inbuilt bias about comics and comic creators it would seem.
And, that was your lot. And not too much time actually celebrating comics. I would have personally liked to hear more about the wider variety of comics aimed at female readers, and whether that may have a knock-on effect on the future of comic books and the potential for more young girls to dream of becoming comic book creators like Leong, Howell and Morozova. Ah well, maybe at the next female-centric panel, hey?