British women in comics

After blogging about the absence of women in the line-up of the Kapow! comic book convention I had a number of lively discussions about it.

I also discovered that Mark Millar twittered about this issue back on the 7th of December 2010, when someone else pointed out there were no female guests. His response, over two tweets:

You realise this is being put together by 5 women, don’t you? The reason the comic guests are mostly male is because the biggest names in UK comics are male. Who is the big british female pro they’re missing here?

I’m amused by ‘the comic guests are mostly male’ bit, when the guests are all male.

This kind of response is quite familiar. First off, there’s a variation on the ‘my best friend is a woman’ card. Women are capable of overlooking other women, however disappointing it is when it happens. Just because women make up the Kapow team doesn’t mean that their omission of women from the convention guest list is acceptable.

The next part of the argument is the ‘Well, where are all the women?” gambit.

Millar indicates that there were several criteria for guests of the convention: they had to be pros that were a “big name” in comics and “British”.

A cursory examination of the current Kapow guest list proves that several of them are not British. At least one of them has not written/drawn for comic books at all. So, the stated criteria is only being applied selectively to the line-up.

On the other hand there is a perceived dearth of women working professionally in British comics at the moment. This was the first thing people pointed out to me when I raised this issue initially. Women writing/drawing graphic stories in the USA seem to have more visibility than those working in the UK.

This is a depressing fact. The industry on this side of the Atlantic needs to take a serious look as to why it is happening (even taking into account the difference in the size of the markets). Not having women as part of the guest list at a major convention is certainly not helping matters, however.

Women are not entirely absent from British comics. One of the things I like do to in a situation like this is raise the profile of the women who are involved in the industry, so I did some digging and have come up with names of women who are working in the field. Some I already knew (and need no promotional work from me) and some are discoveries.

Tamara DreweFirst is Posy Simmonds, who has been working in graphic storytelling for over forty years. In fact, due to her work on Tamara Drewe for The Guardian (recently made into a film), her name is probably more familiar to the British public than many of the guests attending Kapow.

There’s also Carol Swain, who has been writing/drawing comic books since the 1980s. Leah Moore has been writing comic books both on her own and with her husband John Reppion for nearly ten years (including my personal favourite, their fine adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula).

Emma Vieceli has been making a name for herself in the emerging British Manga field, and is slated to do The Thrill Electric next with Moore and Reppion. Computer games writer Rhianna Pratchett has written a 6-part mini-series with DC Comics based on the Mirror’s Edge world.

After becoming familiar with Vieceli’s work I discovered Sweatdrop a British Manga studio that is a hotbed of British (and International) female talent such as Vieceli, Sonia Leong, Laura Watton, Morag Lewis, Rebecca Burgess and Kate Keattch.

Other artists/writers working in England are: Nana Li and Kate Brown.

I feel I should also give a shout-out to Annie Parkhouse and Ellie de Ville who have been lettering for 2000AD and other publications for a considerable time.

Take a ChanceAnd if Millar and his team were willing to invite a guest from Ireland, he could do no wrong with Catie Murphy, a novelist who put together her own creator-owned 5-issue comic book, Take a Chance, which was published by Dabel Brothers Publishing. I think it’s fair to say that Catie helped launch the career of her artist Ardian Syf, and her experience in writing, pitching and organising everything with the comic book would make her an informative guest.

Assembling this list didn’t take me very long and it’s incomplete.

If you know women who are working in a professional capacity in the comics books industry in the UK/Ireland please drop me a comment on this blog post with their names and a link to their work.

I’d be happy to write another blog entry adding more names to this list in the future.

Since Kapow is inviting both non-comic book guests and non-British writers/artists to the convention they should have been able to spring for at least one of the many brilliant women working in the USA, or even did a little bit of research and asked one of their local creators – as listed above. Hey, there are British actresses and female screenwriters who could fit the bill since Kapow is touting itself as a version of San Diego’s Comic-Con, which features cross-media guests.

There is no need for tokenism when there are women working in the field who deserve the recognition.

I’d much prefer if those involved in events like this would explain how the situation came about rather than state that they had no one to choose from. I used to run conventions so I know the tough realities involved. Oversights occur, people back out, budgets don’t cover your guest wish list, etc.

I don’t believe there is any conspiracy to keep women off the Kapow guest list, but there doesn’t appear to be a will to have women part of the bill either.

I notice last year’s British International Comics Show had women guests, so this is not a unique or impossible expectation.

Visibility of women creators at events like this is very important. Otherwise, where are the role models for the women who aspire to enter the industry?

Update: I’ve created an extensive list of female comic book creators in these islands in this post: women in comics in UK/Ireland – redux, and I’ve written an overview on my research.