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San Diego Comic Con: Intersectional Feminism in Comics

Even superheroes have a responsibility to represent all people

Intersectional feminism understands and acknowledges that feminism is not just about gender, it’s about race, religion, sexual orientation, and a multitude of other factors that contribute to the oppression of women and the societal condemnation of femininity. This week I had the privilege of attending San Diego Comic Con, and one of the first panels I attended was a panel called Intersectional Feminism in Comics.

The panel itself was incredibly fun and positive, and the diverse panelists were a joy to listen to. It was made up of Sam Maggs (assistant writer at Bioware and author of The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy), Sarah Kuhn (author of The Heroine Complex and a Clueless comic book adaptation), Robbie Thomas (writer for Marvel Comics and Supernatural), Susana Polo (creator of themarysue.com), Steenz Stewart (Social Media and Community Manager for Lion Forge Comics and an illustrator), Cait Brennan (rock singer and songwriter), and Rosie Knight (writer and poet).

intersectional feminism in comics
Were comic characters relatable as a kid?

Sam Maggs kicked off the panel by asking the panelists about the characters they first related to when they were growing up. Rosie Knight answered first with the character Maggie from the Hernandez Brothers’ Love and Rockets who, in Knight’s own words, is “a fat queer punk girl” in which Knight could see herself as a kid and still as an adult. Knight also loved the comic’s representation of disabled characters as she herself is disabled.

Cait Brennan mentioned Wonder Woman, but also praised Love and Rockets. Steenz Stewart expressed her love for cartoons, and any character voiced by Cree Summer, specifically Susie Carmichael from Rugrats, as well as Marvel Comics’ Miss Marvel, Kamala Kahn. Susana Polo admitted that she grew up on the Batman animated series, since she felt that most female superheroes were simply female versions of male superheroes, although she also expressed her love for Cassandra Cain and the DC series 52.

Robbie Thomas felt he related most strongly to R2D2, even if before seeing Star Wars he thought the character bore a strong resemblance to a trashcan. Lastly, Sarah Kuhn explained that as a kid, she would have to squint to see herself in pop culture because of how rare Asian representation was and still is. However, her character of choice was the Strawberry Shortcake character Almond Tea (complete with her animal friend, Marzipanda).

The next question for the panelists was “when did you first identify as an Intersectional Feminist?”

Steenz jumped straight into the action with the kickass line: “when I read the definition of ‘feminist’”, and then went on to explain that people see feminism as a ‘white people thing’ and that “white people tend to be very aggressive about stuff to the point that it’s not cool anymore” – which I and the rest of the audience loved – and wrapped up by stressing how important it is to be cognizant and deliberate with your feminism.

When asked about diversity in their current work, the panelists gave my pen a run for its money trying to keep up with the sheer amount of awesome they were describing.

Sarah Kuhn described her book Heroine Complex, which features two Asian female leads who, unlike a lot of WoC represented in stories, actually get to have fun. They get to eat junk food, sing karaoke, and have hot love interests. Kuhn also brought up the Barbie comic books she writes for and how, even if licensing means that the comics have to be about Barbie and Barbie has to stay white, she surrounds Barbie with BoC (Barbies of Color) who have their own stories and personalities.

Steenz talked about a comic she’s illustrating called Archival Quality, featuring a main character, Cel, who’s Samoan (and has stretchmarks!!!), and other characters Aba and Holly, who’re African, Korean and Latin American, respectively.

Cait Brennan confessed that most of her work ends up being autobiographical, and whether she tries to or not her characters always seem to end up being her. Rosie Knight offered excellent insight when she brought up the X – Men, stressing the need to think critically about subject matter and representation, stating “just because I have representation here doesn’t mean someone else does”.

She also talked about a book she wants to write about witches, where instead of taking the “witches were real all along” angle, which tends to gloss over the fact that hundreds of thousands of women were killed worldwide, her main character would get magic powers in response to the millenia of injustice against women.

Lastly, Robbie Thomas shared his experience writing a character for Marvel who’s a double amputee and how he worked closely with an actual combat veteran to get firsthand information on the subject. The panelists all closed off this question by good-naturedly assuring the audience that if they aren’t informed on a subject, the first thing they should do is Google it, since “writers Google weird sh*t all the time”.

After that, Sam turned the mic over to the audience to ask questions, so of course I jumped in and asked them for recommendations for more diverse comics, books, or shows to enjoy. Here’s what the panelists (and some helpful audience members) came up with:

• Superb, a comic about a Black girl and a white boy who has Down Syndrome
• Agents of Brown, a ‘Magical Girl’ webcomic
• MFK, an epic dystopian fantasy webcomic
• Miss Marvel, Marvel’s brilliant comics whose every(wo)man hero is a teenaged Pakistani girl who has to try to balance fighting crime with homework and keeping up on her self-insert fan fiction
• Danger and Eggs, a cartoon with a trans creator that you can stream on Amazon
• The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, the debut novel by Becky Chambers which is a light-hearted space odyssey
• Heroine Complex, the first in a series of books by Sarah Kuhn
• Zodiac Starforce, a comic about a team of magical girls
• Bitch Planet, a comic about female criminals in space

Now, I don’t know what you guys are doing with the rest of your summer, but I’m going to be pushing back my summer reading even further to try and cram in as many of this stuff as I can!

Images via Comic Beat, the Geekiary

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Nick Scaringelli is a high school student from sunny Scottsdale, Arizona...