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Interview: Women of BOOM! – Dafna Pleban

photoThere’s much discussion of the treatment of women in the comic book industry and lack of female creators or staff. Really those discussions are about the “big 2,” because when it comes to small publishers, webcomics, indie comics and self-published comics, women are thriving. You can see that by taking a tour of most artist alleys at conventions. Also, much of the discussion circles around writers and artists, doing an injustice to those who toil behind the scenes as editors, in marketing, in production, sales, fulfillment and more.

So, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to highlight the kick-ass women in the comic industry who don’t get the credit they deserve. And we’re starting with BOOM! Studios, a publisher who is showing there are kick-ass women in the comic book industry out there and most importantly hiring them. Some have told us that the publisher’s staff is composed of 60% women, but it’s not like we’ve done a headcount. All you need to do is go to their booth at any convention to see the diversity of the company. This is a publisher that’s shattering stereotypes when it comes to the workforce and showing success as a publisher. When it comes to innovation, it’s not just the comics they’re publishing, but also the diversity of the team that’s doing that.

BOOM! (and KaBOOM! and Archaia) has given us unprecedented access and the chance to ask questions to that staff (and creative teams) to find out why the publisher is so successful in hiring women and their experiences in the comic industry as women.

Up first is Dafna Pleban, an editor for the company who has worked on such series as Hypernaturals, Dracula: The Company of Monsters, Planet of the Apes and more!

Graphic Policy: How did you get involved in the comic book industry?

Dafna Pleban: Being really, really cheap and wanting to get into Comic Con for free, so naturally that meant learning how to set up, record and publish my own podcast so as to score a press pass. Spoilers: it worked. One thing led to another and after a brief stint interning at Entertainment Weekly (and trying to get into Comic Con for free there as well) I was hired by BOOM! Studios to help set up their podcast (as well as work as a marketing assistant) and through a little emotional haranguing convinced them to let me be a lowly assistant editor full time…one thing led to another and now I am an actual editor with the business cards to prove it.

And I haven’t paid for a Comic Con badge since.

GP: Did you read comics growing up? Do you read them now?

DP: I did. Like many a young lass, the siren call of Robin booty drew me in too deep to ever get out. I still read comics, but my taste has expanded to include the mighty fine booties of Marvel too!

comics-boom-studios-logoGP: How did you come to work with BOOM!/Archaia?

DP: Persistence and luck and Chip “Cuddles” Mosher. As the marketing guy for BOOM!, we had been in contact in order to try to get some BOOM! writers on the podcast, one thing led to another and he put my resume in front of Ross and I got hired to do the one thing I like to do most: talk and comics. Not a bad gig.

GP: How would you describe your job for people? 

Haranguing cats. I know the saying goes “herding cats” but no, what I do is more haranguing than herding — you ask nicely, and then you ask firmly, and then you ask nicely again. Rinse, repeat, begin to use smiley icons unironically and eventually stop feeling bad about it. Most of all, I have a lot of fun making books I’m proud of with people I’d kill to work with any day.

GP: For people who want to pursue a career in what you do, what advice would you give them?

DP: Comics is an inherently collaborative medium, and there’s little room in collaboration for ego, much less when you’re the editor — you’re not here to make the book in your voice, you’re here to make the best book out of many voices.

Learn to be forgiving. To yourself, to your collaborators, to a lot of things. Perfection is a myth, and in the end, the only person that’s going to see those flaws are you. Your most favorite comic of all time? You speak to any of the writers, artists or editors, and they can list off all the things they would have done differently, if given a chance. This is always going to be the case with everything that you do, so if you really want to be a functional human being in this industry, much less in life, it helps to be forgiving. Or at least, it doesn’t hurt.

GP: Did you have a mentor to help you break into the industry? Do you mentor anyone yourself?

DP: Chip “Cuddles” Mosher encouraged me to pursue editing even if it meant leaving a marketing team that worked really well together, and I’ll always be grateful for that. Matt Gagnon taught me the importance of strict scheduling and collaborative story noting when I was his assistant, and I am definitely a stronger editor for it. More than anything, BOOM! Studios gave me the opportunity to grow in the direction of the work that interested me. They let me make mistakes and learn on the job, and you can’t ask for a better opportunity than the risk of screwing up royally.

GP: Do you think women have a more difficult time breaking in and making it in the comic industry, if so why? And if yes, how do you think that can be overcome?

DP: The reality is, if you’re trying to break into mainstream/superhero comics, yeah, it is, its hard to network if you don’t have regular access to the convention circuit, and let’s face it, the convention circuit is still pretty hostile to women. More than anything it’s irritating, constantly getting your nerd-cred checked, and constantly fearing that simple networking might come off as mixed signals. Frankly, it can suck.

But luckily the medium has expanded so much from that, and there are so many ways of reaching an audience than existed before, that aiming for the mainstream needn’t be our only goal anymore. It’s both terrifying (in that there’s no set path from a–>z for success) and awesome (in that the traditional barriers of entry for anyone not white and not male are no longer, well, that important.) but the cons and comic shops are no longer the be-all, end-all of the industry, and women are finding success in carving their own niches and defining their own audiences. And that success on your own terms can often translate to the mainstream coming to you in return.

GP: We notice that when it comes to women in the comic industry, BOOM!/Archaia has a lot of diversity present. Why do you think have they succeeded when so many other publishers struggle with this? 

DP: I think it’s exponential — diversity breeds diversity. The more you’re used to having different voices around you, the less scary/difficult it becomes. And frankly, it makes for a better creative environment — when you have access to creators and editors with different life experiences than yours, it’s all additive, it’s just more wells of creativity you have access too, and that’s never going to be a bad thing.

GP: We’ve heard horror stories concerning women in the industry, have you ever seen or been discriminated/harassed and if so, how did you handle it?

DP: I’ve worked in comic stores where I’ve been overlooked when a customer needs help, assumed to be the girlfriend of the person who “really” works there, who needs to be educated on the comics she sells, or who is open season openly, crassly be hit upon. And it sucks, of course it sucks, but it’s also not the be-all/end-all of my experiences, thank god.

GP: What advice do you have for women looking to break into the comic book industry?

DP: Don’t wait for us. Really. You’ll have so much more fun just doing whatever the hell you want to do. We’ll catch on eventually, it always takes us a little time, we’ll get there.