Interview: Women of BOOM! – Noelle Stevenson

photoLast week we kicked off our “Women of BOOM!” feature, spotlighting the many kick-ass women that work at BOOM!, Archaia and KaBOOM! We’re focusing on everyone, editors, designers, writers, artists, you name it!

BOOM! (and KaBOOM! and Archaia) has given us unprecedented access and the chance to ask questions to their 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 this week is Noelle Stevenson, a triple threat as a writer, artist and cover artist. She has worked on Nimona (an original comic), Fionna and Cake, Bravest Warriors and Adventure Time!

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

Noelle Stevenson: I became interested in comics as a medium during a Sequential Art class at art school. I began drawing and posting my own webcomic in the summer of 2012, and also started attending conventions. I interned with BOOM! and got some experience there.

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

NS: I didn’t read many comics – I read Calvin and Hobbes, Tintin, and some old Spider-Man.

GP: How did you come to work with BOOM!/Archaia?

NS: I interned last summer with Boom! Studios, and then began freelancing for them!

GP: How would you describe your job for people?

NS: I draw comics day-in and day-out, both for myself and for other people.

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

NS: Put yourself out there! Make something you believe in, and show that you can make something cohesive – scraps of concept art don’t show your skill in telling a long-term story. Attend conventions! Make friends with other industry professionals!

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

NS: One of my mentors was Joan Hilty, my Advanced Sequential Art teacher at school. She is a professional editor and really helped me with NIMONA when it was in its early stages. She gave me a lot of valuable advice. My other mentor is Shannon Watters, editor at BOOM! She was the one who hired me for the internship, and really took me under her wing during that time! She’s given me a lot of freelance opportunities too!

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?

NS: I think they do for a lot of reasons. One of those is that there just aren’t that many women in the industry right now, so there isn’t much of a model for us. If we look up to famous comic artists, they are usually male. The female creators are few and far between. The other thing is that I think more respect and attention is given to stories written by men and geared towards men – anything too “girly” is eye-rolled away. There’s just a pervasive attitude in the industry, a sort of antagonism towards women, you see it at cons and in feedback all the time. And normally if a woman creator is asked to be on a panel or to give an interview, it’s more often than not about “women in comics.” Not that those panels and interviews aren’t important – I think we need to be talking about this stuff! – but it feels like we’re considered a sub-category sometimes. That’s of course mostly just about the mainstream comics industry, though – the same thing isn’t true for indie comics and webcomics, in which there are a ton of female creators and stories with female leads! I think that the mainstream comics industry can learn a lot from webcomics. BOOM! has been doing a great thing, hiring webcomic artists to work on the KaBOOM! titles like Adventure Time, and it’s been a huge success. I want to see more of that in other big comics publishers.

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? By hiring women?

NS: I don’t know if it’s much more complicated than that. People talk about “affirmative action” or “tokenism” when it comes to hiring women or minorities, but I really don’t think it’s that hard. Like, there are women in the industry who are looking for work – hire them! Lots of them! They’ll bring something new to the table and encourage a more open-minded, innovative approach.

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?

NS: As a webcomic artist, most of the sexism I see is through social media. I think I have it a lot easier than many female creators. Honestly, most of the flak I get is when I speak up about issues like sexism, on my blog or on Twitter. But again, I don’t get it as bad as others. The rest of it is kind of standard-issue – you know, getting grabbed or hollered at Comic-Con, being condescended to in comic book stores, people using derogatory language towards me online – I feel like every woman has multiple stories like this. The way you deal with them is a lot like the way you deal with being yelled at from a car – you don’t look at them, or acknowledge them, or show you’ve been bothered, and then later you tell people you trust about it and complain. You can get mad, and I get mad sometimes, but that brings a whole new level of harassment sometimes, and sometimes it’s just not worth it.

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

NS: Make comics that you believe in, and don’t absorb the poisonous attitudes perpetuated by male comic creators – that only certain kinds of stories are good or worthwhile. If the kinds of comics you want to read aren’t being represented by the industry, make them yourself and show everyone!

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