Denver ComicCon, and That One Panel.

DENVER-CON_LOGOLast weekend, Denver ComicCon descended upon the Mile-High City. It wasn’t the latest announcements from publishers that made the news coming out of it, but one panel which cast a cloud upon the convention as a whole. As first reported on Twitter, the convention featured a Women in Comics panel, one of over eight focused just on women in comics and entertainment. Normally this wouldn’t be news, but this panel featured only men, and also some rather baffling statements such as “girls get bored with comics easily.”

Here’s the panel description:

With the female interest in comics increasing lately, this panel discusses many of the popular female characters from the beginning of the superhero mid 1930s comics. Also a focus on some of the women that were able to break in the mostly all male club of creating comics during that time. Includes an introduction to many of the female illustrators/creators attending the convention.

Panelists included Kevin Robinette, an Instructor on the History of American Comics at the Academy Art University of San Francisco, Craig Glassen, an Art Instructor for Denver area schools, and Jason H. Tucker, who is involved with The Way Interactive graphic novel app. Some took three men presenting the topic of “women in comics” as an extension of the general exclusion of women in comic geekdom. And critics are right, at least one woman should have been on the panel. But even the inclusion of a woman doesn’t guarantee that there won’t be idiotic marginalizing/sexist/problematic statements. That’s upon the panelists themselves. I haven’t heard audio, so don’t know how, or why, “girls get bored with comics easily” would have been said. At face value, it’s an idiotic statement, and one that has no place in an academic discussion.

When asked why there were no women on the panel, the panelists reportedly said it “was a last-minute addition and didn’t know any.” Influential comic artist and writer Trina Robbins was in attendance at the convention, and could have easily been a fantastic last-minute addition to the panel, if the panel organizers had reached out.

It should be noted that this black eye isn’t indicative of the convention as a whole. I went through the entire guidebook, counting the number of men and women listed on panels. Not every panel had the panelists listed, but of the 301 that did, the 1,033 people listed were roughly 54.70% men and 45.30% women. That’s not scientific, I Googled only a few folks to figure out their gender, not all 1,033 of them. Some panels were all men, some panels were all women, and many were balanced with men and women equally. There was even a panel called “NASA: Science, Is It Just a Man’s Game?” where “male and female NASA scientists discuss the perceived gender bias in science careers.” So, it wasn’t a systemic thing at the convention.

So, the question remains, “why did this happen?”

While a rather poor statement was released to ComicsAlliance by DStreet PR, we haven’t really heard from the convention itself…. until now. The Director of the Denver ComicCon, Christina Angel, responded to a discussion that occurred on a comics listserv. With permission, her response is posted below.

Hi Brett and others on this thread. I will jump in here and address some of this (I am the Director for DCC). As a woman in charge of a large convention, I empathize with and understand what people are upset about with this panel. I am not making any excuses for this panel, BUT (sorry for that – I will explain momentarily) it is absolutely NOT indicative of who we are or what we we stand for. While I do hear what people are saying and find most of it difficult to argue with, it would be a shame to see this as representative rather than what it was.

It was a total screwup on our part, and a larger screwup on the part of the panelists themselves. As a late add to the programming schedule, these panelists have been with us before and we know them, so it seemed a safe bet to approve the panel and allow the moderator to fill the slots on the panel (as is often the case at conferences and conventions). We had no idea they would take the stance they did, nor would express such outdated and uninformed views. We were all surprised by this. But none of that excuses it, the fault falls to us and we are deeply sorry.

We have a diversity mission and our programming department works themselves half to death (as volunteers) to promote inclusivity and representation. I hope that anyone doubting this will take a look at the rest of the 400 panels we presented to see this. Once the word was out about this controversial disaster of a panel, Crystal Skillman quickly pulled together some other female guests to have a panel in response to this and we made it happen and publicized it. I would be happy to direct anyone to the link of the recording of it.

But the short version is: we are sorry, we don’t stand by this panel and will be far more diligent in the future to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Please feel free to write to me privately if you have additional queries or would like to discuss this further.

All the best,

The convention itself (forget the flack PR company’s response) realized the panel was a disaster. The fact is, it wasn’t representative of the convention as a whole, especially when you look at the rest of their panel line-up.

So, how is this prevented in the future?

It’s clear no matter the history of panelists with a convention, the completed panel including all panelists, should be presented to a convention before approval. It is imperative upon the convention organizers to make sure there’s no issues with those panels before approving them. Past relationships aren’t good enough. In this case, it was really that simple a fix that could have prevented this.

Denver ComicCon realized their mistake, and attempted to make good with securing resources and a room for the addition of a much better and more appropriate panel featuring some of the convention’s female guests that was organized partially in response to what happened. Credit where credit is due, I can’t think of a convention reacting to a disastrous panel so quickly, and in a very smart way.

I’ve been a critic of Denver ComicCon in the past, and have watched them like a hawk since, but it’s clear that 0.25% of their panels doesn’t reflect the convention as a whole. There’s absolutely a need to call out mistakes like this, but we should learn from those mistakes, how did they happen, why was it wrong, and prevent them from being repeated in the future.