CCI 2007 "Gays in Comics Panel" — Part II|
On Saturday, July 28th, Andy Mangels moderated the 20th "Gays in Comics" panel at the Comic-Con International in San Diego, with Alison Bechdel, Chuck Kim, Charles "Zan" Christensen, Alonso Duralde, and Megan Gedris,with DC Comics President Paul Levitz as the secret sixth panelist.
The entire panel and Q&A session have been transcribed by Charles "Zan" Christensen. This is Part II of that transcript. Click here to read Part I.
AM: Alsonso, having been an arts and entertainment editor and writing this book on film I know you actually also travel with, or at some of your signings do an exhibit of gay-oriented super-hero film moments, or something like that? Can you explain something about that?
AD: Well, I haven't done it yet, actually. I kinda wanted to do it at the Con this year but it didn't work out for various reasons, but next year…!
No, I think that there is… I think everyone in this room has found examples of queer subtext in comic book super-heroes, God knows, you know, it's crazy muscular dudes running around in spandex and I think that super hero movies are certainly translating a lot of that to the screen. I mean, X2 is this giant coming out metaphor. I mean, that whole sequence with Iceman, or whatever his name's parents… "Do you have to be a mutant?", you know, come on! They're handing it to you on a platter.
You know I think there is a really… and again, there's a large straight male audience for this stuff, and I 'm sure they don't want to think about this but, there's something very queer about super-hero stories in general. I think that some of us get it and some of us pretend not to notice.
AM: All right, thanks.
Zan, in your time working with Prism, and now you're actually working into a professional career in doing this, how… has your activism helped prepare you for this? and do you think it's going to affect your work?
ZAN: I really like the fact that I spent the time I did helping a lot of other people to get their work done and to get the word out, because I kind of think that it's going to come back. I think that I'm contributing toward a supportive environment that's going to help anybody who wants to do work, including myself. I think that there's a great network of ways to get information out there, and there's people to talk to and ask questions of, get technical support and all that kind of stuff, so that's been really helpful to me.
And also just knowing that there is an industry; it's not just puttin' pretty pictures on paper and writin' some words and being real happy about it , I mean that's great, but then there's all this fuckin' work!
But and not just the work, but it's important to know people, it's important to connect with other creators, it's important to come to big functions like this and to see what's happening and to be really plugged in, and it feels like, very kinda "schmoozy" sometimes, but it's just human interaction with humans supporting each other and that's been really great.
And it's also helped me to see what kind of stories are happening out there, what things are not… what kind of stories are not being told that I might want to throw my hat in the ring and tell.
Paul, I understand there's a new organization within DC Comics, but I want to make… and I'll let you talk about that. But I want to make a point of saying that in your tenure as vice president and then publisher and then president, did I get that right?
PL: Close enough.
AM: There's a bunch of changes there, you've gotten higher and higher and now you're at the top. DC has been consistently the publisher that has been the most gay-supportive of all the publishers in the comics field.
And not all of it has been in Vertigo. You know, a lot of it has also been in the mainstream DC Comics. But even over the last couple of years, you've published Yaoi titles. You published Stuck Rubber Baby. Well, they're kinda Yaoi, but the ballet dancer in love with another ballet dancer, that's pretty Yaoi to me.
but you published Stuck Rubber Baby in the last couple of years you had high profile, what some people say a stunt, some people say it's just diversity and so forth but I understand that there's almost a mandate now to have a diversity within, not just with gays and lesbians, but to showcase the diversity in the DC universe.
So can you tell us about… is there a mandate? Why are things the way they are at DC now, and what is this new organization?
PL: Well, I guess the first thing I'd say is if there's a person who drove this process over the years it's much more Jeanette Kahn than me. I think from her arrival at DC, Jeanette, perhaps it's because she came into the industry from the outside, but certainly because she's the kind of person that she is, felt strongly that diversity was itself an intrinsically important job for us to accomplish as creative people. That we were… one of the many ways we were limiting ourselves in dealing with our comics was in closing the doors to a wider range of people within the offices, and within our pages. And I have always been very pleased to work in that direction with her for many years, and continue it during the time I've been head of the company.
I think you're talking about an evolution of so many sources though. I don't think the company mandate is the issue in these things. The company mandates that every book be wonderful. They're not.
The company mandates that we always treat our writers and artists with respect. We don't. We may have a better batting average certainly than we had years ago and we try really hard to have a better batting average than our competition but that's a batting average, and it doesn't always work.
If you start out, I think, with an attitude as a publishing company that says "it would be a good thing if we were more diverse inside and in print" then it evolves based on the passion of the people and the stories they want to tell and the lives they want to lead, and the comfort they have. I think the change in society has been vastly more important than the change in our company.
30 years ago, I think it was very rare to find a company anywhere where you would have dared have a picture of your family on your desk if your family was not the officially approved variety.
It took a long time to change. We had people in the company who were out in the fashion of wearing a Paddington Bear sign as they walked around the hall who took a long time to put a picture of someone on their desk. I can't compare to other industries, I've lived my life with one company and one rather odd industry. But I think that overall, societal evolution is much more powerful than what happened within DC.
The organization Andy mentioned is… our parent company has for many years authorized, encouraged, accepted, take your pick, special group organizations: women's network, aspiring professionals network, Out at Warner Brothers network, and it's been great, it's been around for quite a while. We recently added a new, fairly young lawyer, who walked in, I don't know, a month ago, a few months ago and said, can we do "Out at DC?" and I said, "I don't know, can we do that separately from Out at Warner Brothers? Go check with HR, I don't, certainly, have a problem with it."
HR said, I don't care, you wanna have this as a separate section, go and God bless you.
So that's starting up. and my oblivion is typified by the fact that I sorta scratched my head and said, "Got anybody that would be interested?" and the HR department said, "Well, I can sorta count…" I will conveniently forget the number she estimated, and I said "Really?"
But one of the sort of well-known people in the community who had been at DC for a long time was a man named Neal Pozner, who was a wonderfully talented art director. I had known him from adolescence, I guess, when we were both in comic fandom. Neal and I were friends through our college years, we would have dinner occasionally through our college years in the village where we were both going to school. Kept up our friendship when he was at CBS Records and when I came to DC the first time.
I didn't have any idea. Neal led a fairly segmented life, but I think somebody a little less oblivious than me could have probably figured out what the hell was going on.
So part of it is just, again, you try to set up an environment that says "we like people." We want good creative people who care about what they're doing to do stories that matter to them. And we don't want people here who are bastards to people.
And we really don't… if you're wandering down the hall and you're saying I'm going to be bastards to all red-haired people or green-haired people, or transgendered people or Jewish people, that's wrong.
And we tried to work to that as the standard for as long as I can remember. And then it's kinda up to the people themselves to decide what level of label they want to wear, or what comfort they have in sharing about their private life. Personally, I find it a tragic thing when people aren't comfortable talking about their lives in a complete fashion.
Without leaving anything more complicated, the fact that you should feel uncomfortable having a picture of your dog on your desk, or a picture of your loved one on your desk, or a picture of your whatever on your desk, or being able to answer people when they ask, "How was your weekend?" saying, "well, I was off with the person I love doing X, Y or Z,"… is a bad thing. It makes people less comfortable, less comfortable people hang around the office less. Work less.
Tell stories less. Work together with other people less well. I find it kind of neat, when I wander the halls, to discover, "We have an Albanian now!"
And we didn't go out and try and recruit one, as far as I know, we don't have any anti-Albanian discriminatory measures in place and I didn't know Vicky was Albanian for the first couple of years she worked in the place, but she happened to mention that for her, summer vacation was to go back and visit her family in Albania.
We have an Albanian! And I think we're a better place for that. And that's sort of the essence of what we've tried to do with that. Maybe we could have been smarter about it, a little more observant, or paid more attention or whatever, but… level playing field, neutral playing field, humanly decent playing field, not striving for anything much higher than that in the process.
AM: And Alison, you have received an unprecedented amount of publicity within the last year, the likes of which no other gay creator in comics, probably not since, I don't know… who's the most famous gay entertainment creator in years who's gotten as much publicity as you? You've gotten an incredible amount of publicity and it's focused on a book that is a memoir about not only you growing up as a lesbian, but growing up as a lesbian under a father who was secretly gay.
How does this affect… your life is now out there for people to… it's not your work that's out there for people to see, it's your life that's now out there for people to see. How does this affect… how do you deal with all that?
And you just won the Eisner. I want to remind people: she just won the Eisner last night.
AB: This is kind of the problem of my life and my work not being at all separate…
What was the question?
I'm really crashing. I'm don't know how you guys can always be so eloquent at this point in the weekend.
Yes, this new… were we going to talk about the… wait, I'm serious, what was the question?
AM: It was about having so much attention and scrutiny and fame over your private life that is now there for people to see.
AB: If I had known the kind of reception that this book was going to get, I couldn't have written it the way I did. You know, I'd gotten used, over the years, to writing for this kind of small, intimate audience of people who read Dykes to Watch Out For, and I imagined that was who I was writing this memoir for. And that enabled me to be quite intimate, and do material that I could reveal [inaudible]
Something happened, and this thing, like, crossed over and now all my mothers' friends read it.
They don't read DTWOF that I know of. And my mother knew I was writing this book, my brothers knew, I gave them my drafts as it evolved to make sure they were okay with it. And they kind of thought I was crazy, for wanting to reveal all of this stuff about my family, but they didn't object to it.
But when it did get all this attention and scrutiny and I [inaudible] had read it… it was pretty difficult for them. For me, I don't have a problem with that, for some reason it doesn't bother me that people know all these terribly intimate things about me. But it's different for my family, you know, it's their… I can't say it's their story because it's my version of their lives [inaudible]
But it's been difficult for them to see themselves as characters, you know. I think there's something… no matter how responsible you try to be in the writing of another person's life, I think you can't help but be somewhat violent and hostile, invasive. Hostile.
Even if it's well-intentioned, I wouldn't want to see someone else writing about me because I know they wouldn't get it right, the way I thought it should be.
So I've been okay with it, my family not so much.
AD: Alison, I'm wondering as you talk about that you were aiming this book to your DTWOF audience, at what point during the creative process did you think, "hey, I could take this to a large publisher and reach a mainstream audience and not having it done small press.
AB: You know, that wasn't really a conscious decision on my part. What happened was my small press publisher, lesbian small press Firebrand books that had published DTWOF for years and years, went bankrupt. And I had to sort of regroup, think what I was going to do, and I decided, well, I guess I'm going to need an agent. Because I'd never had an agent. I just worked directly with small press. And I got this very good agent who had much higher sights for this book than I did, and she sold it to Houghton Mifflin. So it was really sort of a circumstantial thing.
AM: Thank you Alison.
Continues in Part III.
Prism Comics promotes the works of the LGBT community in comics. It does not implicitly endorse any other material or products associated with those works. Any opinions expressed are those of the author(s).