The Women of Comic Con: How the Internet Killed the Studio Star

During the lead up to this year’s Comic Con International, a Networked Insights analysis of social media conversation showed that 54% of people talking about the conference were women. So when I arrived on Thursday morning I wasn’t surprised to see that women were everywhere as fans, experts, press, and industry. At panel discussions, in interviews, even at parties, woman after woman said the same thing: The Internet is changing the world for geek girls and for women in Hollywood.

At the Gender in Comics panel, writers and illustrators celebrated the fact that women no longer have to brave male-dominated comic book shops to be consumers–they can order online. At The Most Dangerous Women at Comic Con: Dual Identities panel, actors, producers, and cosplayers who have faced harassment from men unable to accept them as real fans celebrated the way other women can come to their defense on their online platforms. The women on the All Shapes and Sizes Welcome panel came together to share their experiences being body-shamed by agents, producers, and fans and their decisions to move outside traditional venues to a space where they can do what they love and change the dominant paradigm.

Using social media, the women of Comic Con have formed countless platforms on which they can pursue common interests and career goals. The League of Extraordinary Ladies is a group of women who share a desire “to chase our dreams to do what we love, and to use our own talents to encourage and support each other in our individual pursuits.” Elisa Teague’s publication Cupcake Quarterly a pin-up magazine featuring women of all shapes and sizes without photoshopping. Helenna Santos-Levy founded the online magazine Ms. in the Biz to provide a “destination for women in entertainment who are looking for a positive community that shares resources, imparts wisdom, and fosters success.” And Comedian Gloria Shuri Navi’s The Beauty Adjustment, a diverse collection of videos by women of all sizes talking about why they are attractive, has become a YouTube phenomenon.

The connections these women have with each other extend far beyond the convention. Creator, actor, host, and geek Kristen Nedopak assembled an all-female team of producers to create The Geekie Awards. To be held in Hollywood in August, the awards will honor independent creators and geeks in steampunk, superheroes, sci fi, fantasy, zombies–everything you see at Comic Con–in categories such as short films, web series, arts and crafts, cosplay, toys, games, and podcasts. Nedopak described the industry transformation happening online:

Because of YouTube, Twitter and all social media, it’s much easier for women to access their audience directly. You create, produce, and you’re on camera so you have more direct access to fans, plus they’re commenting right there. It’s more genuine. In Hollywood, the press puts out what they put out and you judge people based on what the media tells you. Well, in social media you can directly tell people what you want them to hear and how you want them to hear it. Even women who make comics, they have direct access to their fans because they don’t have to go through publishers. As producers, we’re completely in charge of our brand, completely in charge of our product, and we put out there exactly what we want.

Stephanie Thorpe, who spoke on the panel Web Creators Assemble, produces the web series Ladies and Gents–a collection of 30-second to two-minute scenes in the restrooms of a typical LA club. Thorpe came to her first Comic Con when she was eight and left with her first comic book: Elfquest. As an adult, Thorpe became an actor because wanted she wanted to play her favorite genre characters. When she didn’t find enough of the kind of roles she wanted to play in Hollywood, she started making content herself. Today she owns the film and TV rights for the 35-year-old Elfquest franchise.

Across the board, the geek women I spoke with celebrated the fact that genre fiction has gone mainstream and is apparently here to stay. They credit The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and the most recent round of superhero movies for allowing geeks who, in their early lives had to hide their geekdom for fear–in Thorpe’s case–of being pushed down the stairs at school. And though they’ve all experienced some pushback from men who feel the need to test their knowledge of the geekiverse, they agreed that overall the community has becoming more welcoming and more respectful to fans of all kinds.

At the end of the All Shapes and Sizes Welcome panel, a nine-year-old girl named Jezebel asked the panelists, “When you guys are walking down the street and people give you dirty looks and you think it’s because of your weight, what do you guys do?” Actor Miracle Laurie, who was cast to play a character described as overweight in Dollhouse, despite the fact that she’s only a size 12, answered:

I just want to tell you one thing that I hope you take through life forever. You cannot take anything personally, because everyone is going through life in their journey. Everyone has their own issues and their own things that they’re unhappy about. So just know that if they look at you or say something, that has nothing to do with you. It’s not your problem. It’s theirs.

Clearly, the future of Hollywood involves a totally new kind of Jezebel.

Photo courtesy Stephanie Thorpe

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