Here are some thoughts on gender in comics. It's a topic I think about a lot, but rarely speak about beyond tiny Twitter blips. Lately I've felt a strong urge to contribute to the topic, so here goes.
I can only speak from my own experience as a "Woman in Comics", and I usually choose not to. In the context of interviews it always seems irrelevant and forced. I've found that many women my age - whose work amasses years of experience in both major and small publishing, self-publishing, webcomics, all measures of freelance, and studio work - are reluctant to bring their gender into a discussion of their craft. It simply has nothing to do with the ability to get the job done (which we're also quite busy doing) and serves to "other" women in discussion of a male-dominated industry.
Unfortunately, this means my female peers and I are rarely part of the discussion on gender in comics. It's an issue ripe for discussion, of which women with experience and fascinating insight are regrettably scarce. And while I don't claim to have the most fascinating insight into the comics industry - for much of the time I've worked in animation, not comics - I have been a professional artist for a while. Enough to support myself full-time since 2006 - and that has to count for something towards my opinion.
So that said, here it is. My sincere thoughts on how to promote the presence of women in comics:
Pay them. No, seriously. Pay them with money.
The first time someone hired me for my art was momentous. It was for a layout position at MTV. I took a test and got the call a week later that I'd been hired. I'd just graduated from school; aside from a few small commissions and a handful of mini-comic sales, I'd never been paid for my art before.
It didn't feel real. I stumbled anxiously through the next few pre-job weeks, wondering if I'd tricked my employers somehow. Surely someone deserved that position more than me. Surely the project would be better if someone with more experience had my spot.
Things changed after I was paid a few times, though. I made enough to move out of my parents' house and become self-sufficient. I became a better, more qualified artist. One job led to another, then another. With each job, I became further invested in sustaining my livelihood through art. I took on freelance. I started self-publishing my webcomics to a very supportive audience. I worked with a major book publisher. I took on more animation work. Suddenly, years had gone by, and aside from a few fill-in comics for webcartoonist friends, I had never worked for free. I'd sustained a career in art by requiring payment for every job.
Mine were the typical anxieties of a young artist. This happens regardless of gender. It's a mental threshold that needs to be crossed in order to make a living and be part of an industry.
I bring this up because I've seen a lot of recent attempts by well-meaning people to highlight the works of women. Anthologies, convention spotlights, blogs, interviews, charities, and special events all dedicated to the cause of promoting women in comics. And I think it's wonderful that people want to organize and discuss these things. I think it's wonderful that we want to raise awareness.
But awareness only goes so far. Tons of young women already want to - and are good enough - to work in comics. Tons of them are already doing their own thing in the self-publishing world. Many of my friends are releasing graphic novels to rave reviews and impressive sales. Conventions are jam-packed with women. It's not a question of awareness. It's a question of who's getting paid.
Frankly, there's no amount of awareness that can pay the artist to be an artist. Asking female creators to donate their time and efforts for non-paying projects is, at best, ineffectual to the cause. There is no pedestal flattering enough, no validation tangible enough, to outvalue a month's worth of rent. And that's what we want - for underrepresented artists to pay their rent, so we can see more incredible art from them.
A lot of what I'm saying needn't be applied to women exclusively, and is more broadly about the entertainment industry. But for the sake of the subject at hand, here's what I've found is good:
Some awesome ways to support female cartoonists that really have an impact:
-If you want to commission or hire them for projects, pay them fairly.
-If they do a webcomic or self-published comic, buy their books, merch, or donate through their website.
-If they release a graphic novel or comic book, buy it. If they offer it directly, buy it from them. Or order it from your local comic shop. Be a part of their sales figures. Encourage future books.
-If they do a signing or convention in your town, come out and support them.
(Again, these tips are strikingly similar to what I'd suggest for supporting male cartoonists. In fact, they're identical.)
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you're a female (or male) cartoonist starting out:
-You do this for love - everyone in comics does - but that's not the same as doing it for free.
-There are very, VERY few situations where you should work for free. Here is a handy flowchart of when you should and shouldn't do it: http://shouldiworkforfree.com
-Your earnings will build off of a record of previous work. It's up to you to place a gradually increasing value on that work. No board of experts is going to tell you when you are a professional, or desirable artist.
-Getting paid will give you the freedom, long term, to do good work.
At the end of the day, it's the quality of work that counts. These thoughts could easily be applied to those who just want to see BETTER art, no matter who's making it. What I'm trying to drive home is how easy it is to represent the artists that you consider underrepresented. You can support one directly. Or, you can be one.
In my experience, it really is that simple.