Diversity and Inclusivity at WonderCon 2015

This year was my third year attending WonderCon, and while it’s not my favorite con (that would be Worldcon), it’s still three solid days of geeky fun. As always, I went with my best friend, and she and I went through our usual range of emotions: being bored on Friday; overwhelmed, annoyed, and slightly disappointed on Saturday; and pleased and totally satisfied by Sunday. Prolonged exposure to that many people is equal parts challenging and entertaining for a pair of friends that are basically the 32-year-old versions of Daria and Jane.

We switched from Comic Con to WonderCon a while back for a lot of reasons, but mostly because the former never felt as comfortable as the latter…

Firstly, there’s just way too much to do at Comic Con and too many people trying to do it, which results in standing in lines longer than the panels themselves. The Sunday morning arena panels at WonderCon always have at least a 2 hour wait, but that’s pretty much it in terms of long lines. Secondly, the groping, sweet zombie Jesus, I’ve never experienced manhandling as much as I did in the Comic Con Expo Hall. Thirdly but more importantly, WonderCon is, by all appearances, fairly evenly split between PoC and white people, women and men and variations thereupon, and all sexual orientations.

WonderCon itself has a code of conduct policy vague enough to be concerning, and while sometimes repugnant things ooze through the depressingly large cracks, for the most part it feels like a safe space to me. I can’t tell you how many times I was groped while trying to squeeze through the throngs of the Comic Con expo hall, but plenty of people have apologized for accidentally bumping into me at WonderCon. I’ve seen Vampirella and Red Sonja cosplayers pose for photographs without being jeered at, and newbies being welcomed by oldtimers. Let me put it this way: the last 2 years of program covers were Cliff Chiang’s Wonder Woman and Babs Tarr’s Batgirl. If that isn’t inclusivity, I don’t know what is.

Of course it isn’t all cherry pie and damn fine coffee. There were plenty of times I was ruffled, usually by a booth covered in drawings of anatomically impossible women in physics-defying outfits, and I mentally sank those booths into black holes of non-existence. Do you know what I spent my money on? A TARDIS necklace and a Parks and Rec poster of Leslie Knope (and came away with a massive list of orders for my local comic shop). The sellers specializing in misogyny won’t get any of my money, and the sellers not being dicks will. Same goes for comic books.

The Batman panel I attended pretty much coalesced my issues with the Big Two. One of the panelists gave this heartwarming speech about how much they loved working at DC because they got to take all these risks, that Batgirl and Gotham Academy were risky properties and it’s awesome that DC was willing to take such huge risks in telling their risky stories because risks, risks, and more risks. To which I say, wha? Risky? Batgirl? How is a consistently profitable property that’s been around since 1961—since 1939, if you’re counting Gotham and the Bat family—in any way, shape, or form risky? Childrens and YA fiction sales grew by more than 22% last year, ebooks up nearly 53%, and most of those sales—55%—came from adults. To be fair, that’s for print books, not comics, but given the massive profitability of YA movies (especially those starring young white women) Batgirl and Gotham Academy hardly qualify as bold moves.

Moreover, a 2014 Facebook survey found that 46% of self-identified comics fans were women. Ms. Marvel and new Thor topped digital and print sales charts. Of the top 5 highest selling issues in February 2015, 2 had female leads and outsold the other 3 by more than 20,000 issues. When it was announced that Spider-Man was joining the MCU, thousands took to social media in support of a Miles Morales centric movie. In short, there is huge demand for diversity in comics. Empire, a show full of PoC and QPoC, is a ratings juggernaut. Furious 7 is also almost entirely PoC and it crushed the competition in the theaters this past weekend, with 75% of its audience non-white. Again, where’s the risk? Sure, diversity is a deviation from the norm, and deviations are inherently risky, but that’s thinking with an old school mentality. Diversity shouldn’t be a cool new feature or tokenism, but standard operating procedure. At this point no one should be surprised at how well inclusive properties sell, and those who are are the same people praising how brave some faceless corporation is for seeing what the rest of us have known for literally ever.

Saga is a risk. Bitch Planet is a risk. The Wicked + The Divine is a risk. Taking a known property starring pretty, cishet, white people and finally giving them a worthwhile, non-offensive, non-degrading storyline is the exact opposite of a risk. Telling a new story with interesting characters in a not-exactly-popular genre is the best kind of daring. And, frankly, the only comics publishers taking actual risks are the indies. There’s a reason most of my pull list is Image rather than DC or Marvel. That’s not to slam on their creators. I love what Babs Tarr, Brendan Fletcher, and Cameron Stewart are doing on Batgirl (save the transphobic stuff), G. Willow Wilson is killing it on Ms. Marvel, and She-Hulk: Law and Disorder and Hawkeye: LA Woman are two of my favorite superhero trades of 2014. But they just prove my point. Diversity (and great storytelling/art) sells. I mean, obviously, right?

Panels attended: Batman (Tiffany Smith, Tom King, Greg Pak, Babs Tarr, Brenden Fletcher, Darwyn Cooke), Crime Does Not Pay, Or Does It? (Jessica Tseang, Darwyn Cooke, Fred Van Lente, Marc Andreyko, Phil Noto, Steve Epting), Felicia Day Talks Geek & Sundry, Her New Book, & More!, Trailer Park, iZombie Special Video Presentation and Q&A (Malcolm Goodwin, Rose McIver, Rahul Kohli, Robert Buckley, David Anders, Rob Thomas, Diane Ruggiero-Wright), Geeks Keepin’ It Hot! (Tony B Kim, Amy Ratcliffe, Chris Gore, Ivy Doom Kitty, Andre Meadows, Rachel Lara, Sean Long, Tracy Doering, Emily Ong), Marvel: Next Big Thing (Will Moss, Sam Humphries, Greg Weisman, Rick Remender), A Mad World: Exploring Insanity in Fiction (Andrea Letamendi, Javier Grillo-Marxuach, Brenden Fletcher, Jody Houser, Mairghread Scott, Zack Stentz, Brian Ward), The Nerdist Panel with Chris Hardwick (Jessica Chobot, Brian Walton, Dan Casey, Malik Forté, Matt Grosinger, Kyle Hill, Rachel Heine).

Best panel: Felicia Day—because she’s just the absolute best.

Fave panel: Exploring Insanity in Fiction—a fascinating look at how mental illness is properly and improperly portrayed in fiction, which also inspired new story ideas in my friend and I.

Most unnecessary panel: Trailer Park—literally 30 minutes of trailers that were released months ago.

Panel that inspires me to watch more YouTube shows but that I’ll totally forget about in a week: Nerdist Industries—Maybe this year I’ll finally get around to “Because Science”

More pics from WonderCon on my Instagram.

Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.


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