Ticket prices range from $200-$800 per day. A water costs a whopping $4. The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center is 850,000 square feet. A crowd of 200,000 people attended the New York Comic Con. I couldn’t help but wonder why the city would dedicate this space and why this many people would spend significant funds to attend. Then I walked through the door.
From the moment you walk into the room, you feel welcome. There’s a giddy, childlike energy that pulses through the air. There are panels of celebrities, artists’ alley, writers’ booths, cosplay stages, playing game tournaments, and mainstream displays. My head was spinning. I did a lap of the four levels, collected myself, and dove into the madness. In this moment I discovered two things: 1. Comics are a labor of love and passion speaking to real-life injustices. 2. Women are culture warriors.
Andrea Rose Washington and Cerece Rennie Murphy met at a Comic Con in 2017 in Washington, D.C. Their friendship helped fuel their passion for publishing their work. They were told by a room full of old white men that their books would never sell. That “black men don’t want to read about black women, men don’t want to read books written by female authors, and no one is interested in a black female lead,” Andrea shared. They received suggestions of what they could write instead. Andrea and Cerece decided to self-publish.
“We are carving our own space and saying we are here,” Cerece said in her eye-catching t-shirt that reads ‘Black Women Write.’ I’m not surprised to learn that their sales have improved by meeting people face-to-face at Comic Com. When people meet these two lovely women, it changes their stereotype. They can no longer be reduced to a demographic on a piece of paper. They become another science fiction nerd just like everyone else in this building. Andrea and Cerece know firsthand that the men in that office have no idea the inclusivity that surrounds the comic nation, that Comic Con creates a safe space and even celebrates teenage fantasy featuring powerful young black women. Black Women Write and we are all better for it.
Scott Kraynak is by far the strangest person I met at Comic Con. I approached him because he had incredibly creepy paintings behind him – specifically one of the last supper with human limbs spread across the table which he took the time to glue on. What a nutcase, I thought. Turns out, Scott is far from insane. He is a Park Ranger at Anza Borrego state park, a place I know well – I went backpacking there over a long weekend in 2018 and nearly died of dehydration, hiking 20 miles to locate a mere puddle just deep enough to sink my LifeStraw. Scott sees the effects of global warming daily and uses his art as an outlet for his frustration.
He is looking forward to confronting a new subject, empowering women. When I asked why that was important to him, he said, “Being a white guy, most of the time you feel like, oh my god, most of my species are such assholes.” The idea to write a fictional history of women’s bowling developed when he pondered, “Where could women go to get away from their husbands who at that time [1940s and 50s] were probably stuck in the kitchen. Where could they go where it’s just women and they could feel empowered?” He is facing the struggles of finding his place as a white man to advocate for women in a way that is beneficial to the cause, constantly wondering how he can use his own voice as a supportive platform.
The superheroes in Kayden Phoenix’s life are Latin women. Her comic books are a collaboration of Latina artists to tell the stories of relatable women, which she describes, “Jalisco, my dancer from Mexico. Loquita, my Puerto Rican Cuban from Miami. Santa, a brawler from the bordertown of Wexo, Texas. Bandita, my Dominican gunslinger from New York. Ruca, my vigilante Chicana.” The books are broken down into character origin stories until the team is banded together in A La Brava to solve the case of a killer taking down female politicians.
Each comic serves a greater purpose of drawing attention to real-life issues such as, Mexico’s femicide, inhumane detention centers for immigrants, teenage suicide, human trafficking, and domestic violence. Kayden and her team of Latinas are not just justice seekers on the page, but also in real life.
Edgardo Miranda created his graphic novel series, La Borinquena as a direct response to an announcement made by Puerto Rico’s former governor García Padilla, that an 80-billion-dollar debt that Puerto Rico had amassed was unpayable. A debt that Edgardo feels strongly “only financial media news outlets were reporting, because they knew the owners of the debt were actually Hedge Funders, Wall Street investment bankers, and no one was speaking to the reality that this led to a humanitarian crisis.” There was a line forming behind me for his autograph, but Edgardo did not stop speaking about the inequalities of the Puerto Rican government, “A lot of people aren’t even aware that for the last 124 years, Puerto Rico is actually a U.S. colony. There are 300 million Puertorriquena’s living on this archipelago, but they are also U.S. citizens. However, time and time again, natural disasters or economic disasters, have proven that these are actually second-class U.S. citizens.”
I asked him why it was significant for his lead character to be a woman. His answer was priceless. “We live in a patriarchal society where a question like that wouldn’t even be asked if the character were male. I’m producing stories in an industry that’s dominated by narratives that are centered around the white male experience. That’s why most of it is centered around white male fantasy. The reality is, as a storyteller and activist myself, it was women who shaped me to be the man that I am today.”
Tana Ford got into comics by self-publishing a lesbian comic book series just out of college. “Alison Bechdel wrote a series, Dikes to Watch Out For. I’m 19 in college and it’s basically the only form of media that lesbians have. But, about middle-aged lesbians who have a mortgage and are raising kids and their life is unrecognizable to me. I read them anyway, because I needed that representation, of course. This is before anyone came out on Dawson’s Creek, before gays were allowed to be gay.”
She knew she had a passion for drawing and comics so she figured she would learn to write relatable material for women in her shoes. She now works for Marvel on multiple series, one of which is Silk, which features a young lesbian couple. Tana enthusiastically searched for her drawing of the women kissing, thrilled at her opportunities to broadcast for others seeking to see themselves in comics.
I closed my notebook and pondered what I learned through my interactions at New York Comic Con. The reality is this: Comic conventions and the world of comics, break down barriers of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, sexuality, or age because these universes and multiverses are so much more interesting and complex than the stereotypes which we use to label planet earth.
About the author: Erin Edwards is a Navy pilot who has seen the world from the sky and is eager to write about it on the ground. Though she is just beginning to dip her toes in the comic world, she is passionate about meeting new people and unfolding a whole new universe.
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