For the third year in a row, Emerald City Comic Con will have more women attend than men, once the overwhelmingly dominant gender at pop-culture events like this. Among the anticipated guests are comic-book writers Chelsea Cain and Becky Cloonan.
Chelsea Cain got an unbelievable birthday gift from her 14-year-old daughter recently, the kind you don’t hear about often in the ongoing war between parents and teenagers.
“She made me a poster,” Cain said, “and on the poster she wrote, ‘Mom, you are my role model.’ ”
The same could be said for girls of all ages. The Portland-based thriller author and comic-book writer is one of the most anticipated attendees at Emerald City Comic Con, running March 14-17 at the Washington State Convention Center, at which nearly 100,000 people are expected. And like a character in one of her comic books, to her fans she’s a real-life hero who endured the twin Scylla-and-Charybdis evils of corporate villainy and nerd-boy pique, emerging bruised and battered, but triumphant.
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After having her Eisner Award-nominated run of “Mockingbird” cut short at Marvel Comics in 2016 during a firestorm euphemistically called Comicsgate (in which some of the more conservative comics fans virulently opposed attempts by companies, including Marvel, to make their comics more diverse), she had the audacity to have her character Bobbi Morse appear with a T-shirt that read, “Ask me about my feminist agenda,” on the cover of the final issue.
That sent a small but fervent faction of fanboys over the edge, harassing Cain off social media and, she thought initially, out of the comics industry. But as she makes her first official appearance at Emerald City Comic Con next week after years of attending as a fan with her family, she’s bringing her unapologetically in-your-face new comic “Man-Eaters” and her three edgy co-authors — her daughter Eliza Fantastic Mohan and her two eighth-grade friends, Emily Powell and Stella Greenvoss.
“We’re going to turn our table into the ‘Ministry of Trouble Help Desk,’ ” Cain said with a laugh. “We’re going to have all these 14-year-old girls giving out free tampons. If anybody needs one, come by and say hello. We’re there to help.”
They’ll be easy to find; just follow the trail of maxi pads laid out like footprints on the Washington State Convention Center floor.
“It feels brave and audacious and a little lunatic, and I can’t wait,” Cain said. “It also makes me feel like a really good mom.”
Cain’s appearance comes at an interesting time as the Con reaches a tipping point. This will be the third year in a row the ReedPOP production will have more women attend than men, once the overwhelmingly dominant gender at pop-culture events like this.
“I think it’s important to note more than half the people coming to the event this year identify as female, which traditionally has not been the case in past years,” ReedPOP Event Director MK Goodwin said. “Just in the past couple of years we’ve seen that tip over from mostly male to mostly female, which is a really interesting thing.”
The Con has built up to this demographic through years of listening to fans who come from all communities, Goodwin said. Organizers have responded with dozens of panels that deal with diversity and inclusion directly. But they haven’t stopped there.
“It’s also a goal of ours just for general panels about everyone’s favorite comics, TV shows, movies, books, games — whatever it is — to also have that sort of representation,” Goodwin said. “Really it’s an overall initiative of ours and it’s interwoven into our overall programming.”
Becky Cloonan, the celebrated artist and writer who became the first woman to draw the Batman flagship title in 2012, said that’s a radical change from initial attempts to foster diversity in the extensive world of comics conventions.
“It’s nice to see diversity on all the panels, and not just the ‘Women in Comics’ panel where you’ll find all the women,” Cloonan said. “That’s how it used to be. A lot of the cons that you see that are thriving are the ones that are really embracing diversity and inclusion.”
The news that ECCC sees more women than men isn’t a surprise to Cloonan, who has watched things slowly trend this way for a decade.
“In a few years this will be the norm, seeing the world around you reflected at the conventions you go to,” she said. “Having books for everybody, you know, having a spot where no matter what your interests are, your background and where you came from or who you are, you should be able to enjoy comics and go to a comic con.”
Cain’s “Man-Eaters” is one of those books. The Image Comics entry, the first four issues of which were released as a graphic novel this month, is a fearless take on growing up girl in the 21st century. The story surrounds a 12-year-old who fears she may be responsible for a series of mysterious deaths investigated by her parents. The maulings are carried out by menstruating women turned killer wildcats who were infected with mutated toxoplasmosis. The series is both charming and chilling and subversively provocative, the kind of book that spurs reviews all over the spectrum, with readers calling it alternately the feminist book of the year and revenge-porn propaganda.
Cain enlisted the same creative team that was working on “Mockingbird” when Marvel ripped up the run (Kate Niemczyk, Lia Miternique and Elise McCall provide art, Rachelle Rosenberg color and Joe Caramagna lettering). She felt there was more to be said, and she made something totally unique when she enlisted the girls she likes to think of as “a cohort of Valkyrie teens.”
“They contribute art, they contribute poems,” Cain said. “They’re incredibly involved in the production and creation of ‘Man-Eaters.’ And I think that’s representation, too. They bring an authenticity. I used to be a 14-year-old girl, but that was a while ago. And it’s very different now.”
Today’s girls, for instance, live in that online space that vilified Cain. While the backlash against her left her with negative emotions and better privacy settings, the end result has allowed her to empower her daughter and her friends (not to mention thousands of others).
“They’re all paid, by the way,” Cain said of her teenage co-writers. “I do actually have them submit invoices. Emily Powell, who is our haiku poet in residence, I tried to explain to her that she’s getting paid more than any person who’s ever written haiku. It’s just not a viable career option.”
Emerald City Comic Con, March 14-17; Washington State Convention Center, 705 Pike St., Seattle; $30-$45 for Thursday, Friday or Sunday one-day passes; Saturday and four-day passes sold out, though some may be available on lyte.com ticket-exchange site; emeraldcitycomiccon.com