Even though the clock is winding down and she is in the final (and always hectic) week before a convention, GeekGirlCon President and Marketing Director, Erica McGillivray, was nice enough to take the time to answer a few interview questions for me. I have wanted to do a piece that covers many of the issues discussed in this interview for a long time. Even though the industry seems to be slowly coming around to better reflect and support the legions of female geeks out there, the change has been a long time coming, and there is still much more room for improvement. In a time when comic companies bemoan slumping sales, they still seem reluctant to pay attention to the women that make up just over half of the population, and by extension half of all potential comic readers. Even in this short interview, the need for women and organizations like GeekGirlCon to be out there fighting the good fight and affecting change becomes clearly evident.
C.B. – For readers who may not know, what is the mission of GeekGirlCon?
Erica – GeekGirlCon celebrates and supports geeky women of all interests from the sciences to sci-fi and gaming to technology. We put on events all year long and host an annual convention, the first of which is happening October 8th and 9th, 2011 in Seattle.
C.B. – The last time I talked with you for Comic Booked was 9 months ago. During that time GeekGirlCon has really blown up! Vendor space has long since sold out, everyone I talk to is very excited for the convention, and your content and following on social networking sites has increased dramatically. It seems like your organization has really tapped into something special that was not being given the attention it deserves. Are you surprised by the all of the support GeekGirlCon has received in its very first year?
Erica – Yes and no. Being part of untapped/unmarketed to geeky demographics, as both a woman and a queer person, I’ve sought out spaces where people like me were fannish or professionally geeky (I’m a comic book geek, sci-fi t.v. fan, and technology professional). I’ve been to small conventions centered around Buffy the Vampire Slayer that were 300+ people and a handful of men, and I’ve been to large technology conferences where in a room of 120, I was one of a handful of women. Because my experiences with female-centered events were with smaller conventions/gatherings, I was expecting the draw for GeekGirlCon, to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 people. Right now, our pass sales are right at the 1,000 mark — double my expectations — and we are projecting that we’ll come close to or sell out at 1,600 people per day.
C.B. – It seems like there has been a paradigm shift in the comic and gaming industries in regard to the fact that, YES women actually do read comics and play video games, and many are also brilliant creators as well! Of course, this has been the case for many years. Why do you think it so long for this fact to sink in? Do you feel that the success of GeekGirlCon, the Womanthology project, and creators like Gail Simone, have helped to make geek women a force that can no longer be ignored?
Erica – For a long time, the industry was really focused on trying to find geeky women. There were panels and talks about who some of these special unicorns were. Now the discussion has shifted to be about the recognition of these women, either in panels or in projects like GeekGirlCon or Womanthology. Part of what makes all these organizations successful is that they’re driven by women and for women. Yes, at GeekGirlCon, everyone is welcomed to our convention; but our focus is on women’s geekery and women are our audience. For the average geeky woman, being actively marketed to and having things created for her is a new revelation.
Women get told by society at large that we’re supposed to pay second fiddle in life, and geekdom is not exempt from those cultural biases and discrimination — whether there’s a door marked as the “He-Man Women Hater’s Club,” or there’s the more subtle sexism of a large comic book conventions inviting zero female creators. I’m really proud to see so many of my sisters standing up to be recognized in geekdom for what they do, whether or not she’s signed up for GeekGirlCon.
C.B. – Despite many of the positive changes in geek culture, it seems like there is still much work to be done. I would use the way that women are usually illustrated or animated in one prevailing, highly-sexualized body type, in the majority of mainstream comics and games, as an example of old mentalities still being the status quo. What changes would you like to see take place in geek culture?
Erica – While I think mainstream comics and games have the same problems in the end, products of hyper-sexualized and personality-less female characters, and a general problem hiring female creators; comics would be far easier to fix. With gaming, when you’re talking about creators, there are tons of extra hurdles getting young girls into math and sciences as early as elementary school. Writing and drawing, on the other hand, are often considered female subjects — even if women creators are pushed out of the art and literature canons.
With comics, the shift needs to happen at the editorial level and in marketing. As much as I love Gail Simone and have devoured her books, she cannot be the sole female representative with an exclusive with the big two comic companies. Editorial needs to decide to hire a diverse section of creators (and I don’t just mean more women), and marketing needs to light a fire and get with the times that dudes age 18-35 with +20 privilege aren’t the only ones reading mainstream comic books.
Just getting the covers to reflect the inside content of comics would be a huge step forward for marketing. My favorite example was the Emma Frost series from 2003. While made by all male creators, the story and art were created for teenage girls and featured a teenage Emma Frost finishing up high school, going to college, and discovering her mutant powers. However, the covers were done by the infamous Greg Horn, and the vast majority of them featured a hyper-sexualized adult Emma Frost in her smallest White Queen costumes. They were gross. The target audience did not pick up this book because we do judge books by their covers, and I’m sure those picking it up for the sexy Emma Frost were disappointed to find a story inside about a struggling young woman.
C.B. – Creative women from all over the country will be converging on Seattle for the GeekGirlCon? Do people contact you from other regions to find out how they can start their own geek girl related projects and conventions?
Erica – We get contacted by more people asking us if we can put on similar projects or conventions in their areas. We are making plans to expand GeekGirlCon into other cities, but it’s a slow-growth plan that we’re hoping to start on in 2012. So stay tuned! Our main business, convention, and hub of activity will always be in Seattle. Currently, our staff of 30 is entirely made up of volunteers — including myself — and we all have full-time jobs and families who like to see us.
Erica – We had a plan from the very beginning to make the convention diverse in its offerings. Additionally, our staff’s interests and personalities reflect that diversity. Earlier in 2011, we accepted programming submissions and asked people to submit their programming ideas, including what made them an expert in their field of geekdom. We received way more submissions that we could include in 2-days worth of programming — of which we have 70+ hours — and we made sure to pursue women we’d networked with that we knew would bring unique offerings. Our programming for 2011 is largely panelist submitted, and the rest was either created for special guests or an opportunity we seized upon.
C.B. - I know that it is a bit premature to talk about next year before your first convention has even opened, but I don’t see this being a one and done type of affair. What are GeekGirlCon’s plans for the future?
Erica – We’re already planning activities for November 2011, and we’re already on the venue hunt for our 2012 convention (the Seattle Center Northwest Rooms are being converted into offices for local Seattle radio station KEXP so we can’t use the rooms again). Post-convention, our staff will be sitting down and evaluating what went well and what needs improvements for 2012. We’re not going anywhere, and the awesome is just going to continue to build upon itself!
There you have it. I could have easily asked Ms. McGillvray twenty more questions, but I was trying to be considerate, given the fact that she is a very busy woman. Want to hear more of Erica’s thoughts on the state of the comic industry? Fear not, Brandon Jerwa recently recorded an interview with her that will be part of his upcoming documentary film, Untold Tales of the Comic Industry. Keep that film on your radar, because I think it is going to be an amazing and much needed shot of truth into the arm of an industry we all care about immensely.
If at all possible, head out to the convention this weekend, it is going to be amazing! A few of the guest and panelist highlights, for me personally include: writer extraordinaire Gail Simone (Batgirl, Birds of Prey, Secret Six, and many other Marvel and DC titles), Eisner Award-Winning writer Greg Rucka (Punisher, Stumptown, Whiteout, and many other Marvel, DC and Oni titles), author and goddess of all things steampunk Cherie Priest (Boneshaker, Dreadnaught, and many more including the new book Ganymede), Bonnie Burton (writer and fount of knowledge about all things Star Wars and geeky as well as a contributor to Womanthology), Jane Epenson (writer for Buffy, Firefly, Game of Thrones, Battlestar Galactica and many more), Samantha Mathis and Caytlin Vilbrandt (Walking on Broken Glass web comic) who actually did an interview here on Comic Booked just this week, and… well, you get the picture. GeekGirlCon is so stacked with talent that I could go on forever. I suggest that you check out their guests and panelist lineups to see to see the bounty of geeky goodness for yourself.
Even if you don’t live here or can’t make it to the convention, get involved! Follow GeekGirlCon on social networking sites and be sure to check out their website at:
I hope to see you at the GGC or at future events. Power to the geek girls!
Thank you so much to Erica McGillivray and all of the GeekGirlCon crew!
Are you coming to Seattle from out of town? As always, here is my Geek’s Guide to Seattle to help you get a feel for some of what our great city has to offer. Enjoy your time in the Emerald City!