Aiming to create diversity within the heavily male-orientated world of comic books, Comic Book Slumber Party brings together an array of creative, unique women around the UK (and beyond) and helps them to promote and publish their works.
The mastermind behind CBSP, Hannah Chapman, joins us, here at Heroine Junkies, to discuss her thoughts on comics and gender and the differences between the UK and US ‘scenes’.
HJ: Starting at the beginning… how did you get here, what did you study etc? How did you come up with Comic Book Slumber Party and what do you do as your day job?
HC:I studied Creative Writing at uni and for a long time wanted to be a journalist. I was doing okay freelancing as a writer and editor while studying but I realised that my heart wasn’t in it. It was something I could do, not something I needed to. In my second year of uni I spent a few months in Chicago taking some writing and art classes and I really focused on comics while I was over there. By chance I set up Graham Crackers Comics Ladies Night and that was really the start of CBSP. I wanted to create a community that promoted, encouraged, and recognised the awesome work that women are doing in comics. Not just as creators but as publishers, critics, distributors, and readers.
After graduating I got an office job in marketing that just didn’t work out and so after that decided to tackle freelancing again but from a different angle. I now work with small businesses helping them with small amounts of admin but mostly assisting with branding, marketing, web development, and event planning. I think my degree helped a little but I have done so many internships and personal projects over the years and I’d credit my career more to that.
What are you doing now?
Because I work from home a lot I don’t get much structured ‘free time’ but I try to make the most of it. I write for the Forbidden Planet International blog, plan upcoming CBSP events and anthologies, edit GCC Ladies Night anthologies, and play lots of Mario Kart.
I hear you studied in the US, how different are the comics scenes?
It’s a weird one. Mainstream comics are way more accepted over in the states than they are here. When I was in America I got to enjoy mainstream titles and indie/self-published books without having to justify it. Comics are comics, you know? Some are trashy, some are not, but that’s just the way it is. I spend so much time in the UK listening to people who are into ‘mainstream’ titles ragging on the indie scene and vice versa. It’s irritating as hell. My gut tells me that it’s because in the UK we want so badly for them to be taken seriously as art with a capital A, so people get a bit cagey when Marvel or DC release something that is so generic and cliched that it hurts a bit to read it. I once heard an artist say at the London Book Fair that a comic doesn’t have to be about cancer or the Holocaust to win and award. Having fun with comics is also totally cool, you know?
We hear ya! Are more girls involved in comics in the UK or in the US?
The struggles and prejudices apply in the UK as they do in the US. The scene in the states is bigger and geographically America is huuuuuugggeeeeeee so in terms of sheer numbers I imagine there are more women involved in/reading comics in the US. If we talk percentages though, I’m not so sure. I don’t think it’s that not enough women are involved in comics, I think it’s that we don’t see them anywhere near as much as the men.
Did you find a difference in trends, ie. Indie/superhero?
I love reading mainstream comics but I find it hard to pick up new titles for old characters. It’s virtually impossible these days to read X-Men or Batman without knowing 50 years of backstory. And it is so tiring!!! I think that’s why I love reading Image so much, everything feels newer. The difference is definitley there, and the sort of events you go to will really show. I’d rather spend time at CAKE, SPX, or TCAF than Comic-Con or San Diego – the atmosphere and work is way more relaxed and feels less ‘flashy’.
It’s worth remembering though that while we get to read mainstream titles here they’re almost all set in America, with American characters, and they’re made in the states too. The big publishers in the UK are indie publishers so I’d say the market leans more that way in terms of what we make in the UK – I don’t know about what we consume so much.
What sort of comics do you find girls are more drawn to create?
I think one of the reasons there are so many women self-publishing and working with indie publishers is that for the most part the key to the mainstream industry is shaped like a dick. Can I say that? The same doors that are open to male creators/editors/colourists are not open to women.
We then get stuck where you have lots of women wanting to make lots of different types of work and they can’t necessarily make certain kinds because the mainstream doors are closed to them and the indie scene isn’t always welcoming of your typical caped crusader.
I guess women are lucky in a sense that we get to make whatever the hell we want, but mainly because we’ll be publishing it ourselves…
What were your childhood dreams?
I wanted to be all sorts of things a writer, director, actress, politician, Egyptologist. I really really really wanted a dog or a sister. I got the dog when I was a teenager but am stuck with five grotty brothers (sorry boys).
Egyptologist! YES. What comic would you love to have created?
I wish I’d gotten round to finishing off some of the comics I scripted while in the states. I had so much fun doing the writing exercises for my classes but never took them further than that.
What are your favourite kind of comics? Are you a superhero girl?
My favourite now are indie comics because the scene is so vast and so freakin immersive. I went through a phase of only wanting to read auto-bio comics but I’m more into political stuff at the moment. That said, my first love was Witchblade and I get a tone of X-Men in my pull list each month.
What is it about comics that made you want to be a part of it/ first comic that grabbed your attention and inspired your love of the medium?
People are so nice! Talking to people who read/make comics is my favourite thing. I love that it feels like a really niche thing that I’m into but then I get to ‘do’ comics with so many people. Comics as a medium are really accessible and I love that.
I used to work in a bookshop and we got this one really battered copy of Skim by Jillian Tamaki in. I bought it for practically nothing and it was unlike anything I’d ever seen. It made me fall in love with comics all over again.
Who is your favourite comic character?
Oh man this is so hard…I think it has to be…Witchblade. But only because every time I see her near naked body I laugh and wonder why the hell I liked it so much when I was 11.
Apparently the division of genders consuming comic books isn’t quite as huge as anticipated. One recent poll found that over 40% of facebook users who read comics are female. Do you feel comics are geared towards a male audience, and the idea that boys don’t want/can’t relate to female lead characters/heroes is misinformed?
Did you know that in childrens publishing you’re more likely to get a book about a duck published than a book about a child? Because apparently as human beings we’re only able to relate to somebody who looks exactly like us.
I don’t think the problem is with the consumer – it’s with the publisher. Somebody please tell me what a focus group for comics looks like because the last time I checked it was a medium for storytelling not a genre. Comics are made and read by so many different people and I refuse to believe that men being unable to relate to women is true.
Do you feel like it is any more difficult to enter the comic industry as a female?
100% undoubtedly yes.
Who are your heroes?
Too many to name them all but I will try: Annie Koyama, Zainab Aktar, Emily Carroll, Jillian Tamaki, Judith Buteau, Donya Todd, Lizzy Stewart, Kate Leth, Wendi Freeman, Lauren Burke, Megan Byrd…the list is endless.
Where would you like to be in ten years?
I would like to be King of Comics – or failing that I’d like for CBSP to still exist and for us to be publishing awesome books. That’d be great. I’d also like to be living in a commune for one.
Do you think female comic fans are taken seriously enough? Do you feel judged when you walk into a comic store?
I thinks sometimes I get on my guard when I go into a new one but my past experiences have been so great. Excelsior, my current local shop, are super nice to me even when I threaten to stitch all my single issues together. Graham Crackers Comics in Chicago is great, as is Quimbys. And American Dream Comics in Bath are wonderful, especially Nick. Hi Nick!
If I walked into a Tesco Metro and somebody was a dick to me I’d probably just moan at my friends and go back anyway. In the past I’ve been way to prone to have a bad experience at a comic shop and then never go back to it – people have off days, sometimes only person who works there is an arse (and if you learn the days they work you can avoid them haha…not joking). I’ve been lucky to have so many great shops with amazing staff so close to me.
I get this feeling that people assume you will be heading straight the manga when you enter forbidden planet, and if you are picking up a comic, you can’t possibly be a serious reader… I may just be overly paranoid though! haha
I think that comes down to personal experience, and yeah, I have heard a lot of horror stories where people have just been totally disrespected in comic shops. That’s the worst, and it’s also why we started GCC Ladies Night – it really helped a lot of women who were intimidated by the idea of shopping for comics feel way more comfortable.
Do you think it is important to promote girls within comics? Have you read any of the recent female led series’, ie. Pretty deadly/ Coffin Hill?
I’ve not read either of those titles – maybe I should? I don’t know. I really really believe that promoting women in comics is a good way of addressing this weird gender imbalance in the industry. It’s not the only way by any means, but it’s a step in the right direction.
You should definitely check those two out – they are brilliant!
Do you think female comic book writers and artists and getting more recognition and respect within the industry?
Slowly I think things are changing but we’re not at a point yet where we can stop pushing for it and say ‘great job gals’.
Do you think more strong female leads, who are not scantily clad animated sexual objects, would attract more female comic readers? I know that the avengers movies have inspired a lot of young boys to pick up comics, but with only one female avenger on the team, what do little girls have to look up to?
I think more choice will help and showing that there are more to comics than just these types of books. Getting more comics into school and public libraries, more child friendly comic events! That’s one of the things I love about TCAF – libraries, schools, and children are such a big part of their programming. It’s a great way to tackle this stuff.
Or do you feel it depends more on content? Is there a difference in what girls read and what boys read?
We need to stop telling boys and girls to read different things – it’s dumb and I hate it. My brothers would read the stuff I brought home and vice versa. Like I said, choice is a big part of it.
We agree whole heartedly.
Tell me a little bit about the plans for Comic book slumber party – Also, are there any upcoming events and how did you manage to get so many people involved in previous ones?
People got involved because they thought promoting women in comics was a good idea I guess. And I asked! It’s like I said, people in comics are so so friendly and I love that!
This year we’ll be having a birthday event in Bath (CBSP turns 1!), we’ll be tabling at TCAF and debuting two new books there, and we’re planning a two day event to be held in Chicago next year. On top of that we’ll be doing lots of Drink’n’Draws in the South West and workshops up and down the country so keep an eye out. Lots of things happening!
Comic Book Slumber Party celebrates it’s first birthday on March 9th 2014… and event is being planned in Plymouth, check the website nearer the date for more details!
For more info about Hannah and her project, check out these previous interviews:
- Interview with Women Write About Comics
- Interview with Forbidden Planet
- Interview with Meanwhile…on the blog
Hannah currently writes for Forbidden Planet International’s Blog, and guess what? It’s all about up and coming lady comics!