Elayne Riggs' Journal (for Leah)

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Everything Old Is New Again

Every year as New York Comic Con approaches, I get a bit anxious because I've been out of the social aspect of comics for so long, at least since I wrote for ComicMix. I still buy and read lots of books enthusiastically, I'm still married to an extremely talented artist, but I'm a bit too out of the loop, and a bit too comfortable up here in Bronkers, to hang out regularly with any comics cognoscenti still left in the NYC area. The DC folks are all in Burbank now, I don't really know the Marvel folks, my freelance friends are scattered - NYCC has now become the only time when I can catch up with all of them, as they know where to find us (Artist Alley table B6 once again, next to Peter and Kath). My job precludes me from being as active in online comics-related venues as I once was back in the days of Usenet and message boards, and my years of doing weekly comics reviews are long past. Plus, you know, a whole new generation is now into the stuff, as many women as men pack the conventions (and the bathrooms!), and being childless and not exposed to so much current pop culture I feel as if I've crossed the generation divide into the realm of "what are those crazy kids talking about?" territory. Which is as things should be; for hobbies to thrive there needs to be new blood every x-number of years.

So I try to look at NYCC (now the only con Robin and I attend, as he doesn't enjoy them as much as I do) as an opportunity to learn what's new, in addition to catching up with my peeps. And it saddens me that, in the year of our lord Jesus Jones two thousand and fifteen (as Melissa often puts it), some things still haven't changed. I follow politics and the 'net enough that online and in-person sexual harassment doesn't surprise me. The initial reaction of many straight white males to the eventuality of sharing their once-exclusive societal privilege is fear and lashing out at the folks who would benefit from that sharing, implying to their target audience of other straight white males still holding the most privilege (as well as implicitly warning those still on the outside and the margins) that Those People are different, less than, undeserving, not "true fans" - Other. This has been going on at least as far back as I remember, and I was pretty immersed in second-wave feminism in high school, college and my young adult years. Heck, feminism was my college minor. I've seen it happen over and over again, whether in politics (why don't we have the Equal Rights Amendment yet?) or pop culture (how on earth is being a "social justice warrior" a bad thing?).

Back in my 30's and 40's, as a fan and writer and feminist, I tried to be part of the solution to this problem in my chosen hobby. And I think Friends of Lulu's aim of getting more women and girls reading comics and participating in comics-related activities certainly came to pass. Even "our" goal of seeing more women involved in creating the stuff has borne amazing fruit, as female-created graphic novels top the NY Times best-seller list and are made into hit Broadway shows. But damn if some things never change. I urge you to read Heidi MacDonald's comprehensive essay on the stubborn persistence of sexual harassment in the comics industry. I'm really horrified how this stuff is still swept under the rug; I'm very fortunate to be employed at a company which takes this very seriously and encourages women at every stage of their careers, from admins like me all the way to the boardroom (our current US chair and president is a woman, and we have tons of female partners, one of whom I support). But my employer lives in 2015, and I fear the comics industry, as is its wont, still clings in many ways to a past which wasn't so great if you didn't happen to be a societally-privileged straight white male.