A woman in fluffy boots and a purple wig danced on a small platform above a crowd as music blasted through large speakers. A redhead in a green corset passed out flyers, pausing every so often to pose for pictures. Her Poison Ivy costume was one of the best that many said they had seen that day. The woman on the platform stepped down and walked toward the control panel and picked up a microphone. “Come to the Vampire Freaks party after Comic Con!” she called to the nearby swarm.
The exhibitors at Comic Con, an event for all things geek, have figured out what the media have been telling us for ages: sex sells. Last week, many of the booths at the event had girls dressed up as female superheroes and villains; several of the costumes looked more like bathing suits than anything else.
How women are portrayed in comic books has become a hot button topic. More and more women are making their way into the comic book industry, and both they and female convention goers are grappling with the issue. This year, New York Comic Con sponsored several panels about women, both those in the industry and those who appear as characters in comic books.
Sara Pichelli, best known for her illustrations for Ultimate Spider Man, said, “At the very beginning of my career, my first compliment I got was ‘she draws like a man.’”
Shannon Phayer, whose stage name is Veronica Vixen, was at the convention to promote Vampire Freaks, an East Village gothic clothing store. As one of the store’s models, she had learned that she would be attending the convention several months ago. In August, she specially ordered her Poison Ivy costume from Artifice Clothing in Canada.
“We could dress however we wanted, so that’s pretty cool,” she said. All of the girls at the booth wore costumes.
Megumi Sato, another exhibitor at Comic Con, wasn’t dressed in costume herself, though she did wear a pair of cat ears. Her friend, Miyuki Kodama, was another matter. She wore a policewoman costume that had less cloth than the typical NYPD uniform. They were both staffing a booth for the owner of Nippon Kodo, a company that sells incense.
“He needed some ladies like these for the stand,” said Sato, gesturing toward Kodama’s costume with one hand.
None of the women working at Comic Con were necessarily forced to wear costumes. In fact, it seemed like many of them were happy to be continually photographed as they posed as Supergirl or Wonder Woman.
“It’s sort of expected,” said Phayer.
Although these women chose to dress as superheroes, the costumes first originated from comic books. Many of the heroines are often scantily clad.
Chrissy Teverisi, a Comic Con goer who dressed as Batgirl, was quick to criticize female superhero costumes. “I don’t understand why women who can fly are wearing high heels,” she said.
Another Comic Con attendee and cosplayer, Jennifer Hashimoto, wasn’t necessarily bothered by the look of the costumes or even being constantly photographed. Instead, she was more concerned about the fact that many men who asked to take her picture didn’t know what character she was dressed as.
“They’re just taking a picture of an attractive female,” Hashimoto said.
But it isn’t only female fans who see this issue. Women who work for the comic book industry also see this as a problem.
During a panel at the convention, Women of Marvel, several women involved with Marvel comics spoke about the industry.
Kelly Sue DeConnick, who wrote the Osborn: Evil Incarcerated series for Marvel Comics, was quick to point out the usual argument about female costumes in comic books; it’s not only the females that are sexualized, the male superheroes suffer the same treatment. “There’s the argument that ‘Dude, they’re all buff.’” She said, referring to the male superheroes in comics, “Dude, that’s for you, not for us.”
Sana Amanat, best known for her work with Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, said, “The audience wants their characters a particular way.” There’s a segment of the market, though, that doesn’t demand voluptuous female characters. “It’s really important the market pays attention to that and that they don’t need valkyries scantily clad all the time and boobs hanging out all the time,” she said.
Still, DeConnick reminded the panel’s audience that “It sells; it really sells.”
And she’s right. Sex does sell, even in the comic book industry. Many of the most popular female superheroes- such as Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Miss Marvel- wear the least. Yet perhaps change is on the horizon. Comic Con hosted four female-oriented panels that dealt with women in the industry, more than last year. In addition, the women on the panel, Women of Marvel, expressed hope for the future of the industry.
“I hope that the conversation is going to filter out to those with a higher pay grade than us,” said Colleen Coover, known for her graphic novel, Gingerbread Girl.