My Experience at the SLCC FanX–Part 2
As promised in my Part 1 post, here are my thoughts and impressions of the panels I attended at SLCC FanX. This is going to be a long, long post. Prepare yourself.
Women Warriors & Female Shamans: How to Avoid Stereotypes in Writing
Panelists: Mette Ivie Harrison, Jaleta Clegg, Natalie Whipple, and Cindy Grigg (Laura Hickman arrived right at the end of the panel)
The impetus for this panel is to help writers develop well-rounded female characters that don’t fall into the stereotypical roles of women in fantasy novels: a one-sided warrior woman that is essentially a man with boobs or the spiritual, care-giving healer. Panelists, all authors themselves, made suggestions on crafting a better character like creating depth by adding unexpected quirks, molding a personality unique to your character and differentiates them from others in the story, and pushing stereotypes further than originally thought and placing those characters in an atypical roles or tasks. I am curious to find a good example of this last suggestion. In my experience as a reader, even writers who purposefully choose a very stereotypical character end up with a highly problematic product. It would be great to see this approach done with intended effect.
The writers suggested a few resources to help realize the spectrum of attributes available to writers like Medieval POC tumblr, posts on Overthinking It, and exploring TV Tropes. I would add that reading blogs of other women writers and feminist criticism blogs will demonstrate the concerns in characterization and spark ideas on how to address them in your own writing. There are many. Try the Google.
The panel closed with a real life scenario described by Harrison when she was asked by a male writer how he can create better female characters. Advice was centered on observing, listening, and researching. But I felt the best advice was this: if writers are having trouble creating well-rounded female characters, then it would be best to examine their own attitudes toward women in their lives. It might reveal that one views those women as one-dimensional people. I am of the opinion that this advice extends beyond writing the female character, but to many groups that are marginalized in fiction or are “the other.” Your own unconscious biases will be reflected in your writing whether to realize it or not.
No Girls Allowed, Not Any More! Girls Who Make Sci-fi/Fantasy Chic
Panelists: Mette Ivie Harrison, Jaleta Clegg, Natalie Whipple, and Cindy Grigg, Laura Hickman, and Aneeka Richins
This group had many of the same writers as the “how not to stereotype female characters” panel, described above, with Hickman and Richins added to the panelists. The intent behind this panel seemed to be the changing face of sci-fi and fantasy genres and nerdom to include more women. The panel was off to a dubious start when the women were asked to describe a time when they were told “No Girls Allowed” and many of the women shared experiences where they were pushed into a male role like at dance classes when their weren’t enough girls. This is nitpicking, but when the title of the panel is about overcoming active exclusion, I was thinking there would be more direct stories of discrimination.
One of the more interesting questions posed to the panel by Harrison was how do you defend against the accusation that you, as a woman, are not writing “real” sci-fi or fantasy? The answers were varied. Reading Joanna Russ’ book How to Suppress Women’s Writing was mentioned and another panelist talked about making sure people know that these genre topics are your interest and you are not just being influenced by men in your life. One response was to not actively defend against the accusation as to not give it more credence. And, then there was a statement about how attacks often come from other women. I was disappointed to not have more active recommendations for women to use daily against these accusations. I mean, Russ’ book was published in 1983. This criticism has a long legacy and is an ongoing problem. Without women responding to the challenges, the status quo of the male default in sci-fi and fantasy will continue.
This panel closed on the question of how can women be taken more seriously or viewed legitimately as writers and as women. Again, there was chatter about women attacking other women. For sure, a supportive community with a single focus would be helpful. But where does that exist? It doesn’t exist in politics and although feminism has the end solution of equality, how we get there and what we all do along the way as women and allies is so varied. I thought the best advice from this question was to respect what women are doing instead of comparing them to what men do. If speaking solely on binary terms, approaches to writing and choice of content will most likely vary between gender norms. While it won’t solve the problem of women being undercut, accepting women for their contributions may create starting place for positive discourse.
Superheroes as Literature: A Conversation About Power Themes, Objectification, and Social Icons
Panelists: Jeff Bell, James Wymore, Aneeka Richins, Tracy Magnun
This panel was interesting to me. I definitely feel there are literary themes in comics, probably more often in the indie comics. That said, superheroes are not all pulp. There are many themes present in lit that you’ll find in comics to a certain extent: traditional hero journeys, coming of age tales, redemption, forgiveness, past versus present, class disparity, oppression, and the nature of evil. Now, how well these topics are handled is a different question.
The first question for the panel was if our superheroes are comparable to the mythic characters of the past. The panel was split on whether this was a valid statement. Richins added that characters that were inspired or active during the cold war are one representation on the United States attitudes and could be viewed as common cultural tale, or I might say a new mythology. No doubt ancient cultures told stories of their heroes that were either fabricated or loosely based on actual events for both entertainment and preservation of history—our comic heroes do the same as they entertain us across all mediums and reflect the times they are created.
The objectification portion of the panel was focused on representation of female image. There was much discussion of comics being male fantasy and how that feeds the representation of women on the pages. The prevalent theme of “the guy who now has a daughter” came up in this discussion. Not only as a reason that a comic consumer might become aware of the impossible body image and limited role of female characters, but also why we see some movement in the writing and art because creators are also having children and gaining awareness of the impact of representations in media. Richins pointed out the continued backlash that persists when creators attempt to create female characters that are more than sex objects. Bell called out Gail Simone and Kelly Sue DeConnick as changing the tide. That is a lot of responsibility to place on two creators. A closer look at the industry will reveal more female writers and artist working in comics. However, there is still much progress to be made for women in the industry, especially at the “big two.”
Horror on Television
Panelists: Kerry Jackson, Jimmy Martin, Sean Smithson, Mario DeAngelis
I was happy this panel mentioned Hannibal. Thank you Kerry Jackson! In my opinion it is by far the best horror on TV right now. I loved seeing a young woman in Will Graham cosplay at the panel as well. And, I was shocked to find out that the local NBC affiliate is not airing the program. If I lived in SLC, I would be pissed off about that. The big question with Hannibal is why so few viewers. I think the main reason is because it is on Friday nights at 10:00 PM. The show is incredibly intense for network TV as well. Add on top of that, most everyone knows where Hannibal Lecter ends up thanks to the Thomas Harris books and the movies based on that material. Maybe they don’t want to invest in backstory? They are truly missing out. Enough with my Hannibal promotion! I wrote about my love for the show previously for WatchPlayRead.
I got some great recommendation from this panel for further viewing like BBC’s The Fall (which I am watching now—it’s creepy) and old shows like Werewolf and Norliss Tapes. I also need to be on the lookout for the Locke & Key movie. The comic was excellent and the TV pilot never made the cut for production. This panel was not at all formal but had some great discussion with panelists and audience since we were such a small group.
Muppets: A Cultural History and Look at What’s Coming Up
Panelists: Jeff Vice, Kelly Adams, Tracy Magnum, Rob Easton
In all honesty, I paid very little attention to this panel. I wanted some sort of commentary on the meaning of the Muppets and thoughtful consideration of the role of Muppets in our culture. Instead, this panel was opened up to the audience for questions after a few cursory thoughts from the panel. For a large room, there were no microphones for audience questions. I couldn’t hear all the questions and the panelists, who had microphones, did not reiterate the questions for the room. At that point I lost interest. I ended up reading an article, and the comments that followed, about a PAX East controversy. I think that says it all.
Wow, I didn’t even get to the one-on-one interviews and spotlights! I guess there will be a Part 3 SLCC FanX post from me covering the celebrity guests, Mick Garris, and Neal Adams.