Last week, I made my first post about my attendance at WisCon, over Memorial Day weekend, and promised to update “tomorrow.” This turned out to be overly ambitious, though I did try to update a couple days later only to have my computer crash with my (unsaved of course) work.

But I’m giving this another shot (and remembering to hit “Save Draft” from time to time) so hopefully this will go better.

We left off with me going to bed early instead of to any parties, due to the 20-or-so hours I’d already been up. When I woke on Saturday, it was time to get ready for my first panel.

To say a little more about WisCon panels: They’re rather fascinating to me because the chief criterion for being on a panel is saying that you want to be on a panel. And something within me was asking, “You’re believing I have the expertise to be on this panel because I volunteered? Well, okay, then!” It kind of reminds me of Orwell’s memoir about being a soldier in a socialist army during the Spanish Civil Wars. He spends a lot of the memoir reassuring his British readership that running an Army by consensus totally worked. (For all I know it did. Orwell said it did. It’s just not something that us Westerners are generally taught to expect to work). But seriously, from what I’ve seen at WisCon panels, the system works pretty well. There are some absolute train wreck panels, I’m sure — though I didn’t witness any this year, I heard some stories — more often than not there is a solid discussion (at least) and occasionally it’s transcendentally awesome.

My first panel was, at the very least, a solid one. Fortunately, I didn’t have to suffer too much impostor syndrome, going in, because the topic was on women in superhero comics. (Specifically, the ongoing “Marvel Women’s Project,” which I’d like to include a link about but, as one of the points raised in the panel indicated, there isn’t a whole lot available describing exactly what that’s supposed to be). But that’s something that I blog or talk about a lot, so it was in my comfort zone. Also, my fellow panelists included Sigrid (who I blog with at Fantastic Fangirls) and Monica (who I’d already chatted with over crepes the previous day). I didn’t know the other panelists, or how well it would be attended (since it was so early in the morning, I had fears it would only be us), so I did go down to the panel room with a little trepidation.

One of the things I had realized when I was packing for the con was that, while I had an awesome Marvel T-shirt to wear for that day of the con, it was an Iron Man T-shirt that didn’t really fit with the “women in comics” theme. So I also brought along the Jean Grey-Phoenix doll that an online friend made for my birthday last year — which I think you’ll agree is pretty awesome:

So in my intro as part of the panel I was able to hold it up, and digress about how awesome it was to have friends who will make things for you (because, while there’s a big crafts contingent at WisCon, I’m not craft-y at all!), and also how doll-Jean’s multicolored hair reminds me of how she used to look when Walt Simonson drew X-Factor (see the heading on this blog.) That was part of the icebreaker, for me, and I also talked a bit about how getting into comics had made me aware of a lot of issues that come up in the representation of female characters in all media. That was basically where we kept the focus — the representation of characters — though there was also some discussion about the way that comics can connect to a female audience, and the work of women behind the scenes within the comics industry. The panel was decently attended, for that time of the morning, and the audience (mixed male and female) all seemed to be engaged and to have things to contribute. The two new-to-me panelists had a slightly different perspective — which I thought was good, because Sigrid and Monica and I are both fairly steeped in what is going on at Marvel right now, and it’s easy to lose perspective as to how impenetrable that can look from the outside!

Overall, it was a really positive discussion, which I think was a conscious decision (at least on Sigrid’s part and on mine), along the lines of what had been done at the “Chicks Dig Time Lords” Doctor Who panel the previous night. We did touch on and acknowledge the not-so-great things that can happen to women (characters, creators, and fans) in the world of comics, but it was nice to realize how many positive things there were to talk about. I think the balance ended up being good . I was most worried that I’d sound like a shill for Marvel — and Sigrid did bring some of the Marvel Women one-shots to pass around — but I think we had enough context to the discussion to make it clear where we were coming from. Overall, it was probably the longest positive-while-still-substantive fan conversation I’ve been involved in since getting into superhero comics. We’re trying to figure out what kind of panel to propose for next year — I don’t think a yearly check-in on the status of women in superhero comics is a bad idea, but we ought to have a good angle for it. It would also be cool to have indie-comics and web comics covered (there were already some panels about manga, though with the schedule being stuffed so full I didn’t make it to any of them!)

Once I’d acquitted myself (I hoped) fairly well at my first panel, it was nice to go back to just being an attendee for a while. The next one I had marked on my schedule was “Mothers & Daughters”, specifically focusing on mother/daughter relationships in fiction. This was a spinoff of a lively and well attended “Fathers & Daughters” panel I was at last year. Unfortunately, this one was not nearly as well-attended (I imagine this was because of scheduling, not hatred of mothers!), and one of the scheduled panel members had needed to cancel. What we ended up finding out was that there weren’t a lot of well-adjusted mother/daughter relationships in fantasy or sci-fi. We talked about some interesting ones in mythology (Demeter and Persephone particularly — panelist/author Greer Gilman suggested that Demeter’s search for her daughter makes her one of the first ‘questing heroes’. The conversation had more to say about ‘bad mothers,’ though, and a few of my notes include the idea that fictional ‘bad fathers’ tend to be either feckless or outright abusive, while bad mothers tend to be more insidiously poisonous or straight-out insane. I mentioned that it was interesting that, while traditional heroines were often orphans, both of today’s most popular YA franchises — Twilight and Hunger Games — feature mothers who are living but unable to care for their daughters in meaningful ways, forcing the child into the parental role.

From absent or bad mothers, we got to talking about substitute mother-figures, including governesses or Nannies. The child heroines Eloise, Trixie Belden, and Harriet the Spy came up as proto-“free range kids”, and all of them had benevolent governesses in the picture. (Though, incidentally, Trixie’s mother is both living and attentive, yet apparently not attentive enough to keep the girl detective from having a gun pointed at her on a regular basis. Of course, reading these books as a child, this never occurred to me. I just liked it that Trixie had nice parents/parent figures around but still managed to have adventures.) Perhaps the most interesting observation that came out of the panel, for me, was from Gilman, who is British, and noted that it’s odd to see governesses as such benevolent figures in American stories, since in British stories, they’re almost always villains.

After the “Mothers” panel, I met up with NWHepcat and Gwynnega for lunch at a German restaurant, and much amusing conversation (this was a recurring theme when I spent time with them over the course of the con, and I found it awesome that they were so friendly and welcoming. Thanks for that!) Then I had to sprint back for the next panel that I was a member of. This was the panel on “Sci-Fi TV”, that i was rather nervous about going into the con. I was worried that I didn’t watch enough SF TV to have anything to say (and what I have viewed, I’m often a year or two behind on — I just started watching Lost!) Actually, of course, this was easy and went smoothly. I was impressed with the moderator, because there were some people who (in a well-meaning way) really wanted to take the discussion in their own direction, but the mod stuck to her guns and her format.

We covered such topics as the advantages and disadvantages of long-arc storytelling versus episodic storytelling. (Why was Lost successful when other shows with that kind of ambition floundered? How the hell is Smallville still chugging along after a decade?) There was also some discussion of how ratings play into SF TV, and the fact that a show that only appeals to geeks (one panelist mournfully mentioned The Middleman, which is, indeed the perfect nerd show) isn’t going to be able to survive. The geek/mainstream divide was underlined when all of us mentioned V as the recent SF show we were least impressed with, only to be told that it was more successful, in terms of ratings, than anything else we discussed. Discussion of the future was rather dire, overall, but I couldn’t help coming away optimistic, at least for the short term, that there were so many shows for us to talk about and so many different ways to watch them. I got through the panel (but not, as you’ll see, the weekend) without introducing the phrase “big, sexy hospital” since I was afraid I’d end up hogging panel time trying to explain it.

Next on the agenda for me was attending a pair of lectures related to — surprise! — comics. One was by Karen Healey, whose debut novel I had read on the plane ride, about “Superhero Comics as Fan Fiction.” Healey talked about comics in the context of an evolving fan-created narrative, which was really fascinating and beyond the scope of what I’m going to be able to explain here. She hasn’t published her work yet, but when she does I’m sure I’ll link to it. Meanwhile, I got to raise my hand and ask, presumably for the first and last time I’ll be able to do this at an academic lecture, how the concept of the “crisis” in the DC Universe affects the writer’s theories. The second lecturer, Ann Matsuuchi, discussed (and showed some scans from) sci-fi writer Samuel Delany’s brief stint on the Wonder Woman series, that involved Diana being converted to “Women’s Lib” and fighting for the rights of underpaid department store workers. Matsuuchi had interviewed Delany about what he eventually intended to do with that run, but hadn’t had much success in researching at DC about exactly how and why the direction of the comics changed. It’s not so much that people don’t want to talk as that people often don’t seem to remember, or remember differently. This is the impression I’ve often gotten from comics publishing tales myself — what people were doing was viewed as all in a days’ work, rather than a potential part of a historical record, so it’s hard to pin down facts.

That took care of my panel-going for the day, because I was tired tired tired. I took a nap before meeting a group for dinner — Sigrid, Monica, and some people from the comics panel we had invited out for a “meetup” with comics-fan people. The dinner conversation didn’t end up being too much about comics — we talked about Iron Man 2 more than anything — but, as with all of WisCon, it was a fun and lively conversation.

The rest of the evening remains a bit of a blur because I was still so tired. But I spent some time at the Tiptree Auction (a benefit for the Tiptree Award, which is an award named for James Tiptree, Jr., the masculine pen name of the female author Alice Sheldon. The auction was very funny, thanks to host Ellen Klages and lively audience participation. I did not have the bucks to buy anything — which is too bad because the astronaut Barbie from the 1960s looked AWESOME, and I’m not even a doll-person. Probably the most excellent item auctioned off was a copy of a Flannery O’Connor essay collection that had belonged to Ms. Sheldon and contained her marginal notes. According to Klages, the collection covered such subjects as peacock-raising and Catholicism; Sheldon apparently agreed with O’Connor on the former and disagreed adamantly on the latter. (The quote of the night, from the marginalia was “ingenious, but leaves a smarmy taste.” That’s a great line to work into conversation at some point).

I did not make it through the whole auction — needed more napping — though I did head upstairs for the very successful, very crowded vid party. This was a celebration of fan-vidding, and you can see the playlist from the party here (I’m a particular fan of the Tenth Doctor vid “Handlebars” because, wow, that captures the character). I really enjoy vids as a concept (I’m always coming up with vids that I would make if I had any editing skill or visual sense or any of the other prerequisites for making vids!) but unfortunately I was exhausted and the room was hot, so I didn’t last long and pretty quickly thudded into bed. I went to sleep watching a Patti Smith documentary on PBS, hoping to rest up for the next day.

(Will be continued on a future blog post — Wiscon , Day Three, or some other creative title).

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