Kyrax2 has become a folk hero of sorts for female fans disenfranchised with the poor gender representation at the Big Two. As the “Batgirl of SDCC,” Kyrax2 took to the DC panels to question those involved with the relaunch directly about the poor status of female creators at DC. We spoke with her for our article on that ongoing gender debate.
Nick Hanover: So, I want to start off with just getting a little information about you. How long would you say you’ve been a comics reader?
Kyrax2:> About three years, give or take.
Hanover: How did you start reading comics?
Kyrax2: Growing up, I was a fan of the Batman: The Animated Series TV show. As an adult, I discovered that there were more shows set in the same universe, and eventually came across several comic books which were based on Batman and the rest of the shows. Once I’d read all of the comics I could find set in what they call the Timmverse (after Bruce Timm, the creator of B:TAS), it was a short step to reading comics set in the main DCU.
Hanover: What about the Timmverse appealed to you so much?
Kyrax2: There was a real depth in the stories told in B:TAS, a subtlety and a seriousness I didn’t see in other cartoons. I remember one of the first episodes I saw was about Mr. Freeze. It was a poignant story, tragic and beautifully told. The animated universe comics, at least those related to the Batman series, continued this tradition of telling simple yet powerful stories, and they managed to do so episodically.
Hanover: When you first heard about the DC relaunch, before the creative teams were announced, were you hoping they would take a similar approach to the new titles?
Kyrax2: I think it would be fantastic if they would go back to the Batman Adventures and Gotham Adventures style in terms of more episodic, straightforward storytelling. I never even considered that the reboot might lead to something like that, though. It’s simply not the style anymore; the style is longer-term stories that can be packaged into trade paperbacks. Those have their own advantages, of course, but sometimes I miss the style of the comics I started with.
Hanover: Right, but one of the big things DC went on about was making this relaunch for new readers. Do you think the relaunch in its current form is very new reader friendly?
Kyrax2: To be honest, not really. This is only my impression, of course, but it feels like it’s aimed at much the same market they’ve always had. There’s some argument to be made for starting fresh from issue one, but that’s not really what they’re doing. They’re claiming that everything that existed before actually happened, but they’re also starting over, and it’s all rather confusing. I don’t understand some of the choices they’ve made at all. On the one hand, they say it’s necessary to bring in Barbara Gordon as “the most recognizable Batgirl.” On the other, the Flash that this generation is going to recognize is Wally West, due to the popularity of the Justice League and Teen Titans TV series. No one from a new generation of comic readers is going to recognize Barry Allen.
Hanover: When you mention the “same market they’ve always had,” do you think that market also played a role in the hiring of creative teams that lack diversity?
Kyrax2: In part, yes. Comics are traditionally a male hobby, and for many years their target market has been male. The people who grow up reading comic books tend to be the ones that most want to work in the comics industry. If this pool is mostly male, well, it’s understandable that men will be hired more often than women. However, this dynamic is changing, and changing quickly. There is now a whole generation of women who have grown up watching shows like B:TAS and reading Japanese manga. There are more women who want to work in the comic industry than ever before, talented, capable, driven women who deserve the chance to prove themselves. And in another 10 years there will be even more. I know no fewer than three young women in college, all brilliant artists, all pursuing degrees in art, all of whom dream of working in the comic industry.
I also feel like there was for a long time a subtle but pervasive attitude in the industry that women were simply less capable of creating comic books than men, and that this attitude prevented as many women from being hired as might have otherwise been. But this attitude, if it did exist, seems to be changing as well.
Hanover: When you spoke out at the panels at SDCC, it seems like you ran right into that attitude you speak of in several ways. Would you say you expected that reaction?
Kyrax2: Not at first. Well, let me clarify. At the beginning of the very first panel I attended on the very first day, I heard a man ask about female creators in comics, and a strong response from Dan DiDio. The clip of this exchange has since made its way around the internet, and I think that, in fairness to DiDio, I should mention that I later read that he approached this man afterward and spoke with him very civilly. I didn’t know this at the time, however. So, when I asked the question I did about whether DC was committed to hiring more women, I was expecting a similar reaction, and I was prepared to stand my ground until I got a straight answer. What I was not prepared for was the hostility of the audience.
Hanover: Fandom has a strange defensiveness about itself. Do you think the hostility had more to do with a general need to defend a favorite publisher or with what some have interpreted as a request for “affirmative action” at DC?
Kyrax2: I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I think there were two factors at play. First, when I asked about the lack of female characters at the Justice League panel, I was initially cheered. But I continued to speak, and when I said that I couldn’t think of any truly iconic female heroines other than Wonder Woman, that was what inspired a huge outcry. Perhaps people felt the need to defend their favorite characters, or perhaps I had simply committed the terrible sin of showing that I was not as expert as they, and therefore had no right to speak. When I stood up again the next day at the third 52 panel, some people in the audience recognized me, and were already prepared to react with anger to anything I said. When I asked “Are you committed to hiring more women?” the second factor came into play. I think you’re right — I think people believed that I was asking that quotas or some sort of affirmative action be instituted. This was not what I meant at all. In retrospect, perhaps I should have asked, “Are you committed to hiring more women who are qualified?” I strongly believed at the time I asked that question that there must be more women out there who were both talented enough to work for DC, and who wanted to work for DC, and that they simply weren’t being hired.
Hanover: I’m not sure if you follow Gail Simone on Twitter, but she
had had a similar discussion with her fans, where she asked for examples of female creators and got flooded with response. It ended with Gail herself making the same demand of DC that her fans had been making while also pointing out the female creators she knew who had spoke with DC about being involved but were either unavailable or unwilling.
Kyrax2: I only joined Twitter recently, but that matches what Gail told me when I had the opportunity to speak with her at the convention.
Hanover: Given the response you received from the panelists, did you get the sense that maybe female creators were just intimidated by the company and its fans?
Kyrax2: Well, intimidated is a tricky word. It’s often difficult for a woman to work in any male-dominated environment, especially one where the ratios are so skewed, and this certainly causes some women to choose to pursue independent comics rather than attempting to work for DC. Also, a woman has to be very, very good, maybe better than her male counterparts, for fans to accept her. If people don’t like her work, it’s often attributed to the fact that she’s a woman, rather than the fact that it’s not to a particular person’s taste or that the editorial staff made poor choices about the direction the story needed to go.
Hanover: In the wake of your comments at SDCC and the news covering it, DC has seemingly made some changes to its strategy in this area, though. Do you feel like you’ve become a symbol of frustration that a lot of fans have been feeling for quite some time? Do you think your decision to speak up has enabled other fans to now do the same?
Kyrax2: I truly never expected everything that happened to receive such a huge response. That it did tells me that there is a huge group of frustrated fans out there, because the vast majority of the responses I’ve received have been positive. After the panels, many people came up to shake my hand or hug me and thank me for asking the questions I did. On the internet I received a similar response on a much larger scale, with person after person saying, “Thank you for asking the questions that I couldn’t ask,” and “Thank you for speaking for those of us who couldn’t be at Comic Con.” Other people do seem more ready to speak up than before – several have told me that they’re going to NYCC and are prepared to ask tough questions if they feel it’s necessary. But I did not set out to become a symbol. And I think that I was, perhaps, merely the straw that broke the camel’s back. Other people have been asking the same questions as I for a long time, this just happened to be the time that they got heard, both by the internet community, and by DC itself.
Hanover: Given that response from the community and the indication that DC may be making some changes, do you think now may be the time when this issue of gender equality in comics may become unavoidable by the mainstream?
Kyrax2: Well, I certainly hope so! I’ve heard mixed responses from fans, everything from pure skepticism to description of this as a “watershed moment.” My real hope, though, is that DC will simply have more awareness from here on out… that they will make more of an effort to reach out to female creators and make them feel welcome at DC, and that they will make more of an effort to create titles that appeal to a broader range of people. There’s nothing wrong with having an unbalanced cast of characters from a commercial point of view — TV shows from M*A*S*H to Sailor Moon have achieved commercial success, after all. But if DC is going to claim that their new line-up is more diverse than ever, they either need to be able to back up that claim, or be prepared to be called on it. And if they truly want to broaden their appeal and increase their sales, they need to start considering what will appeal to people outside of their traditional fanbase.
For more about gender inequality in comics, read our special report: Digging a Little Extra Hard: How a Showdown at SDCC Could Change the Industry