Special Report: Women who Kick Ass by Steve Bunche

Special Beat Correspondent Steve Bunche went to the closely-watched “Women Who Kick Ass” panel and explains what happened:

Is there any more tired panel that gets regularly dusted off at comics conventions than the totally-beside-the-point “women in comics” forum? When it comes to creating comics, and most other things for that matter, gender is irrelevant and the main factor to consider is the validity of the creator’s vision and intent rather than whether or not the talent possesses twig & berries or “the Holiest of Holies,” as Pulp Fiction’s Jules would put it. Honestly, I’ve long thought the only way to kick start some life into that moribund mainstay would be if I were to put on a taffeta ball gown, pad my bra a little — believe me, it wouldn’t take much — and haul my high-yellow tuchas onto the podium and began to rail on about how Stan Lee was an unsung feminist whose unknowing depiction of females was actually a subtle call for empowerment. Of course that’s complete and utter horse hockey, but then again so was the “Girls Who Kick Ass” panel at the Javits Center’s New York Comicon.

Billed as a sounding board for women in the funny books biz, the panel garnered a bit of controversy for its placement of former adult film star Jenna Jameson among the likes of Colleen Doran, Louise Simonson, and Amanda Conner. Jameson, a funny and intelligent speaker, is quite lively in her own right, but her presence was guaranteed to detract from the other panelists and attract a legion of devotees of “one-handed” cinema, many of whom couldn’t have cared less about the creative process of comics and paid their admission fee in hopes of worshipping at Jameson’s tenderloin flick altar. I have absolutely no problem with Jameson’s porn past, in fact I’m a staunch advocate of such fare, but the inherent sensationalism that comes with her simply doesn’t jibe with a panel aimed at women being taken seriously in the medium. No matter how sincere her intentions may be, the vast majority will most likely not be able to embrace Jameson in any real capacity as a creator and see her as anything other than a “tainted” woman who splayed her naughty bits on camera for the, er, amusement of folks living in a hypocritically anti-sexuality culture. Just ask Traci Lords.

Scheduled to start at 7PM, the panel didn’t get underway until nearly a half hour later for no adequately explained reason. While not packed, the hall was dense with fans of Jameson’s video output, curiosity-seekers, and about twenty or so comics enthusiasts who actually showed up to hear what the panelists had to say, and as the minutes dragged on past the announced start time their was a palpable anticipation permeating the atmosphere. Would the discussion be a train wreck of epic proportions, or would the panelists rock the audience’s collective world with gems of unforeseen profundity? Sadly, the event turned out to offer neither thanks to Simonson and Doran bailing for unknown reasons, leaving Amanda Conner as the sole voice of comics biz legitimacy at the mercy of an audience that for the most part didn’t care about what she may have had to say and the three would-be humorous handlers, presumably connected to Jameson, who were annoying in that “God damn it, I want to punch you until you scream” way popularized by that towering douchebag Ryan Seacrest.

When Jameson finally showed up, dozens of camera-wielding arms thrust up, bringing to mind a more desperate analog to the paparazzi that trail Paris Hilton. When the horn dog contingent got over its photographic priapism Jameson and Conner took their places at the dais and waited while the would-be Seacrests thrilled the audience with a clip from Jameson’s new movie, Zombie Strippers, a film that looked like exactly what one would expect from a film with such a trite title. Thankfully, the clip was over quickly and the panel proper got started. Jameson played to the crowd, attempting to win them over with her professed confusion over the status of the term “fanboy” as a pejorative. There to shill both Zombie Strippers and the comic book that she supposedly created — Shadow Hunter, a book that looked to me like yet another entry from the school of Witchblade knockoffs — Jameson displayed far more passion for and knowledge of horror movies than she did for comics, quite obviously betraying an ignorance of the medium and allowing Conner to field most of the questions relating to the stuff that the real fans and creators would know and understand. When describing her collaboration with Shadow Hunter’s scripter, Witchblade co-creator Christina Z, it was apparent to many in the audience that Jameson most likely had never even spoken to the writer, at which point what little credibility Jameson had built up with the comics cognoscenti present rocketed down the proverbial bowl. Swiftly attempting to regroup, Jameson then elaborated about the political undertones found in Zombie Strippers, declaring her role in the movie was great because she got to “eat a man’s penis off.”

As you can no doubt judge from that off the cuff remark, there was little prudery involved in the discussion — although the Seacrest brigade did caution the audience to keep things somewhat clean — but the real shame of the event was that Conner has a fabulously smart, ribald and downright prurient sense of humor that could more than easily have matched Jameson’s japery note for note, but the majority of the crowd was there for Jenna and they would have willingly sat there with rapt attention while she read aloud the label on a box of Ex-Lax. Conner’s efforts were valiant, but, for all intents and purposes, for what may have been the first time in her life, Amanda was the smart, talented, and funny wallflower in the eyes of a room full of wolves sniffing around the dance’s popular “hot” girl in a futile omega mating display.

When the event finally ended, it was as though a silent voice had said, “And now…GO!” at which point the dais was swarmed by joystickers with their cameras at the ready, each seeking a shot of or with Jameson. I went up and sat next to Amanda and chatted with her as the scene began to resemble the famous POV shot from the original Night of the Living Dead in which the grasping arms of hungry zombies jutted through the heroes’ makeshift barricade of pitiful two-by-fours. Realizing I would probably have to wait for at least an hour to get a shot of Amanda and Jameson together, I asked Conner to tap Jameson for a quick snap of the two of them, after which I left the hall to go get smashed with the crew headed down to Garth Ennis’ local.

So did this forum contribute anything to increasing the awareness and credibility of females in the comics biz? Despite Amanda’s best efforts, I have to answer that question with an unequivocal “no,” and I have to say the whole thing would have worked a hell of a lot better by catering to Jameson’s fan base and not attempting to get the comics fans into the dubious mix. I’m a fan both of adult film industry women who are comfortable with and in full charge of their sexuality (retired or otherwise) and comics as an art form, but in this particular instance the attempted meeting of those two worlds amounted to naught but something that could have been launched via a late night infomercial, leaving the actual comics professional out of the equation altogether.

Comments

  1. Hooray, NYCC! You’ve managed to combine the worst of San Diego and Wizard in one queasy mix.

    I’d have bailed, too. Not because Jameson is a porn star. But because it would be (and was) exactly as described: a showcase for the porn star.
    Why waste the time?

    This was a stupid, stupid panel idea, and whoever came up with it and whoever approved it owes the female comics pros on it an apology for turning them into the B list. (There was a different women in comics panel just one hour earlier.)
    This panel hearkens back to when “The Women in Comics Panel” at any given con was THE Women in Comics Panel because it would be the ONLY panel which had women on it the entire weekend.

    “When it comes to creating comics, and most other things for that matter, gender is irrelevant and the main factor to consider is the validity of the creator’s vision and intent rather than whether or not the talent possesses twig & berries”
    To paraphrase Sturgeon (massively), if there’s a specialized interest, a panel for it isn’t a bad thing.
    Readers/aspirants/followers WANT to see creators of their color, their gender, their sexual preference. Now, if a panel for women/chinese/black/gay, etc. are the ONLY place you will see someone Chinese, black, female, gay, etc., there’s a problem. (And there is definitely sometimes a problem.)
    It’s easy to say it’s all about the merit and dismiss the need for focus.

    We could apply this same thinking to comics in general: if it’s all about the merit, why have a manga panel, capes panel, or minicomics panel?
    Silly, huh?

  2. Wanna-be Seacrests, huh? Thanks, the dude is very successful, so I’ll take that as a compliment.

  3. Alan Coil says:

    No, Alex, I believe he said you were

    “…annoying…douchebag(s like) Ryan Seacrest.”

  4. Ah, thanks for the clarification.

  5. Kasey says:

    I love your work on the Stack guys, but this panel was a disaster and very disrespectful to Amanda Conner. You were lucky she had a super human level of professionalism to put up with that crap.

  6. Good post. I was curious about how this one went, especially since I moderated the Women in Comics panel that took place earlier that evening. Marion Vitus did a great job of organizing it and made a post here with details that one:
    http://marionv.livejournal.com/65010.html#cutid1
    I couldn’t help imagining if I had the chance to moderate this one how it would have gone. I’d definitely have questions for Jenna re: the mainstreaming of porn in our society and how it relates to young girls (possible readers of her comic? is it an adult comic or superhero comic?) growing up in our culture. But I have a feeling that the audience probably wasn’t interested in that line of questioning.

  7. Kasey, were you there? Honestly, I’m wondering, because from my perspective it went totally fine, the audience was engaged, I talked to Amanda before and after and she was fine, and everything was fine.

    Was it spectacular? Heck no. It was completely weird to try and balance questions to a “panel” when you have two completely incongruous people on it. If we had the whole panel the idea was to engage the panelists and audience in a discussion about why comic-con organizers think it’s necessary to set up a panel like this, and why it, in fact, is not necessary. That would have been interesting, and possible, if we had a panel instead of, as I said, two incongruous guests. Who regardless of all that, from my perspective, both came off fine.

    But, if you went to the panel, and were in the audience, and it really seemed like the whole thing was an absolute trainwreck, and we completely disparaged Amanda Connor, then I take everything back. That was not our intention, and I’m not quite sure why it came across that way.

  8. Let me preface this by saying that I did NOT attend the panel. I did see Jenna Jameson and her entourage pass by me and my wife just outside the IGN Theater at about 7:15PM. I remarked “Wasn’t that panel she was on supposed to start 15 minutes ago?”

    And Alex, you could have still asked that question with two people. Two female creators would be able to answer that question just as good as four. Unless you realized that asking why a “Women In Comics” panel is necessary doesn’t work that well when one of the two only has a tenuous connection with comic books.

    My question is, why not have a Jenna Jameson panel in and of itself? Why shoehorn her in on a “Women who kick ass” panel where she really doesn’t belong. Because this panel seems (again, I wasn’t there) just be a means to an end to promote Zombie Strippers and, hey, since they were there anyway, Shadow Hunter. Unless Mr. Bunche forgot to mention the clip of equal length to the Zombie Strippers one that was devoted to Ms. Conner’s career. Maybe every panelist was to receive their own clip.

    Because, even if Ms. Doran and Ms. Simonson showed up, I’d imagine Ms. Jameson would not at all be able to hold her own when talking of women’s contributions to the comic book field. And you’d have three women twiddling their thumbs when Ms. Jameson promoted her shlock horror film with that clip instead of just one .

    But seriously, why wasn’t there a “Jenna Jameson:Pop Culture Icon” panel with other creators from Zombie Strippers and Shadow Hunter on the dias. That would have been better than this dog and pony show and less insulting to three great female comic book creators.

  9. Totally makes sense, William. I 100% agree with you that there should have been a Jenna Jameson panel with people from Shadow Hunters and Zombie Strippers, and that’s it. That would have been great (well, relatively great), and made more sense.

    However, the panel, as far as I understand it, was suggested by Jenna Jameson herself… The reason it started so late is because she wanted to wait for the other panelists to show up, and felt it was important to give them time to get there. Don’t quote me on that, but that’s generally what I was told.

    And just to clarify a bit more, I was starting off a line of questioning that was discussed with Amanda Connor before the panel, while we were waiting for it to start, trying to figure out how to make the point when there are 50% less panelists available. We started off on a line of questioning that was going to lead up to that, but it was clear the conversation was talking a very different (and totally fine, but more retrospective) direction, and so rather than hijack two unwilling panelists, and an audience, we kept going in the direction the questioning was going.

    I should ALSO mention that, though Jenna Jameson was very much plugging her stuff throughout the panel, she was also clearly interested and impressed by Amanda Connor, and deferred to her on several different questions. Amanda Connor also didn’t seem to have a problem with Jenna Jameson, and felt free to plug her own stuff.

    As for the clip, it was right at the top, literally about 15 seconds long, and nobody referred to it ever again :)

    Anyway, I was trying not to respond to this too much, but I feel like the panel is getting painted in a very negative way. Believe me, I was VERY aware how horribly wrong it could have gone, and I don’t think it did. As I said above, it was just fine. Not great, not bad, just fine.

  10. “The reason it started so late is because she wanted to wait for the other panelists to show up, and felt it was important to give them time to get there.”

    Why did she assume the other panelists would be late? That sounds like a load of baloney. It seems more like someone was angling for a grand entrance, which was achieved.

    The role of a moderator is to keep a panel on track, and it’s clear from the report that it went exactly the way Ms. Jameson’s people hoped it would. (Who the fuck needs three handlers to be on a panel at a comic convention, anyway?)

    I think you are trying valiantly to defend a chain of iffy decisions. You weren’t in control of the panel, you agree the panel was a bad idea, yet you’re defending the end result.

    It’s probably a vain hope that programming at NYCC has learned anything from this, but I can tell you I would not be on a panel like this. I have been the person whose purse was being held, and I have held purses. Neither is fun.
    I maintain that this panel was hugely disrespectful of the professional comics creators included, and I’m astonished you can acknowledge it was a ill-considered idea and still hold the line that it wasn’t “that” bad.

  11. Again, I can’t speak for anyone else, just myself, so sure, everyone is possibly absolutely correct in terms of their speculations regardless of what they may be.

    I’m not trying to change anyone’s minds, just present a balanced version of facts, rather the supposition that has been presented elsewhere.

    - Jenna did not assume they would be late. When she heard they were not there yet, we waited for them.

    - Jenna’s people did not ask for three “handlers.” Justin, Pete and I perform together as a trio, and were asked to moderate together. We asked if they really wanted three people, and NYCC said, “sure, that’ll be fun.” That’s it. No massive conspiracy.

    - Things can be a spectacularly bad idea, and still turn out fine. You’ve never had an experience that turned out better than you expected? Not trying to be snarky, but seriously, yes, there were several poor decisions, but you make things work with the situation you’re in, and end of the day, if the two panelists, the moderators, and the audience had a fine time*, that’s way more important than anything else.

    And, as I said above, if it turns out from the audience or the panelists that I’m completely wrong, I apologize, my perspective was incorrect.

    *And, just because writing in the comments section of a blog is a great conveyor of tone, I want to once again explain that when I say “fine,” I literally mean “fine,” not great.

  12. Steve says:

    Poor Amanda Conner! I met her and she is super-nice. She did not deserve to be thrown into that disaster.

  13. Steve Taylor says:

    Judgements about the panel aside and eschewing comments on back handed feminism,…Could I just point out the “positives” of the comics community welcoming this recovering pornographer into the fold,…no matter how begrudgingly. We may be nerds,…or geeks. But at least we are nurturing, caring geeks. Especially when it comes to people who have sex for money.

  14. man, this is funny. amanda had a good time and didnt mind the panel at all. she was bummed the other people didnt show, but didnt mind spending some time with a room full of fans of jenna and herself. amanda was well spoken, polite and pushed her own work and views as did jenna.

    the panel and the room had fun, was not a disaster and both people on stage got questions directed to each of them.

    afterward, we went off into another room and spoke for a bit. whatever you think of jenna, she really tried to do her best up there and whatever you may think you know about amanda, she doesnt judge people one bit and feels that everyone is entitled to their opinions and repectful of their wishes.

    jimmy

  15. Look, the essential problem with the panel was that it had a bonafide celebrity and a regular working Joe, or Jane in this case, together represented on the same platform. Jenna Jameson is as big a celebrity as they come – even my mom knows who she is. Americans are obsessed with celebrity. If a celebrity is going to be on the same panel as a regular working stiff, then I have news for you, no one’s going to care what the regular person has to say. People want celebrity souvenirs. A picture with a celebrity is better than an autograph for a lot of people, so why is anyone surprised that people would clamor for one?

    Alex, I, just like just about everyone in this thread, wasn’t at the panel either, but unlike just about everyone else, I’m actually going to take you at your word. I believe Conner knew exactly what she was walking into and maybe was there because she thought it could be ironically fun. I believe you and your co-workers tried your best to have a fun panel. And I believe Ms. Jameson was trying to do some fellow professional women a favor by being on the same panel as them and using her star power to shine on their work a little bit.

  16. Hee hee! I think this comment by Jimmy is hysterical!

    “man, this is funny. amanda had a good time and didnt mind the panel at all.”

    So, Jimmy, your wife was smart enough to know what she was doing and had a good time with the whole thing? She represented herself well and tried to use Jenna’s shine to spotlight herself a little bit and try to get some new fans? Good for her! I’m glad she used the opportunity to the fullest extent and didn’t get all self-righteous over it!

  17. where are the photos ?
    JJ photos obviously

  18. Mindy Newell says:

    20 years ago I sat on panels at conventions all having various titles indicating “Women in Comics.” My colleagues included, at one time or another, Colleen Doran, the late, GREAT Kim Yale, Heidi MacDonald, Louise Simonson, Karen Burger, Trina Robbins, Marie Javins, Jo Duffy and so many others.

    20 years later they are still holding the same bullshit panels…the industry will never change…the inclusion of Jenna James only confirms that for too many of the comics fans out there, creative women in the comics field are judged only on the fantasies they incur as sweaty palms reach between their legs and jerk up and down while they drool over Power Girl’s breasts.

    I wasn’t there because of Passover, but kudos to my friend Amanda Connor for trying to bring some semblance of professionalism to the panel. Unfortunately, it’s a losing cause, Amanda.

    The only thing that we women can do is to continue to create comics springing from the deep wells of talent and creativity and love of the form, not to satisfy the fans, but for ourselves.

    Which is the important thing, isn’t it?

    Mindy

  19. Judging by how many people were snapping shots of Jenna throughout the panel, I don’t know that a sizable number of the attendees were truly paying as much attention to Amanda as she deserved. That’s just my opinion and I’m glad to hear (through Jimmy above) that Amanda enjoyed the panel so much.

    I think it was a touch ridiculous to have a panel that had more moderators than panelists. You’d have thought THE STACK guys would have drawn straws to see which one or two of them should drop out.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Update: Heidi posts a writeup by Steve Bunche. There to shill both Zombie Strippers and the comic book that she supposedly created — Shadow Hunter, a book that looked to me like yet another entry from the school of Witchblade knockoffs — Jameson displayed far more passion for and knowledge of horror movies than she did for comics, quite obviously betraying an ignorance of the medium and allowing [Amanda] Conner to field most of the questions relating to the stuff that the real fans and creators would know and understand. When describing her collaboration with Shadow Hunter’s scripter, Witchblade co-creator Christina Z, it was apparent to many in the audience that Jameson most likely had never even spoken to the writer, at which point what little credibility Jameson had built up with the comics cognoscenti present rocketed down the proverbial bowl. [...]

  2. [...] Update: Heidi posts a writeup by Steve Bunche. There to shill both Zombie Strippers and the comic book that she supposedly created — Shadow Hunter, a book that looked to me like yet another entry from the school of Witchblade knockoffs — Jameson displayed far more passion for and knowledge of horror movies than she did for comics, quite obviously betraying an ignorance of the medium and allowing [Amanda] Conner to field most of the questions relating to the stuff that the real fans and creators would know and understand. When describing her collaboration with Shadow Hunter’s scripter, Witchblade co-creator Christina Z, it was apparent to many in the audience that Jameson most likely had never even spoken to the writer, at which point what little credibility Jameson had built up with the comics cognoscenti present rocketed down the proverbial bowl. [...]

  3. [...] –A report from the Women Who Kick Ass panel featuring Jenna Jameson, Amanda Connor and … that’s it. Colleen Doran and Louise Simonson didn’t make it to the panel. It sounds like Colleen may have been sick. [...]

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