Cinema Siren Says; It’s time for Comic-Confidential, 2017 edition!
Why do I do it? Why? Every year I ask myself that, and the next year, like a woman considering another pregnancy, I do it again. I’m talking about San Diego Comic-Con. For those who know nothing of girl geekery, let me explain. San Diego Comic-Con, or SDCC, is the convention that spawned all others. It has been going strong for over 40 years, and become the sort of behemoth that begets things like a woman getting run over whilst waiting in line for 4 days to see a Twilight panel and a guy stabbing someone in the face for cutting in line. It also offers the opportunity for the most heart-pumping loin-moistening performance ever to grace the stage of Hall H, Tom Hiddleston owning the state and declaring the now con-legendary quote, “I am Loki and I am burdened with glorious purpose.”
I was there in the press pit for that moment in con history. I was also there when the Firefly cast got back together for their 10th anniversary and Nathan Fillion nearly burst into tears. Whether as an art gallery owner who specializes in film art, or as a writer for animation and film sites, I’ve been going to and working that convention since around the turn of the century. I’ve done every single thing possible at the convention, from having a booth and selling art, to doing press, and finally to producing and moderating panels.
From the first time I went to SDCC, I really wanted to moderate panels that would make a difference in how people accepted film art as real art, and animators and creative professionals in film as ‘real’ artists. I also wanted women who either celebrated all things geeky, or wanted to have an equal chance to be hired in Hollywood for equal pay, to have their voices heard, and their talent celebrated. At this point, I’ve put together and moderated over 15 panels (I’ve actually lost count, but right off the top of my head, I thought of 15) on varying subjects like the art of the Hollywood movie poster, diversity in the history of animation, great Disney animators, the powerful women in the animation industry, and women changing the status quo behind the scenes in Hollywood. Does all that sound glamorous? I don’t know, because I’ve really lost all perspective.
Here I am again, planning and putting together panels for this year. I applied for 4, got two right off the bat, and had one get put on the waitlist. The one on the waitlist was about women in animation, and that one is supposed to be a yearly panel, so I kept badgering them about finding a spot for it. You see, you have to put the panel together, bring all the panelists on and they all make plans for going to San Diego, and then you hear whether it’s actually happening or not. I’m dealing with the heads of PR for entire studios on this, and almost all my panels now. At this point, I’m doing what is usually only done by the studios themselves, but I really wanted to create a voice for these artists and professionals, so I found a way. I find all the hotel rooms. I call all the agents. Sometimes, I find a sponsor, so I don’t have to pay for the higher profile people who sign on, but expect to get hotel, travel, and all things taken care of before they get there.
I do get help. There are always people who are like-minded, who see I am genuinely doing this to change the way things are in the industry, in some small way, or to create a lasting record of some of the genius artists among us. Still, halfway through my planning every year, I feel like I’m a lunatic for caring, and a lunatic for spending so much time doing this. After the event is over, I think of all the fans who came, the powerful women or incredibly talented artists that share their experiences, see how many people watch the videos online, and for a while I remember why I do it.
One of my favorite moments as a moderator and producer of panels at SDCC was with Willie Ito, an incredibly sweet animator who worked on everything from Lady and the Tramp to What’s Opera Doc to The Flintstones and Scooby Doo. He talked about his time in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. It was fascinating and a little intense. I remember thinking at the time whether I should move the conversation back to his art, but gratefully I could tell the audience was as interested in Willie’s experience as I was. The whole room was silent as he shared his experience.
Willie Ito and I, after he was given the SDCC Inkpot Award at our panel.
Although it is only the second year I’ve done them, I’ve been thrilled to have panels that focus specifically on women in animation and film. My first Women Rocking Hollywood panel last year was the only panel that featured official representatives from both the Marvel and DC cinematic universes. It says something that it was a panel about expanding opportunities for women in Hollywood. Cartoon Creatives, my panel about women in animation, focuses on show runners, directors, and producers making animated features and tv shows. Did you know that in LA-based film schools, those studying animation are 60% female, but only 20% of the workforce in the industry are women? Don’t even get me started on female directors and women represented onscreen in live action studio movies. So I’m producing them again this year. Goddess help me.
Me, Kirsten Schaffer, exec director of Women in Film: LA, Deb Snyder, producer of Wonder Woman, Victoria Alonso, head of physical production at Marvel, Angela Robinson, director of the upcoming Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, and Catherine Hardwicke, director of Twilight
We aren’t allowed to say where or when our panels are happening, but we CAN say what they are. ‘Women Rocking Hollywood’ is back this year, and I’m putting more focus on TV, because there’s a strong movement towards having whole seasons of shows being directed by women, or shows that are helmed and crewed by women getting green-lit. Shows like I Love Dick, Harlots, and the show created by Ava DuVernay, and from which I am getting several directors for my panel, Queen Sugar, are shifting the status quo slowly but surely towards giving women an equal voice. Since women account for a higher percentage of feature film ticket sales than men do, it seems like we should be represented in a more balanced way, no?
On that panel, I also have the writer/director of a movie being released this fall called “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women,” Angela Robinson. She was on my panel last year, and wasn’t able to announce the film at the time, but now she’s back to talk about it. It is perfectly timed with the great success of Wonder Woman, which is helmed by female director Patty Jenkins. I’ll have several directors who have worked on Queen Sugar, and so far the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) has been wonderful to work with. It was a delight to discover some networks and studios actually put their weight behind making a difference.
All this planning involves little pleasures like trying to find a hotel in downtown San Diego while not being a Hollywood producer, and getting enough passes for all the agents, producers, friends, and family of panelists when only a small number are allotted. Last year, one of the studios wanted 8 passes into my panel, which was entirely full, but they informed me they couldn’t get me into Hall H, where there are 7000 seats. As you might imagine, I found a way in anyway! To paraphrase what they say, women get stuff done. And by the way, yes, the panel on women in animation get taken off the waitlist and is happening as well. As a professional woman, I’ve worked long enough to learn “if you don’t ask, you don’t get”…
People always ask me what Comic-Con is like. Actually, the first thing everyone wants to know when I tell them I’m going, is if i’m going to “dress up.” I don’t dress up. That’s its own full time pursuit, one I leave in the capable, enthusiastic hands of those willing to walk in 7-inch heels, or a furry costume. They do that for hours in the hot, crowded aisles of the convention center. Instead, I engage in what we have called “comicardio,” which is the exercise of getting from one end of the sales floor to the other as fast as possible. That’s usually because whatever business I’m trying to conduct involves an artist in Artist’s Alley, and a wholesale company or studio all the way on the other side of the space.
Ushering panelists, like Willie and other legends of animation and film, to the panel room on the second floor of the convention center is interesting, to say the least. If a panel is being seated from a line that’s been waiting for 12 hours to get into the room, waiting patiently for the crowd to pass is the best course of action. It may take 15 minutes. This means planning to get everyone to the green room at least 45 minutes before the panel starts, just in case the traffic odds aren’t ever in your favor.
Finding food or water, or charging a phone, is not going to happen very easily inside the center. That means bringing what amounts to apocalypse-prep level quantities of rations, and a mega-charger that will keep phones charged for 20 hours. I created a tee shirt one year that said everyone walking the con needs an iPod and a camelpak filled with vodka, but I stand by that recommendation.
Many people think that they have an idea of what San Diego is like because they’ve been to other cons. That’s like saying that because their Christmas party for 12 went off without a hitch, they know how to plan a wedding. SDCC is the mother of all cons, and after about 3 hours on the sales floor, a brain turns to mush from too much information. Unfortunately, olfactory senses are still in functioning order. I also had a tee made that said “hey! fanboy! soap is sexy!” One year I saw the same gentleman 4 days later wearing the same shirt from the last time I saw him, sporting the same pizza stain he created while in my presence. #soapissexy.
Again, why do I do it? When I first started going to SDCC, there were far fewer women in the crowd, and far fewer panels geared towards us, or really anything other than fanboys. It has changed a lot since I’ve been going. I really want to make sure sci-fi, fantasy, and film-loving female fans are catered to, and celebrated, and I’ve become a part of making sure that happens. I also know that fans make things happen, especially female fans. Getting them behind the women changing Hollywood and the animation industry from the inside will help get us to 50/50 a lot faster. They are happy to help, because #BGSD.
I hope you’ll watch my panels when I get back from SDCC, and read whatever crazy stories I might have to tell about my experience. In the meantime, I’ll direct your attention to Queen Sugar, Jessica Jones, Harlots, I Love Dick, and Transparent, all of which show a wide diversity in their cast and crew.
In the meantime, pray for me. I still have three weeks between now and the Comic-craziness.
Leslie Combemale is an international art consultant, artist representative, and owner of the successful gallery ArtInsights for over 25 years. She is an international expert in the fields of animation art and traditionally illustrated film art, and exclusively represents an increasing number of contemporary artists worldwide.
She has developed collections for film and illustration art aficionados and fine art connoisseurs around the world, notably placing the art of famed cinema artist John Alvin. She has also acted as art director partnering with artists in a variety of genres to create images for private commissions, gallery editions, and corporate art spaces. The projects she is working on with artist Tennessee Loveless, most recently The Art Outsiders and Vox Populi, are bringing her a new level of fulfillment professionally.
She also writes and conducts interviews on a webzine focused on the animation industry, Animation Scoop.com, the popular site LikeABossGirls.com, her own WomenRockingHollywood.com, and other outlets worldwide as film critic Cinema Siren. She has been building and moderating panels at the world-famous Comic-Con International-San Diego for over 12 years. These panels serve to expand awareness of the importance of artists behind the scenes in animation and film. She also focuses on diversity and gender parity in Hollywood, and the first year of her “Women Rocking Hollywood” panel was the only one at the con to include official representatives from both DC and Marvel.
Most importantly, she thinks being a feminist is a badge of honor, not something to be ashamed of or apologetic about, celebrates her 51 years by telling her age to anyone who asks, stands up against ageism, and steadfastly holds to representing women over 40 as worthy, badass, and a force to be reckoned with. Because obviously.