The Do’s and Don’t’s of Hosting A Panel About Comic Book Ethics

Earlier this week, I shared my overall positive experiences at Geek Girl Con in Seattle. Almost all of the panels were informative and well-run, the attendees were kind and enthusiastic, and the staff were helpful and just as enthusiastic as the attendees.

But then there was that panel. That one panel.

Since I’m interested in writing comics, and since I’ve had a fair bit of outrage recently regarding certain issues in the world of comics (not to mention that other “ethics” debacle that refuses to die, Gamergate), I thought a panel called “Ethics in Comics” would be a good one to attend.

It was almost 100% a disaster.

The disaster began right away, when the first panelist opened by saying that it was because of his four daughters that he was concerned about how women were represented in comics.

It’s not quite a red flag, but if you openly admit that you couldn’t perceive an issue before it affected you directly, say, by having daughters, I’m not going to take what you have to say on the subject seriously. I don’t like it when people (usually, but not always, men) try to stand up for women by saying “she could be your wife/mother/daughter/sister.” It suggests that those men are incapable of viewing women as human beings without first determining that woman’s relationship to themselves.

So, yellow flag. Within the first five minutes.

It all slid slowly downhill from there, so here is my handy guide to putting on a successful panel about ethics.

Don’t admit that you’re only invested in a feminist issue because of the women in your life. If that’s how you came to that conclusion, fine, glad you’re finally on board, but keep it to yourself.

Don’t proclaim yourself to be a champion of ethics and diversity and then interrupt both of your female co-presenters with off-color jokes while they are still introducing themselves. Actually, don’t interrupt your co-presenters at all.

Don’t joke about your youthful female co-presenter being the “baby” of the group, even if she did it first. She can be self-deprecating if she wants – it’s not very professional, but it’s her prerogative – but coming from you, it’s flat-out disrespectful.

Don’t make transphobic jokes. Oh right, we’re focusing on the panel. Okay, if you sometimes do make transphobic jokes because you’re still working on that, definitely don’t crack one when in a room full of people trying to learn how to make comics more inclusive.

Do get your definitions straight, and explain them clearly. Any small group is bound to have its own vernacular which is understood by everyone participating in group, but won’t make sense to outsiders. Heck, a large percentage of the population still isn’t clear on the definition of “feminism.” This group of panelists had their own, slightly different definition of “ethics,” which they explained right off the bat and which helped guide the rest of their talk. Soon afterward, though, one of the presenters mangled the definition of “male gaze,” which prevented a good discussion on an important comics issue from taking place.

Do check your internal filter first. Not everyone in the room is going to have the same sense of humor as you. Listen to that tiny voice when it says maybe you shouldn’t make that joke right now. (Seriously, do not make that joke about how you couldn’t tell whether Legolas is male or female. No.)

Do have visual aids. This group of panelists had done this talk before, and they’ve developed a 12-item list of their key topics – which was nowhere to be seen, and which they could only partly explain verbally during the time allotted. It made it hard to follow their discussion and learn from them, even when they were making good points (which two of the panelists did very well).

As soon as the opportunity becomes available, I’ll be leaving feedback with GGC about this panel in hopes of improving it for next year. Comics have taken big strides over the last few years, introducing more diverse characters and improving how women are depicted, but there’s still a ways to go. An effective, well-presented panel could help – but another one like this, with offensive jokes and insincere allies and scattershot topics, is only going to make things worse.

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