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From tales of dealing with sexism to advice for aspiring writers, the Women of Marvel panel was a highlight of New York Comic Con 2014.

“Women don’t read comics!”

That’s how Kelly Sue DeConnick, current writer of Captain Marvel, started the Women of Marvel panel on the last day of New York Comic Con. The obviously sarcastic statement was met with laughter and applause, followed by DeConnick giving out prizes to the numerous Captain Marvel cosplayers in the audience as the more than a dozen other women onstage got ready. “It’s taking too long to set up because there’s too many women on stage!” one joked. With a total of 15 women, among them editors, writers, artists, and a social media manager, it was definitely the most woman-centric panel I’ve ever seen.

Before introductions were made, DeConnick spoke up again, asking the women in the audience who read comics to raise their hands. Almost every female audience member’s hand shot up, prompting DeConnick to reply, “Okay, so we can do away with ‘How do we get women to read comics?’ Women have always read comics.”

She then asked those aspiring to work in the comics industry to stand up; there were far less audience participants, but still a pretty solid percentage of women on their feet, who were met with massive applause. “Take a minute to look around at one another,” DeConnick said. “You need community to do this. You need support to do this.” The panelists advised that working in comics, like making a living in any creative field, would be difficult, but “you need to start. You need to start now… Ideas are cheap. Showing up and doing the work, that’s the hard part.”

Moderator and Marvel’s Senior Manager of Talent Relations Jeanine Schaefer then formally started the panel, introducing her many female coworkers: Editor Sana Amanat, who works on “awesome books” like Ms. Marvel, Captain Marvel, Hawkeye, and Rocket Raccoon; Editor Katie Kubert, whose work includes X-Men; Emily Shaw, Associate Editor of Ultimate Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Once Upon a Time, and Ghost Rider; Producer and photographer Judy Stephens; Social Media Manager Ari Cown, who managed to get #WomenofMARVEL trending in the US during the panel; Deconnick; writer Marguerite Wilson, “the new kid on the block”; former Young Adult and video game writer Margaret Stohl, “the really, really new kid on the block”; Ms. Marvel writer G. Willow Wilson; Erica Henderson, artist on The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl; Angela: Asgard’s Assassin artist Stephanie Hans; and Jen Grunwald, a trade paperback editor described as “the heart of Marvel.”

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That’s a huge presence not just for a panel of women, but any convention panel, which generally top out at a handful of panelists. There were so many women onstage that they couldn’t all fit; many squeezed in and shared microphones, and DeConnick spent part of the panel standing on the floor in front of the stage.

After the lengthy introductions, Schaefer moved on to discussing the panel’s upcoming projects, starting with The Burning World, Part 1, which begins with X-Men #23. Written by G. Willow Wilson, the story sends the all-female X-Men team into “the bowels of the Earth.” Also early next year, Marvel will commemorate National Women’s History Month with 22 to 25 Women of Marvel variant covers in March. Variants for Uncanny X-Men and Thor were shown, and Schaefer promised that more announcements would be coming.

The first of two big announcements was Margaret Stohl’s Black Widow young adult novel, due out in 2015 (the slideshow had “Spring 2015” listed as the release window, Stohl said “fall”). Stohl called it “the bad-assiest thing I’ve ever been asked to work on in my life,” noting that Black Widow is “more of a Wolverine than a Captain America.”

Then came another bombshell: Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Gamora is getting her own series. Gamora #1, due out next spring, will be written by Nicole Perlman, who wrote last summer’s blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy film; Francesco Mattina’s cover was met with gasps and applause.

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Many con panels only reserve the last 10-15 minutes for audience questions, but the Women of Marvel discussion was quick to move on the Q&A because, as Schaefer said, “You guys always have the best questions.” Several of the questions were focused on dealing with harassment sexism in the industry. “It’s hard,” Schaefer said of the struggle, but you have to make the choice to keep going. “Don’t let them win. Don’t let a couple of a-holes ruin your dream.”

“This isn’t the only place where there’s sexism, I challenge you to find a place where there isn’t,” DeConnick stated, giving a recent death threat against Anita Sarkeesian as an example of the challenges women face. “I’m sorry, but you fight because you have to. Because we need you.” Stohl added that when she worked at Activision, she was often the only woman in the room, and was called a “stripper.” “Stuff does change,” she said, though maybe not quickly enough.

A related question asked about the lack of women at Marvel’s annual Cup O’ Joe panel, in which Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada talks all things Marvel. This is considered “the bigger panel in the bigger room,” yet there were a total of two women onstage, one of whom wasn’t there for the entire panel. DeConnick agreed that the commenter was right to point that out, but assured her that progress was being made: “Used to be, I literally knew every woman working in the Big Two.” They’re all working to bring more women in, “bear with us… Next year that panel will look different.”

Of course, the lack of women in media doesn’t end with comics; as DeConnick pointed out, 30% of speaking roles in movies were women last year, and only 15% of protagonists were female. One attendee wondered if there were any plans in Marvel’s media properties for more women in the forefront, not as sidekicks; the panelists cited Agents of SHIELD and the spin-off Agent Carter, along with Netflix series Jessica Jones, as examples. “We’re working on it, because we hear you,” Schaefer said. Someone shouted, “I want a Black Widow movie!” “So do we!” the panelists agreed.

Speaking of Marvel’s female characters, an audience member felt that Scarlet Witch was currently under-utilized and wondered if there was a chance for her to get her own ongoing series. Schaefer, choosing her words carefully, said that Scarlet Witch would be playing a huge role in the near future, but couldn’t say anything else, other than “stay tuned.” “Haven’t we already proven that we know what we’re doing?” another panelist chimed in. “Don’t worry.”

Invisible Woman was another character the audience wanted to see get her own series, especially with Fantastic Four ending. This time, the answer was a bit less ambiguous; there aren’t any current plans, but there are interested creators out there, so “we’ll have to see what happens.”

A tenth-grader who felt like she was the only female comic reader in her school asked how to get more younger readers into comics. “Give your books to your friends!” According to the panelists, it starts with the current readers; it’s up to them to spread the word. “The fans are the backbone of this whole thing, it starts with you.” Other suggestions included telling friends who were fans of comic book movies where to start with the books that inspired them or starting a comic-themed book club. They also mentioned the Valkyries, a group of women comic shop owners and employees, as a resource.

Finally, a younger audience member told Stohl that Activision’s Spider-Man, on which she worked, was what got her into comics, and she wanted to know how to start writing them. “Put your butt in the chair and do it,” Stohl answered, saying she used the acronym BIC (for Butt in Chair) when she needed to get down to work. Of course, aspiring writers shouldn’t expect their first work to be brilliant, but “there is an art to learning how to finish something.” So just do something terrible–as long as you finish it.

One thing was clear from the packed panel room made up mostly of women: the myth that women don’t read comics or consume media is clearly inaccurate. Progress takes time, but these 15 women creating wonderful things at Marvel are helping to make the comic industry–and geek culture at large–a more inclusive place where women can feel like they belong.

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