March 9, 2022
She’s been called “the feminist rebel changing comics” (The Daily Beast) and “the future of women in comics”(Vanity Fair) and “the woman who's taking on the sexism of the comic book industry and winning” (Vox). Kelly Sue DeConnick is an outspoken feminist activist on a mission to make art that truly reflects the world around us, and a highly rated keynote speaker on women’s empowerment and women’s issues. Kelly Sue founded #VisibleWomen, a movement bringing visibility to women and non-cis-men working in comics. I recently sat down with Kelly Sue to ask her about this trailblazing movement: how it all started, the impact of the hashtag, and her plans for the future.
AD: thanks Kelly Sue for talking to me right in time for Women’s History Month, and International Women’s Day, which I know is a busy time for you. Please tell our readers, for those who don’t know about it yet, what is #Visible Women?
KSD: For the last six years, we’ve been running a twice-yearly just Twitter hashtag event called #VisibleWomen. The goal of #VisibleWomen is to disabuse hiring professionals of the notion that women comic artists are rare, to raise awareness of said women with readers, and to get women paid work in the industry.
Why did you start this initiative? What was the inspiration behind #VisibleWomen?
It started because I was annoyed, which is just really the best way for anything to start. I was annoyed because my male colleagues would frequently come to me and say that they wanted to hire women to work on their books, but they just couldn't find any women that wanted to do superhero stuff or women that were available or interested. I think there are very few really mustache twirling guys saying, ‘let’s keep the girls out.’ I think it’s more just habit and people hiring the same people they've always hired.
Where did the name of the hashtag come from?
It’s a play on Invisible Woman, the first Marvel superhero who was a woman. Sue Storm (previously known as Invisible Girl) appeared in The Fantastic Four #1 in 1961. Her power was invisibility, which is kind of hysterical.
Haha. Wow. So you were annoyed, you came up with your hashtag... then what happened?
I decided to signal boost all of these women who would like to work in comics or already work in comics, that these people could contact or hire. I tweeted to artists: “Send me a link to your portfolio, and I will signal boost you. And we'll just show the industry how many of us there actually are.” It was much more successful than I ever expected it to be.
It really picked up. I had to stop because I couldn’t just sit in front of Twitter all day; I didn't get any work done when it launched. But I promised we would do it again in six months, which gave everyone some time to get their portfolios together. So in six months, we did it again. And this time, I had an intern run it, so I didn't lose a day's work. I handed over my twitter feed. We opened it up to other women in the industry.
How did you actually get women work from the campaign?
We came up with the idea that we would use the tweets we gathered that day to create a spreadsheet, and then we made the spreadsheet available for free to any hiring professional in the comics or related industries.
When does #VisibleWomen usually take place?
We host #VisibleWomen in March and August every year.
When is the next #VisibleWomen happening?
March 28, 2022 is our next Visible Women, we’re upping the game this time. I’m launching a website for the initiative. Rather than having just the spreadsheet, what we want to do is we want to have a database that women and folks from other marginalized genders can enter themselves into. They’ll be able to upload not only links to their portfolios, but also samples of their work so that it's all hosted on that site. The goal is to make it is so easy to hire women in our industry. There's no reason for someone who is hiring to not just use this first. So the database will only be open to women and folks from marginalized genders who are comfortable under our banner.
Right. Speaking of which, are non-binary folks welcome?
Non-binary and agender folks are absolutely welcome, but we understand and respect that they may not be comfortable under a banner that includes the term “woman.” We leave it to them to decide, and we respect their choice. We always get asked if we welcome trans women. Yes, we welcome trans women. We welcome tall women. We welcome short women. We welcome women with green eyes, pierced ears, whatever. If you feel comfortable under our banner, you're welcome.
How much does it cost to participate, as an artist or a hiring manager?
Nothing. The resources are available to everyone, and they will not be paywalled in any way.
So there will be a portfolio database on the site. Anything else?
I'm using the social capital of the relationships that I've built up in this industry over the last 25 years to get some heavy hitters to answer people's questions with videos. So questions like, how do I market my book? How do I put together a pitch? What kind of pitches do companies want to see? When would it be good for me to use a nine panel grid? How do I get my book ready to go to a printer? All of those kinds of things. We're in the process of gathering those videos now.
What’s your mission of #VisibleWomen?
We’re hoping that this makes it very, very easy to find and hire women to help diversify our industry. And also just bring new folks and new voices who might not have access to training programs into the industry, regardless of their gender identification.
Are there still stereotypes about women’s art as opposed to men’s art in comics?
Oh yeah. But in reality, our art isn’t any more characterized by any one thing than anybody else's is and if you look at the breadths of styles in the #VisibleWomen spreadsheet you will see women who do horror and women who do delightful, light romantic manga and everything in between. Just like anything else, our culture has preconceived notions about what women can be and women can do and it’s just very limiting.
For more on the #VisibleWomen campaign, check out Kelly Sue DeConnick’s website and follow her on Twitter. Also, be sure to support Cartoonists of Color and Queer Cartoonists, run by Mari Naomi. For more information about booking Kelly Sue DeConnick as a keynote speaker for your event, contact us.