In the next three years, the two titans of the comic book industry will be releasing their first female-driven superhero films, as Warner Bros/DC is working on Wonder Woman and Disney/Marvel is bringing Carol Danvers to life in Captain Marvel. But superheroines don’t always wear tights and save the world; sometimes they break barriers with pen and ink. The new documentary She Makes Comics delves into the stories of the women behind the scenes of the comic book industry.
Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, She Makes Comics features several interviews with comic writers, artists, editors and cosplayers. The film not only explores the lives of the women who helped shape the industry, but also how the comics themselves were subject to the changing values and ideologies of Postwar America. With the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1970s, female readers were no longer satisfied with stories of romance and marriage. This gave rise to a movement of independent, feminist zines and comics unafraid to tackle real stories about sex, body issues, and homosexuality. These creative women played a major role in the rise of the graphic novel, and in the darker, more mature themes of modern day comics.
The film features interviews with many rock stars of the comic book world, including Silver age stars Ramona Fradon (Aquaman, Brenda Starr) and Marie Severin (co-creator of Spider-Woman), Jill Thompson (Sandman), Gail Simone (Birds of Prey) and out artist Ariel Schrag (Awkward). It is a fascinating and inspiring look at the women who shape our modern day myths.
I talked with director Marisa Stotter to learn more about the film:
AfterEllen: What inspired you to make this documentary? Have you always been a comic book fan?
Marisa Stotter: I’ve been a comic book fan for a number of years, and like a lot of women, I found a community of fellow fans on the Internet. There is a really great discussion to be had there, and there are dozens of smart women (and men) thinking a lot about comics, and in particular about women in the comic book world. But I noticed in the past year or so that a lot of these conversations, while absolutely vital to our community, seem to rattle around the echo chamber of the Internet without gaining much traction beyond the popular geek news sites. The people who read these articles are often the people who already agree with the points being made.
Around the time that I started working with my co-producers at Respect Films, I had the opportunity to pitch a project I wanted to do, and so I decided to bring these discussions out into a more mainstream medium by making a documentary all about women in comics.
AE: What are your favorite comics/comics that got you into this world? What series would you recommend for a comics virgin looking for that gateway comic?
MS: I started out with some really great comics that set the bar pretty high. I read Persepolis and Maus my freshman year of high school, and they completely changed my (mis)conceptions about comics. As a nerdy kid who loved to read, I’d suddenly discovered a kind of literature that I’d never considered reading before. And I totally fell in love with the medium.
For those who are starting out, I’d recommend just going to your local comic shop and asking an employee for suggestions based on the kinds of books, movies, TV shows, or even video games that you enjoy. The great thing about comics is that it’s ultimately a medium for telling stories in every genre imaginable. You don’t ever have to read superhero comics if that’s not your thing. A great comic shop will help you discover stories you’ll fall in love with. I could name dozens of great books that new readers could start with, and that would only scratch the surface of what’s out there.
AE: What advice do you have for first-time directors?
MS: You might feel some uncertainty about what you’re doing, and that will lead to an impulse to make your film please every possible viewer out there. Don’t give in to those feelings, for that way lies madness.
AE: I noticed a pattern in the interviews; that all these amazing female artists looked up to and were inspired by the previous generation of female artists. Since your medium is film, who are some women writers/filmmakers who inspired you?
MS: From Ida Lupino to Ava DuVernay…everyone, really. Regardless of whether or not I particularly like their work, I think every woman who has written or has made a film is incredibly inspiring. Just the act of doing it requires so much strength, especially in a world where women’s voices—and their stories—are not as valued as they should be. Anyone who is willing to be open and honest and tell the story that is true to their experiences, and often times to fight for the right to tell that story, is someone I look up to.
AE: Now onto the important stuff: if you could have any super power, what would it be?
MS: To never have to sleep. Not insomnia, which I already suffer from on occasion, but the ability to function perfectly well without needing to sleep. That would free up a nice 7-8 hours of the day!
AE: Where can we see this awesome film?
MS: Our partners over at Sequart Research & Literacy Organization are selling the film on DVD and as digital downloads at their online store. We’re also planning to screen the film at a number of upcoming comic conventions and festivals, including the Long Beach Comics Expo next month.