“I don’t like the term 'accuracy' unless I’m practicing archery,” cosplayer Geisha Vi said to the snaps of people in the crowd at the third annual Women in Comics Convention in the Bronx. She was dressed in a red-and-orange ombre wig, a purple-and-black jean jacket with bright purple boots, studded fingerless gloves, and a shirt that read “Magic Melanin.” Her outfit was a pastel punk take on the DC comic character Starfire, whose power comes from her sun-absorbing skin.
Geisha Vi was taking down a common argument lobbed at cosplayers: that their costumes—or even their bodies—aren’t an “accurate” portrayal of the characters they're adopting. She, along with five other women writers, artists, filmmakers, and comic aficionados, were taking part in a panel called “Reconstructing Femininity in Comics."
“When it comes to cosplay or anything that is artistic expression of oneself and one’s feelings, there is no such thing as accuracy because it’s already coming from point one, which is you,” Geisha Vi said. “Don’t think that because it’s written in ink, it’s set in stone.”
Geisha Vi was discussing body positivity in cosplaying, but her words may as well have been the motto for the entire day. The Women in Comics Con, or WINC, is a one-day comics convention held at the Bronx Library Center dedicated to celebrating and supporting women in the field of comics and sequential art—a group often completely overlooked by the larger industry.
WINC was cofounded by Regine Sawyer, the executive director of Lockett Down Productions, and Ray Felix, the executive director of Bronx Heroes. Both groups highlight the work of comics from marginalized communities.
As a comics creator herself, Sawyer has a unique understanding of exactly what women, particularly women of color, are up against in the industry. “People see me and they think I’m somebody’s girlfriend, and I’m not the one running the table,” she told me. “People see my books and don’t believe I wrote them."
She explained that five years ago, Felix had invited her to be part of a panel on women in comics. That became a catalyst for the convention.
“Me and Regine had several conversations about opportunities [for women] in the comic book industry,” Felix told me. “As a father of a girl, I see what we are really portraying in the media for young ladies, and as a teacher, I felt the same thing.”
After putting on several panels, events, and workshops, the two finally decided to start their very own convention. Since 2009, Felix had run the Bronx Heroes Comic Book Convention, but he and Sawyer decided to do something specifically geared towards women. So in 2014, the BHCC became the WINCC.
“I’m proud of it,” Sawyer said. “It’s just blossomed. The show itself is a culmination of everything that we’ve done.”
While other, large-scale comic conventions are far more welcoming to women than they were even 10 years ago, it’s still a very male-dominated space.
“If you don’t see people [like you] in those spaces, you’re going to assume those spaces are going to be hostile," Shamika Ann Mitchell, an assistant professor at Rockland Community College and the moderator of multiple panels at WINC, told me. "Or if you’ve already experienced hostility you don’t want to go into that space that’s going to traumatize you further.”
Simply looking around at the cosplayers, the vendors, and the comic fans chatting excitedly with each other was proof enough that such a space is necessary. There was sisterhood in fandom, in the appreciation of comics and art, and in the intellectual engagement of what representation really looks like.
For some women, WINC has given them the chance to find and explore their niche.
“I’m really grateful, especially as a black woman in comics that people have just really taken to what I do and everything which is just drawing really adorable stuff, especially adorable girls and working on a comic about adorable girls,” Shauna J. Grant—also known as Shauna Draws—told me.
She was a vendor at the con, with her booth (and her outfit) decked out in her bright pink comic creations. “I’ve been really grateful that people have been coming out," she said. "They’ve been waiting for stuff like this, like ‘Finally somewhere where I fit in!’”
For others, it’s about setting an example.
“When you grow up seeing role models that are not your role model, you can’t identify with them, so you don’t think you can do that,” Laura Alvarez, another artist and muralist tabling at the con, told me. “But if you see different people, different colors, different shapes…doing what you want to do, then you feel empowered and you want to do it and you feel like you can do it.”
But most of all, WINC is a statement to the comics industry. “It’s not just fandom or fangirling," Mitchell told me. "There’s craft and we’re capable of not only curating it, but creating it, and consuming it.”
It’s a tiresome point to keep on having to make, seeing as how nearly half of comics fans are women. Yet, despite the groundbreaking work of women like Sana Amanat—co-creator of Ms. Marvel—and Gail Simone, who rose to fame after compiling a database called ”Women in Refrigerators” that detailed the numerous instances of harrowing violence against women in comics, the industry is stubbornly male-centric.
It doesn’t take much to notice the utter lack of female creators, especially when you see female characters being hyper-sexualized by their male creators and made otherwise completely unrealistic. It’s amazing that Roxane Gay is the first black woman to be a lead writer for Marvel Comics, but far more concerning that the company went so long without the voice of black women. It’s not like these women haven’t been out here the whole time.
The industry may seem like it’s set in its ways, but as Geisha Vi said, it’s not set in stone. With events like WINC, women can continue to stake their rightful claim in the comics landscape while supporting each other. “At events like Women in Comics Con, we’re trying to create a new norm,” Regine Sawyer told me. “If you’ve been looking for us, now you know where to find us.”
Correction: This post initially misspelled the name of one of the founders of WINC. She is Regine Sawyer, not Regina.