All The Small Things: Comic-Con Dug Into Some Progressive Politics, Other Cool Shit

Cecil Castelluci’s The Plain Janes

Beyond the crazymassive panels that rule the San Diego ComicCon, there’s a lot of smaller stuff that goes on. These panels are often just as cool (if not cooler) than the big guys as they usually delve into topics that the bigger, fluffier spectacles wouldn’t touch with a swag bag. You won’t find many free shirts at them, but you know what’s better than getting a free ill-fitting t-shirt you’re only going to wear as a pajama top? YOUR MIND EXPANDING, that’s what. While I didn’t go to as many of these panels as I wanted to because I was pretty hungover all the days, I did catch the Progressive Politics in Comics panel. My mind, it did indeed expand.

Progressive Politics had a great lineup of panelists. Led by moderator Douglas Wolk (Reading Comics), Susie Cagle (AlterNet), Cecil Castellucci (The Year of the Beasts), Shannon Watters (Adventure Time), Stan Mack (Taxes, the Tea Party, and Those Revolting Rebels: A History in Comics of the American Revolution) and surprise guest Gail Simone (Secret Six, Batgirl) rounded out the panel.

susie cagle via thedailycrosshatch

As the panel began, the speakers touched on many different topics, each bringing their own experience to the table. Susie Cagle, who comes from a body of mostly non-fiction work including pieces that cover the Occupy Oakland movement, referred to her tactics as “putting medicine in apple sauce” so that even readers who may not be willing to sit through a political discussion can absorb the information in comic form. While she has faced some ridicule for ‘glamorizing’ the occupy movement in her comics, she said she sees it as a way of truly being able to capture a moment in time when there’s no way to bring in a camera to document the experience. Stan Mack added that as a writer and comics artist, there’s a fine line you must be aware of when you enter the arena. There’s a certain amount of careful treading that goes on, but it’s just as important to know when taking the risk is worth it.

Stan Mack

Cecil Castellucci, who is an author of young adult fiction, explained that the medium itself softens up harder issues and makes bigger topics far more accessible to the public. In her Plain Jane series, one of her Janes has two dads. It’s never really made out to be a big deal, but instead arises organically as part of the story. In her books, the politics is never the main thrust of story, but at the same time it is present and palpable.

Gail Simone, who started out writing a blog about the poor treatment of women in comics (Women in Refrigerators), explained how both sides of the political spectrum can be used to breathe life into the world of a comic as she’s done with her books set in Gotham. Giving the world some kind of political conflict but staying away from anything too preachy or stereotypical elevates the material to another level. You not only want to infuse your ideals into the work, she explained, but also to show the other side fairly.

Editor Shannon Watters explained what it was like pitching a project that would involve nearly all women (Marceline and the Scream Queens) to a publisher (they were all for it!). Stressing how much you need to diversify your team, she also noted that the devotion young people feel toward their favorite comics means you need to be all the more conscious the decisions you make about your writing. As a writer, the experience and awareness that you bring into your work enhances it.

adventure time marceline and the scream queens

All in all it was an insightful, thought-provoking panel. We were given a peek into the minds of some truly great people in comics who helped us understand the responsibility that comes with being a writer. Not only do you tell a story, but you use your ideals and knowledge in a critical way that creates something even greater that educates your readers. Which, to me, is way better than being hungover some t-shirt.

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Ash has written 5 articles for us.


  1. Really interesting article. Makes me want to find some new progressive webcomics to read.

  2. Can anyone recommend any really great, progressive comic book series or graphic novels? I read Buffy and I’ve read all of Ariel Schrag’s graphic novels (the Awkward series) but any other suggestions would be great.

    • Here are some graphic novels that I’ve loved:

      Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
      American-Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
      The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

      Also, here’s Alison Bechdel’s “Coming Out Story”:

      And here are some excerpts from “No Straight Lines,” a collection of queer comics that will be coming out soon:

      I’ve also heard fabulous, progressive things about Runaways, which you might like since I see you’re a fellow Whedon fan!

      HAVE FUN!! :D

      • Thanks so much for this! I’ve always wanted to read Runaways – I’ve heard great things about it. Thanks again! :)

    • You didn’t explicitly state you wanted queer-themed books, but most of these reccommendations are at least queer-adjacent.

      If you like super hero books, pretty much anything and everything by Gail Simone is worth a look. She’s done great work with Wonder Woman and Birds of Prey, and Secret Six has had one of the most diverse casts I’ve ever seen in any medium!

      Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker’s super-hero-adjacent Gotham Central series was amazing too, featuring one of the best coming out storylines I’ve ever read.

      Rucka also has a few great series out of the super-hero world. Stumptown is a fast-paced and engaging detective story starring a queer WoC private investigator. And Whiteout has a really badass, queerish woman as the lead (a great book, nothing at all like the horrible movie they made out of it).

      There’s a really cute series by Elizabeth Watsan called Charm School, featuring a magical with named Bunny and her butch asian girlfriend, Dean.

      How Loathsome by Ted Naifeh and Tristan Crane revolves around NorCal lesbian who, among other things, falls in love with a straight transwoman and does hard drugs. Grown-ups only.

      And the last one off the top of my head is the phenomenal Love and Rockets series by Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez. For the record, the band stole their name from the comic series, not the other way around. There’s more than a few different series published under this title, but the best and most long-running are the Palomar (Gilbert Hernandez) stories all take place in a fictional town in Central America. The Locas (Jaime Hernandez) stories revolve around a group of chicanos in california, starting in the punk scene of the 1980s and eventually following them through adulthood. I’d recommend both series, but Locas has more queer characters.

      That’s all I’ve got right now. I hope you find something among there you like!

      Comics are so great. Oh man.

    • There are already so many good recommendations here, so I’ll just add that both of Marvel’s big teen team lineups, Runaways and Young Avengers, are fantastic if you’re looking for progressive superhero comics with queer characters! Neither has a ton of issues (sadly) so they’re pretty easy to get through. Plus both teams work together a couple times :)

      • I haven’t gotten to pick up Young Avengers yet, but Runaways is one of those series I will reread once a year and rec’ to everyone. The character writing is some lovely business that goes beyond the lgbt characters. Also Joss Whedon actually wrote fanmail to the book during it’s first arc, so you know it’s good if it gets him to fanboy out.

        • This might be controversial, but I actually definitely prefer YA to Runaways. Both are for sure awesome, but you should check out YA!!

  3. Charm School — yes. I love Charm School. Just recently found The Runaways, actually enjoyed it. Brian K. Vaughn issues solid. The Runaways recently appeared in two issues of Avengers Academy (27 + 28 I think) + that was fun. Karolina Dean has made my list of characters to watch. Need to buy copies of the Runaways since I just borrowed them from the library to read on spec.

    Yes, the first Whiteout was AMAZING. Don’t even know what to say about the movie except Hollywood bites.

    Still working my way through Love and Rockets but great stuff. I like Hopeless Savages and think it should be on everyone’s must read list, but the gay character is male. And of course, the Legion of Superheroes five year reboot with Shrinking Violet and Lightning Lass.

    Hmmmm. Oh and have you tried the Legend of Bold Riley. The Legend of Bold Riley is kick ass swashbuckling lesbian fun.

    Of course, my current comic crush is Captain Marvel, whichever team she plays for, which is unusual because I tend to skew brunette.

  4. I love all of you and your beautiful recs.

    I’d also throw Queen and Country onto the pile of Rucka books. It’s all spy genre in the vein of an old British spy show and it revolves around a kickass lady spy.

    Sidenote Of Comic Worlds Colliding and Melting Your Brain: If you read Batwoman Elegy, there is an ACTUAL HOPELESS SAVAGES SHOUT OUT IN THERE. Look for the Dusted Bunnies poster :D

    If you want to do some actual article reading there are books out called Chicks Who Dig Comics. There are several volumes, each a collection of articles written by women in the comics industry. They cover all kinds of topics.

    Also, also, also, I know this is far from reading comics or books, but if you’re on twitter I’d HIGHLY recommend following many of these writers and artists in the article and in the recs in the replies. The tweets are a great mix of the hilarious, political, nerdy and insightful (and Gail Simone tends to be all four all the time).

    I wish I had more recommendations, but I’m living in a temporary state of flux as I moved from SF to my folks farm to prepare to (hopefully) move out of state. Soooo all the cool books are currently in lots of milk crates.

    • Dusted Bunnies is my favorite fictional band. And I have a Joan Jett and The Blackheart/Hopeless Savages combo shirt I drew with a Sharpie one night that has black jets +a bird named Fish but mostly says “Swerval” : )

      • Van Meter’s doing a new Hopeless Savages book! Don’t know when it will be out, but it is a real thing that is happening that we will get to hold and read in our hands.

        • I know!!! And it is a wonderful thought. Although I try not to think about too much because I’m horrible at waiting.

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