Meet Betsy Gomez, Creator of She Changed Comics

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scc17[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]D[/dropcap]id you know there’s an entire organization devoted to defending comic book creators’ free speech rights? We definitely didn’t, but when we found out that they’re working on a book about the contributions women have made to the world of comics, we were more than on board. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is raising money on Kickstarter (see below for details on how to support!) to publish She Changed Comics, a book that dives into the ways women have, well, changed comics. We’re so excited for it, and this week, we chatted with the Fund’s editorial director, Betsy Gomez to learn more.[wc_divider style="solid" line="double" margin_top="5" margin_bottom="5"]

Introduce yourself! Tell us who you are and a little about the She Changed Comics project.

[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]I[/dropcap]’m the Editorial Director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the First Amendment rights of everyone in the comics community. I manage the content of CBLDF’s website and social media, and I design and edit most of our print publications, including our quarterly news magazine, CBLDF Defender.

She Changed Comics began last March as a series on our Tumblr. It was initially called “Women Who Changed Free Expression,” and we wanted to celebrate the free expression of women comics creators during Women’s History Month. We renamed and continued the series again this year, putting together nearly 60 profiles of women comics creators between the two series. We realized that the story we were telling – how women changed free expression in comics – hadn’t been told before and that the contributions of all these amazing women deserved a larger platform, so it’s only natural that we put them in a book![divider type="dashed" spacing="10"]

How does feminism play a part in the project and in your own work?

[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]T[/dropcap]here’s a pervasive – and I think incorrect – idea that feminism is an attack on masculinity and men. In its purest form, feminism is simply asking that women be treated equally – equal representation, equal pay, equal opportunity. In fields that have been largely male-dominated, such as comics, there’s some conflict as more women get involved. But the involvement of women elevates the art. This isn’t to say that women are better artists and comics creators – it’s the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats. Women are part of that tide, and feminism asks that we also have a boat.

Women have their own perspectives and experiences that invigorate the medium. They often explore topics that largely have been ignored, which engages new audiences and existing audiences in novel ways. In my work, I try to ensure that women are included, but not to the exclusion of any group. It’s a tone I hope carries over to CBLDF’s projects. For example, with She Changed Comics, this isn’t just a book about women creators – it examines the ways in which women contributed to the foundations of the comics medium and continue to push it into new territories. It’s a celebration of the ways that women, when given (or in some cases, taking) the opportunity, make comics more diverse, more inclusive, and more profound.[divider type="dashed" spacing="10"]

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]I[/dropcap] hope that readers learn something new about the history of comics and the women who helped shape the industry. There’s an amazing conversation happening about the role of women in comics, and I hope She Changed Comics will help people realize we’ve been here all along (albeit in relatively small numbers until fairly recently), and that women have made invaluable contributions to comics. I also hope that people will be inspired by the profiles and interviews in the book to explore the work of these women. Comics would be a very different landscape without them![divider type="dashed" spacing="10"]

Can you share a little about some of your favorite, most inspiring or powerful stories from the book?

[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]W[/dropcap]here do I start?! There’s Jackie Ormes, who didn’t just battle sexism – she also had to confront racism as the first syndicated Black female cartoonist. Her commentary on racism and sexism is as relevant today as it was when she was working in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. The last Black woman who worked as a syndicated cartoonist was Where I’m Coming From creator Barbara Brandon-Croft, but she retired the strip in 2005. Like Ormes, Brandon-Croft’s commentary on Black issues remains germane to our conversations about race. Ormes and Brandon-Croft’s work moved the medium forward, but it’s obvious we still have a journey ahead of us with regard to both race and gender.

Before She Changed Comics, I was familiar with underground comix, but mostly with the work of R. Crumb and other male creators. Exploring the work of artists like Trina Robbins, Dori Seda, Joyce Farmer, and Lyn Chevely has been revelatory – these women tackled female sexuality, reproductive rights, and feminism at the peak of the women’s movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. And we’re still fighting those battles! To engage with work that was created four or five decades ago and to find that it’s still pertinent to the current political atmosphere is affecting.

The story I personally find most distressing is that of Atena Farghadani. She is currently serving a 12-year and 9-month prison sentence in Iran for drawing a cartoon. She drew the cartoon in response to parliamentary debate over a bill that would limit access to voluntary birth control, such as vasectomies and tubal ligations. She was prosecuted for insulting Iran’s parliament, and to add insult to injury, she was charged with adultery for shaking her male lawyer’s hand. Before she was cleared of the latter charges, she had to undergo an invasive “virginity test.”

Atena Farghadani is in prison for drawing a cartoon. Could you imagine the women who drew underground comix and women like The Diary of a Teenage Girl creator Phoebe Gloeckner or Fun Home creator Alison Bechdel being imprisoned for their work?! Atena’s story is heartbreaking, and it illustrates the incredible protections we have under the First Amendment.[divider type="dashed" spacing="10"]

Any plugs/upcoming initiatives our readers should know about?

[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]T[/dropcap]he Kickstarter campaign for She Changed Comics is still active. We’ve reached four of five stretch goals, and the support has been staggering! You can still donate here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cbldf/she-changed-comics

For anyone who wants to keep up with free expression issues, I definitely recommend following http://cbldf.org, and you can sign up for our weekly newsletter online as well. The next issue of CBLDF Defender is out in June, and it features an awesome-to-the-max cover and interview with Noelle Stevenson! You can pick up a copy at your local comic shop (ask them to carry it if they aren’t already) or read it online at http://cbldf.org/resources/cbldf-defender

Of course, one of the best ways to support CBLDF and stay abreast of what’s going on with regard to censorship is to become a member! We have membership levels for all budgets, and this year’s member premiums feature amazing art by Craig Thompson (Blankets, Habibi, Space Dumplins). More info here: http://cbldf.org/contribute/membership