The most interesting panel was the one discussing "Women in Comics;" it included seven members, representing just about the total female force in the business. Marie Severin, the old pro who worked on Bill (Mad) Gaines's EC line as well as the critically successful Kull series, was predictably optimistic, maintaining that anyone with talent could bust into the field. Her optimism didn't jibe with the endless reprints the major companies have been churning out in lieu of new material (which could in turn easily be provided by dozens of talented new-comers who would gladly work for free.)
Jean Thomas, wife of Marvel editor Roy Thomas, proved a hit with the crowd because she was the only panelist whose voice could be heard at the back of the cavernous hall. Jean, defending Marvel and its costumed coterie with the perky charm of Julie Nixon talking up the Prez, allowed as to how she hoped to see black, Chinese and Indian women in the comics, kicking out the teeth of super villains and rapists. Yet she admitted that Red Sonja was, "in many respects, a right-on woman, but in some ways she's a little sick. I mean, what girl would run around in those little pants and that tight blouse?"
The panelists were otherwise vaguely encouraged about the state of the industry (or was it "art"?), but no one could account for the general lack of talented female artists in the field. In my opinion, the real reason there are no talented artists interested in women's comics is that there are no women's comics, unless one counts sword-swinging Red Sonja in her thigh-high leathers and chain mail.
At one point in the discussion an erudite observer mentioned this general lack of women's comics and the fact that the field was male-dominated. The observer explained that comics were created by and for men; that women simply had no interest in god-like behavior and spectacular feats. Not so, said Warren (Vampirella) assistant Flo Steinberg. "It's true what you say about male domination, but I would like to smash through walls, too!" (cheers and applause).
Had Flo smashed through a wall to gain access to the dealers' room, however, she would have noticed the preponderance of male faces. Not only was the overwhelming proportion of fans men, but an unusually high percentage of these were obese. There is apparently something about comics that attracts the fat and the out-of-it. Short of a Tanks Anonymous gathering, one would be hard pressed to find a group with a higher median weight. One supposes that this has something to do with fat boys' not wanting to play baseball or their having few friends and in turn retreating into the world of comics, where anything is possible and fat slobs like the Hulk, the Thing, and Bouncing Boy battle evil with ease and style.
In contrast, most of the young professionals who entered the industry as fans a few years ago are in fantastic shape. Were they fat before they became interested in art? Did they slim down out of a growing respect for the human physique they must draw ad infinitum? In any event, if a group can make a case for the comics as a viable alternative to movies or books, it is these young fans turned pros who have revolutionized a stodgy industry, if only around the fringes.