With FanX approaching, female storytellers talk about the move toward equality in the once male-dominated worlds of fandom

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kaylynn Wolfe of Layton as Captain Marvel poses for a photo for the start of last fall's FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City. The spring edition of FanX runs Friday and Saturday, April 19-20, 2019.

Camilla D’Errico has a few rules about drawing female characters in comic books.

“I’ve never drawn female characters whose outfits are basically spaghetti on their bodies,” D’Errico said in a phone interview from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. “I’m too logical that way. ... My characters wear clothing that is very functional.”

D’Errico is a painter and comic-book artist and writer who is part of a growing movement to expand “fan culture” — that space for superheroes, space aliens, vampires and other fantastical beings found in comic books and genre TV and movies — past the stereotype as a clubhouse for nerdy boys and men.

(Photo courtesy of the artist) Canadian artist Camilla D'Errico, whose works include the comic book series "Tanpopo" and the "HelmetGirls" drawings, is one of the creators who will attend FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention in the Salt Palace, April 19-20, 2019.

And conventions, like the spring FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention that runs Friday and Saturday at the Salt Palace Convention Center, are where some of that expansion is happening.

“Fanboys may have started it, but it’s not just for them any more,” said D’Errico, a featured artist at FanX. “The fanboys are excited that there are girls at the comic cons.”

“Ten years ago, girls being involved in fandom was still an oddity,” said Utah-based author M.K. Hutchins, adding that notion was more about perception than reality. “Women and girls have always been a part of fandom.”

Still, those perceptions of fandom as a men-only bastion die hard. Hutchins, who wrote the fantasy novel “Drift,” is a fan of board games and tabletop role-playing games — and she’s endured sexist commentary from men.

“I knew people who would say, ‘She only plays because her boyfriend plays,’” Hutchins said, adding that when she attended Brigham Young University, women-only game nights with her roommates and neighbors were common.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Eric and Trysten Molina of Orem as characters from The Book of Life attend the start of FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018, during the three-day pop culture convention.

FanX has made progress on gender equality issues since last year, when a prominent author was accused of inappropriately touching a woman at a convention event. FanX has strengthened its anti-harassment policies, and created a community council to monitor those policies. Meanwhile, co-founder Dan Farr made a donation to the Time’s Up campaign. (A FanX spokesman declined to say how much Farr donated.)

Which is not to say full equality has been achieved. Of this spring’s 34 celebrity guests listed on the event’s website, nine of them — or 26.5% — are women, the most recognizable being Lynda Carter, TV’s Wonder Woman. Women represent 11.8% of the artists and comics creators booked for FanX, 28.1% of the authors and 37.3% of the listed panelists.

“There are a lot more male panelists than female panelists,” said Charlie N. Holmberg, an author in Salt Lake County whose books include “The Paper Magician” and “Smoke & Summons.” “But there are a lot more panels about women in fiction, and about feminism.”

D’Errico — creator of the comic book series “Tanpopo” and the “HelmetGirls” images — said she’s noticed fewer comic artists drawing buxom, scantily clad female figures, because reactions and sensibilities have changed. They still exist, she said, but “the people who are offended by that kind of art, they just avoid those booths.”

At a convention in Chicago once, D’Errico said, her table was across the way from a man whose art featured highly sexualized, nearly nude women. D’Errico commented about them in an interview, and the man overheard her. His response: “I’m sorry that this offends you, but I have to pay my bills.”

Ali Cross, a fantasy author from West Jordan who wrote the “Desolation” trilogy and her current “Minnie Kim: Vampire Girl” books, is less troubled by such sexist artwork. “They’re no different than portraying all the men with giant muscles,” Cross said. “They’re just caricatures of the ideal.”

D’Errico praises the move toward equality between women and men in fandom, and in the art sold at conventions. But that’s only the first step.

“What I’d like to see more of is cultural diversity in art,” D’Errico said.

D’Errico recalled selling works at one convention where an African American girl bought prints of every work D’Errico had made that showed girls of color. The girl’s grandmother, D’Errico said, “was crying. She had never seen [the girl] so excited about art before.”

“I try to put in more diversity, people of color and [different] body types,” D’Errico said. “Not all of us look like Barbie dolls.”

One area where gender equity is most pronounced, Cross said, is in cosplay. Crossplay, where women dress as male characters and vice versa, and gender-bends — where, for example, a woman will create a female version of a male character — are becoming more popular.

“The men tend to dress in evocative female costumes — I’ve seen men freer to express themselves,” Cross said.

That expression, Cross said, is the core of what makes conventions popular. “It’s the only place where being wildly different is celebrated,” she said.


FanX returns

The spring 2019 edition of FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention, a two-day convention celebrating movies, TV, comic books, games and other nerdy pursuits.

Where • Salt Palace Convention Center.

When • Friday and Saturday, April 19-20.

Tickets • Individual tickets and two-day passes available at fanxsaltlake.com.