This year marks the 75th anniversary of the creation of Wonder Woman, and to celebrate the Cleveland Public Library hosted a symposium last weekend featuring speakers on a variety of topics. Guests included current comic book authors and artists, academics, and a few people with an even more personal connection to golden age DC comics.
Although I’m not a big Wonder Woman fan or anything, I was interested in this symposium because I’ve been reading The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore for our next GeekyNerdy Book Club (stay tuned for that next week).
I live about 45 min from Cleveland, but I heard about the event because it was co-sponsored by Kent State University (to which I live much nearer). The symposium ran over three days, but I was only able to make it up on Saturday afternoon. I dragged my husband along, too, and we both enjoyed it. Here are the sessions we attended.
Daughter of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel
Clevelanders are very proud of our Superman connection; Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were attending high school in the Cleveland area when they met and later teamed up to create the most iconic superhero of our times.
What I did not know was that Laura’s mother (known alternately as Jolan, Helen, and Joanne) was actually originally the model for Lois Lane, both physically and in spirit.
Laura Siegel was a very engaging speaker, taking about how her mom met Jerry and Joe when she advertised for a modeling job and they were looking for a model for their independent “girl reporter.” (Interestingly, Jerry, Joe, and Joanne were all the children of immigrants.) Joanne went on to have a variety of jobs all over the country, embodying the go-getter spirit of Lois Lane; she wasn’t one to let being a woman stop her from doing anything.
Director of the Institute for Comic Studies
Now the discussion turned a little more academic; Peter Coogan is one of the pioneers of the field of study of comic books, and his talk sparked a lot of discussion between my husband and me. His talk was centered around the idea that Wonder Woman is a “superheroine” and not a “female superhero.” This may seem like a distinction without a difference, but he gave support for the idea that Wonder Woman’s original storylines have a completely different narrative than a typical superhero like Batman or Superman.
The superhero narrative is American mythology, and can be traced back to Daniel Boone. Typically, the hero goes away to develop his powers, returns and then steps up to fight an external evil (when it can’t be repelled by normal societal means), and then having expelled the evil, steps back into solitude.
Wonder Woman, as her creator William Moulton Marston intended, is instead based on early feminist propaganda narratives. There is no “going away;” she already has her powers. Her weapons, bracelets and lasso, are defensive and restraining, not really offensive. Instead of repelling the antagonists, she seeks to help them solve their problems and blend back into society. And instead of retreating to a Batcave or Fortress of Solitude, the story ends with her taking part in society with her friends.
This talk was really fascinating to me, and I may do a whole post about it later if anyone else finds it interesting.
Granddaughter of William Moulton Marston, creator of Wonder Woman
Christie Marston, wearing an awesome Wonder Woman robe, took questions from the audience. I was particularly interested to hear her, since I’ve just finished reading The Secret History of Wonder Woman, which talks a lot about her family. She was dismissive of the book, calling it “fiction,” especially the parts about the Moulton family.
She spoke about how her grandmother, Elizabeth Holloway, was the real-life Wonder Woman. They both had the same attitude: do what needs to get done, and be kind. She spoke enthusiastically about Peter Coogan’s descriptions of Wonder Woman’s “superheroine” themes from his talk, and said she hoped the upcoming WW movie would show those themes.
We weren’t able to stay for the round table discussion, but we enjoyed what we did get to see, and the rest of the audience seemed to as well. There were plenty of people wearing comic shirts, and even some dressed as Wonder Woman (I think there was a cosplay event during lunch?)
I’ve really come around to Wonder Woman since my first introduction to her in the Justice League cartoons, and I think this event was a great way to celebrate her and her important role in comics and American culture. You’ll definitely be hearing more about her here soon!