Wonder Woman Symposium recap

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).

At the Cleveland Public Library

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.

Laura Siegel

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.

Laura Siegel speaks in front of a picture of her father, Jerry Siegel

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.

Peter Coogan

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.

Christie Marston

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.

Christie Marston answers questions

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?)

Symposium swag

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!

12 thoughts on “Wonder Woman Symposium recap

  1. purplepumpernickelblog September 29, 2016 / 8:18 pm

    Sounds like such a fabulous event! I grew up watching WonderWoman religiously every week so I am thrilled that you got to be part of this awesome convention!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mei-Mei September 29, 2016 / 9:20 pm

      It was really great to see so many other people also excited about Wonder Woman 🙂 She really resonates with people!

      Liked by 1 person

      • purplepumpernickelblog September 29, 2016 / 9:25 pm

        She certainly does – I think with so many male superheros, we needed a good strong female one to balance it off! I loved Bat Girls too, but sadly, she hardly had airtime.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. NovEllaandBanannabelle October 2, 2016 / 5:49 pm

    I never thought about the superheroine / female superhero distinction before. This looks like it was a great event! I don’t really know much about Wonder Woman, but I’m looking forward to the movie.


    • Mei-Mei October 2, 2016 / 10:40 pm

      I’m looking forward to the movie, too!


  3. Imelda October 3, 2016 / 2:08 pm

    Wonder Woman was and is my superheroine. I fell in love with her when I saw Linda Carter wear the WW suit in the 70s. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mei-Mei October 3, 2016 / 7:26 pm

      Several people at the symposium mentioned that Lynda Carter was such a genuine person and a great Wonder Woman. She’s going to be playing the US President in the upcoming season of Supergirl! 😀


  4. GeekyNerdyGirl October 13, 2016 / 9:12 pm

    This sounds like an absolutely fascinating symposium and I agree with other commenters about Coogan’s super heroine vs. female superhero perspective. I’ve never really thought about it that way before, but it does make sense!

    I also thought it was interesting that Marston was so dismissive of Lepore’s book, especially since she relied so much on family papers and interviews. Perhaps that’s because Lepore seems to argue more that Olive Byrne was the inspiration behind Wonder Woman instead of Holloway? Either way, the family dynamics continue to fascinate me!

    Liked by 1 person

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