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Female artists in Cleveland working to change comic industry

Less than 20% of creators at national companies are female
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Posted at 5:30 PM, Nov 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-05 19:08:12-04
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Cleveland is a city known as the birthplace of the original comic book hero — Superman. Now it could be the setting for the story of three young, female artists bringing diversity to the industry.

CLEVELAND — Cleveland is a city on the side of a lake with a rich history in graphic novels and comic books. It is where Superman was created, after all.

And there are three artists working to diversify the local and national industry, one drawing at a time.

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Left to right: Shilah Sample-Williams, Roxy Konnof and Ashley Riblett, three comic artists in Cleveland.

"I really like weird, low-brow art," said Ashley Riblett, sitting in her Lakewood apartment. "I like all the color and I want the entire buffet."

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Ashley Ribblett is a comic book artist in Lakewood.

Riblett is a professional artist who has seen how the industry has changed in the last decade.

"You don't get the full pie chart unless you include women," she said about how diversity in the industry is lagging. "It's not just one type of person on the planet."

The diversity that Riblett embraced hasn't always been in the larger comic book business. One industry analyst tracked female employment at the two biggest comic producers. In 2018, less than 20% of creators at DC Comics and Marvel were women. That is an increase from 2011 when around 10% of creators were women, but activists want the increases to continue.

"It's not even just women," Riblett said. "It's other non-binary, queer people - like multitudes of different voices are important for well-rounded perspective and engineer co-creation and understanding of one another as human beings."

News 5 reached out to both DC Comics and Marvel for comment about the companies efforts to diversify and as of Nov. 2, 2021, neither responded.

Representation of LGBTQ+ characters has gone up in recent years. Most recently, DC Comics announced Superman's son, Jonathan, is bisexual. Other superhero mainstays like Batwoman, Robin, Captain America and Loki have come out.

The renewed focus on expanding diversity in characters and in creators means younger artists may have a new avenue to enter the industry — artists like Roxy Konnof and Shilah Sample-Williams.

Both create their own worlds and characters, and grow their craft through workshops at Lake Erie Ink.

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Customers browse comic books at Lake Erie Ink.

"I like drawing stuff," Konnof said as she sat at her desk in Akron. "I like making other people laugh with my drawings."

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Roxy Konnof, a young comic artist in Cleveland.

"Drawing is how I express things," Sample-Williams said one afternoon in the spring.

Sample-Williams created an entire world of comics based on climate issues and animal rights.

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Shilah Sample-Williams, a young comic artist who tackles social issues in her work.

"I don't like poaching, either," she said. "It's just wrong."

Konnof takes the comedy in her comics and turns the focus toward real-world issues.

"I don't like discrimination," she said.

The pair use their artistic ability to express how they feel about the world around them. And, as more women and people of color join the professional ranks of creators at big comic houses, these two could have a clearer path to large-scale recognition.

"I see amazing, powerful women and nothing else," Konnof said.