by Rachel Lynn Brody
Photos © Linda Mitala
They say you always remember your first, and my first big comic con isn’t going to leave my memory any time soon. Guided by a veteran Wizard World attendee (and good friend), the weekend was an absolute blast. While the road to Philly was a little rocky (thanks, Google Maps, totes cool on it taking twice as long to get there as it should have), once I arrived in Philly, the weekend took off.
My friend, her daughter and I arrived on Friday afternoon and beelined it to the registration area. They’d gotten their passes the night before, so we just needed to pick up mine, and then we headed to the con floor.
The exhibition floor was huge – the size of Howard Stark’s aircraft hanger, one might say – with row after row of booths with all kinds of products. We kicked things off with some serious shopping, including an Agent Carter badge for a cosplay I’m working on and wandered the con floor for a while. There was some crazy stuff going on – a Weta workshop, Jurrasic World Oculus Rift demos, a hair styling booth (?!) and even window siding. There was also your more typical con merch: t-shirts galore, cosplayers roaming the floor, sword demos, fake weapons and more. Artist’s Alley was mostly inhabited by various visual artists, though there were a number of craft-oriented tables, and we found a few really cool pieces…including a booth selling custom-painted sneakers. Any guesses on what my friend ordered for one pair of the two pairs she picked out? After emptying our wallets and satisfying our need for retail therapy, my friend headed over to get an autograph and photo op with Cary Ewles (more on him later) before we headed back to hers Friday night.
Saturday was the big day. While my friend goes to Wizard World every year, my main motivation for going was that David Tennant and Billie Piper (Ten and Rose, though that won’t mean much to anyone who doesn’t already know they’re from Doctor Who) were appearing together for the first time. Their panel was early (and VIP only), so we got up and drove in at an hour when I’m normally not even out of bed. It was a lot of fun and some great questions were asked. Afterwards, we booked it downstairs for our photo op, which involved a lot of standing in line followed by a very warm welcome from both Tennant and Piper in the booth.
Did I mention I was wearing my Peggy Carter red fedora? Because the moment I stepped up for my photo, Tennant complimented me on it. Nice hat, indeed. (My life? Complete.)
With an hour or so before Hayley Atwell’s photo op started, the three of us headed over to Reading Terminal Market to grab lunch. They had schwarma, I had pulled pork, it was all delicious, and we suddenly realized that we didn’t have nearly as much time as we’d thought before my friend’s photo op with Atwell. When my friend’s daughter announced she didn’t want to be in the photo, I got to take her place. Atwell’s comment? “There’s that red hat again!” (Afterwards, I wondered aloud: how many red hats has the woman probably seen since taking on the role of our favorite 40s spy?)
The con hadn’t planned the times out terrifically, so by the time we got upstairs for the Agent Carter panel (just half an hour after her photo op started) the front section was full – and not everyone sitting in the VIP area was a VIP. Luckily, the con staff were great about checking badges, and my friend and her daughter were eventually placed in prime real estate – front and center, with a great view. I moved a bit further back, and while my phone wasn’t taking photos properly because of the light, I had a great view of the stage (and the massive screens the con put up to show video of what was taking place on stage).
I won’t cover the entire panel but there were some terrific highlights worth mentioning:
First of all, obviously, there was a lot of excitement in the room thanks to Friday’s announcement about Agent Carter getting a second season. Even the moderator reminded us that ABC “knew her value” as he welcomed Atwell to the stage. She mentioned having just run into Cary Ewles on her way up, and made it clear she’s a fan – getting a laugh and round of applause from the audience.
The lines for questions were long, but what was great – especially at the start – was how well-considered and focused many of the questions were.
As I’m sure everyone knows by now, almost immediately after the renewal was announced, a hashtag kicked off on Twitter: #DiversifyAgentCarter. A lack of diversity on the show has been one of the major issues discussed among fans, particularly since the show takes place in New York City – a town that’s always been known for its diversity and multiculturalism.
Sure enough, the first few questions centered almost entirely on questions of diversity and inclusivity. Was the show planning to incorporate more diverse cast members into its second season? Atwell responded to the question with sincerity and charm, assuring the audience that there are already conversation taking place around how the second season will unfold, and that expanding the diversity of the cast has definitely been something they’ve been discussing. She explained – which I hadn’t realized – that she actually spends time in the writers room, and is part of discussions on character development. This came up again later, when another fan asked about the possibility of Peggy perhaps getting another woman as a mentee – and that perhaps that mentee could be a woman of color. Atwell’s response? She thought it was a great idea, and one that she’d take to the writers for discussion.
A wounded veteran came up to ask a question and got a round of applause from the audience. Questions about the casting on the show were met with a great anecdote about how, when the role of Angie Martinelli was being cast, the director had Atwell take her future co-star off guard by blurting out midway through the scene: “I’M A SPY!” (Apparently, Lyndsy Fonseca nailed Angie’s reaction, and it was part of what got her the job.) She told stories about pranking James D’Arcy on set (there’s a video, she told us, on her Instagram) and about how the relationship between Peggy and Jarvis had evolved partly because of the friendship that developed between her and D’Arcy over the course of filming.
Of course, there was a lot of discussion about Peggy Carter as a feminist role model, and about how Atwell herself now fills that role for many of the show’s fans. Her responses to questions on her own feminism, how she sees her role in being a feminist, and about how it is to work on a show run and written by women, surrounded by women who support one another were truly inspiring. At every opportunity, Atwell stressed the importance of women supporting women and the magic that can result from situations where women are allowed to have free rein over their creative vision. She also answered a question about how Marvel has recently come under criticism for their treatment of female characters in general, reminding the audience how rare a gem Agent Carter is in another respect: it’s a show run by women, starring a “relatively unknown” actress (at least at the start), where she’s allowed to take part in the writer’s room. She stressed that there are no other shows (that she knows of, and I couldn’t think of one either) in Hollywood where this is the case, and that from her perspective, at least, Marvel loves women and is committed to empowering them.
She spoke about the privilege of being raised by people who taught her to believe in her own value, and to speak up and advocate clearly for herself. She talked about how Peggy is a role model for women and girls, but she hopes the character is also a role model for men and boys as well. “I love boys!” she exclaimed at one point, and her commitment to working on a show that aims to treasure and include every fan was clear.
My biggest takeaway came from what she said about the incredible things that can happen when a group of women get together to create and to support one another. And I’m not ashamed to admit that my eyes started leaking a few times – in particular, when she related a story about a woman at a convention in Dubai, wearing a full burqa, who asked her to personalize an autograph with the line, “Women can be heroes, too.” Being such an inspiration to women around the world can’t be an easy mantle to carry, but Atwell does it with charm, grace and generosity. Whether talking about her colleagues from the Marvel universe, her fans, or her experience as the show has blown up, she gave the clear impression that she values the opportunity to have her voice heard on matters of equality and representation- and understands the responsibility that comes with that power.
After Atwell’s panel ended, the room was swarmed by fans of Stephen Amell and Arrow – so many that the entire VIP section was pushed back to include half the room. Once his panel concluded, my friend, her daughter and I headed back to the main con floor to get our autographs from Tennant and Piper. The lines were long, but given the number of people who moved through them they moved quickly, and in a little over an hour we had our autographs. Hungry and tired, but thrilled with the experience, we headed home, ordered pizza, reminisced about the day, and zonked out.
I had to get back on the road early Sunday morning, but from my friend’s accounts, Sunday ran smoothly and a great time was had by all.