The inaugural Silicon Valley Comic Con, hosted by Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee and Apple genius Steve Wozniak, was a hub of geek culture this past weekend. Held at the San Jose Convention Center, SVCC drew daily crowds of more than 40,000.

Star power: This first SVCC was hosted by Stan the Man and The Wizard of Woz.

If you were able to pull away from the magnetic draw the main floor had on heroes and civilians alike, the convention also offered live panels with various topics, like virtual reality and diversity in entertainment industries.

One such panel, the aptly named “Awesome Female Characters: Fierce Femmes in Live Action, and the Literary World,” addressed the creation of original and dynamic female characters as portrayed in stories and on screen. Industry professionals discussed what makes a strong female character and the important impact such characters have on society.


“Awesome Female Characters” panelist and “Triorion” series author L.J. Hachmeister (right) takes a break from the action to pose with a Steve-Wozniak-signed Made By Girls T-shirt and her new fans!

“Every character you create is an extension of yourself, so I never think about gender while creating characters. I just try to give my character the best voice to tell the story,” said panelist L.J. Hachmeister, author of the “Triorion” series and world-champion martial artist.

Brittany and Brianna Winner, aka the Winner Twins, became America’s youngest multiple-award-winning novelists at the age of 12 with the sci-fi novel The Strand Prophecy. “After reading Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey, we realized that there are so few stories about the female character’s journey,” said Brittany Winner.

“Our family emigrated from Russia to New York with nothing and had to claw its way up. There was no time for a person to be weaker than anyone else. Everyone had to fight. Otherwise, you’d go hungry,” Brianna Winner added. “So when we grew up writing, we just wrote people. It never occurred to us that people were ‘supposed’ to be different.”

When we write strong female characters, it means that they’re driving the story… That’s what we’re pushing for here.”
– Bree Despain, Author of “The Dark Divine” Series

“Our culture tends to default to physical strength when it comes to power, but there’s emotional, mental and spiritual strength that characters can have,” said Christy Marx. Marx wrote and worked on TV shows like Jem and the Holograms, Babylon 5, The Twilight Zone and even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. She now works in mobile game design, currently writing for Zynga as a narrative director.

“When we write strong female characters, it means that they’re driving the story. It’s their choices – the things that they are deciding to do and acting upon – that is driving the story forward, and that’s what makes a strong female character. That’s what we’re pushing for here,” said Bree Despain, author of “The Dark Divine” series.

Known for writing dynamic female characters on shows like Xena: Warrior Princess, Steven L. Sears acted as impromptu moderator for the event. Sears never liked the “that’s-just-the-way-it-is” answer to why there was such little representation of strong women in entertainment, so he decided to create his own opportunities for women. Not wanting to take the spotlight from his female panelist friends, he even hid behind them in the group photo!

Awesome Women Panel
“Awesome Female Characters” panelists (left to right): The Winner Twins, Steven L. Sears, Bree Despain, Christy Marx and L.J. Hachmeister.

After the panel, I caught up with some of the speakers and started a conversation about DMA’s Made By Girls initiative. Because their panel inspires the same work the Made By Girls Scholarship strives to achieve by empowering young women in the industry, I asked them one simple question:

“What advice would you give a young girl just starting her path in STEAM?”

Here’s how several of the panelists responded:

Christy Marx
“Don’t be afraid, and don’t let anything stop you. Don’t let people intimidate you. Know that you have a right to be there, assert your right to be there and don’t let anybody be an obstacle in your way.”

L.J. Hachmeister
“The biggest thing is resilience. Trust yourself, know your goals and don’t let anything stop you.”

Steven L. Sears
“The number one thing I tell anyone is ‘perseverance’. Specifically to the young girls: You’re gonna hear a lot of ‘young girls shouldn’t, young girls shouldn’t, young girls shouldn’t.’ But studies have shown that the way young girls’ minds work, they’re extremely adept at programming and similar expertise.”

“Your gender is a part of yourself. You’re a young woman. You’ll be a mature woman. And no one else can change that. So what you do, is you become yourself. You persevere. Don’t let other people put labels on you. You know who you are, so don’t let anyone devalue you. Changes are happening, so embrace them and go for it!”

Made By Girls – Wozniak Approved!

“That sounds amazing! I hope it’s successful,” said the Woz on DMA’s Made By Girls initiative!

SVCC host Steve Wozniak even got in on the conversation of empowering young women! Seeing the Made By Girls logo on a T-shirt as he passed by, he stopped and asked what it stood for.

When Wozniak learned it’s an initiative to create a supportive learning community for young girls in technology, he even offered some encouraging words of support. “That sounds amazing! I hope it’s successful,” Woz said, signing the shirt (!) before turning to meet other excited fans.