Welcome to SBC’s The Panel, a chance for you to put your burning questions – comics-related or otherwise – to a group of comics professionals.
The Panel lives or dies by your contributions; please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll add them to the list…
This week’s question comes from Frederick D. Weaver and is as follows:-
“Why are Black couples so rare in comics (superhero, romance, etc.) when Black romance novels, movies, and TV shows enjoy a broad appeal in the mainstream that the industry would kill for?
My question was inspired by Jenn, a Storm fan who now supports Ororo’s upcoming marriage to Black Panther because it bucks the “No Black love” trend in comics. Her commentary can be found here:
Kev F Sutherland:
It could be that comics are so old fashioned. And since the most famous mainstream comic strip characters were created between 40 and 70 years ago, in America, in a deeply segregated and racist environment, then the only way to improve the racial balance in comics would be for more recent comic creations to dominate. Early on in the Marvel era, liberal-leaning creators led by Stan Lee created civil libertarian comics and characters. We had a black editor on the Daily Bugle from the early 60s, and The Black Panther was an early creation. Black creators joined the comic’s workforce in the 1970s and an attempt at increasing ethnic diversity in comics began. But when you look at the shelves and see half the titles on sale are characters like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man – dammit, these characters weren’t even allowed to be Jewish like their creators, let alone be black. Could be worse, could be in the UK. We only have two comics left, and the best The Dandy could do for a black character (okay, apart from Jak’s best mate in the lead strip) was Dreadlock Holmes. That’s us, dragged kicking and screaming into the early 1970s. In my latest Beano strip, the Wedding (on sale May), I made the vicar black. Just call me Mr Tokenism.
Writer and artist on most genres of comic from (currently) The Bash St Kids in The Beano, thru Tarquin Hoylet He Has To Go To The Toilet in Viz, to Star Trek and Dr Strange for Marvel, plus Dr Who, Red Dwarf, Gladiators, Goosebumps and heaps more. http://comicfestival.co.uk
I guess the big question is…do creators think having black couples in comics are commercially viable enough to have em’? My answer to that wouldbe a big YES!
Sometimes I think the comic industry is slow to latch on to what’s happening in the real world and the environment around us.
But let me also say, we don’t just want black characters or superheroes in comics as mere tokens, they have to be strong characters in their on right and have strong stories built around them.
That is exactly what I did on BRODIE’S LAW. Using all the different ethnicities around London and showing the inter-racial coming together of these characters. There is a strong mass appeal if one goes down that route.
Daley Osiyemi creator of Brodie’s Law and co-founder of Pulp Theatre Entertainment where he works as producer and creator on various new media and comic projects. Writer and producer of online animated comic series None But Us, developed a character to help promote broadband and is currently working on a graphic novel and a film idea.
I think that there is no more inherently racist industry than the various media. That about sums it up. The problem is the media want to APPEAR to be “racially equal”, but they simply can’t present honest interpretations of various individuals within ethnic groups and still make their slants work.
The problem is analogous to what’s going on in the American news right now. “The Hispanic Vote” is being touted in all the major news media. But there is no “Hispanic Vote”; as if all Hispanic people thought or acted the same way! How insulting is that?
Comics are very much akin to the big media, and so try to emulate the trends of the day.
In the same way, for years comic book writers have tried to make Black characters adhere to stereotypes. The stereotypes may not appear as insulting on the surface, but they are stereotypes nonetheless. The notion that all Black persons in the United States are very liberal in their politics is one that comics attempt to perpetuate by using the positive picture of interracial marriage/romance for almost every Black character created since the 1970s (maybe earlier). The tacit suggestion (i.e. Stereotype) is that only white characters (not All white characters, just some) are more likely to have racist attitudes toward people with higher levels of melanin. Have we ever had a single case of “George Jefferson” disease in mainstream comics?
No, that wouldn’t be a positive role model. Not that I’m suggesting we SHOULD have a “George Jefferson” character in comics, please! Since WWII I think there’s been one positive German character in mainstream comics (I’m thinking of Nightcrawler). We’ve been exposed to a lot of positive Japanese characters in recent years. But in comics it’s usually, this character is Black, he/she will therefore either be angry at white people, or barring that attracted to them. (Usually it begins as the former and then turns to the latter).
In comics a person is never just a person. Never just a man or a woman who has to deal with life day to day. And some days life changes that person.
In the controversy that rages about Storm marrying Black Panther, someone has said “it’s out of character!” As if comics characters can’t or shouldn’t ever change. People change. I’ve changed. I look back on my life and realize that if I could travel back in time, my younger self wouldn’t recognize me not because of how I look, but because of how I think now. Life has changed me. Time has changed me.
Yeah, I know, I know. We’re talking about an industry that’s usually typified by two white guys in tight outfits beating the snot out of one another. “Isn’t this just an attempt to bring some sort of balance to the whole genre?” Maybe. But it’s a cop out in a way.
I think it’s time that we accepted as an industry that there is room for change. It’s too easy to just throw out a one word description of a character and make that become the symbol. While I admire a symbol or an ideal in a costumed hero, to introduce the very idea of a “character” who puts on a symbol is to make a more complex problem for the storyteller to solve. But too often the storyteller in comics takes the easy way out. “He’s Black, she’s white ipso facto they’re a modern non-racist couple.” Why not let them both be black and take a little time to explain why they aren’t racist? (Or maybe they ARE, this is fiction not “Civics 101”).
The fact is, I think that mainstream media is afraid of complexity. It makes for a lot of work. Much easier to give a stereotypical character or couple of characters and claim “relevance has been achieved”. Why bother talking to someone when you can get some poll numbers that look convincing enough to sell your latest article?
Maybe this is why we’ve been seeing fewer people reading comics or the newspapers. (Or watching TV, going to the movies)
James E. Lyle is a cartoonist and illustrator, including co-creating titles Escape to the Stars, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. and DoorMan, plus work on Fright Night, Cynicalman Sells Out, and the accurately-spelt Wiindows. More recently Lyle worked on Turok, the “missing” Paul Gulacy T.h.u.n.d.e.r. Agents, and DRASTIK #1.
First compare the amount of Black characters within other mediums such as novels, movies, and television. There’s not many Black couples in comics because there aren’t that many Black characters to begin with! In the other mediums whole properties can have an all Black characters and they will reach their targeted audience (the Black community and even non-Black supporters). BET is the “official” Black Entertainment Television station, but for a while UPN seemed like a haven for all the newer Black shows (now there’s even TV One for older Black shows like the Jeffersons, Good Times, 227, Cosby Show, Sanford & Son, etc.). With movies, that Tyler Perry is raking in the cash (I personally don’t get it, but more power to him- he has his audience and he’s catering to them). We have things like the two Barbershop films, the Brothers, Love & Basketball, Soul Food (that even spun off into a series), and Beauty Shop. When it comes to comics, Black characters are a bit harder to find. For more discussion and possible solutions, check out the Herotalk boards: http://www.blacksuperhero.com/bsh/index.php
Bart Thompson is the founder of Approbation Comics, creator of Vampires Unlimited, ChiSai, and Chaos Campus: Sorority Girls vs. Zombies while the writer of Lethal Instinct through Alias and the writer/creator of Blood, Shells, & Roses coming soon from Arcana Studios!
Terry Hooper Writes:
I guess the question is answerable in several ways. For instance, if there is a shortage of black couples in comics and we rush out to create black couples isn’t that creating a token black couple?
The writers of comics; if the majority are white then its natural to write white couples. Nothing racist. If you come from a Jewish background you get Jewish characters and so on.
Someone could ask “Why no mixed race couples?”
In my work I try to include any and every “ethnic” type -Bristol has always been a cultural melting-pot: there are Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Malaysians, Spanish, French, Russians, Poles and so on and so forth.
I think it is the case that writers and publishers take on titles they may have followed and have ideas on how to develop. Certainly I never consciously think “I MUST include a Chinese couple here”.
Also, comics tend to be read by a lot of juveniles who don’t mind seeing Ms Marvel or Power Girl’s curves but going on dates, getting married…..yeeuck!
Don’t get me wrong, I think that comics should have characters representative of all its readers but its pretty low on priorities for companies who JUST want to rake in buyers dollars -unless there’s money in “Crisis In Infinite Ethnic Marriages” [if there is –I copyright the idea!].
Writer, artist and freelance editor as well as Small Press publisher. Has toyed with writing for magazines, TV and radio outside comics. Drew and wrote for Marvel UK, London Editions [Manchester],Blue Comet Press, Fleetway/IPC as well as for Fantagraphics imprints Monster and Eros Comics where he wrote the best selling Two Hot Girls On A Hot Summer’s Night [!]. Has also worked in Europe, India comics and, more recently has been putting together projects for Chinese comic publishers. Published Zine Zone International between 1983-1995 and Comic Bits since 1999. Recognised as a talent spotter and got several well known artists their breaks into comics. Comic historian to boot and currently working on The Who’s Who of British Diamond, Golden & Silver Ages Comics.
Because comics still continue to be about middle-class white-boy fantasies.
There’s even a book that shows how AWFUL it would be to live under those nasty awful left-wingers. You know — people would have to have EDUCATIONS and do what they want in their own BEDROOMS. Gasp! Vapor! NO!
I do a book about what it’s like to live under those nasty awful right wingers. You know — the Desert Peach?
And mine’s real.
Donna Barr has books and original art at www.stinz.com, webcomics at www.moderntales.com, www.girlamatic.com, and has POD at www.booksurge.com Nothing she won’t try, at least once…including writing a column for SBC at this link!
I think the answer is simple. There needs to be more black creators in the business (more of all minorities, actually.) And, they need to be working on all levels of the industry, from small press to the BIG TWO.
Jesse Leon McCann is a New York Times Best-selling Author. He’s currently writing KRYPTO, THE SUPERDOG for DC Comics, as well as LOONEY TOONS and CARTOON NETWORK BLOCK PARTY; editing the fifth SIMPSONS TV Episode Guide, and writing BART SIMPSON stories for Bongo Comics.
Hey Guys, welcome to another Panel and another interesting question. Skin Colour has never been something I have thought too long over in life and comics. I accept people for who they are and what they do – I have never judged on looks or religion or race.
In comics I have never questioned the lack of representation of colour or religion I have just enjoyed the stories and entertainment they give me and my friends. Have I missed something? Should I be looking for more?
I dunno, but the Panellists and the question have given me something to think about.
NEXT TIME – Should comics be available to download from the internet at a price? Will this help stop illegal downloading? How about an i-tunes for comics? An official Podcast from DC and Marvel highlighting their new releases? How can comic benefit more new web based technology…
Its going to be a big one – see you all in two weeks!!
The views and opinions expressed on the panel are solely those of the panellist who has written them. They do not reflect the views or opinions of silver bullet comic books or myself. Freedom of speech is great, isn’t it?
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