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 Joseph P. Gauthier and is as follows:-
“Media Exploitation vs Racial Acceptance – Do we really need more ethnic characters? Or do we need more diverse creators injecting real-life diversity in a hero’s one-color world?”
Joseph’s question was accompanied by his own take on the question, which we’ll lead off with here then go straight into the pros. Take it away, Joseph:
There’s been this recent increase from the minority of comic fans that there’s not enough ethnic heroes in comics. But, as an African American, I ask, do we really need them? What would be the point, other than their obvious membership in a minority group? I’m not knocking those already existing characters that have grown beyond their “Black whatever” names. But, though naive of me, I think those characters stemmed from a sincere need for diversity. While those characters created or revamped for today are becoming more “racial” and less “real”, promoting instead of burning stereotypes.
Or maybe, we need more black creators, and not just black characters, injecting these books with the multi-aspects of living in this world and dealing with various cultures, colors, and beliefs. Instead of a “black Superman”, you should have Supes deal with black people, their communities, etc. and not just as “extras” that fill the space in the background. Metropolis has slums/ghettos, how often does Supes go there? Does Bats racial profile victims? With police getting sued for sexual harassment, molestation, and assault, doesn’t anyone go after Bats? I mean, officially, he’s a criminal, right? The same goes for sexual orientations, should I care that Green Lantern’s assistant was gay? Is that equality? “Hey, look at me, I’m gay and you should care about me because I’m gay!” No, wait, we should care because he was bashed? Okay, then what about the thousands of others who aren’t bashed and still deal with the day-to-day life of harassment and ridicule? Do they have to get beaten to earn our attention? I didn’t care about the character before, so why should I now that he’s a victim? Isn’t that exploitation in place of acceptance?
How about getting our heroes into the real world? Sure, Marvel dealt with 9-11, and terrorism became the “thing”, like when Image went “covert-op” crazy in the nineties. But, what about terrorism outside of America? Is Batman’s pledge only for those kids in Gotham, USA? what about those kids that lose their parents to crime all over the world? What about the atrocities of tribal warfare in Africa where the mothers’ bosoms are cut-off so they can’t feed their kids? Don’t they deserve a Batman? And does he have to be black?
If writing is about “living in this world”, then why is comic writing about “living in this city”? Again, maybe the answer isn’t about the characters as much as the creators limiting the world the characters live in? Maybe we shouldn’t add more characters, but add more dimensions into their world? In a world dominated by the World Wide Web, and the youth of today playing SOCOM:Navy Seals with anyone in whatever country, who wants to read about heroes who’re “stuck” in their own city, not interacting on a global scale, not living in a world even parallel to our own? If teenagers are drawn in by the “Trial of the Century”, and every 13 year old knows who Johnny Cochran is, then why isn’t Matt Murdock more devil than lawyer?
If we’re trying to appeal to the masses and not our own clique, why do we write for ourselves and what we like? We’re comic fans, if we’re out to convert, then we need to write for them, not us.”
Now, how do you expect me to answer this question? Given the smiling face you readers see staring at you?
I think the industry needs both more ethnic characters and creators, plain and simple. If you pay attention to the news here in America lately, it’s estimated that only half of the population will be non-Hispanic White by 2050; the other half of the population will be Hispanic, Asian, and African-American. With the numbers of fans who use comics shop decreasing, it would be foolish to continue ignoring any potential audience. The current rise of Manga, especially at bookstores, shows that people want comics. That most of the Manga wave is being driven by girls has disproven the myth that girls don’t read comics. How many Hispanic or African-American readers are being underserved by the comics industry?
Back when I worked at a comics shop, in the early 1990s, there was nothing more frustrating than seeing black mothers coming in, wanting to buy comics for their sons, only to send them away with nothing, after they learned there were no good, well-made books featuring black characters. Milestone helped to serve this audience for a while. But short of the Static cartoon, there’s nothing well made out there nowadays. Not that I’m seeing at the shops.
I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m supporting, to use the now dreaded term, affirmative action. But come on, how else can you put it? Even companies like Disney have minority internships and outreach programs, to help foster new creative voices and to attract new customers. There’s money to be made by providing heroes to Hispanic and African-American readers. And comics companies of all sizes pay little to no attention to them.
But, and I say this knowing full well it may start something, no one is served by bad comics. Poorly written and drawn comics do not help anyone. I don’t care what color the characters are in them. If your book doesn’t look as good as the best books you like, the ones that inspired you, then you need not put them out on the market. If you want to do superheroes, then your book should look better than anything Marvel, DC, Image or Dark Horse have to offer. If you want to do other kinds of titles, then you need to be better than the Manga, European, and other independent comics.
One reason why many fans don’t support books with minority heroes is poor quality. If you’re coming to play in the comics industry, then you have to produce work worthy of being paid attention to.
By the same token, those same comics readers who probably listen to Busta Rhymes and Prince, who cheer for Kobe and Vick and Jitter, and who read about aliens and gods and billionaire vigilantes, could grow up a bit and read a comic featuring a black hero. There’s nothing sillier than seeing people who can accept Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman as real, find the Black Panther or Icon to be beyond belief.
Some but not all of the fans could really stand to check themselves.
Or look at it from my perspective: any book that doesn’t feature any black or Hispanic characters is a white book, and therefore says to me people of color are beneath notice, are invisible to the creators and the characters. That’s to all those who assume that a black face on the cover means an anti-white tone inside. Some book may have that stuff in them, but not all of them do or will. Remember what is said about books and covers and judging them, okay?
Do we need more characters of different ethnicities, quality characters? Hell yes.
Do we need more creators of different ethnicities, making books of all kinds? Hell yes.
Do we need the books produced by those different creators, featuring those different characters to be the best possible? Triple hell yes.
Vince Moore is the writer of Platinum Publishing’s upcoming book, Kid Victory & The Funky Hammer
The comic book industry needs both more ethnic characters & creators. However, the sad fact is that the industry & the majority of comic book nerds who buy comic books want neither. Furthermore, racial acceptance can’t be forced on racist comic book creators & fans. If they don’t like people of color, a Black superhero character does not have the power to change that. If you work for the mainstream comic book companies and the boss says we have to put a Black character in one of our super hero teams or publish a Black title due to political & social pressure, if you are a racist that is not going to change! You would probably create characters like Luke Cage, the Falcon & Cyborg; characters riddled with stereotypes or they have no agenda of their own.
Characters of color should be created for the right reasons. Like Batman, Superman, Spider-Man or the Hulk. Their creators had a passion for them. They did not create them just to say we have White characters in our comic book universe. The perfect example of a character of color that was created with passion was Zorro. His creator was White but he respected Mexican culture. That’s why he is a true hero and not a low level parody of one. We need more Black creators or creators of color that truly reflect their culture when the produce their work.
I have been to a number of comic book conventions and a lot of the comic book creators of color want to be White so bad that it does not matter what their true race is. The media exploits race everyday. That’s why the news shows the worst images of African Americans possible. That’s why any Asian person in a film is normally a martial artist. Think about this one! Eminem is the only hip hop artist or rapper to be described a genius by the media. That’s White supremacy BS. However, that line of thinking dominates all forms of media. Comic books are no different. For there to be true change within the industry it’s going take rebels & leaders to make them. Think about all the social change that has taken place in history regarding race. Someone had to challenge the powers that be to make a difference. That’s what I am openly doing. How many Black comic book creators have the balls to say that? Most don’t and that’s why this problem still exists.
Most White creators don’t even think twice about this issue. I will predict that all the other answers from the rest of the panel members will be short or apologetic. However, none of them will do anything to change the status of comic books regarding race. Although, most of them will say that comic books need more diversity. Words are nothing without action behind them. Therefore, it is up to people of color within the industry to address this issue. We need diversity! Although, it must be the right kind.
Alonzo Washington is the creator of Omega Man and a noted black rights campaigner.
The danger’s not so much in an over-supply of ethnic characters, but in the fact that they’re (generally) written by white, male writers, with the constant risk of stereotyping. It takes a lot of research to properly understand another culture.
Once, at a Batman script-meet, then-DC President Janette Kahn announced that Batman’s new doctor/potential girlfriend would be a black American. Each of the assembled editors, writers and artists (all male, all white) was given a book on the Civil Rights struggle and sent off to create a modern, strong, black female doctor. I don’t think we succeeded–I can’t even remember her name, or whether we killed her off at the end of the series.
I’m not saying it can’t be done. Just that we couldn’t do it.
I’ll go with creators injecting real-life diversity.
Alan Grant is maybe most famous for his Batman and Judge Dredd work, and his classic EPIC series The Last American is due out imminently from Com.X as a trade for the first time.
Wow, what a loaded question! I think the majority of WASP males or females who are writing comics today are relatively open-minded (or they’d all be doing accounting or something, ne?) and as such stand to learn a lot from some cultural scuba-diving. As an example, there’s no one more white than me (unless you count my Cherokee blood from my great-grandma who came “from the reservation” making me technically a Native American), but my grandfather (by marriage) is Japanese. I was raised with an appreciation of Japanese culture and sensibilities since I was a wee thing. I even speak enough Japanese to get in serious trouble. Later in life, I became an anthropologist to study many cultures, including Japan, and I came away with all kinds of interesting factoids to use in real stories or fantasy ones. Today when someone hands me, say, a Latino character, I spend my time researching Latino culture and slang. I interview my Latino friends and I’ll often ask them when writing a scene if there’s something I’m missing culturally. In other words, I do my homework. So it’s not only a great experience to read it later, it’s a learning experience for me along the way. The more I learn about other cultures, generally the more tolerant and hip I become.
I think that holds true for anyone. So why not stretch established writers into new territory they haven’t explored by giving them a chance to write their “first-time” stories, or new stories from a new point of view. It doesn’t have to be ethnic, it can be gender-related, or so on and so forth. It’s a great stretch as a writer and I feel that we should always be learning new things. When you stop learning you get stale and you have nothing to say anymore anyway.
That said, it’s absolutely vital to have more ethnic diversity within the industry. I’d love to see more writers of various backgrounds doing good, high-profile work. Nothing speaks like your own background and experiences: “Write what you know.” Contrary to popular belief, the field is big enough for everyone to play a few rounds. While this is a shorter answer, I’m not giving this short-shrift. Equality in ethnicity and gender is a serious issue that weighs heavily on all creative industries.
Fiona Avery plays in the Marvel Universe, with Wildstorm at DC, and is the creator of No Honor.
I’ll tell you what I’d like.
I’d like to hear as many voices as possible, on as many subjects as possible.
I would relish an influx of new Kyle Bakers and new Christopher Priests (Kyle Baker being one of the most inspired and talented comic book creators of the last thirty years); though I personally would prefer it if Christopher devoted more of his not inconsiderable wit to genres other than the superhero, so that he’d reach a wider audience.
Equally I’d relish an influx of new female creators, disabled creators, gay creators, creators from deprived backgrounds, from the countryside, even from Luxembourg at a push; I’d relish reading more comics by poets, Muslims, Hindus, drunkards, prostitutes, campaigners for social justice, Asians, travellers (with or without the capital “T”), actors, politicians (they usually have a way with fiction and fantasy, though I’d recommend they leave the comedy to those poking fun at them), soldiers, sailors, musicians and manual labourers – as long as they each had something to say, and the skill with which to say it.
I’d just relish more individual voices being able to stand up and be heard so that I could listen, be entertained, and learn a little about stuff I wouldn’t necessarily know about. That’s why Page 45 stocks so much self-published material: so that everyone has access to what they might possibly be interested in.
Returning to your question, no, I am not remotely interested in tokenism – in quotas of black superheroes, for example. I find that condescending and almost always embarrassing (and I’m not even a superhero, for heaven’s sake).
What I suggest is this: get publishing. All it takes is a little imagination and a trip down to the photocopy shop.
We may buy it, we may not, depending on whether you’re good enough. I’ll definitely read it.
Stephen Holland runs Page 45, a comic shop in Nottingham, with Mark Simpson and Tom Rosin. Page 45 is an Equal Opportunities employer with zero tolerance towards all forms of bigotry, as one look at Tom’s contract will make emphatically clear. It’s probably the only contract in the world with the word “wanker” in it. “Wanker” referring to bigots. Ask to see a copy when you’re next in.
Being a WASP living in Oregon, I feel disingenuous throwing in racially diverse characters, since my life is so white. When I do throw in a black character, or a character of some other distinct race, I always wonder if I’m trying to say something about race, or worse, if someone will interpret it as that. My goal is to treat race invisibly, and have a couple writing projects where I plan to do this. The thing I’m writing right now takes place in NYC in 1975, and it seems impossible to treat race in this way, since race complicated a lot of what was going on then. I don’t consider myself qualified to comment on that, not having been there, and having always lived in pretty homogenous places.
However, for creators with different ethnic backgrounds, I do think they have something to add to the comics landscape by reflecting their own worlds in their work. I was talking to a black writer in Seattle about doing a black urban horror comic for Dark Horse’s horror line, but nothing came of it.
Scott Allie edits and writes for Dark Horse – a trade of The Devil’s Footprints is just out, and is not only a superb collection but is an excellent story too.
Firstly, everyone has an ethnicity, and is part of an ethnic group, no matter of the color of your skin. Ethnicity is a form of cultural group identity, and this question assumes that one group, presumably “white” folks, are the norm. This is a bad position to start from!
Secondly, yes. We need more diverse heroes, more diverse creators, more diverse commentators and critics. More diverse readers. In fact, we need as many readers as we can get. By appealing to as broad a readership as possible, we increase our chances of keeping this industry on life support.
JB is the Big Cheese at SBC. He hates gorgonzola, but loves edam. Go figure.