Robot 6

Quote of the day | Tom Brevoort on diversity

Tom Brevoort

[Reader question:] Tom, why are people so concerned with a lack of diversity in a comic? “The Flash Family has become too white with the absence of Wally’s family”, and so on and so forth.I don’t understand this kind of logic. How do you place value of story on race?

[Tom Brevoort:] I don’t know who you are, obviously, but just based on your question I would posit that you’re a white male. I think you cannot overestimate the power that readers, especially younger readers, seeing a heroic character that resembles themselves, can have. For white guys like me, that’s easy–there are hundreds of them. Not so for almost any other demographic you might choose to name. That’s why, I think, people are supportive and even delicate with any character of a particular race or orientation or background. It’s a diverse world out there, and any time we can reflect that diversity in a meaningful way, it’s worth doing.

Marvel Senior Vice President – Publishing Tom Brevoort, responding to a reader’s scratched-head incredulity on the issue of diversity in comics, and doing so a lot more calmly than I probably would have.

It’s supremely satisfying to respond to an apparently sincere, genuinely-didn’t-know-the-answer question like “Why are people so concerned with a lack of diversity in a comic?” with a blend of condescension, snark, exasperation, and rage. I mean, where are you at in your life that you’re comfortable expressing a sentiment like “Nope, don’t see the big deal about diversity. What am I missing?”, right? But Brevoort didn’t do this, and good for him — I think he’s right in the way he first characterizes and then responds to his questioner. A lot of people have simply never been in a position where they didn’t see themselves reflected in virtually all of the art they’ve chosen to consume, superhero comics included, and have never stopped to think what it would be like not to be able to take looking like every member of the Justice League who isn’t Martian for granted. Believe me, I know that sometimes ridicule and anger is the only appropriate response — people who go out of their way to describe non-white characters in offensive terms, or treat the question of diversity with the reactionary fervor of someone desperately trying to preserve their already generous piece of the pie, deserve no less. But at times, calmly walking them through the reasons why “people are so concerned with a lack of diversity in a comic” is a much more effective tactic.

Picture whole communities of readers with far too few opportunities to recognize themselves and their experiences in the heroes they read about. Picture a fictional universe the whole point of which is that it’s chock full of wonders, yet bears barely a passing resemblance to the scope and variety of the world we see outside our windows every day. And oh yeah, picture the near-total lack of downside for incorporating a more diverse array of characters — seriously, what’s the harm? Now, perhaps, you can see not just why people are concerned, but why it’s pretty much a no-brainer to try to address those concerns as fully as we all can.

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25 Comments

Very nice.

Dan DiDio’s reply would have been: “Next question.”

Great post Sean.

As a white male, my opinion on this will be quickly discarded, but for me, the “problem”, and I hate to call it that, with minority characters has always been two-fold:

1) They kill off white characters to shoehorn in a new minority version of the character. I see no lasting benefit in this.

2) Far too often, a minority character will be introduce and that will be ALL they are. “What’s the deal with this John Stewart guy?” “Well, he’s black.” “…and?” “He’s black!”

Black is not a personality. Gay is not a personality. It can inform a personality, sure, but to use their differences as a crutch just makes them stand out all the more.

I will also admit that sometimes, problem #1 can work, especially when it avoids the trap of problem #2. Jaime Reyes is a perfect example of this. He was a well-rounded character and it was THAT that made me love him as much as I loved Ted.

Hahaha, Diversity at DC Comics. That’s a laugh.

Sean T. Collins

April 12, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Thanks, Basque and Drew.

Tom Brevoort has impressed me with his honest answers to questions concerning diversity. I am glad that the comic industry has people like him. Too bad some will just dismiss his remarks and try to excuse their hostility towards minority characters with nonsensical arguments. Since they can always find people to agree with the nonsense, they can go on feeling their views are justified.

It’s funny that when an “old school” writer in Kurt Busiek was at the helms of the Avengers, it had members like Triathlon, Silverclaw, Photon, Duane Freeman, Firebird…. You know, they didn’t really talk about how big diversity was then, they just did it and it felt natural and fun, like all Busiek stories.

The current New Avengers/Avengers Bendis run since Disassembled, which has had about twenty issues more than Busiek’s run and is still ongoing, has had………..Luke Cage and Echo. And Victoria Hand.

I love the new X-men miniseries wraparound cover by Frank Cho- it says everything about how diverse X-men has been since the 70’s. You gotta love that it’s the norm in X-titles to have 1/2 or majority female teams too.

Crossposted from Twitter.

I see enough people drawing the opposite conclusion on my Robot 6post on Tom Brevoort’s thoughts on diversity that it HAS to be my fault. So to be clear: I think @tombrevoort was being admirably civil and patient with the questioner, and I think that’s frequently the right move. By contrast, I’d have been smug and nasty, and no one would have learned anything. I was impressed that Tom resisted the easy point score and tried to educate the guy a bit. I don’t think he was snarky in the slightest. I’m sorry to have given anyone the opposite impression, and I have tweaked the original post in hopes of clearing things up.

I’m glad there are no FUCKING TOM BREVOORT PIECE OF SHIT SHUT YOUR MOUTH comments, I would’ve assumed those would’ve cropped up even if it was an article about him donating all his money to Burmese orphans.

And yeah, I thought he had a great response. Very even-minded and, more importantly, correct.

funkygreenjerusalem

April 12, 2011 at 6:56 pm

I’m glad there are no FUCKING TOM BREVOORT PIECE OF SHIT SHUT YOUR MOUTH comments, I would’ve assumed those would’ve cropped up even if it was an article about him donating all his money to Burmese orphans.

As someone who thinks Tom B has possibly the most loathsome online presence of any comics professional, I think he was spot on here, with both his views, and the way he explained them.

This is more in line with the tone of Tom’s online persona of ten or more years ago than what we’ve had in the years he’s climbed further up the corporate ladder. Less of the old Joey da Q in your face trashtalking and much more considered and considerate.

Oh yes, Tom’s online presence is far more loathsome than that set of creators who routinely make sexist or bigoted remarks online. Because that’s way less problematic than refusing to pander to obnoxious whiners.

Seth Hollander

April 13, 2011 at 8:33 am

In defense of Comic publishing businesses not pushing diversity of characters’ ethnicities/genders/etc.:
You say “picture the near-total lack of downside for incorporating a more diverse array of characters — seriously, what’s the harm?” . Well, if the majority of your customers are caucasian males, do you want to put them in “a position where they didn’t see themselves reflected in virtually all of the art they’ve chosen to consume”? Not if your agenda is to rake in the bucks!
I don’t think Capitalists who sell comics are against character diversity, but they do want the safest course to profits.
We are stuck in a loop: Until a huge percentage of comic consumers are non-white, it won’t be comercially logical to increase the number of non-white characters. Yet it is probably true that until there are many more non-white characters, there will not be a huge interest in purchasing comics among non-whites.
Being a classic Twentieth Century American Liberal, I see a situation like this as needing non-Capitalist intervention to be solved. This country (or it’s controlling white people) has disavowed tax-funded “affirmitive action” programs, so I can’t see the Gov’t funding a diversity-enhancement program for comics- only Oprah or Bill Gates can save us now!
Of course, I’m a white guy, so I can cope with the status quo. I would like more Kyle Baker books, though.

Most comic readers are white males. Most comic creators are white males. The only way to increase diversity in comics, is if there is more diversity among the creators and the fans. It’s kind of a catch 22 really.

It’s not a catch 22. David Simon, the creator of the tv show “The Wire”, is a white guy and wrote about characters that were almost all played by black actors. You just need to want to do it.

In terms of the general direct market audience, it’s misleading to say it’s caucasian males. It’s 300,000 (a wishful-thinker’s number, in my opinion–I’d bet DM regulars are actually much closer to half that amount) very particular caucasian males. I don’t think fostering diversity needs to be a political decision at all (although for the record, I support publishers actively making room for underrepresented creators–and by extension characters). Fostering diversity is, in itself, good business. Sales history might not support that, but that same history isn’t us trying very hard. Making books more attractive to female and minority readers is a great idea–because making books more attractive to ANY new reader is a great idea.

I tend to agree with madmike. Most creators appear to be urban/sub-urban middle class white people and only write convincingly from that perspective so minority characters don’t come across as “authentic”. For example when I read supposedly lower class rual characters its usually obvious that the writer is completely unfimiliar with that particular slice of america is really like.

Zach unintentionally reenforces this argument by choosing a white man who live in an urban black environment and could use his experience to create believable characters. (Thats what I remember from an interview on NPR)

I agree with what Contra and madmike have had to say. As a gay Indian male, there really are not very many characters in comics who I can relate to. Leaving the gay issue aside, there aren’t very many Indian characters I can relate to – and with the Indian characters who DO appear in comics, it’s clear that they weren’t researched into all that well. Writers get names, religions, etc wrong – given women men’s names, giving Hindus Muslim names. It’s just…find an Indian. Talk to one. Ask questions. It’s not that hard.

That was a nice way to respond the question. My question has always been why wouldn’t a writer want to diversify? Surely one of the most liberating things about being a writer is the ability to write any gender, nationality, ethnicity, generation, culture or species…

Maybe it’s purely coincidental, maybe it’s something that he values as a writer, maybe it’s a fortunate confluence of the two, but I’ve noticed that Jeff Parker has managed to have written a team with an Asian main character, a team with a black main character, a book with a older white man main character, all at Marvel. That’s pretty cool. And I’d expect it to be more commonplace than it is, especially in the creator owned market.

As for the whole ‘they represent the characters completely incorrectly’ side of the argument, I’d rather they existed and were slightly wrong than didn’t exist at all. I facepalm just as much when American writers try to write British characters using colloquialisms as I do when they get things wrong about generations or races that are unfamiliar to them, but I still like that they’re branching out a bit.

This ‘most creators’ are white thing is weird to me too. Sure most, but by no means all. And these creators are working alongside Dexter Vines, Christina Strain, Olivier Coipel, Francis Manupul, Marjorie Liu, etc, etc, and so and so forth.

While I agree that it’s nice of them to branch out, I also feel as though it’s insulting that they don’t care enough to actually do research into the culture/people they’re writing about. In some cases, it can feel as though they did that just for the sake of doing so, and not because they particularly cared to.

funkygreenjerusalem

April 13, 2011 at 6:26 pm

Oh yes, Tom’s online presence is far more loathsome than that set of creators who routinely make sexist or bigoted remarks online. Because that’s way less problematic than refusing to pander to obnoxious whiners.

Which industry figures regularly make comments like that?
I think you’ve got to go pretty far down the list from Tom B, in terms of industry presence, to find people doing that.

Methinks your not so aware of how different this comment is from the usual diatribes he lets out in his CBR column or tweets and such.

I just find it rather odd, that in a shrinking industry, a highly placed editor at the top company, constantly puts down, often on a faulty premise, the out put of the nearest competitor.
He’s regularly rude and dismissive of DC in general, often for practices Marvel also do.
If he posted like this more often, there would be no problem.

–Dan DiDio’s reply would have been: “Next question.”–

I was just about to copy and paste the answer he gave on that type of question since he’s answered it numerous times before, then I remembered about that whole snark factor and know there would be no point.

Anyways, nice article though Sean.

I like how Sean B is all like, i wouldn’t have been so civil. I’m like really.

I’m like big F’n deal. I respect Tom B for answering all manner of questions with Patience.

Knowing that Hostile fans are Hostile because they care about the characters…but I agree with Sean—who cares about Diversity.

I say make every MArvel and DC comic what the fans want.no minorities on teams. And the women on them should be eye candy with big boobs.

just like what the readership wants.

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