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The rapid rise of social media has been both a blessing and a curse to the frequently complicated creator/fan relationship. Whereas a decade ago a reader might’ve followed a writer or artist’s occasional posts on Livejournal, or on rare occasion even received a response to a message-board comment, now there’s direct interaction on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and Formspring. While those exchanges frequently go well, with an artist responding thoughtfully to a sincere and polite question, we’ve all seen our share of venomous tweets from readers and embarrassing Facebook meltdowns from creators.
When the subject turns to sensitive territory, like gender or ethnic representation in mainstream superhero comics, the chances of a social-media misfire increase dramatically. That’s why I was so pleased to read this recent exchange on the blog of Matt Fraction, writer of Marvel’s FF, Fantastic Four and Hawkeye. Asked (politely) why, when presented the opportunity to diversify the cast of FF, he opted for Miss Thing to be white — “Do you think FF would work with an African-American Miss Thing and why aren’t you writing that book?” — Fraction responded with a refreshing mix of humor, honesty and chagrin, and without the tetchiness you might expect from such a scenario.
“Y’know, I was gonna start this off with ‘I know how you feel,’ or, ‘I can appreciate your frustration,’ or some such but that’s a lie, isn’t it?” Fraction wrote. “I’m a white cisgendered male. The fuck do I know about not seeing my race represented somewhere? Dear Editors of JET I can’t help but notice we yet AGAIN have an African-American ‘Beauty of the Week’ WHEN will a bit of Anglo-Saxon beauty grace your periodical’s pages…?”
After touching upon his experience with charges of tokenism, and the “baggage” that comes with creating characters in the Marvel Universe, Fraction asked, “Could it have worked? Yeah, absolutely, but I suppose that I supposed the ethnic, gender, and biological diversity of the cast was pretty pronounced as it was — even though some of those ethnic and biological classifications are wholly fictional. I could say until blue in the face that our central leading lady’s skin is green but I suspect that poor comfort to, say, the Latina wanting HER heroic image reflected in ranks of the Marvel U’s foremost family.
“I was going to ignore this, at first, because it made my ears sting when I read it, and it made me mad, and embarrassed. Because you’re right. I should’ve considered it more than I did. Even if I came to the same conclusion, I can’t tell you with a clear conscience that I gave it all the thought I should’ve. I’ll do better next time.”