diversity in comics Archives - Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources
[Editor’s note: Each Sunday, Robot 6 contributors discuss the best in comics from the last seven days — from news and announcements to a great comic that came out to something cool creators or fans have done.]
In some ways, this is the best of times and the worst of times for those who are interested in bringing comics to a broader audience. As the hubbub died down over Milo Manara’s Spider-Woman cover, another story went viral, about a comic shop where an employee allegedly made a crude joke about a “rape room” and then fired a trainee who complained about it. While debate continues to rage over what exactly happened there (the store owner denies it), Bloomberg did a big story on how the number of women comics readers is growing and becoming an ever more important sector of the industry.
With this in mind, I want to call out three things that happened this week.
The first is Gene Luen Yang’s speech at the National Book Festival. First of all, it’s impressive that a comics creator is given such a prominent platform at an event that isn’t actually focused on comics. What Yang had to say was even more impressive. He spoke about the African-American creator Dwayne McDuffie, whose love of comics first caught fire when he encountered the Black Panther, a black character created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The Black Panther wasn’t perfect, but, Yang said,
All of these flaws were lost on Dwayne McDuffie when he first encountered the Black Panther in 1973, at the age of 11. What struck him was the character’s commanding sense of dignity. The Black Panther wasn’t anyone’s sidekick. He wasn’t an angry thug. He wasn’t a victim. He was his own hero, his own man. As Dwayne describes it, “In the space of 15 pages, black people moved from invisible to inevitable.”
“We in the book community are in the middle of a sustained conversation about diversity. We talk about our need for diverse books with diverse characters written by diverse writers. I wholeheartedly agree. But I have noticed an undercurrent of fear in many of our discussions. We’re afraid of writing characters different from ourselves because we’re afraid of getting it wrong. We’re afraid of what the Internet might say. This fear can be a good thing if it drives us to do our homework, to be meticulous in our cultural research. But this fear crosses the line when we become so intimidated that we quietly make choices against stepping out of our own identities.
After all, our job as writers is to step out of ourselves, and to encourage our readers to do the same. [...] We have to allow ourselves the freedom to make mistakes, including cultural mistakes, in our first drafts. I believe it’s OK to get cultural details wrong in your first draft. It’s OK if stereotypes emerge. It just means that your experience is limited, that you’re human. Just make sure you iron them out before the final draft. Make sure you do your homework. Make sure your early readers include people who are a part of the culture you’re writing about. Make sure your editor has the insider knowledge to help you out. If they don’t, consider hiring a freelance editor who does.”
– Gene Luen Yang, in his speech about diversity, delivered over the weekend at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C.
Retailing | Books-A-Million had a good second quarter, and CEO Terry Finley gives at least part of the credit to graphic novels: “We also saw strong growth in the graphic novel category, with continued success with titles related to AMC’s The Walking Dead series and a renewed interest in several manga series [that] drove sales increases.” And to boost that, the retail chain, which operates more than 250 stores nationwide, is planning Marvel promotions throughout September. [ICv2]
Conventions | Salt Lake Comic Con co-founder Dan Farr is trying to measure how much money attendees are spending. In terms of hotel beds, at least, the convention seems to be dwarfed by trade shows, but with people coming to Salt Lake City from 48 states for the recent spinoff event FanXperience, that may be changing. Still, even in San Diego, attendees spend only about $600 per person; if Salt Lake attendees are similarly thrifty, the convention may not be a significant player in the Salt Lake City convention scene. [The Salt Lake Tribune]
Conventions | Image Comics content manager David Brothers explains why this year’s Comic-Con International was a great convention, pointing out that there’s a lot more to the event than movies and television, and there’s a lot more to comics than the Big Two: “Marvel and DC are comics, just like the other publishers, and they make some great ones when they let the creators do their own thing. But at this point? You can’t treat them like the entirety of the comics industry, or even two companies that can dictate the future of comics. They run the movies, and that’s cool, but running comics? It’s just not true any more. Image in particular outsells Marvel in the book market as far as trade paperbacks go, and that holds true in the comics market lately, too. That’s no coincidence. People enjoy Marvel and DC, but they want more than Marvel and DC.” [io9.com]
Conventions | An advocate for the homeless claims San Diego police are harassing homeless people to keep them away from downtown during Comic-Con International. The mayor and police chief deny the accusation and say officers are simply doing outreach, but at least one homeless man has been given a “stay away” order. Comic-Con begins Wednesday with Preview Night. [ABC 10 News]
Digital comics | Following the news that the comics market was estimated at $850 million in 2013, of which $90 million was digital, George Gene Gustines looks at a couple of different digital models, including Thrillbent’s new subscription service and Panel Syndicate, Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin’s name-your-own-price approach. [The New York Times]
Most of the time, high fantasy is set in a world based in historical Europe. There are some wonderful backdrops there — beautiful castles, scenic farmlands and thick forests; there’s also a big challenge to the setting, however: To retain the authenticity of its historical roots, most of the characters are typically depicted as Caucasian. You can perhaps create diversity by using standard Tolkien races (dwarves, elves, orcs and such), but usually the common, everyday people often look like the same kinds encountered in Arthurian legend or a Robin Hood story.
One of the most remarkable things about Ashley Cope’s Unsounded is how she twists the formula of the typical fantasy setting. Most of the characters, for example, seem to be of African descent. How do the people of Cresce look like when dressed in Renaissance-fair garb? Pretty darned cool, it turns out. Their hairstyles are a little modern, but that’s been a problem with a lot of high fantasy.
Comics | Tammy Oler considers the roles of Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel within a growing movement to make superhero comics more diverse: “The devoted fans in the Carol Corps and Kamala Korps view themselves as part of a movement for a bigger and more diverse comic book universe, and it seems like publishers might finally be starting to pay attention. Both Ms. Marvel and the rebooted Captain Marvel are part of Marvel NOW!, an effort by the publisher to attract new readers by providing a lot of accessible places for new readers to jump on board with ongoing series. (DC Comics has done something similar with its New 52 initiative.) Marvel and DC have also taken some steps to address their lack of superhero diversity, in part by launching some new female solo titles, including Black Widow, She-Hulk, and Elektra. Of course, there’s a whole world of mainstream and indie publishers beyond Marvel and DC, but the big two still matter the most because they create the pantheon of superheroes that make it into movie theatres and onto the racks of Halloween costumes at Target.” [Slate.com]
“The message that we send when we don’t represent the broader culture in our stories is that ‘You are other.’ … As a community, as an organism, it is a thing that makes us ill. It is actually bad for us.”
– Kelly Sue DeConnick, writer of Captain Marvel and Pretty Deadly, speaking about the need to diversity the kinds of characters that appear in comics, at the “Broadening Comics Readership” panel at Emerald City Comicon
CBC News has debuted new details about the young Cree superheroine to be introduced next month in DC Comics’ Justice League United #0, by Jeff Lemire and Mike McKone.
Code-named Equinox, Miiyahbin is a 16-year-old from Moose Factory, Ontario, whose power comes from the Earth and changes with the seasons. As revealed in October, the character is inspired in part by Shannen Koostachin, a teenage activist who lobbied the federal government for a new school in Attawapiskat First Nation, on the James Bay Coast. Koostachin died in a car accident in 2010 at the age of 15.
“Creating a teenage female superhero was interesting to me because, generally, most superheroes are white males,” Lemire told CBC News. “We need diversity and we need different personalities. You need very distinct voices for personalities on the team or else you just start writing the same character in a different costume.”
To conduct research for Equinox, the Toronto-based creator of the Essex County trilogy traveled north to Moosonee and Moose Factory on James Bay, where he received feedback from local residents.
Retailing | Hastings Entertainment, which operates a chain of 149 stores that sells books, comics, video games and more, has announced a $21.4 million agreement to merge with two companies owned by Joel Weinshanker, president and sole shareholder of Wizkids parent National Entertainment Collectibles Association; Weinshanker already holds 12 percent of Hastings’ outstanding shares.
“NECA is a significant supplier of movie, book and video game merchandise and collectibles to the Hastings superstores, and we’ve had a close and growing business relationship with Mr. Weinshanker over the last decade,” John H. Marmaduke, Hastings’ chairman and CEO, said in a statement. “Mr. Weinshanker, through his affiliation with the estates of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali, and his company’s management of Graceland, is one of the leading drivers of the lifestyle industry, and we believe Hastings’ business will continue to benefit from our relationship with him and NECA.” Marmaduke will retire with a $1.5 million cash payout once the merger is approved. The announcement was followed by press releases from two New York City law firms that say they’re investigating the plan on behalf of Hastings shareholders. [press release]
Legal | Hirofumi Watanabe admitted Thursday in Tokyo District Court to sending hundreds of threatening letters to bookstores, convenience stores and convention centers associated with Tadatoshi Fujimaki’s manga Kuroko’s Basketball. The motive, the 35-year-old man said, was jealousy of Fujimaki’s success; Watanabe reasoned that, “If I somehow managed to harass and depress him, I could drag him into my suicide journey.” Watanabe added that he had been abused by his parents and bullied as a child, and had “homosexual tendencies.” He attempted suicide before he sent the threat letters and would do so again after he was freed, he told the court: “That way, society can rest assured that I won’t do anything stupid again.” [Anime News Network]
Legal | Attorney Marc H. Greenberg revisits the lawsuit brought by musicians Johnny and Edgar Winter against DC Comics over a 1995 storyline in Jonah Hex that portrayed two evil brothers, Johnny and Edgar Autumn. [Print]
“There’s always room for more; there’s always room for further diversity. Whether it’s more Latino characters, or more Black characters, or more LGBT characters — you pretty much can pick any group of people, and as long as you’re not talking about middle-aged white men like myself, they’re probably underrepresented in the world of superhero comics. It’s tough from a sales perspective, because all of the characters that are still the bedrock, firmament characters tend to be guys that were created in the 1960s if not earlier, at a time when comic books were predominantly, if not exclusively, white. While it’s nice that we’ve made some steps — we have more female-led books than ever before — that doesn’t mean we should stop coming up with them. Just because we have a few books that have Hispanic characters, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look for more opportunities to do more there. The same thing is true with every demographic that you can speak to. No matter where you happen to sit within the cultural zeitgeist, it’s never mission accomplished. It’s always, ‘What’s next?’ There’s always going to be somebody who is underrepresented, or that you could represent more truthfully or more affectingly.”
– Tom Brevoort, Marvel’s senior vice president of publishing, discussing the titles introduced as part of the “All-New Marvel NOW!” initiative
“We know that our fans — and fans of pop culture — come from all races and beliefs, and any sexual orientation,” Bruce MacIntosh, director of programming, said in a statement. “Denver Comic Con guests and programming are deliberately geared towards informing and entertaining the fanboy and fangirl in all of us! Being inclusive of the entire community — both the communities of Denver and the pop-culture community as a whole — has been a focus of DCC since its inception.”
“Oh, always press. Just understand the difference between useless whining and actual pressing. What corporations understand is money. They don’t give a toss about blog posts or combative questioners at conventions. Clearly.
You vote and make change by the strategic application or withdrawal of money. Buy the products you want and withhold money from those companies that don’t produce said product. And say why you’ve done so in both cases.
But this isn’t politics. It’s business. At least, we’re all pretending it’s only business.”
— actor, screenwriter, novelist and comics writer Geoffrey Thorne, when asked whether consumers should give up hope that Marvel and DC will hire “a respectable amount” of writers of color
Passings | Bomb Queen and Five Weapons creator Jimmie Robinson writes a touching remembrance of pioneering cartoonist Morrie Turner, who passed away Saturday at age 90. Widely recognized as the first nationally syndicated African-American cartoonist, the Wee Pals creator frequently spoke at schools, and it was during one of those visits that he inspired a young Jimmie Robinson: “When he came to our class he spoke about his craft and showed us how he worked and what his job demanded. He spoke about his newspaper comic strip and how he had to write it every day. He spoke about the diverse cast of characters in his strip, but he never once spoke about the issue of his race. But for me he didn’t have to. The fact that he, a black artist, even existed, spoke volumes.” The New York Times also has an obituary for Turner. [Jimmie Robinson]