Sundays are known for experts sitting around tables pontificating on today’s hottest and most debated topics. We’re keeping up that tradition with our own Sunday Roundtable where the Graphic Policy team debates a topic.
On tap this week?
How much does the diversity of the characters or the creators affect what you read? Is it something you think about when reading comics?
Elana: It’s a huge issue for me. I pay attention to it closely
Brett: So, the reason I ask and threw this up there as a topic, there’s only a handful of creators I actually follow, and most of the time, I couldn’t tell you who is writing or drawing what.
It’s something I care about (different voices is a good thing), but not sure how much it actually impacts my buying or reading habit.
Having varied creators and characters is a great thing, even just for the variety, but I really wonder how much it impacts folks in their purchasing or reading?
Elana: For me a HUGE part of what i read is who is writing or drawing it. That’s how I can go so long without reading books about my favorite characters (like Green Arrow). I will always at least look over anything coming from a diverse team. I will always give it a once over. Unless it’s about fighting robots. or video games. But you knew that ;p
I am more likely to give a book a chance (if I am unsure of it) if there is diversity in the team. I kept reading Black Widow long after I should have stopped because I love Noto and she’s BW.
Oh, the only reason I tried Cyborg was that there was a black writer on Cyborg. Cyborg has been a highly problematic character for me for the reasons that Son of Baldwin laid out in his essay. And my gamble paid off because that book is great.
Elana: Another white writer on Cyborg would have botched it again, chances are. But Walker rehabed the character for me and made the book both interesting and politically significant in it’s discussion of blackness and disability. and also aliens. So that example incapsulates to me why I look for diversity. It makes better comics and it’s the right thing to do.
Brett: Yeah, hearing about an interesting character or creative team will get me to look. And yeah, Walker being on Cyborg definitely got me more interested in trying the book out (and happy I did).
I’m not sure I could tell you all the creators of the comics I read though, which is what got me thinking about this.
Daphne: This is a huge issue for me, and it definitely affects the comics I want to spend my money on. I think about these things because I’ve grown up wishing I could see people like me in comics – seeing nothing but straight white men when I’m none of those three things is discouraging and there’s this impression or implication that they’re “normal” and anybody else, well, isn’t. It can make a person feel unimportant when there’s no representation for them in fiction, and I avoid supporting projects that just whitewash everything and ignore the contributions and presence of everyone who isn’t white.
It does go a bit deeper than that though, of course. Knowing a writer or artist has actually undergone or is aware of the struggles and disadvantages any given monitory faces means the stories and plot beats feel more genuine. It’s easy for people who don’t have that person experience to emphasize the wrong aspects of a scenario, or to come off as vague or patronizing. Nobody likes to be ignored, and nobody likes to be patronized either.
Elana: Well said!
Brett: Can either of you think of comics you didn’t read or did read because of this?
Daphne: When I heard the outcry about Airboy using transphobic language and dialogue in an issue I decided the skip the whole thing. I don’t have the time or energy to waste forcing myself past something offensive in the hopes it doesn’t happen again, if the writers who used that plot element or dialogue in the first place clearly don’t care or see why somebody might have been bothered. I’d rather vote with my wallet and go onto something else. I did actually go back and buy the Batgirl trade paperback where they fixed all the dialogue that was kind of iffy and questionably transphobic because the writers did such a good job being compassionate and understanding and admitting they messed up. That’s admirable, a heck of a lot more so than throwing up their hands and saying “everybody is too PC, I give up trying to do anything because you’re all crazy SJWs” Jerry Seinfeld style. If you can’t tell a story or a joke that doesn’t involve punching down at somebody who likes or admires you, the problem is your lack of creativity, not the audience. Or at least that’s the way I’ve always felt about stuff like that.
Brett: I think that’s my big question, it’s an issue that’s important, I want more diversity in characters and creators, but can’t think of a comic where it’s actually impacted my reading it. Walker on Cyborg got me more interested, but I’d have probably read at least the first issue or two.
Elana: I’m sure there have been books where i said “ugh, another white dude writing xyz”. I definitely think the team on Birds of Prey upon the new 52 launch made me less enthusiastic. The only reason I’m thinking of picking up Superman (a comic i have never read) is gene luen yang. When Batgirl relaunched I was skeptical of the premise until i saw the strong, feminist, costume design and that Babs Tarr was doing art. Then once I began reading it I saw that the male writers on the book were strong feminist voices. But I did not assume that from the initial pitch. So the involvement of a female artist with a feminine sensibility on the title vouched for the men on the team. And now I’m a convert. Fletcher is on my short-list of dudes that can write women (him, Rucka, Whitley, Gillen).
I find that most of the best artists in comics are women or gay men. The broke-back poses, bad anatomy, blank facial expressions, people wearing casual clothing that no humans actually wear, lack of developed aesthetic sense, is almost universally men coming from within the standard comics system. It didn’t used to be this way. Prior to Liefeld even straight white men could draw ok. But that turning point really led to a huge downward slide that we are only now working our way out of. and the improvements and changes are largely driven by people from outside the comics club.
I suspect that as a result of the new open-ness in style, exposer to non-western comics art, tumblr and increased awareness of the work of women, people of color and queer men in comics the next generation of artists (straight guys included) will be more developed and nuanced in their style. The big two seem to be finally loosening up on having a really ugly house style. You can thank women and gay men for making those improvements. May the end of the need for the need for EscherGirls.com be near.
Alex: Usually when I plan to pick up a comic I do so based on the character/characters involved, or the brief snippet I’ve read about the comic, and sometimes, if there’s a specific creator involved. I rarely, if ever, make my decisions based on the diversity of the creators.
Monique: It’s quite an issue for me but because I love comics I don’t think about it too much? However the lack of diversity in most aspects (gender, race etc.) is concerning. For example, I was so excited for Vixen, but I didn’t realize how short it would be? I was shocked when the end credits came on after like 5 minutes
Joe: This is a great discussion and sometimes a hot bed issue. For me it’s only when forced diversity tends to ruin or muddle long standing continuity for the sake of shock value. I do not agree with this philosophy. The biggest example of this is what DC Comics did with Wally West. A character that was my entry and conduit into the comic book world. I grew up as Wally grew up. When DC did the new 52 reboot it destroyed all this. However I don’t have an issue with him being African American per se, as I love the CW The Flash show and he surely will be on that. I just would prefer creators make a new character i.e. Miles Morales than force feed diversity on an existing one.
Daphne: I don’t buy the forced diversity argument. Nobody claims “forced science fiction” when aliens show up in a comic book, and if a character who isn’t white showing up in a story feels like some kind of intrusion it’s time to take serious stock of that franchise and the story they’re telling. There’s nothing forced about being inclusive and portraying a world where white isn’t the default – because it isn’t, in the real world. We don’t live in a population of 90% white Americans and their comedic brown friends.
Brett: Can either of you think where it hasn’t worked? Marvel’s move of diversity in characters has all felt pretty organic so far, and made sense to me.
Daphne: If we go back to stuff like Lois Lane going “Superman, you have to use this machine to turn me into a black woman for 24 hours!” in the I Am Curious (Black) comic, sure. But that stuff was forever ago. So far what Marvel and DC have been doing makes sense to me and feels natural. Especially when it comes to titles that aren’t forever tied to one individual person but things like the power of Thor or name Captain America.
Brett: Yeah that Lois Lane story is infamous at how tone deaf it was.
Joe: Daphne, agree with the sense you’re using it. However I was implying to changing the race or background of a long standing character simply for pandering or shock value. i,e, Wally West the second Flash.
I am a huge fan of race in succession characters. Such as Sam Wilson as Captain America or Miles Morales as Spider-Man even Nick Fury in the Ultimate Universe. Those are all great successes and fantastic characters. But I wouldn’t be like lets make Bruce Wayne Asian all of a sudden. When creators have compelling stories and reasons I’m all on board, but if not then use that creativity and create a new character. It’s shoddy and uninspired.
Alex: To play devils advocate: what difference is there between Ultimate Nick Fury and New 52 Wally West?
Brett: Samuel L Jackson doesn’t play Wally West. And with that we’ll wrap up our discussion. What about you the readers? What do you think? Sound off in the comments!