Mike Gold: Pigeonholing Comics

Black Panther

I had a whole ‘nother idea for my column this week. Completely different. It wasn’t about Star Wars, it wasn’t Christmassy, but after I read Joe Corallo’s column that ran in this space 24 hours ago, the that idea was gone with the wind.

Just about all of us here at ComicMix write about the need for greater diversity in comics characters and creators, Joe more than most because that’s his beat. Yesterday he discussed the proliferation of women and their sad restriction to women characters. If you haven’t read his piece, the link is up there in my first paragraph. You should read it. Everybody should read it, so email or text the link to your friends, enemies, and casual acquaintances.

In case you haven’t thought about the subject, there is one great reason why our beloved medium needs greater diversity in characters and in talent that has nothing to do with equality of opportunity, although that is very important.

We need to encourage and support diversity because it expands the types of stories we can tell and we can read. Call it creative greed if you like, but offering a wider range of stories and a wider range of writers, artists and editors gives us a wider range of choice and brings in new ideas and concepts. Just as we as a medium needed to go beyond our historical fixation on superheroes, we also need to gather and offer a wider range of experiences that are common to people who are not white male heterosexuals.

In other words, expanding our entertainment options is a good idea. If you don’t want to experience a story about, say, left-handed German-speaking midgets, that’s your prerogative. But I’ll be damned if there’s nobody out there who can pull that off.

As Joe said, women need not be restricted to stories about women. They have even more to say about our society in general and all its myriad components. And this applies to every identifiable grouping of creators. When the comic book medium started giving work to black talent – other than the rare and occasional person here and there – many got their early assignments on titles such as Black Lightning, Luke Cage, Black Panther, Deathlok, Black Goliath and Vixen.

(By the way, did you notice how many 1970s black superheroes were named Black-something? Hey, guys, comics is a visual medium! You don’t need to telegraph the lead character’s race in the guy’s name!)

Okay. That’s a step up from the movies. Before Sidney Poitier, the parts given to most black performers were as idiots or musclemen or gamblers. And one can argue (with limited success) that black actors of that time had it better than Asians. Fortunately, in comics black creators quickly moved on to a wider range of material, an honor thus far not given to too many women. But that will change. I think. I hope.

However, I should point out that, as an editor, I had a harder time getting a fair and competitive page rate for black talent than I did for white folks. And I had a harder time getting a fair and competitive page rate for women than I did for men. I suspect that’s not as true today because we have evolved, our conscience has been raised, and the younger folk have a much better grip on what is fair.

Attaining diversity is not easy, and trailblazers always put up with a lot more shit than they should. It’s also an ongoing process. If your first name is Mohammad or Fatima, you probably know what I mean.