Tagged: Diversity

Martha Thomases: Diving Into Diversity


Famous Lesbians of Comics

One of the most exciting developments in the comic book industry in my lifetime has been the increased diversity, both in content and in creators. It is no longer a given that only straight cis white men can be writers, artists, or heroes.

It’s something we champion here at ComicMix. Many of our contributors (including but not limited to this person, this person, and this person) discuss these issues on a regular basis.

I really love this. As a reader, it means I have a lot more different kinds of stories to sample. More stories means a greater chance to find something I like, or something that challenges me, or something that shows me something I haven’t seen before.

As a writer, it’s something I find more difficult.

When you are part of a minority group, whether through race, religion, ethnic heritage, sexual and affectional preferences, gender identity, body type or otherwise, you pretty much know how straight cis white guys see the world. Almost all of our art, music, writing, cinema and entertainment is from the perspective of straight cis white guys. Cis straight white guys are the default perspective in modern culture.

So, as a white woman, I feel comfortable and confident writing characters who are white women and men. As a Jew, I feel pretty comfortable writing about Christians as well as Jews. My problems arise when I try to write characters who are different from me in ways I might not fully understand. For example, I’ve been attracted to women in my life, but I have no idea how one acts on that attraction because, for me, it’s never been strong enough to go for it.

It’s not that the stories of people who are not either the default acceptable types or their female counterparts are not worth telling. I’m just not sure I’m the person who should tell them. It’s all too easy to stereotype someone who has different experiences than I do or, even worse, use them as archetypes and not real people. This article, although written about improv comedy, shows the how easy it is to unconsciously limit and even demean someone when you see only her differences, not her humanity.

The pitfalls arise, in my opinion, when the person in power sees those who are different only from this perspective. To use my previous example, I might be able to imagine, broadly, what being a lesbian feels like, but I don’t have any idea about the myriad obstacles and bliss in a dyke’s daily life. It would be all too easy for me to think my lesbian character is all about breasts and labia and coming out, and not how she thinks about getting the rent together every month, or whether a vegan diet is a good idea, or if she should make a play for the cute and possibly straight woman in accounting. She should be a fully-rounded human being, not just a contrast to the default assumption.

Does this mean I should avoid writing lesbian characters? There isn’t one single answer to that. It might be that I lack the skill. It might be that I should ask a queer friend to read what I write and point out where I’ve missed the point. It might be that I should just assume that, among my characters, there are queer people in roughly the same proportions as the general population, and let it go at that. In my real life, I know lots of people without knowing who they would prefer to have sex with. The same can be true in any fictional universe I create.

This might be useful things to consider as a writer. What about as a producer, someone who is, essentially, a gatekeeper about what amusements are available to the public? How does he consider the responses his audience might have, and whether that response is what he meant to convey? In this example, a video game company created a game that attempts to show a former soldier fighting organized crime in a fictionalized New Orleans in 1968. One would expect criminals at that time and place to be racist as all get-out. Does using the language that those people would have used add to the gaming experience or distract from it? What if it only distracts black players?

As we continue to explore this brave new diverse world, a bunch of us are going to make mistakes, some well-meaning and some no so well-meaning. If your mistakes fall into the latter group, you might think you’re a brave truth-teller fighting political correctness, but I think you’re an asshole.

For the rest of us, we’re going to have to take the criticism, absorb it, and see if we told the story we wanted to tell in a way that was understood the way we wanted. If we made a mistake, we have to try harder.

Every piece of entertainment cannot be all things to all people. Every story, every movie, doesn’t have to represent every possible experience. All people should be able to easily find stories with which they can relate, that make them laugh (and cry) in recognition.

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.

Joe Corallo: Diversity — People, and Content

Marvel MysteryIn addition to being really into comics, I’m also really into history. I like to know where things came from and how they were made. This fact about myself has resulted in my reading of quite a few comics from the Golden and Silver Ages. Nearly all were reprints, but comics of those ages none the less. Although some of the comics then may not offer us the kinds of lessons in diversity and inclusion I’m normally advocating for, they actually do give us a valuable lesson in diversity that is lacking in mainstream comics today.

The norm for decades in comics was an anthology format. Marvel Mystery, Adventure, Action, Detective, Showcase, Journey Into Mystery, Police, Crime Does Not Pay, Eerie, Creepy, My Greatest Adventure, all of these and more would offer us up multiple stories featuring different characters in each. The first issue of Marvel Comics featured the Human Torch, the Angel (not that Angel), Sub-Mariner (yes, that Sub-Mariner), Masked Raider, a short story titled “Burning Rubber” and Ka-Zar. Yes, it wasn’t the standard 20-22 pages we see in most comics, it was 64 pages. The point being that you could have a single issue with many characters and stories. One title being the feature, with the highest page count, and the other stories being back ups.

Action ComicsAs the years went by, anthology style comics at the big two were either getting canned, or morphing into books about one hero or team. My Greatest Adventure turned into Doom Patrol, Action into another Superman comic, Detective another Batman comic, Journey Into Mystery a Thor comic, and so forth. DC in particular tried to carry on with that tradition longer, having books like Legion of Superheroes have a feature story with a large portion of the team followed by a shorter back up with only one or two members to help us all get to know them better. Eventually, these efforts more or less faded away. Occasionally, like in Action Comics, Detective Comics or Justice League they’d have some sort of back up, but it was just furthering the feature story and not really it’s own thing.

Police ComicsDC did try bringing back more anthologies with Adventures of Superman, Legends of the Dark Knight, Sensation Comics featuring Wonder Woman, but all of those only featured the character in the title. Though those weren’t a bad idea, I do think it misses a key point of the older anthologies; to help introduce new characters to a market that might otherwise not pick up a book featuring one of those characters.

Both Marvel and DC have hundreds of characters at their disposal. The market only allows a certain amount of comics hitting the shelves at once while still being able to sell X amount of them all. Maybe instead of testing out different solo titles, they could try more anthology style comics.

Wouldn’t it be great is characters like Batman got more people reading Batwing and Batwoman because they were in the same book? What if you alternated who had the feature story, so maybe Batwoman would be the feature for a few months, but that Batman story in there helped keep enough readers on the title who otherwise wouldn’t be and kept the title afloat? What if we used a format like that to expose readers who otherwise wouldn’t go out of their way to read a comic with racial or religious minority characters, or LGBTQ characters in it?

DC editors recently decided they needed to stop “batgirling” and get back to “meat and potatoes.” That kind of talk usually ends up meaning going back to a less diverse time in comics. I get worried when I see Marvel or DC seemingly spread themselves too thin in certain areas. For example, as I mentioned last week, DC now has Harley Quinn, Catwoman, and Poison Ivy, three white bisexual women as leads in their own solo titles. That won’t last forever. Maybe when that starts to change, a Gotham City Sirens book featuring all of them would be easier to maintain.

I think if comics are going to be serious about diversity, they have to do more than just cater to the readers of the different communities. Preaching to the choir is one thing, and it is important, but it’s not everything. We need to get more people outside of those communities to be exposed to them, and understand them better. It’s an important and necessary component in making comics a more diverse place and assuring that it won’t just end up being a fad.

Besides, this feeds into nostalgia, and what comic book reader in their right mind doesn’t love that?