Like many of the contributors on ComicMix, I spent the other week at New York Comic Con. In a continuing trend, attendance keeps going up with a greater representation of the general population, and with that, more programming centered around diversity.
Diversity in comics has been an important topic to me for years. Important to the point where those panels I prioritize over all other kinds. The Internet can tell me all the Batman announcements later. This year, I made it to at least one diversity focused panel (usually two) every day of the con. And because I’m so passionate about these things, I wanted to share with you all why these panels are important to me.
First off, and probably most importantly, they are safe spaces at the con. Knowing you’ll be in an environment with people who are either like you or at least empathetic can be and often is important to an attendee. Being othered sucks. It really sucks. Just being in a place where you can listen to people talk about their struggles being an outsider, and how they’ve made it work for them anyway can really be inspiring.
Second, they’re also great places to hear from creators of different backgrounds and become knowledgeable of their work. Truthfully, the goal of nearly all panels is to get you to buy the publisher or creator’s books and merchandise. As cynical as this may sound, the reality is the only way we’re going to get more diversity in comics is to actually buy comics with diverse characters in them. Crazy, right?
I had already been picking up DC’s Midnighter, the company’s only solo superhero comic with a gay male lead, written by Steve Orlando. I wasn’t aware of his Image Comics graphic novel, Virgil. After hearing him on a panel talk about Virgil as being a blood soaked revenge story and as “queersploitation” (a reference to blaxploitation films of the 70’s) I knew I’d love it. I went down to his booth in Artists’ Alley after the panel, picked it up, and already read it. I did in fact love it, but I might not have known to get it if I didn’t go to these panels.
FInally, they are helping to change the discussion in comics. Yes, social media is doing the day to day work, but diversity panels at these cons provide an opportunity for the publishers and creators to roll out their new books that will better reflect the changing demographics of comic readers, and gauge reactions. Sunday’s Culturally Queer panel moderated by Geeks OUT‘s Joey Stern opened up a conversation about queer representation in comics between the panelists where they differed greatly on what makes for good representation. This is an important conversation to be having. There is not necessarily a uniform right way to have representation. There are certainly some uniform wrong ways, however.
The biggest example of a change in the discussion that I saw was Thursday’s BOOM! Studios panel moderated by their President of Publishing and Marketing, Filip Sablik. The panel discusses the Push Comics Forward movement, which is actively setting out to make the comic industry more diverse over the next 10 years. However, the panel was made up of all white (or white presenting) panelists, with eight men and two women. Though there was some queer representation, Filip Sablik actually addressed this at the beginning of the panel, stating that they do have more diversity in their talent pool, and it just so happened that the people able to make it to the con and who were able to attend this panel for the books they wanted to highlight were mostly white male creators. I thought this was incredible. I give BOOM! Studios credit for addressing this. I don’t think we would have seen something like this happen even last year, and that’s a testament to the publishers and creators putting themselves out there on the issues of diversity in part because of these panels and that some of them are listening to us.
If you were at New York Comic Con last week and didn’t get to any of the diversity focused panels, definitely try to at the next con you go to. Even if you’re a straight cis white guy, there are so many new and exciting stories coming from women, nonwhite, and queer creators that you might end up loving just as much as I do.