There’s a lot of change in the air, and in so many cases, it’s nice to see how the COVID crisis is bringing out our better angels – especially when it comes to publishers and retailers.
Inc. Magazine recently called Independent Bookstores “the baby seals of commerce–at once universally beloved and endangered.” The same could be said for comic shops, except for the universally loved part. Here’s an innovative ideas from forward-thinking entrepreneurs designed to create something positive for both these retailer channels.
Aftershock Comics has a program designed to help comic shops. It’s called S.O.S. which stands for “Support Our Shops”. This is a cool program that’s elegant in its simplicity. Aftershock created & printed a one-shot anthology comic, S.O.S., and is giving copies of it to comic shops that have been supporting their line, no strings attached! Comic shops can sell their copies at whatever price they set (it feels like at least a $5.99 comic to me), offer it as buy-one-get-one with other Aftershock comics, or just give it away to reward customers.
The comic itself is gorgeous! Painter David Mack delivers yet another hauntingly beautiful cover, full of hope and brightness, just like the comic itself. The issue is packed full of short stories from top creators wistfully celebrating fans’ interactions with and appreciation of comic shops.
Editor Joe Pruett has pulled together an impressive list of talents for this funny-book version of a charity concert. Contributors include Cullen Bunn, Steve Orlando, Leila Leiz, Stephanie Phillips, Marshall Dillon and more. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to find Jerry Ordway’s story here, as I don’t associate him with Aftershock. But wow – he delivered in spades.
Look for S.O.S. at your local comic shop, ask them to get it for you if they don’t have it, and if they give it to you for free, give them a generous tip. It’s a fantastic book and worth every penny you can spare. And we want to encourage innovative thinking like this, as well as help comic shops and bookstores, don’t we?
If retailers don’t already have a relationship with Aftershock, they can go to the site where all the staff is listed. https://aftershockcomics.com
Before I go into this week’s column, I wanted to acknowledge the passing of Carrie Fisher. Mere hours after my column went up last week it was reported that she had passed. It was truly tragic for her family, friends and legions of fans whom include myself. Rest in peace, Carrie Fisher.
Last week I picked Love Is Love, the joint DC Comics and IDW publication to raise money for Equality Florida benefiting the victims of the Pulse Nightclub mass shooting. I had written about this book’s announcement back in September and how it filled me with pride that this was happening, but that comics still has more to do towards creating stronger queer inclusion. Now that the trade is out and I got the chance to read it, I have more to say.
This charity project organized by Marc Andreyko was originally a joint project with DC Comics and IDW. As of last month, Archie Comics added itself to the mix and included two separate Kevin Keller stories for the anthology, one by Kevin Keller’s creator Dan Parent. We get a short comic featuring Chalice from AfterShock’s Alters. The Will Eisner estate even gave permission to use The Spirit for a comic in the anthology as well. All of that combined with an introduction by director Patty Jenkins and you have an anthology with more star power and support for a cause than I, at least, have ever seen before in comics.
Love Is Love opens with an “In Memoriam” page with the names and ages of all 49 victims from the Pulse Nightclub mass shooting. It’s then clarified that this is an IDW publication with editorial and related services provided by DC Entertainment. Following that is Patty Jenkins introduction then nonstop one or two page comics and illustrations, followed by Marc Andreyko’s afterward and a plug for Equality Florida.
While I was aware of quite a few of the people who were working on the project, there were plenty in the book I had no idea were in it up until I read their contributions. Stories from people like Dan Didio and Brian Michael Bendis. Dan Didio is someone whom members of the queer community were upset with after his mandate that characters including Batwoman could not get married. While I personally wasn’t as upset by this decision as some people were, I did understand it.
Brian Michael Bendis is someone who I’ve met, admire, and is at least somewhat responsible for getting me back into comics with the launch of Ultimate Spider-Man back when I was in high school. One area I’ve been critical with him on is his handling of Iceman being retconned as gay. While this was out of ignorance and not malice, it still made it hard for me and others to get interested in Iceman again. Now with Sina Grace on board, a queer man and another contributor to Love Is Love who contributed a great personal two page comic, I’m more than happy to give Iceman a shot again.
Two other contributors I were aware of who have had mixed responses from the queer community as of late are Paul Jenkins and James Robinson. Paul Jenkins is the creator and writer of the AfterShock comic Alters with Leila Leiz and Tamra Bonvillain. For his contribution to this anthology, Paul did a two-page story about the trans character Chalice with Tamra Bonvillain and Robert Hack illustrating instead of Leila Leiz. It’s a two-pager about how irrelevant those oppressing the queer community are becoming and it’s a positive message. The series at AfterShock has received some criticism from people in the comics community, including myself, concerned with trans representation in comics and how the character could potentially have a negative impact.
While I had qualms with the first issue in particular, Paul Jenkins has since been using the back of each issue to have a conversation with a trans person and to stress how important using proper pronouns are and other topics people in the cis community need to be more educated on.
James Robinson is a writer whose previously been nominated for a GLAAD award for his thoughtful portrayals of queer characters in comics and has been writing queer characters in his comics since the 90s. Back in the summer of 2015, James had gotten backlash over his treatment of trans people in his pseudo-autobiographical comic Airboy with Image comics. After a couple of days of online onslaught, James Robinson released a thoughtful apology. Further reprints of Airboy #2 have been edited to make it less offensive.
What do Dan Didio, Brian Michael Bendis, Paul Jenkins, and James Robinson all have in common? That despite the fact that in their long careers they’ve had at least one instance where readers questioned their portrayals and handling of queer characters, they showed up to volunteer and dedicate their time and talent to help the queer community during what’s easily one of the communities darkest times in modern American history. Allies are important, and actions do speak louder than words. And although they may have had missteps, they showed up when it counted the most and that needs to be recognized and celebrated.
While it is important to highlight allies, I would feel horrible if I discussed this anthology without highlighting more of the queer contributors. Mainstream queer talent like Phil Jimenez, Sina Grace, and James Tynion IV offer us autobiographical looks at their life and how being queer impacts it. Although Howard Cruse isn’t a contributor, he’s the subject of Justin Hall’s comic along with Howard’s beloved husband Eddie Sedarbaum. Steve Orlando gives us a touching one page comic about a queer family. Trans comics creator and journalist Emma Houxbois, an important voice whom I admire, has a touching one page comic about how important places like Pulse are to the queer community.
There are far more queer contributors in this book and I wish I could spend time talking about all of them. Two other allies I’d like to mention, Jeffrey Burandt and Sean Von Gorman, created a one page comic with public domain superhero Rainbow Boy where they save Rockbar from a bunch of Spider-Haters. Rockbar is a bar here in the West Village that I frequent fairly regularly and it’s great to see them being represented.
Love Is Love is not just an important milestone in comics history and a loving tribute to the queer community that will help benefit them, it’s also just good comics and a fun read. It took a great deal of time and a saint’s patience for Marc Andreyko to get this book from a desire to see the comics community come together after the Pulse Nightclub mass shooting and the over six months that followed for it to hit the stands. We should all be grateful for Marc’s kindness and generosity as well as the dozens and dozens of contributors that made this book possible.
At $9.99, there really is no reason not to pick up this full-length trade paperback. If you didn’t pick it up last week, please pick this up when you grab your comics this week.
As many of you may know, this week is Thanksgiving. That magical time of year where you slave away on a big meal for family and friends or bum around watching The Wizard of Oz and Babes in Toyland on TV while everyone else works. At least those used to be on TV. Or you’re in retail and I apologize.
By now you may have started getting your place ready for guests, packing for a trip, or maybe you’ve already reached your destination. You may be really excited for the holiday. You may also be really stressed out.
After a grueling year-and-one-half the 2016 Presidential election has come and gone, and the outcome was shocking to many. Now many of us, particularly white people and those with white relatives, have to face conservative or Trump supporting relatives face to face for the first time at the dinner table since he won the election.
This will be the first time since 2004 that they’ll have Presidential election bragging rights. Let’s face it, twelve years is a long time and you’re probably out of practice. Maybe you laughed at them last Thanksgiving when you said Trump might surprise us all. Maybe you chimed in on Facebook to rain on their parade. You might have even gleefully gave them a call after the debates to let them know how woefully unprepared Trump was. Now you’re having to get ready to eat some bird on Thursday, and this year it’s crow.
What can be done to make this experience even slightly less miserable, you ask? Well, maybe steering away from politics would be a good call this year for your own well being. Plenty of fun and interesting things have been going on in comics and nerd culture, so let’s talk about that instead.
Doctor Strange is still in theaters. Myself and fellow ComicMix columnist Molly Jackson saw it back when the world was still young and innocent. You still have time to go see it before Thanksgiving and make conversation out of it. Personally, I thought it was middle of the road for Marvel movies. Not the best, and far from the worst. You could also talk about the dated and problematic nature of white man turns to the east to find enlightenment and be a better Asian than actual Asians story if you’re up for it. You could also mention how they couldn’t have the Ancient One be from Tibet because it could have affected the revenue in the Chinese market. Maybe you and your Trump friends and relatives at Thanksgiving can agree that’s nonsense.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them came out as well, but I’m not really a Harry Potter guy so you’re on your own there. I’ve seen the first three movies (yes, I know they’re books), and I only saw them because of a guy I was interested in back in college who I imagine probably doesn’t read these. If he does though, sorry John, but I wasn’t that into Harry Potter.
When it comes to comics, you may have to reiterate that yes you’re still into comics and no they aren’t just for kids. You could talk about some of the great moves in comics over the last year. Maybe talk about Tom King, the man with comic writing aspirations who put them all aside for over a decade when joining the CIA after the 9/11 attacks, who’s been knocking it out of the park lately on series like The Vision and Batman.
See? You like patriots too.
You could talk about rising star Mags Visaggio and how she’s gone from little known comic writer to creator of Black Mask Studios’ Kim and Kim and getting to write a backup for DC Young Animal’s Shade The Changing Girl #4. To my knowledge she will be the first trans writer to work on a DC comic since Caitlin R. Kiernan’s last issue of The Dreaming back in May of 2001. This is a positive step not only for diversity in the writers freelancing at DC, but also a victory for anyone that wants to see good writers being given a chance. It could also be an opportunity to discuss with relatives how the LGBTQ community and in particular the trans community are more than what conservative outlets might lead one to believe. They’re actually people, just like them.
We’re at a point now where openly queer writers, Steve Orlando and James Tynion IV, are tackling Supergirl in her new ongoing series and Batman in Detective Comics, respectively. And despite all that happening this year, hell has not opened up and engulfed the world.
Actually… scratch that last sentence.
Also talk to your family about Ta-Nehisi Coates, the national correspondent for The Atlantic and well respected social and political commentator turned comic book writer whose debut issue of Black Panther this year was one of the highest selling comics in over a decade. He perfectly blends politics into a superhero story. Maybe you can impress some of your relatives talking about the intricate, intelligent political thriller Ta-Nehisi Coates is telling in his comics. Maybe some of them, even the Trump supporters, will appreciate Coates’ musings on how corporations take advantage of people and how leaders need to put the needs of their citizens over their own needs. If those Trump supporters do agree with you on that, try to restrain yourself.
You could also talk about Demolition Man coming out as gay in Marvel Comics, but why would you? I can only care so much about retconning obscure characters as queer for some backdoor representation.
It might be stressful and it might be tough, but we can get through this. Try to open up some of their minds with what’s going on in comics and nerd culture. Try to humanize the world around them. It’s too late to change their votes, but it might not be too late to put their values in perspective.
Last week DC Comics and IDW announced will join together to publish a 144 page graphic novel titled Love Is Love to raise money for Equality Florida to help the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, FL on June 12th. This groundbreaking venture between two comic book publishers and a nonprofit was organized by writer Marc Andreyko and will be retailing for $9.99.
Let’s let that one sink in. This is an important moment in comics history. Of all the causes over the years that comics have tried to benefit, this is the first time that mainstream comics publishers have stepped up to benefit members of the LGBT community in need. This is also the second time an anthology has come out to benefit victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting as Margins Publishing put out two issues of a digital zine titled Our Hearts Still Beat where 100% of the proceeds were donated to The Center in Orlando to directly benefit the queer community.
It fills me with pride that comic publishers are working to benefit the queer community. I’m proud of all the creators that have gotten involved and have given their time and talent to help others and I’m thrilled that mainstream comics is standing by the queer community. Despite all the positives and how proud we should be of DC Comics and IDW for standing with victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting, we need to demand more for the queer community and the other less privileged and underrepresented groups.
Though DC Comics is helping with Love Is Love, they haven’t had a trans writer pen a story for them in fifteen years. Of all the work that trans writers have done for DC, only Caitlin R. Kiernan has had any of her work collected, and it was only a fraction of her work on The Dreaming that she shares with other writers in the collection.
While DC Comics is helping support queer people of color who were disproportionately affected by the Pulse Nightclub shooting, DC has very few queer people of color working for them in a creative capacity. Phil Jimenez has done great work at DC and has been given opportunities to work with writers like Grant Morrison and on important titles like Infinite Crisis. Ivan Velez, Jr. penned stories at DC for some time as well, but not in the past decade. Beyond that, few have had similar opportunities.
Women creators are still not being represented in comics at DC as well as they were before the New 52. For the New 52, Gail Simone was one of the only women writing stories at first. Currently, the only all women creative team is for Batgirl and The Birds of Prey. All male creative teams are the overwhelming majority.
DC Comics still has an Eddie Berganza problem. While talk of his repeated sexual harassment of employees and freelancers has died down, he still holds the position of group editor of the Superman family books. They have yet to hire a woman to work on that editorial team since he took that position back after stepping down as executive editor.
They recently announced the people selected for their Writer’s Talent Workshop. For the purposes of full disclosure I did apply and was rejected. I was happy to see that the majority of the people selected were not straight cis white men, and that people of color including a Native American man were selected. That’s really great and that should be applauded. It was discouraging to see that out of the eight selected, only two were women and they were selected as a pair and all the men are solo writers. At a time when women in comics in particular are a focus of discussion to see a selection like this does come off as tone deaf.
Newsarama went on to say “Curiously, DC describes this group as “aspiring” writers in their press release, despite each have significant credentials inside and outside of comic books – including some which have done work for DC previously.” Using the term aspiring is certainly misleading when you have award winning writers and people working in the TV biz being selected. It seems like the high caliber of talent selected could have easily been found by traditional methods of editors scouting out talent. Women and people of color shouldn’t have to be incredibly talented award winners in their field to be extended an opportunity to take a class to one day possibly write for DC Comics (or write for them again). What makes this tone deaf is it comes off like these talents need DC Comics. The exact opposite is true.
That’s not to say DC Comics hasn’t done some great things and taken some risks recently beyond Love Is Love. Openly queer creator Steve Orlando was able to write a solo Midnighter series, the first openly gay mainstream solo superhero comic, for 12 issues. Though it was cancelled due to low sales, DC has taken another risk by bringing the comic back as Midnighter and Apollo which will be the first mainstream comic about a gay superhero couple. James Tynion IV, another openly queer creator, is writing Detective Comics, one of the biggest titles at DC Comics, with the openly gay Batwoman as an important character in the cast. Tamra Bonvillain, an openly trans colorist and rising star in comics, is on the reboot of Doom Patrol with heavy hitters like Gerard Way and Todd Klein. And Harley Quinn, an openly queer anti-hero, was the highest selling comic in the month of August selling upwards of 400,000 copies, written by the team of Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner with Chad Hardin on art. Dan Didio has even been cited by creators like Gail Simone as caring about LGBT issues, and all of this is powerful evidence that is the case.
Love Is Love is a great project and I’m proud of everyone involved and DC Comics as well as IDW stepping up and taking a stand here when it would have been much easier to not bother. And I really do love DC Comics. I love quite a lot of their properties, they have some great people that have worked for them in the past and currently, and they’ve worked on some great progressive things like Milestone Comics. That doesn’t mean more can’t be done, and it should be done.
There needs to be more intersectionality. We need more queer people of color and women of color. We need DC to use these Milestone characters and to reprint and make available the original runs. We need the works of Rachel Pollack, Maddie Blaustein and Caitlin R. Kiernan reprinted and trans writers new and old to be brought in. And we need less privileged people to rise through the ranks and be decision makers to help secure a future for comics in an ever changing market.
I can support DC Comics and praise the good work they do while also wanting more and wanting better. I love DC Comics, but… it’s complicated.
This past weekend I tabled Flame Con 2 at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott Hotel with my friend and collaborator Robby Barrett. We premiered our new comic, Saturn’s Call. It’s about a group of witchy queer kids who are trying to come together to protect each other, so obviously Flame Con was the perfect venue to debut this comic.
For those of you unfamiliar, Flame Con is New York City’s first LGBTQ comic convention organized by Geeks OUT. The show premiered back in spring of 2015 at the Grand Prospect Hall for one day only after a successful Kickstarter campaign helped spread the word and launch the show. Flame Con was such an immediate hit that not only was quickly confirmed that they would be back in 2016, but that the show would go from one day to two and move to a larger venue. That’s a very impressive feat.
Although an integral part of Flame Con’s success comes from Geeks OUT’s own planning and organizing, there is no doubt in mind that the LGBTQ community is an underserved community and often neglected part of mainstream comics and pop culture.
For people outside the queer community, it may seem like the queer community is being properly catered to in comics. I bet some people may even feel like the community is over represented with the press hits some queer-led comics get. I’m here to tell you that is absolutely not the case. We may be getting the press coverage when it comes to some mainstream comics and a few indies, but a disproportionate amount of the majority of comics are still very straight, very cis, very male, and very white.
Flame Con is very much a different experience. Gone are the very straight, very cis, and very male aspects of many comic conventions. And while the show and its guests are certainly pretty white, there were also efforts put in place to be inclusive in every way and there was racial and ethnic diversity both in the people exhibiting and the attendees on the floor. They even had an AFK lounge at the hotel as a quiet space for people to unwind and collect themselves if they felt overwhelmed.
Robby and I spent the vast majority of the convention behind our table, outside of a few quick bathroom breaks. Those bathrooms were designated as all-gender, something everyone seemed very pleased with. I overheard one person who seemed a little confused at first when the convention was just opening, but after that I didn’t hear any confusion at all. It’s pretty simple. It’s arguably simpler than the standard gender designated bathrooms we see in public that are becoming less standard. And, oddly enough, we were not swallowed up into the bowels of hell, much to some people’s disappointment I’m sure.
Flame Con also provided preferred pronoun stickers for people to wear, and many people took advantage of that. Male, female, gender neutral, and “ask me” stickers adorned many fans and exhibitors. This is the only comic convention I’ve seen do something like this despite people of all gender identities attending all different comic conventions all over.
From my view at my table I saw all sorts of people in all sorts of cosplay. Cosplaying was encouraged throughout the con and people got really creative. People of all shapes, sizes, races, ethnicities, abilities, and gender identities dressed up as whoever they wanted and everyone I saw seemed supportive of everyone’s decisions and openly complimented each other appropriately.
I saw a lot of Steven Universe fans, Pokémon fans, as well as fans of older and more obscure comics. One guy was in an Ultra Boy t-shirt on Saturday and a Timber Wolf t-shirt on Sunday.
Everyone myself and Robby interacted with were friendly and supportive. We even sold dozens of comics, and Robby sold a ton of prints. It was honestly the best experience either of us had tabling a convention. I had my friend Nate get me a signed comic, Emma got me coffee, and fellow ComicMix contributor Molly Jackson got me a Princess Leia sketch from the incredibly talented Sophie Campbell while I was stuck at my table. Thanks, friends!
Many other vendors I know had similar experiences. Mags Visaggio, writer of Kim and Kim for Black Mask Studios, told me that she not only had a great time but she exceeded her expected sales. Magdalena Fox, the owner of the booty shorts shop Booty and the Geek, gushed about how Flame Con was such a positive experience that she wishes there were more queer centric conventions to vend at. Fyodor Pavlov premiered a printed copy of his webcomic, Bash Back, that he’s collaborated on with Lawrence Gullo and Kelsey Hercs, and he offered new prints as well. This was his second year tabling Flame Con. To quote Fyodor, “Long live Flame Con.”
I cannot recommend Flame Con enough. It’s a wonderful, inclusive time with a welcoming group of staff and volunteers and a great mix of both mainstream and indie comic offerings. It was already announced that Flame Con 3 is definitely happening in the summer of 2017. You’ll see a lot of familiar faces in comics, a lot of people you didn’t know you love yet, and you’ll feel safe and included.
I even got to end the show by running into Steve Orlando and jokingly complaining about how Streaky and Comet were not featured in Supergirl #1. I can’t think of a better way to leave any comic convention than to complain about why elements of the Silver Age of comics aren’t in the comics the kids are reading these days.
Lately I’ve found myself backing more comic related Kickstarters. From a successful campaign by Drew Ford reprinting Joe Lansdale and Sam Glanzman’s Red Range to Michael Sarrao’s new graphic novel SID: Special Intergalactic Detective that was just successfully funded. The latest Kickstarter I’m backing is Fyodor Pavlov, Lawrence Gullo, and Kelsey Hercs Bash Back.
I’ve written about Fyodor Pavlov here before. Bash Back is a comic project he’s co-created that he, Lawrence, and Kelsey have been posting new pages of on Tumblr since March of 2015 with frequent updates, often weekly, through April of this year finishing up Issue 0. They are currently on hiatus working on the next issue, promoting their Kickstarter to print physical copies, and getting ready for Flame Con.
Back Back is a queer mafia story set in contemporary New York City. The story follows a young trans man, Bastion, who gets saved from being bashed by a young queer man, Angelo, that gives Bastion a card for the New Oxford Youth Shelter. From there, Bastion meets Stephen, the older man that maintains this sanctuary for queer youths. From there, we meet an ambitious cast of characters through the eyes of young Bastion, with minor narrative shifts to further develop the world and its threats.
This comic is easily one of the most authentic looks into the queer experience and the dark places that the mind can go. It’s a story about overpowering our oppressors using the same violence and hate used against us. It’s about taking our rightful place back from those who took our place from us with fear and disdain in their hearts. Ultimately, it’s about pride.
The only way a comic like this can reach this level of authenticity is by having a creative team behind it that reflects the characters in it. All three of the creative talents behind this comic are queer and cover both trans and cis representation. That combined with all their unique life experiences and deep, rich understanding of queer history really shines through. I’m hardly the only person to notice all this as well, as Bash Back has been praised by all sorts of queer comics professionals from rising star Steve Orlando to veteran gay cartoonist Howard Cruse.
Though the Kickstarter for Bash Back is going very well and has a couple of weeks left, it still needs more help crossing the finish line. If you want to see more queer comics succeed, you need to strongly consider backing this project. We’re seeing more and more queer comics succeeding on Kickstarter. The more these projects succeed and the more money they bring in will be noticed by publishers. If we prove that audiences for these projects exist, more publishers will take the risk and publish projects like Bash Back.
We are already seeing the effects of a changing mindset and a better understanding of queer audiences over the past few years, as DC Comics has increased Batwoman’s profile, created a series for Midnighter and will soon be debuting a series for Midnighter and Apollo, which I believe will be a first in terms of a superhero duo book with gay male leads. It’s important to note that DC Comics has queer talent like James Tynion IV and Steve Orlando working with these queer characters.
Marvel has been increasing queer presence as well with Iceman being out and Wiccan and Hulkling becoming more prominent in the Avengers. Even smaller publishers are taking risks with queer leads like Kevin Keller at Archie Comics and Kim and Kim at Black Mask Studios created by trans writer Mags Visaggio.
So please, if this is an issue you care about, back it and share it. If you know anyone who might care about this, share it with them. Let’s help Fyodor, Lawrence, and Kelsey succeed in a big way because if they succeed, we succeed.
DC’s Rebirth is now in full swing. Last week I wrote a response to one aspect of DC Rebirth #1. Later that week, I picked up Batman, Superman, and Green Arrow Rebirth (sorry Green Lanterns Rebirth). I read them. They ranged from awkward to interesting with Green Arrow, to me, being the most solid of those three. There was something not sitting right with me as I read these issues though, and it wasn’t in regards to the story or the art in the comics but in the credits and advertising.
Every one of those comics, including Green Lanterns Rebirth which I haven’t picked up yet, features exclusively male creators. Every. Single. One. In the middle of the books themselves they all advertise four more upcoming comics for Rebirth: Action Comics, New Super-Man, Superwoman, and Supergirl. All of which are exclusively male creator teams. Finally, in the back of each issue they advertise for more Rebirth comics including Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Titans. All of which, again, are exclusively male creator teams. That is a total of twelve ongoings as well as the DC Rebirth one-shot with not one female creator. Not one.
That’s not to say that they won’t be having women on any of their titles (though I wish they’d advertise that). Amanda Connor will continue to co-write Harley Quinn, Hope Larson will be on Batgirl, and the entire creative team on Batgirl and the Birds of Prey are women. Emanuela Lupacchino and Nicola Scott appear to be bouncing around some titles as well as they have been during The New 52. That leaves one title with an all women creative team compared to the 24 titles that have all male creative teams, and that number could easily go up as some creative teams have not been fully announced. That’s a large disparity that’s hard to ignore, but an even larger problem needs to be addressed as well.
The titles that do have women on their creative teams whether it’s initially or later in the runs are Harley Quinn, Superwoman, Batgirl, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, and Wonder Women with Superwoman and Wonder Woman being male only until later in their runs. You seeing a pattern here? The women freelancers on creative teams have all been allocated to books that are either solo women superhero titles or to the only all women superhero team being published there. That’s it. No exceptions, as of yet.
Whether it’s intentional or not, women freelancers have been segregated to the books about women. Meanwhile, men are tackling comics with men, women, or teams that have a mix of both. Assuming none of this is intentional means having to acknowledge that a deeper systemic problem exists.
Part of this problem is that going from individual comic to individual comic, it isn’t inherently a problem. For example, I’m looking forward to Steve Orlando on Supergirl.
There is no inherent problem with men writing or drawing women. None whatsoever. The problem comes when men are so much more likely to be hired in the first place, to be writing and drawing both men and women, and for women to only be given the opportunity to tackle female protagonists and not even given a chance to write or illustrate a team with both men and women. The only team they get is the all-women’s team.
To be fair, DC Comics does seem to have an idea that this is a problem that needs to be addressed. In their pilot program for the DC Writer Development Workshop, six of the eleven participants were women. That’s a good sign. They also have their line that’s directed specifically to young girls, DC Superhero Girls, which again is very encouraging. And lastly, they do have women involved in other areas of the company. Editors, Colorists, and more. Still, the male to female ratio is not ideal, but at least some books have women giving input to all male creative teams at DC.
What’s discouraging is how, before The New 52, women made up roughly 12% of DC freelancers, but once it was launched made up 1%. As they got those numbers up over the course of The New 52 with talent like Nicola Scott, Emanuela Lupacchino, Marguerite Bennett, Ann Nocenti, Amy Chu, Babs Tarr, Meredith Finch, and more, the recent relaunch has dropped the number of female freelancers back down to roughly 4%. It’s 2016, it shouldn’t be like this. We shouldn’t be starting relaunches of books to reach new audiences by having a straighter whiter more male cast of characters than we did a few months or so prior with creative teams that more reflect that dynamic. It’s not going to bring in new readers. Perhaps it won’t alienate large swaths the old readers, but the fact that this is a reboot in a fashion will.
With the impending DC Talent Workshop participants being announced this summer, DC’s recent tendency to diversify as they get farther from their reboots, and rumors of shake ups occurring in the not too distant future, DC Comics may give us some hope soon.
Uncanny X-Men #600 has come and gone, leaving us with a newly out present day Iceman, joining his time travelled past version in being out. I already wrote up my feelings on this here last month. Since then, we’ve seen three issues of Extraordinary X-Men featuring the present day Iceman, and one issue of All New X-Men featuring the past Iceman. If you haven’t read them yet, you may be thinking that surely in at least one of those four issues that have come out that at least one mention of Iceman’s sexuality would have come up.
SPOILER ALERT: It hasn’t. Not even once.
I was hoping we’d see something right away. Even if it was a quick scene. As I was reading the first issue of Extraordinary X-Men, I’m picturing Iceman coming into Storm’s office to talk to her about it, which seems the most logical choice to me. Or seeing Iceman trying out a gay bar or club for the first time. Even just makes a throwaway comment about how he just started using one of those dating/hook up apps and how that’s going for him.
None of that happens.
I figure that Extraordinary X-Men is a number one issue so they wanted to set the status quo for the book which would naturally include Iceman’s newly revealed sexuality. Apparently that wasn’t important, despite the fact that according to the powers that be at Marvel the Iceman decision was about a year in the making. And with all the press Iceman coming out received, you’d think that Marvel would have more of an interest in furthering Iceman’s story in the new X titles.
Okay, so if it wasn’t in the first issue of Extraordinary X-Men, surely it would be brought up in issue two. It wasn’t. I was growing increasingly displeased. As I finished the third issue it became harder and harder to not feel that Marvel used Iceman coming out as a cynical marketing gimmick with no intentions of an immediate follow through.
One hope still remained; All New X-Men. I was trying to make excuses for Marvel in my head. Maybe Jeff Lemire, writer of Extraordinary X-Men, didn’t want to tackle this in his story and Dennis Hopeless, the new writer of All New X-Men, would.
Maybe they felt that the present Iceman having just recently come out would still be taking it slow. Perhaps it’s going to take a while for him to talk with his teammates about it. Past Iceman made it very clear in his conversation with his present self that he was going to live his life openly gay as well as openly mutant. It was written to be a touching moment. Present Iceman even cried an ice tear over it.
So what happened in All New X-Men #1, which has past Iceman as a key team member? Past Iceman just went about his day. Nothing in reference to his sexuality at all. He even had a page where he was making ice statues for people where they easily could have worked in a quick nod at him being openly gay now. They didn’t.
What was the point of retconning Iceman in both the past and present to being gay if we’re not even going to address it outside of a few pages in two X books? Was it for sales? Was it just to get money from guys like me that are starved for LGBTQ representation? Was it to be acknowledged for having more diversity in their comics without actually being more diverse?
Unfortunately, it looks like the answer is currently yes, and I’m very disappointed by this. Instead of delving into Iceman’s newly discovered sexuality in Extraordinary X-Men, they’re delving into the awkwardness of two former lovers, Jean Grey and Wolverine. Finding different versions of the other still alive, one of which is now much younger and the other significantly older, they need to decide if they’re going to join together and help the X-Men. I don’t know if they intended for this to be as creepy as it reads, but man is it creepy for me to read.
I may also be taking this hard because Jeff Lemire is one of my favorite writers in comics right now. Please go out and pick up Descender if you haven’t yet. It’s great. Also Plutona. Or if you didn’t get around to Sweet Tooth when that was coming out, pick up the trades.
Want a book that is absolutely killing it in terms of how to write a gay superhero right in every possible way? Read Steve Orlando on Midnighter. Issue seven came out last week, and every single one of his issues have addressed Midnighter as being gay in some way or another while not distracting from the main plot of Midnighter needing to kick ass and take names. If you aren’t already reading Midnighter, please pick it up. This book deserves the support of every single reader that wants to see an LGBTQ character in a comic done right.
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.