#BlackComicsMonth Diversity In Comics NYCC 2015 Panel
Pop quiz hot shot. Name 5 minority super heroes in 10 seconds!
Did you pass? Well, many comic book fans would find it hard to do despite considering themselves hard core fans. Flip the script and try to name 5 minority comic book writers or artists and the task is even harder. This is an issue that has been a part of the comic book industry (especially for Marvel and DC Comics) for far too long. There is and has been a longstanding push to remedy this but the progress has been slim.
In an attempt to bring more light to this issue MizCaramelVixen has become one of the voices for the need for diversity as she hosted the Diversity In Comics NYCC 2015 panel.
“Diversity is about race, sure, but it’s also about gender, sexual orientation, disability, mental illness and so much more,” Vixen said. “All of those voices that tend to get marginalized or silenced — we want them to be able to speak loud and clear in comics. There are stories from these voices that no one else can tell with the same insight, and people need to hear them.”
At NYCC 2015, MizCaramelVixen herself, founder of the #BLACKCOMICSMONTH movement and website, hosted a panel of comic book creators and artists to address this issue. Passionate about bringing about the awareness of people of color (POCs) in the comic book industry, she organized Black Comics Month this past February. Dismayed by the lackluster response and determined to not make the effort a one month a year grind, she cracked her knuckles and began an effort to make EVERY month is Black Comics Month. While MizCaramelVixen’s #BlackComicsMonth effort may be in its infant stages, the push for diversity has been around for years. Unfortunately, change (in the hallowed halls of the big publishers) has been slow going despite the recent ramp. The result has brought about a swell of support from many angles leading up to this panel as a stepping stone towards diversity as a norm in the comics industry.
The panelists included the following amazing talent:
David Walker – Writer of comics such as Shaft (Dynamite Entertainment), Cyborg (DC Comics), and recently announced Powerman And Iron Fist (Marvel), Mr. Walker began his segment explaining the importance of the repetition of panels such as this one. While some of the participants (or even con attendees) may see a ‘diversity in comics’ panel at every comic convention, Mr. Walker stated that, “The truth is always new to someone.” While he may have felt exhausted by going to numerous cons in the past few months, the message of the need for more diversity in not only stories but in storytellers has to be echoed as much as possible until the existence of such is the norm. Not only that, he wanted to stress that diversity was more than a buzzword or hashtag. At times, companies have seemed to latch on to the term with intentions that may not have been as genuine as the movement should be. Mr. Walker went on to explain that diversity is an ideology that is manifested in how we all see each other. We all come from different walks of life and it is important to see ourselves represented in the media we consume so as to mitigate that feeling of exclusion and loneliness.
Jeremy Whitley – As the writer of the Eisner Award winning all-ages comic book Princeless from Action Lab Entertainment, Jeremy Whitley was concerned about the representation of little 5 year old girls in comics. As the father of one himself, his heartfelt comments spoke to the need for positive visualization as well as representation of women in comics as the hero. He beautifully relayed that when “you think of women as heroes you begin to have different ideas of what they can and can’t be.”
Mikki Kendall – As Mikki Kendall stepped up to the plate, a graphic showing the ground-breaking new comic Bitch Planet and Swords of Sorrow flashed on the screen to the right of the panel. Bitch Planet is one of those shock therapy titles that deals directly with unique and realistic portrayals of women of all sizes and colors. Tack on that you have feminist or empowering essays at the end of each title and you have a powerful and meaningful comic that is unlike any other. Mikki Kendall had of those impressive essays in the comic and is also the writer of one of the Swords of Sorrow comics. So when Mikki stepped to the mic, the tone got ‘real’ quick.
“When you teach a people that they are not normal because of how they are born, you dehumanize them from the jump.”
She continued her soapbox moment by describing the importance of POC representation via an example evidenced by her son’s love of Dwayne Mcduffie’s Static Shock. He was passionate about the character and wanted nothing more than to deck his room and resume of toys with the character yet the merchandising just wasn’t there. The main argument back then was there wasn’t a market. After seeing that she noted the importance of her sons seeing themselves as heroes. The odd thing about marketing is that the more that you promote and get those visuals out there, the more popular a character like Static Shock can be. I clearly remember the cartoon that Static Shock had and it was well written and enjoyable. It was a shame that it didn’t last considering the void of POC driven cartoons AND comics. She said if the establishment won’t make it, then make it yourself.
“If you can’t find ‘you’ in a book, then start writing” – Mikki Kendall “Put yourself out there so that you can help someone else and help yourself”
Christine Dinh – As the brand manager at BOOM! Studios, Christine stressed that diversity is important because it provides positive representations of women, a la the studio’s recent release of Lumberjanes, where the focus isn’t making women a love interest but instead focusing on friendships. She explained that the 8-12 year old demographic of little girls is ravenous for reading and that indie comic studios are showing the mainstream studios that there is a market there and they need more representation of themselves as well.
Afua Richardson – As an artist with a wide range of talents, Afua can serenade you with a song, draw your portrait, and then write a new song about the experience! As an African/Native American illustrator, she is one of the few POCs that has worked for Marvel , DC and Image comics as a penciler, inker and colorist. In this discussion, she began talking about the significance of her Top Cow project, Genius, featuring a black female protagonist named Destiny from South Central Los Angeles. As a tactical genius, she manages to unite the many gangs of L.A. and take over a part of South Central… by force. Of course this means the story involves the exposing and killing of corrupt police officers. Coming out 3 days before the unfortunate events in Ferguson, she stressed that diversity means proper representation. Noting that no one people can be defined by one image or visual, it is important to have that fact reflected in media simply because a lot of people get their ideas about a type of people through media. This can empower the youth to recognize the endless opportunities they have by showing them characters that look like them doing a variety of great things. It can also break down stereotypes and misconceptions that are all important in combating prejudice and racism.
Chad L Coleman – As the beloved character named “Tyrese” of the hit comic book TV adaptation The Walking Dead, Chad joined the panel as a representative of a new comic book called Treadwater. Rather than delving into the details of the story, Chad Coleman stressed that his interest in the project was born in how the story showcases a diverse cast of characters with the intent of exploring all of their stories as they come together throughout the futuristic storyline. As he spoke, MizCaramelVixen stressed that diversity is defined as more than just a race thing. Both she and Chad explained that it is any group of people that are blatantly excluded.
Scott Snyder – Writer of the impressive and influential Batman #44 issue where The Dark Knight deals with issues like #BlackLivesMatter and more, Scott is the embodiment of representation of those dealing with mental illness (more specifically depression). After sharing a touching moment with MizCaramelVixen, who suffers from depression and panic attacks herself, Scott explained how comics helped him find ‘light’. Often times it takes a variety of angles to attempt to bring someone out of that dark cloud that is depression. Scott explained that comics were a way to see past his ‘hatred of himself’. He was intimidated to write his Batman story and had to get over that feeling of not being ‘good enough’ in order to bring one of the most unique Batman stories written in a long time.
Shawn Pryor – Despite seeing his resume grow (founder of PKDmedia and Action Lab Entertainment) he felt more and more isolated and decided to take a break (2014). He repeatedly described the comic book industry as being ‘cold blooded’ and is living testament of the talented ability of POCs in the comic book industry. After attending many comic conventions as well as other events, he recognized his own importance as a POC in the comic industry (and thru the help and encouragement of MizCaramelVixen herself) returned to create Crowntaker Studios which publishes his new comic book Cash & Carrie.
His soapbox moment came after the mention of the hip hop covers that Marvel announced a few months ago and the controversy that it sparked. He explained that his ‘issue’ with the effort stemmed from the small percentage of POCs doing the artwork as well as the misleading perception that Marvel portrayed when announcing the variant covers. When released, there statements insinuated that Marvel and hip hop have been ‘down’ or ‘side by side’ for quite some time which isn’t true. He continued to explain that he hopes that this effort is a progression towards more POCs on Marvel projects rather than it just being a ‘flavor of the month’ campaign to feign their diversity efforts.
Steve Orlando – As the writer of gay heroes such as Virgil (Image Comics) and Midnighter (DC Comics), Steve Orlando spoke of how it is impossible to holistically represent a group of people with one character. To remedy this he explained that you build a cast of characters that explore those various dimensions to vary the experiences portrayed. His groundbreaking comic Virgil is evidence of this and more as it is a queersploitation view of anti-gay sentiment in Jamaica which is a very real thing today. These characters of diversity are empowering in that they exhibit to the readers they represent a sense of hope that they can do anything.
Mildred Louis – As the writer and illustrator of the crowdfunded webcomic Agents Of The Realm, she echoed the panel in stressing that she wanted to see more representation of women like herself in comics. Begun as a joke as she awaited her favorite anime Magical Girl (which got its inspiration from the show Bewitched), she soon saw the importance of stories like that and Sailor Moon and wanted to see a similar format featuring Black, Hispanic, and Asian women represented. Her message was that the big two publishers are the only avenues for POCs to get into comics and that you need only to look to find more like minded minorities trying to do just the same thing.
The panel was certainly eye opening and inspirational on a topic that can often times be controversial and divisive. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case and the result was an overwhelming feeling of empowerment and ‘get up and go’. With the tools of self publishing, various internet forums and Facebook groups, and more, there are so many ways that one can bring their own story to life.
Watch the whole thing unfold here – #Blackcomicsmonth Diversity In Comics NYCC2015 panel
In an effort to stimulate this collaboration, be certain to follow and visit the following:
CrownTaker Studios – Shawn Pryor’s latest venture
Zindan: The Last Ansaars – a fantastic story based in Indian culture
Action Lab Entertainment – founded by Shawn Pryor
Legend of the Mantamaji – by Eric Dean Stanton
Afrofuturefest – community of black artists and illustrators including Afua Richardson
The Joshua Run – Featuring Flex Alexander
Blue Corn Comics – Native American heroes
Red Wolf – about to receive his first Marvel series soon as a Native American Character
Milestone Media Comics – Home of Static Shock and much more…