The other day I wrote about the importance of gender representation on the creator panels at NYCC. Today I’m writing about the importance of representation beyond gender in comics.
We hear so much about superhero comics designed for the straight white males. But the audience for comics extends far beyond that audience. And for those readers finding someone like them, a character representative of them is important. I’ve written in the past about my personal experience with struggling to have my son find someone “like him” in comics. The great Dwayne McDuffie created Milestone Comics because he couldn’t find anyone who looked like him comics.
And during NYCC, I found a wonderful example of the joy of it for another person. While waiting for the Women of Marvel panel to start I noticed the woman in front of me in costume. It took a second or two to figure out who she was cosplaying but I finally got and asked her if she was Karma from Astonishing X-Men. She smiled and said, “yes.” I asked her given that Karma wasn’t as well know as other characters if she had some meaning for her and she said that when started reading comics she wanted to find someone “like me.” She found Karma who is not only Vietnamese, as she was, but queer too.
Marjorie Liu, who is currently writing Karma, was on the Marvel panel and the woman had the copy of Astonishing X-Men which featured Karma on the cover which she wanted Liu to sign. She posed for me as Karma was on the cover and you can see just awesome her costume was.
After I chatted with this woman (and I apologize for not getting her name) I spoke to a young man sitting next to me who was an intern for Out magazine. He had just written a piece about gays and comics ahead of the NYCC. We spoke about Alan Scott and I explained to him who Obsidian was and what the status of Starling was in comics.
He was also there to see Marjorie Liu and he had copies of both the engagement and wedding issues of Astonishing X-Men.
Clearly this comic meant something to both of them beyond a good superhero tale; it meant representation.
The idea of the importance of representation in comics came up during the Women Of Marvel in Marjorie Liu’s comments on the panel about diversity. She note that she’s half-Chinese and wants to see more diversity in comics. When you look at the diversity of readership,yes of course, I want comics to reflect the real world.”
While I walked around the hallways of NYCC I saw a diverse set of attendees beyond just white males. NYCC PR says 40% of the attendees were women. I’m not surprised. But I also saw many men and women of color.
I saw another example of the diversity of attendees and the desire for representation at the one panel at NYCC that focused on queer characters. ”Gay Marriage In Comics - Revolutionary Or A Step Backwards?” When I arrived at the room I did a double take as the line for the panel was almost as long as one I had stood for DC’s new 52 panel stretching back into the larger hallway. Given that I’ve walked in and found a seat at many other comics panels that weren’t part of Marvel or DC, I was genuinely and pleasantly surprised at the size of turnout which ended up so big that people were sitting on the floor.
Here’s a look via Prism Comics who sponsored the panel:
The panel, moderated by Chance Whitmore of Prism, consisted of Paul Krupperberg and Dan Parent of Archie Comics, Joan Hilty, a former editor at DC and the creator of the comic “Bitter Girl” and self-declared “Professional Homosexual” Phil Jimenez, former artist and writer of Wonder Woman and currenty drawing Fairest. There was a lively discussion of what the state of the state of queers in comics this past year. The marriages of Kevin Keller and of Northstar made news outside of the traditional comics media and would seem to point towards new levels of acceptance.
While there are more stories featuring gays the challenge according to Jimenez is that “the stakes are high in superhero comics as they are set up with “white alpha males.” As a result, he said, there’s a “propensity for new characters, such as gays, to represent the entire group. As a result there is a tendency to “be more careful” with the characters and why we see few gay villains.”
Ultimately Jimenez says publishers are motivated towards including gay characters by money “if they think they’ll make money they’ll put that queer shit out there. It may be ham fisted but they’ll do it.”
But he also noted that it will probably continue to be safe characters like one of the many Green Lanterns and doubting they’ll ever be a gay Robin.
I was taken with Jimenez’s comments about change coming if comic publishers think they can make money. Looking at the diverse make-up of the attendees at NYCC, looking at the great number of women, at the sea of non-white faces walking the halls and attending the panels, at the standing room only audience on gays in comics it’s clear there is an audience beyond the traditional superhero comic reader.
I believe there is financial upside for both DC and Marvel in stepping outside their traditional demographic for sales. The ground work is being done in building representation, but how can the potential audience and content be brought together? I thought DC would make strides in launching the new 52 last year but unfortunately they seemed to end up exactly where they started with an audience. I was disappointed that diversity didn’t seem to be a topic at the big publisher’s panels and that if you did want a discussion on race or diversity it was mainly at panels designed for the topic.
Over the past year both Marvel and DC have worked towards increasing the diversity of their books. New characters like Kate Kane, Bunker, Batwing, Miles Morales, the new Black Orchid and the focus on existing characters like Katana and Northstar and Karma make it easier for readers outside the traditional comics demographic to find representation. There’s still much work to do, however. There is no trans representation, for example, and the handing of diverse characters varies from writer to writer.
So why is there a disconnect in the focus publishers have on one key demographic and versus the potential readers? I don’t know. Are sales for publishers just fine the way they are? Is there fear that they’ll alienate the base?
Whatever the answer I hope they figure it out and grab the money sitting on the table. It will lead to a more stable business where growth is ongoing and organic.
What do you think? Is representation in comics important to you? Do your comics fulfill your need or do you feel there is still a big disconnect? Or do you think all comics owes you is a good story?