Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Comics Blah Blah Comics: The Diversity Issue

One of the most talented writers working in comics today is Gail Simone. Now I'm now just saying that because Gail followed me on Twitter because I asked her to begged her to. Or that I once met her in person and babbled very much like the school boy that I still am inside.  No, Gail is, to my mind, simply a very good writer. 


I say "simply" although no, there's no "simply" to being a good writer, taking whatever combination of talent, skill and work to make words into stories. But I say "simply" because Gail is good at what she does and there are no qualifiers needed. Yet I'm sure she's heard this or something like: "she's one of the best female writers in comics." 


Y'see, Gail is (spoiler!) a girl! 


A little background if I may. My first exposure as a young Dave-El to women working in comics were the coloring credits: Adrienne Roy, Tatjana Wood, Glynis Wein (Oliver). I can't think of any instances in my early days of reading comics of seeing a woman's name anywhere else in the credits other than as a colorist.  


Maybe I thought that made sense. My experience as a young boy taught me that girls were better at staying inside the lines than boys.  


Actually I remember the first time I saw a woman's name in the credits as a pencil artist and that was Ramona Fradon and that was in the pages of Super Friends. 


You know, the kids book. 


I have no problem with women in comics. It was just that my little male mind was use to seeing names like Gerry and Len and Steve and John and Curt and more: the names of men. So it was always a little weird when someone of the female gender popped up as a writer or an artist. Not wrong, just weird. 


Yet to my thinking, women in comics were a good thing. When Jeanette Kahn took over as publisher of DC Comics, things began to get exciting. New books, new formats, new ways of telling stories came out during her time. Yeah, the dreaded DC Implosion happened on her watch but that just goes to show that bad stuff can happen to male AND female executives. And she rolled with that punch and DC just got better than ever. 


Two of my favorite books, Swamp Thing and Legion of Super Heroes, were overseen by editor Karen Berger. Yeah, it caught my attention that a woman was editing these books. But ultimately what counted was these were some damn fine comics; it didn't matter the gender of the editor. And whenever I saw the credit "Karen Berger, Editor", I knew I had a good comic book in my hands. 


Still, it seemed that women in comics were for too long the exception, the oddity, the aberration. Change has come to the comics industry and at the forefront of that movement has been Gail Simone. But that change has not occurred without significant struggle and effort.  


Here are some recent Tweets from Gail on the subject of diversity of characters in comics and the writers who imagine their adventures. 


5m
The weird thing about diversity in comics is...people are more comfortable with diverse characters if the writer is not from that group.


12m
The audience seems to be more on board with lgbtq characters when the writer is straight, females when the writer's a guy, POC when white.

10m
And writers from marginalized groups have the additional concern of being stereotyped as a chick writer, a black writer, a gay writer, etc.



        There are those who see a female writer or black writer or a gay writer when paired with a female character or a black character or a gay character and the thought turns to "they have an agenda". I imagine there have been writers who in fact have had a particular ax to grind but I think most are talented enough and self-aware enough not to go to that well. But the impression of promoting a personal agenda, now matter how unfounded, persists. 


        Yet it's not so easy for the straight white male to mix things up either. Now the "agenda" goes from personal to corporate, a cold calculated outreach to a new demographic. Diversity becomes like adding Poochy to the Itchy and Scratchy Show: nobody's buying it.  


        And it doesn't help matters when the straight white male is one of those "let's get things back to basic" guys. The problem is the roots of a lot of comics is from an era when pretty much every body was from the same 1950's white guy template. The upshot is that these "return to basics" guys wind up overseeing things like Hispanic Green Lantern replaced by White Green Lantern, Asian Atom replaced by White Atom, Black Firestorm replaced by White Firestorm, etc.  


        So either characters are getting whitewashed back to basics or diversity becomes a big politically correct stick to hit people over the head with. And in the latter case, you're damned if you do (you're a writer from that group with a personal agenda) and damned if you don't (you're just making a blatant stab at a mandated agenda).  


        The situation with diversified characters is like that of diversified writers: it has been worse, it's getting better but it can be better still.  


        The world is not an homogenized place. If comics books are to survive, prosper, the people on the page as well as the people who put them on the page need to reflect that world. But ultimately true success in this regard will be met when we we're less concerned on who writes what for what personal or corporate agenda and more about the most basic thing: Is it any good?

        Dave-El 
        I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You 

        _____________________________________

        Tuesday, fans got word of something that I can only greet with the following statement: 

        "It's about damned time!"

        DC announced the debut of a new digital first title, Sensation Comics Starring Wonder Woman. In the manner of the soon to be lamented and lost Adventures of Superman, this title will post a series of Wonder Woman adventures by a variety of writers and artists not bound to any particular style or continuity. Like the Superman book, I'm hoping this title will have a broad appeal, a Wonder Woman book that I'm actually not embarrassed to show to my daughter.  

        I will definitely be putting the print book on my pull list at Acme Comics

        For more on this announcement, click here for this piece at Comics Alliance.

        Way to go, WW!  

        Everyone, be good to one another. 

        _____________________________________

        Tomorrow: the debut of... It Came Thru Bruce Wayne's Window! 

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