Moderator-Swapping at Panel on Diversity in Comics Reflective of Current Trend
With a switching out of moderators, from a white guy, to a black man, to a woman, a recent panel discussion seemed to have reflected a current trend in comic books. “Diversity in Comics” a panel at the recent Long Beach Comic Con started off with Mike Wellman moderating, giving way to Brandon Easton, who then handed the microphone to Barbara Randall Kesel, seemed to have imitate, whether purposefully or otherwise, a trend whereby certain white guys in comics are swapped out for someone of another gender, race, or religion. “Things are twisting and changing,” remarked Kesel, about the broader diversity trends in comics, but could have referred to the panel, as well.
“There’s a trend happening in comic books that the main characters were white men,” observed Wellman, “but now it’s changing.” Not everyone agreed that this trend was necessarily a good one.
In addition to the moderators, Ray-Anthony Height, MoM MA, David Greenfield, and Bill Campbell added their voices on the panel. Campbell pointed out that, when switching out characters, it could make the black character seem weaker, such as when Sam Wilson became Captain America and needed help. Sometimes, with women, they can seem as simply a sexual object, as in the new Captain Marvel comic, observed MA. “Women don’t function only as sexual objects,” she pointed out. Easton also observed that simply swapping out isn’t helpful, “because the issues a man is facing is not the same as women face.” Moreover, Easton opined, “What’s really going to kill the comics industry is nostalgia” – not racism, homophobia, sexism, etc. “We need to get newer characters,” Easton added.
Nevertheless, pointed out MA, “Having these characters come in is still a signal for the industry.” Now, said MA, “With the increase in inclusivity at Marvel, people are now looking at DC.” The diversity has to not just take place inside of the comic, she pointed out, “It needs to happen in the comic and behind the comic.”
Comics can serve as an important medium, as they “become these spaces of understanding,” said MA. “It’s all about action and empowering people”, she added. “Even within the women community, we need to embrace diversity,” said MA. “I find it strange that people don’t want to work for women,” said Easton, “since I have always had women bosses.” However, “I don’t think it’s necessarily that men are bad, but there’s a Peter Pan complex that’s ingrained,” he said. Indeed, “One of the things we really need to deal with is a prolonged adolescence that’s at play,” said Easton, that men don’t want women to be their bosses. “I do believe wholeheartedly that it’s an issue,” added Easton.
If people feel that there are not enough characters out there who represent them or need to be out there, why not create them? “We can create the heroes for the next generation,” said Greenfield. Height added, “I always say ‘Do it yourself. Who’s stopping you?'” “The message I’m trying to get out,” said Campbell,” is ‘He who controls the narrative holds the power’. As minorities, we’re often the victims of culture, so having more people allowed to add their voices is the most powerful thing to me.” Further, added Campbell, “If your presence isn’t wanted or expected, your presence is a protest.”
Sometimes, when creating characters, an important pitfall to avoid is that of tokenism. “When you build a character on an adjective, they become shallow,” said Kesel. Whether that adjective is “black”, “woman”, or “Muslim”, the character should be more than just about the adjective, she said, rather they should have a lot of descriptors and full characters. “We create the models for what the next generation wants to be,” she said. “I like the fact that people are writing about all these different issues,” said Greenfield, whether they be about color, LGBT, or anything else. “There’s a really, really, really rich cultural heritage.”
One issue that came up was that of a lot of people saying they would be interested in a product, and then not buying it. This was especially discussed by Easton (similar to his remarks two years ago on a similarly-themed panel), especially for comics that are made by black people: “I feel like once we put the product on the market, people don’t buy it. All these black people online say they’re going to buy it then they don’t. I feel like it’s still a crab in the bucket mentality – we talk big about it, but we don’t buy them.”
It can be tough for the creators, said Easton: “Making comics is hard work and you do all this hard work and put it out on the market and people don’t like it. There’s this vociferous, constant putting-down of the stuff that black people create,” which can be very frustrating. “You don’t have to constantly say you don’t like something; I’m always hyping stuff that’s good. I’m never negative.” Then again, Easton observed, “That’s a geek-wide problem, everyone’s negative.”
Despite the frustrations, there was a lot of hope and the audience had a great time with the panelists. It was a fully-packed room and the topic clearly deserved more space. Due to the intimate space, fortunately, it allowed for a high degree of interaction between the audience and the panelists. It was a good discussion with