Panel on Race in Comics at the Long Beach Comic Con
A panel discussion to consider race in comics took place yesterday morning at the annual Long Beach Comic Con. A panel as part of the Hero Complex room, “Race in Comics” was moderated by Jevon Phillips and featured Marc Bernardin, Alex Segura, Matt Wayne, Brandon Easton, and Will J. Watkins. It was an enjoyable panel that discussed various aspects of the comic book industry that relate to race and the various issues with getting a more diverse selection of characters in them.
A big focus of the discussion centered on the problems of comic books primarily showing white people, although that is not reflective of society around us, as Marc Bernardin pointed out: “Any medium should be reflective of life and society; what about a kid who picks up comics and doesn’t see anybody who looks like them or reflects them?” Indeed, as Jevon Phillips pointed out, “images affect people in their daily lives, in general.” Phillips inquired if “having more minorities in executive positions” would help there be a more representative set of characters, to which Alex Segura responded, “I think it helps but, I think, as a rule, you want it to be representative. You don’t want it to be inauthentic.” If the executives only see the same sorts of folks around them, then they are going to want characters that reflect what they see.
Another piece of the discussion was about accessing comic books, especially in the inner city. “We also have to talk about the accessibility of comics (black kids aren’t generally going to comic books stores),” said Brandon Easton, then broadening the conversation to not just inner city, but to all kids. “We also have to think about how kids can get to comic book stores, in general. How do we get comic books to the people?” Easton also pointed out a fascinating shift of “comic book stores to being just comic books to a pop culture store, with movies, cards, and more; which is similar to what’s going on with conventions” not just being about comics, but pop culture, in general.
Will J. Watkins, who was the first black owner of a comic book shop in Chicago, said that he wasn’t used to seeing fellow people of color in comic book shops but, after opening it, he found it to be a source of pride for people and that it was significant to the community. Still, as Matt Wayne pointed out, “Things are incrementally better, but it’s not matching the readership, nor is it matching society at-large.”
Clearly, though, production of comics involving different types of characters are up to the creators, however, as Easton pointed out, “there’s a series of steps and obstacles as an independent creator and very few people are going to know about you. There’s some really great stuff coming out, but people just don’t know about what’s coming out. They might be there and people might even be interested, but they have no idea that it’s there to buy.” Marc Bernardin, who created a comic book, “Genius #1”, said that he had had trouble shopping it around in 2007 and finally got it accepted, but then it took six years to come to market. However, once it did, it was timed just right to coincide with the riots in Ferguson, the imagery of which, he was surprised, could have come straight out of his book!
Easton pointed out that there are lots of products on the market that people want, but they may not know that they’re out there: “People of color want this and that on the market, but then there’s no support for these products…. We have to start looking at people who are already creating things and support those who we like what they’re doing.” Bernadin also pointed out that you may be “used to create things as you’ve grown up with them, but you’ve got to push yourself to go beyond that.”
Easton also showed off the trailer for his documentary movie, “Brave New Souls: Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Writers of the 21st Century”, which he had shot in 2013 and premiered it in May at CSULA.
Some further comments in the discussion that I found of interest:
- Easton: The “Hip-Hop Effect” – “On a general perspective, when people would talk about Hip-Hop, it would be gangster rap – they’re doing the same thing with minority-created comic books. Comic books created by minority creators are not all about n*s in the hood.”
- Easton: “Any great character-writing needs to understand what they want versus what they need
for writing about someone in a particular socioeconomic situation, you need to understand them.”
- Easton: “You shouldn’t do Sesame Street casting”, where everybody has one representative.
- Bernardin: “There are so many ways to scratch your comic itch than having to go to a comic book store and picking one up: you can watch a movie, you can play a video game, etc.” so less people are going to comic book stores these days.
- Bernardin: “Comic books are the cheapest form of story development to see if it works.” “Something you might want to do is to create a calling card of your products in different media to show off your work – do one thing and do it really well: then you can branch out from there into other media.”
- Bernardin: “Maybe some of these people who are hiring in corporate comics should be forced to meet and consider some minority candidates” like the NFL mandates.