By TERREECE M. CLARKE
My dad was into comic books. He had huge stacks of weekly adventures and I will never forget the day he brought a few of those stacks to us. My sister and I sat at home lamenting the awful itchiness of an 80’s era chicken pox outbreak that laid waste to the majority of St. Ann’s Elementary School.
It was Easter break and instead of coloring eggs and biting off chocolate bunny ears while wearing our shiny patent leather shoes reserved for Easter Sunday, we were stuck in our rooms. My dad swooped in like a superhero in his own right, stopping by long enough to check on us, carefully scratch an unreachable spot and drop off a massive stack of color and adventure.
Wonder Woman and Storm from X-Men, Firestorm and Black Panther got my attention first and after I had read and re-read all of those, I was still left with a huge pile of ‘other’ comics. Looking back I can see a pattern. I have always sought out characters that I could I identify with – those with similar stories, interests, race, gender, etc. I liked Superman and everyone loves the Hulk (shout out to my bae Lou Ferrigno), but I could never understand why there were no Black Panther Underoos.
“Comic books, graphic novels and superheroes represent wish fulfillment for people of all ages and backgrounds, which is why superhero movies, conventions like Comic-Con and superhero products continue to sell out. We all want to be the hero or the person that makes a difference,” Television director and creator of the Legend of the Mantamaji series, Eric Dean Seaton, said. “Fantasy and fiction is best when it’s based on something people can relate to. People of color were an afterthought in Superhero or Sci-Fi/Fantasy stories.”
Comic-Con’s Big Diversity Announcements
This summer leading up to Comic-Con San Diego—one of the biggest events in superhero-dom— diversity in comics was a hot topic. Thor was recast as a woman. Falcon—a black superhero—stepped into the role as America’s shield-wielding representative, Captain America. Wonder Woman’s rebooted character and costume were revealed as a part of the upcoming Batman versus Superman film.
So why now? What has changed? Why is the exclusive world of superheroes becoming more inclusive?
I’d love to say it’s because the big publishers have suddenly awoken to the fundamental importance of inclusion as a societal responsibility. In reality, the monetary benefits are too big to ignore.
Money, Minorities and Superhero Magic
Comics that have become more inclusive have garnered commercial success. According to Vulture.com, Marvel Entertainment’s latest X-Men books rake in big dollars monthly with a cast of characters who have become increasingly multicultural, half of which are women. There was even a blow-out same sex wedding last year.
Additionally, Pakistani-American student Kamala Khan became the first Muslim Ms. Marvel and her story has gone on to a rare sixth printing, which is a big deal in the comic book world, topping the Spiderman issue that featured President Obama which only made it to a fifth printing.
What’s Missing in Superhero Diversity
While the announcements were welcomed by most, there were a vocal few puritanical comic fans who swore the same comics in which heroes routinely die, become reborn, lose their powers and travel to alternative universes had strayed too far from their roots. It also bears noting that the changes to cornerstone characters will, in time, be reversed, like all major changes in comic book history. For real diversity, new characters of multicultural backgrounds need to be developed and long standing characters of color need an opportunity to shine.
“Think about it: ‘Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids’ is still the number one African-American animated franchise, and it’s over 44 years old,” Seaton said. “The most prominent and famous black Marvel characters, “Black Panther” and “Storm,” are 48 and 39 years old. There have been many characters since then and even some good ones out today, but nobody has truly broken the glass ceiling and become as popular as those Marvel characters or DC Entertainment’s black character, “Cyborg,” who is 34 years-old.”
Additionally, DC, the other big comic publisher, is lagging behind Marvel in comic innovation and the films from both studios have overwhelmingly rejected many of the strides in diversity comics have made over the years in favor of the traditional, white, hetero-male, alpha hero.
In a post for The Good Men Project, “Why Hollywood Would Make Way More Money If It Had Black Superheroes,” writer Adam Pliskin outlined the case for the economic and social impact of increasing the number of multicultural and gendered superheroes on the big screen, citing the rising number of black moviegoers and the decline of white moviegoers in recent years. My favorite line:
“It’s also important to note that 80 percent of the films that African-Americans see do not feature predominantly black casts. So get that notion out of your head that black people only go to the movies to see Tyler Perry dress up like an old woman… The point is that people want to see their own cultural experiences reflected in art, on the big screen, at 24 frames per second. They want to feel represented. They want to have a communal, cathartic experience. And they want to see people they can relate to blow sh*t up. They also want their children to have proper cinematic role models. What does it say to young African-Americans if all the people they emulate from the movies are white? How will that affect their thinking when they eventually become men and women in the world?”
That’s right, I want to see a black woman with locs blow some sh*t up in the name of truth and justice. I want to see an Hispanic man fly through the air and laser something with his eyeballs and I want my son to see a brotha throw down on Asgard (Hey Idris, hey boo).
How to Get More Color in Your Superheroes
- Ask for it. Money talks and social media provides a megaphone. Let the folks at Marvel and DC know you want your babies to see themselves saving the world. Email them here and here and follow them on Twitter: @Marvel and @DCComics.
- Support diverse comics and characters by buying the merch when it’s available.
- Follow along with WeAreComics.tumbr.com and share your comics story.
- Support independent comic publishers, creators and reviewers who are far and away more representative of the diversity in the world. Here is a small, limited list:
- Legend of the Mantamaji by And…Action! Entertainment
- Lowriders In Space Facebook page
- Guide to Multicultural Resources – Billy Ireland Museum at The Ohio State University
- Concrete Park website
- Diversity in Graphic Novels and Comics – compiled by Indiana University Southeast
- Strawberry Scented Burnout
- Black Writers & Artists
- Women Write About Comics.com
Share this article and others that keep this important conversation going:
- So Why Aren’t There More Gay Superheroes?
- Marvel’s Diversity Issue: Screen Output Doesn’t Reflect Open-minded Comics
- Why Diversity in Comics is Much More Important Than You Think
- The online push for greater diversity in books and comics
- Shifting diversity of comic characters a sign of the times
- DC Comics’ Diversity Crisis: Why the Status Quo Rules
- The Color Barrier
- Everybody In Spandex: On Diversity And Superhero Comics
Terreece M. Clarke is a freelance writer/journalist for a variety of magazines, newspapers and websites and a rocking’ wife and mother of three. Follow her on Twitter: @terreece!
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.