The San Diego Comic Convention has come and gone. Many have taken the time in the days following the convention to reflect on the current state of the industry and ponder what the future holds. I was thrilled by some accounts and disheartened by others, but I still see a future for the industry that is strong and sustainable, and one where women and people of color play a part in it.
No, I am not sacrificing realism for optimism. I am aware of Marvel’s “leaking” of hints of a Black Panther movie that shows no signs of coming to fruition—leaks that conveniently occurred after fan grumbling over the marketing of minority characters (a choice example being the debut of sneakers paying tribute to Marvel’s famed Nazi villain the Red Skull and Z-list X-Man Chamber, while characters such as Luke Cage, Shang Chi, and White Tiger are denied any type of product placement). I am aware of claims from Marvel representatives who discuss the difficulty of translating Wakanda to film, and yet indicated no difficulty in bringing Asgard to the silver screen. Yet I am also aware that these representatives do the best they can, wading through red tape and battling bigoted executives, to make even minor changes in how we tell stories and shape worlds. Tied hands can only do so much. White lies are given so that consumers do not bear the brunt of the brutal racism these men and women encounter in the boardroom.
Luckily, there are a slew of individuals with hands no longer bound. And we are at a point where the industry is at its most fluid. The line between creator and consumer has blurred—no longer visible. At Davis’ Black Panel a woman lamented a lack of characters reflecting her life and world. Just as Davis indicated, she has the power to change that. She can write. She can sponsor projects that intrigue her via Kickstarter. She can search for existing books that are simply waiting for her eyes to light upon them. We can have the comics that tell our stories. No, they may not come brandished with a recognizable logo on the cover, but why is a logo so important? Logos can no longer buy the security of a built-in audience; a list of recently cancelled titles provides evidence of that. And while the backing of a major company can help in regards to marketing and access to consumers, there are alternatives available to self-publishers.
At the last convention I attended, the New York Comic Convention, I was thrilled by the diversity I found. There were individuals of all backgrounds creating comics, bringing their unique perspectives to the medium. And the collection of consumers was equally diverse. Rich Johnston indicated in his post-convention review that this has carried over to San Diego’s festivities, and I certainly do not doubt his account. However, I keenly remember at NYCC that the diversity I found behind the table was located away from the main exhibitions in areas such as Artist Alley. Moreover, the credits in mainstream comics recently produced have shown no indication of change. If larger publishers are hiring black individuals in greater numbers, those men and women certainly are not determining who Black Panther shall battle next month, who Spider-Man shall kiss, or whether Luke Cage will lead his team to victory. We are not hired to shape worlds. Should a black writer at a mainstream publisher be found—one that is not currently on a book hurtling towards cancellation—I will gladly withdraw my statement.
In the past this would have concerned me greatly. Today, mainstream publishers no longer provide benefits unavailable elsewhere. The number of exclusive contracts has dwindled. There is no health insurance to enjoy. Creative freedom has given way to editorial edicts. So why not hone one’s skill via self-publishing through Kickstarter or use a smaller, alternative publisher to build one’s name?
I am aware of the importance of mainstream visibility—for men and women of all backgrounds to be seen as heroes and have their stories told. But given the success of individuals such as Tyler Perry and Shonda Rhimes, I have to wonder if established channels are the route to achieving said visibility—especially when we are clearly not considered part of the establishment. No matter what the medium, there are other options available waiting to be chosen.