Random keystrokes.

Does participating in a certain fandom mean that you are less likely to enjoy what the fandom is centered upon over time? I notice that I haven’t been getting much enjoyment out of comics lately. Could it be that the more you interact with other fans, even if those interactions are positive, the more you become focused on the fandom itself instead of on the object the fandom should be focused upon? I wonder, because it seems as if what I talk about most I enjoy least. And what I enjoy the most is rarely mentioned at all.

I am damn near obsessed with both The Sims 2 and the Grand Theft Auto series. And yet I’ve never been to a video game convention. I can’t remember the last time I posted on a message board dedicated to either franchise. And I can probably count the number of times I’ve mentioned either game on this blog on one hand. I don’t talk about the stacks of books by Andrew Vachss and Michael Connelly sitting in my bookcase. No posts about my ridiculous dance music collection. I don’t go to dance clubs. I don’t belong to any Prison Break or Venture Bros. message boards.

I suppose the secret to long-lasting enjoyment is to share what you enjoy with as few people as possible. Wait, that sounds horrible. Let me think of another way to put that. No, on second thought, that sounds about right. Recommend what you like and keep it moving.

Fantastic Four #547

Most men will not experience a moment such as the one depicted above. In fact, most women will probably be able to avoid such a moment as well. So, why was Storm selected? The writer, Dwayne McDuffie, was inspired to write the scene after his wife was subjected to a similar incident. Black women in particular are asked invasive questions or have rude comments made about their hair with an amazing frequency.

How do you get your hair to do that? Is that your real hair? Can I touch it? That’s a weave, right?

These are unbelievably obnoxious questions that most members of other groups simply don’t have to fend off as often—if at all. And when we get angry or upset because of the repeated rude comments or personal questions, it’s not because we’re vain or obsessed with our appearance, it’s because we are so frustrated and fed up and wish people would just shut up about it. It’s not about vanity. It’s about disrespect and false assumptions. The scene above wouldn’t work with Rogue, Psylocke, or She-Hulk, because no one would bother asking if those characters had weaves. Women who aren’t black are rarely asked that question. People simply assume that their hair is naturally long. However, the black woman with long, straight hair? Not only would most people make the assumption that her hair is false (which is fine), but many would immediately think that it was perfectly okay to disrespect her by asking her personal questions or making comments about it (which is not fine). I know this from personal experience. This is not just about gender; it is about race and culture as well.

I wonder whether writers should give up on showing the cultural experiences of characters that aren’t white American males when writing mainstream comics simply because those instances might be regarded badly by people who aren’t familiar with the culture in question. Many individuals who read the scene above who were not black women did not have the slightest clue that tactless people all over America were waltzing up to black women and disrespecting them by asking personal questions or making personal statements about their hair. For the people who did not know these incidents frequently occurred, Storm came across as vain or flighty. Yet for many of the black women who have experienced such obnoxious behavior, Storm came across as forceful. Life experience changes the way one views the scene.

And so I thought it was strange that people immediately claimed that Storm wasn’t being written in the “right” way simply because her reaction didn’t connect with the cultural experiences they were bringing to the table—especially when it did connect with many of the black women who have actually experienced events similar to the one depicted.

Improvements I’d like to see in comics.

Characters who have different faces and body types. There is an unbelievable amount of variety in the human population. An artist’s work should reflect that. Artists who have difficulty rendering unique faces should study the photos of a particular model or actress (one who is not prone to extensive plastic surgery) in order to learn how to render a particular feature from many different angles. Do you think Superdude X should have large, expressive eyes? Pull out a dozen photos of an actor you think has that feature and study the way his eyes look at different angles. Using photos taken at live events will probably yield the best and most realistic results. You can’t hide anything from a good digital camera. Do you think Indie-Girl Y should have a lithe frame? Rent a movie featuring an actress you think possesses the same body type. Study the way her body looks as she moves. Take screencaps from the movie to use as references. Studying magazine covers might result in unrealistic body types due to the large amount of airbrushing that occurs.

Characters wearing realistic modern hairstyles and clothing. I’ll be honest and say that this is a difficult request to make in some cases. I understand that companies would like to make sure their most marketable characters keep a uniform look throughout the ages. It’s easier to sell a TPB featuring work from 1993 that way. However, you can keep your characters looking current without piling on the latest trend in every issue. You can give your flagship character a hairstyle that has lasted throughout many fashion upheavals. Bald heads have looked great on Yul, Telly, Avery, and Vin. That’s a hairstyle that has looked current for fifty years! Cornrows have barely changed since they’ve arrived on the scene, and buzzcuts always come back in style (and stick around for years once they do). When you’ve selected a style, see if you can think of celebrities throughout the decades who have worn it successfully. The same goes for clothing. Gigantic bellbottoms come around every twenty years, but the boot cut is forever. T-shirts, tank tops, and V-neck sweaters have been hanging around for decades too.

Of course, if your character isn’t an icon that will be plastered on everything from juice cups to underwear, you can have some fun with his or her look. But remember, some looks go through changes over time. That heroine you created in 1977 is going to look a little strange in 2007 if you don’t crack open a hair care or fashion magazine once in a while. Take Misty Knight for example:

Misty Knight: Three Decades

She’s wearing the same hairstyle (Afro) in all three pictures. But the way women wear that style has changed over the years.

A variety of genres achieving a decent level of promotion and popularity. I’m already seeing creators and companies take tentative steps towards making this happen. There are romance comics being released at Oni. There are crime comics being published at Image. There are manga trade paperbacks available for every genre one could conceive of. I just wish the expansion of these genres would happen at a faster pace and include a more ethnically and racially diverse selection of characters—and creators.

Question of the day.

Are you currently promoting (writing fanfiction, posting scans, creating fan art) or financially supporting (purchasing comics, apparel, and figurines) comic companies that you feel disrespect you? If so, why? What are these companies providing for you that you cannot receive elsewhere?

Diversity and Goliath.

“With respect to Black Goliath, I had some readers protest the fact that a black character was killed off. In Young Avengers/Runaways the complaint came in from some readers who were upset that some of the gay characters were put into torturous peril by the villain of the story. In Marvel Team-Up, Freedom Ring, the lead of the story, who happens to be gay, dies in the series. Let me also add that the majority of those complaints came in from black and gay readers respectfully.

“Now here’s the way I see it. I’m Hispanic, and there is a serious lack of Hispanic representation in comics today, so I’d personally love to see more Hispanics as lead characters or heroes in the future. However, by me asking for and desiring that kind of inclusion into the world of mainstream comics, I have to accept all that comes with that. Heroes are placed into dangerous situations, sometimes heroes get killed, sometimes they get placed into torturous peril and yes, sometimes they get attacked by the Brood. For me to ask for inclusion and then to find exception to the things that come with that inclusion is then in effect me asking for special treatment and exclusion from the process.”

Joe Quesada

Last hired, first fired. Listen up, people. Someone needs to be killed every once in a while—and it needs to be a permanent death. Why? So that death remains meaningful in mainstream comics. So that all of the major heroes can have a panel or two where they get pained looks on their faces, but gather up strength when they remember who they’re fighting for. The dead guy. The one who stays dead. The one who is a minority.

Actually, considering how old the character Goliath is, I suppose my “last hired, first fired” argument doesn’t stand. And I can’t even say that only icons are resurrected, because there certainly are a great deal of second-stringers running around with a new lease on life. I guess I don’t really have an explanation as to why minority characters are killed permanently with greater frequency than straight white characters even though there are fewer of them. That’s special treatment—and it’s not the good kind. Heroes are going to get beaten up, tied up, and killed. That’s just the nature of the job. But why are so many minority characters still worm food while straight, white characters are popping out of coffins on a regular basis? I have to ask this question, because those permanent deaths are what prevents those minority characters from ever reaching icon status—and icons are the only characters that are guaranteed to enjoy immortality (and top billing). After all, we all know that Storm’s never getting knocked off for good. But someone had to keep that character off the chopping block or out of a coffin long enough for her to reach that point.

Still, I must give DC a hand. Apparently they’ve recently recognized this troublesome problem and have fixed it by brutally and permanently killing off second-tier characters of all backgrounds in proportionate amounts. It might not be fair, but it is equal. Bullet holes and alligator bites for all! Yes, I’m being silly, but it’s true. Equality isn’t always sunshine and roses.

Both DC and Marvel should be commended for recently creating some wonderful minority characters. Let’s hope that some of those characters will be able to enjoy long and prosperous lives–or at least a series of short and eventful ones. Because those characters have to stick around and remain visible if they are ever going to truly become an integral part of the universes they reside in. Marvel and DC must make a commitment to those characters and give them time and promotion. An effort must be made to achieve true diversity. If not, you end up with only long-term heroes who are straight and white, and minority characters who are nothing more than an endlessly recyclable source of filler for those heroes to react to. And readers who are looking for true diversity will eventually get fed up and take their business elsewhere.

But perhaps that is a good thing? It would lead to different companies entering the marketplace to provide for those readers, which would lead to even greater variety.

Feminism for all?

I need to stop discussing the Heroes For Hire #14 cover. I know! However, I wanted to mention that when I saw the cover, I quickly thought of the following two images:

So, what do those images have in common? They were likely designed to appeal to the libidos of straight male comic fans. What else do they have in common? Without knowing the identities of the characters depicted, one would not assume that the characters featured were black. During the rare times when black female characters in mainstream comics and science fiction are in a position where they are supposed to appeal to fans physically, their features are often whitewashed. Honestly, I’m a little reluctant to shine a spotlight on the phenomenon, because there actually is a benefit to it. I rarely have to see characters that share my features depicted as sex objects.

While white, Asian, Latina, and biracial female characters are forced to fulfill duties as the resident eye candy, black female characters are usually quietly solving problems and taking charge in the background or behind the scenes. When no one sees you as a sex object, you actually get to be a real person—a capable person. That’s the good news.

The bad news? When you aren’t considered to be a sex object, the men that are hired to draw the characters that share your features generally do not care whether those features are rendered correctly. After all, those features don’t appeal to a majority of readers. Why waste time? And the men that are hired to write about characters that share your features will pay minimal attention to the romantic entanglements and familial ties of those characters and will instead focus on fleshing out the characters they find alluring. However, as previously stated, I’m wary of shining a spotlight on the phenomenon. When you do demand equal billing and attention or you do finally reach a widespread audience? The whitewashing begins. And you go from this to this. But Frank can explain it better than I can.

Sin City's EstherI find that scene amusing given that I am certain the actress portraying Esther Sin City 3 will in no way physically resemble the character in the series. Trust me.

However, the situation certainly isn’t cut and dried. After all, don’t black women come in a variety of shapes and sizes? Don’t their skin tones range from quite dark to quite fair? Isn’t it a problem that a majority of the black female characters in mainstream comic books draw from one certain physical type? Don’t fair-skinned black girls deserve characters they can see themselves in too?

Yes, those girls do deserve that. And yes, it is a problem. And I’ll be honest, it’s one I’m once again reluctant to address. One, because the shady part of me (no pun intended) thinks that fair-skinned girls certainly aren’t hurting for attention or representation. Two, because I honestly believe that the addition of black female characters with a wider variety of features will not result in greater diversity. It will simply result in dark-skinned women being eliminated from the scene completely. After all, we’re not what turns the fanboys on, right? And if we’re no longer needed for token diversity, why keep us around?

And where would we go? To manga companies? To “female friendly” comic companies and imprints? Black women are ignored to an even greater extent in those arenas. We’re shunned by the very companies that are heralded as alternatives for women and girls tired of the sexism found in the mainstream. And those companies are so busy patting themselves on the back that they cannot even see how they’ve turned their backs on us.

I suppose that’s where the title comes in. Because while I am thoroughly impressed by the burgeoning feminist movement in the comics industry and I hope that feminist fans and creators achieve all of their wonderful goals, I don’t feel like I am a part of it. I don’t feel like my goals are the same as theirs. Is a womanist comics movement is needed? Meh, who knows?

I’m tired of fighting. Perhaps it’s because I finally understand the situation. I know now that mainstream companies (and many indie and manga companies as well) have no interest in black women as consumers. I know now that mainstream companies (and many indie and manga companies as well) have no desire to hire black women as creators. However, they have every right to cater to fans of a particular demographic. They have every right to groom a certain selection of creators for their ranks. And even though it disturbs me, they have every right to choose not to address the concerns of black women who have brought up the fact that artists are not depicting the features of black female characters correctly. There’s no point in fighting those choices. When black musicians couldn’t get their videos played on MTV they simply took their videos to Video Music Box. They found a place where they were respected and desired. I simply have to find the comic-industry equivalent.

I know I’m likely to get accusations that I’m giving up or endorsing segregation, but black women are already being shut out. It’s not as if Marvel and DC (or dozens of other companies, for that matter) are welcoming us with open arms. What’s wrong with walking away from companies that are actively ignoring black women as creators and insulting them as consumers? What’s wrong with walking away when established black female authors with fan followings are not even considered to pen the rare mainstream comics that actually star black women?

When I had the chance to speak with a few well-respected individuals in the industry—some of them working at the “big two”—about breaking in, I was very sweetly and politely told to self-publish because I had no chance of ever being hired. The men and women telling me this weren’t trying to be malicious. They were very gently trying to explain to me what I should have been able to deduce from the beginning: my work would not be considered. However, it is highly possible that they were merely too kind to tell me that my work wasn’t good enough to be considered, but also wanted to spare me a great deal of heartache and time.

“But, let me also add, that just because there is a lack of female writers doesn’t mean that we’re going to hand out a charity gig to a female just because of her gender. That to me defeats the purpose. As a father of an only female child I would want all doors open within whatever field my daughter decides to one day choose. But I would also want her to walk through those doors on her own merits, not on the charity of others or to fill some quota, and I suspect that when she’s old enough to understand that, she’ll feel the same.”

Joe Quesada

The quote from Marvel EIC Joe Quesada makes sense. But what of award winners such as Abouet or famous authors such as Banks? They aren’t qualified to pen a mainstream comic? They aren’t as talented as any of the writers currently working at mainstream comic companies? And if they are as qualified, then why haven’t they been approached to write books as creators from other industries have? Why haven’t they been hired? I’d love to get a response to these questions from someone in a position to hire artists and writers at a mainstream comic company. But the other shoe will not drop. The response will be the same as it has always been. Silence. What message does that silence convey? We don’t want you here.

I have one response to that. We hear you.

Oh, for the love of…

Don’t mind me, I’ll just be over in the corner denting this wall with my head.

The funny thing is, I’m more ticked off about Misty’s awful hair than her predicament. Black characters aren’t usually depicted as wank material for straight white fanboys, so it’s easier to overlook sexist nonsense when you don’t have to put up with it as often.

And just so we’re clear, black hair does not do that.

Ah, well. Back to Astro City.

ETA: IGN, what’s the deal with the referrals on decades-old pages, fam?

Boy, I wonder!

I’ve been mulling over a blog entry at Alex in Wonder Land concerning the lack of a Wonder Boy in the DC universe. There are no males in Wonder Woman’s clan of characters, and I think that is something that should be rectified. After all, both Batman and Superman have pupils of the opposite gender, so why not Wonder Woman?

However, how would one go about establishing such a character? I’m certainly not an expert on Wonder Woman’s history, but I have an idea. Those of you who are fond of ancient Greek myths as I am will know that it has been repeatedly stated that the Greek gods were fond of dining with Ethiopians. And where did they dine, you ask? In a grand temple dubbed Ialu built within the heart of the ancient city of Haran, of course! However, the Ialu temple has been sealed for thousands of years and the surrounding city has long been reduced to dust. The gods that once frolicked there on sweltering summer evenings have since abandoned the Haranians in particular and humanity in general. Or so the world thought.

At a summit involving a treaty to be signed by Hippolyta and the President of the United States, an old sorcerer barrels through dozens of Secret Service agents and demands to speak with the Amazonian representatives in private. To the objections of everyone in attendance, Hippolyta agrees to his request. The sorcerer tells the Amazons that the city of Haran has not been reduced to rubble, but has been hidden from the rest of the world by magic. Though the gods no longer dine there, the city’s residents have remained to wait for their return and have lived eons past their natural lifetimes by dining on a never-ending platter of ambrosia.

Though the gods have not returned, other entities have arrived in their place. Unnamed beasts have entered the portal through which the gods once arrived. They terrorize the denizens of Haran. The sorcerer begs the Amazons, the world’s last known link to the Greek gods, to save the city. Hippolyta’s advisors object, but the queen overrules them. She gathers a party to investigate the menace. Diana and Donna accompany her. Cassie is furious when she is told to stay behind. She decides to follow anyway—after packing a few items from her mother’s closet.

The Amazons and the sorcerer manage to fight the beasts back to the portal they arrived from. However, until the portal is sealed, the city remains in danger. Hippolyta and the sorcerer agree to step through the portal and kill the remaining beasts—and find themselves in Tartarus face to face with a “zombified” Hercules.

Hippolyta discovers that the beasts are actually the pups of Cerberus and were spawned to dine on the flesh of Hercules for all eternity due to his transgressions against Artemis. However, Hercules managed to steal a fraction of Circe’s power to control animals before his demise. He used that power to send the beasts out into the mortal world to take vengeance upon humanity.

Hippolyta, Hercules, and the sorcerer do battle until Hades arrives. The god of the dead is furious that (1) Hercules has escaped his punishment, (2) mortals have entered Tartarus, and (3) his beloved pups have been slain. The god of the dead angrily sets out to “unmake” the trio.

Diana, Donna, and a newly arrived Cassie cross the portal to defend the queen. Cassie launches a fertility talisman created by Hera at the god to momentarily halt his assault. Diana wraps her lasso around her mother and the sorcerer and drags them back into the mortal world. Donna and Cassie quickly follow on her heels. And a hand forcefully grabs onto Donna’s cloak as the portal seals behind them. Donna and Cassie whip around to face Hercules’ attack only to stare into the face of an unknown man-child and a small pup seated at his heels.

Diana quickly takes stock of the situation. Hippolyta is missing both of her legs. The sorcerer is dead and has no eyes or hands. Half of the decomposing body of Hercules rests in the corner. And before them is a large caramel-colored youth, a mass of black curls covering half his face, and a young pup circling his feet and yipping happily.

Hera’s fertility statue and the soul of the sorcerer gave life to the blood and sinew stolen from the trio. Standing before the Amazons is the son of all three warriors.

Now what shall they do with him? They all watch in shock as the youth weeps over the body of the sorcerer and lovingly calls him grandfather. After mourning for a time, he digs the old magician a grave while the pup happily feasts on the remains of Hercules. The Haranians whisper that he is an abomination; the Amazons do as well. They plead with Hippolyta to have him killed. Diana objects.

Hippolyta agrees that his life should be spared, but she cannot bear to look upon him. He has cost her the use of her legs. He is wearing her face. He is the spawn of the man who raped her. The queen and her Amazons depart for Themiscyra. They take the ambrosia with them. The Haranians are furious. They stone the youth. Diana intercedes.

Donna demands that the boy accompanies them back to the states. Cassie agrees. Diana reluctantly acquiesces. The first stop? JLA Headquarters. Diana, Bruce, and Clark struggle to decide what to do with the youth. Where can they place him? Clark, the eternal Boy Scout, offers his parents’ place as a residence.

Clark’s parents are kind and loving to the boy, but the two quickly learn that a tiny town in the heartland is not so heart-warming to a teen with a complexion darker than those of the Smallville residents and a thick accent that is strange to them. Jonathan finds the young boy strung up in the cornfield late one night with a sign stating GO HOME stuck to his chest. As Jonathan helps the youth down he questions the boy. Why didn’t he fight back as strong as he was? Why didn’t he come home? The young boy looks at Jonathan with tears in his eyes.

I am an abomination. I have no home.

When Donna Troy discovers what has happened, she is horrified. After soundly reprimanding her sister, she decides to establish a home for the young boy. She pressures Bruce to provide him with an identity and quickly enrolls him in a university. Donna pools her resources to purchase an apartment for the young man to reside in, and then cheerfully demands that the boy work in the bookstore of an Ethiopian antiquities dealer in order to earn his keep.

In a diverse city, the young boy flourishes. He weeps with joy the first time Donna refers to him as her brother. His heart swells with pride as his boss slowly warms to him. Of course, things are not perfect for the young man. He has a hound of hell that routinely demolishes his furniture. Donna and Cassie routinely refuse to respect his privacy. His mother refuses to acknowledge his presence. Diana has yet to warm to him. He is still not at home in his body and often does not realize his own strength. And his grandfather sends him visions of future events in his dreams—events that he must stop no matter how much Donna and Diana want to keep him out of the family business.

Well, crap. Now I want to write a Wonder Boy series. Also, I made Haran up so y’all don’t have to email me to tell me the city doesn’t exist!

Pretend heroes, real women.

But men are idealized too!

I swear if I hear that one more time, I am going to scream. Male heroes and villains in mainstream comics should have taut, muscular bodies because they perform feats of athletic strength on a daily basis. And female heroines and villains should have taut, muscular bodies too. After all, don’t they chase down bad guys and bench press buses just like their male peers? So why do I see so many heroines who lack muscle tone when compared to their male counterparts? Why do so many artists believe that a large chest on a woman is more important than visible biceps? Trust me, a large chest has never helped a woman win a fight or lift heavy machinery.

If you are using an emaciated actress or socialite as a reference when drawing a superheroine, please stop. If you are using a porn star with disproportionately large breasts as a reference when drawing a villainess, please stop. So, what kind of women should you be searching for? Search for fitness competitors such as Monica Brant, Jelena Djordjevic, Lisa Ray, Casandra Madero, Mocha Lee, and Sonia Adcock. Google these women. Take a look at their accomplishments and the wonderful goals they have been able to reach with their physiques. These are regular women in the bodies of superheroes.

I’d like to add that I know it must be difficult for artists to find images of strong, sexy women who aren’t in poses that are designed solely to titillate straight male readers. Sure, an artist can use a photo reference of a strong, athletic woman; however, if she’s pulling off her bikini top, what would be the point? A capable hero should have a powerful stance, right? If you cannot afford to have models pose for you, I suggest picking up a fitness magazine such as Oxygen. There you can find pictures of strong women performing feats of strength. The women in the magazine, though beautiful, are generally not in solely sexual or flirtatious poses.

I’d also like for any artists to note that the women listed here have very different bodies. Some artists tend to give all of their female characters one generic body type. A body should vary depending on the character’s activities. Is she a powerhouse? A graceful ninja? A teenage novice? Think about the impact that would have on a woman’s frame!

Blades of glory.

Over at the Engine, Warren Ellis is asking people to provide visual interpretations of what Witchblade wielder Sara Pezzini should look like. I can’t draw, so no participation for me. But seriously? Let’s forget the costume. Previous versions of the Witchblade were always in line with the bearer’s cultural style of dress and method of combat, right? So why should the Witchblade suddenly go all Sci-Fi channel with Sara? After all, Sara Pezzini is a character that idolized Starsky & Hutch. That’s the moment she fell in love with being a cop. That’s the slice of Americana that shaped her thoughts on justice—not Wonder Woman, not Vampirella.

So, there is no blade. There is no crusty armor. There is no metal bikini. There’s only a beautiful silver Glock that Sara has named BB. And it shoots bullets that never miss and always come back to their chambers once the job is done. After all, the only time the Witchblade should drop its cover is when it’s blocking a bullet or a shiv. And when it does, it simply shows up as a discreet metallic sheen over the small portion of Sara’s body that is being attacked. In other words, the chick dresses in normal clothes. And that’s my Witchblade, y’all.

Play Misty for me.

Misty KnightWhy is Misty Knight currently being depicted in this way? Listen, I’m not mad, just bewildered. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, our hair does not do that. I am more than happy to collect reference photos myself and e-mail them to Marvel if artists are having trouble depicting black women properly. I will do this free of charge! That is how much Misty’s hair irks me.

Khari Evans, who thankfully must have spent more than five minutes of his life actually looking at a black woman, gave Marvel a perfectly good character design for Misty that was actually quite realistic and modern. However, Marvel completely ignored the very positive changes Evans made in updating the character. Why?

Editor: Y’know, what? Misty Knight is just too damn fine. We need to ugly her up. Maybe give her an atrocious hairdo that makes no sense. We can’t have her wearing a hairstyle that countless black women in America are currently wearing right now. In fact, we won’t even give her a classic 70s Afro. Make up something completely ridiculous and impractical. Throw two completely different textures in there. Make it look like a hat.

Artist: I’ll get right on it.

Seriously, when I say it makes no sense, I mean it. It makes no sense. In order to get Misty’s hairdo I would have to either flat iron three inches of my hair and leave the rest kinky or chemically straighten three inches of my hair and leave the rest kinky. And that would be unbelievably stupid. Because most of my hair would break off and I would be left with three inches of hair. It’s either all or nothing, fellas.

Imagine if an artist drew Thor with an Afro on the left side of his head and pin straight blonde locks on the right. That is exactly how stupid Misty’s hairdo is. And it is the sole reason why I refuse to pick up Heroes for Hire even though I adore Misty and bought every issue of the Daughters of the Dragon miniseries. Because if Marvel doesn’t care enough to make an intern spend less than five minutes searching for a reference photo in order for an artist to draw a black woman with a realistic and modern hairstyle, then why should I fork over my cash for the book?

Back in black.

First off, kudos to the wonderful Loren of One Diverse Comic Book Nation for sharing Brad Mackay’s article on the dearth of black heroes within mainstream comics. I don’t know if I agree with the sentiment that there is a dearth of black heroes, but there is a great deal of information contained in the article that may make those involved with the comics industry as readers and as employees think a bit differently about how minority characters are portrayed and presented to the public.

“Somehow, in this medium people are so out of touch with popular culture that they don’t understand that black culture is popular culture.”

Reginald Hudlin

The preceding quote from the article struck a chord with me. Why are people in this medium out of touch with popular culture? Is it because minorities in general and black people in particular have been almost overwhelmingly shut out when it comes to creating mainstream comic culture? I’ve never had a problem finding stories about black heroes. There are many black heroes in supporting roles in countless comics. However, I’ve had a difficult time finding black creators with steady gigs at…anywhere, actually. Marvel is the only established comics company I know of that has black writers on staff. Top Shelf is the only established company I know of that has a black editor on staff. Three black staff members out of dozens of comic companies? That’s embarrassing.

Black individuals are allowed (and encouraged) to spend money on comics, we’re allowed to appear in the comics. However, we’re not allowed to help direct the culture of comics. We’re seen, but not heard. Moreover, when we’re seen in the pages, it is usually in a supporting role. When stories are created by individuals who were not raised to see black people as leaders and heroes in order to sell comics to an audience that also was not raised to see black people as leaders and heroes, a good supporting role is the best you’re likely to get.

The problem is that selling to the same old sheltered set of readers isn’t working. That audience is dwindling rapidly. They’re growing older. The children they’ve sired? They think of a black man when someone says Green Lantern. Entertainment mediums such as television, video games, and movies have taken the content produced in comics and have altered it to make it palatable to an audience demanding diversity and equality. I can turn on my television and occasionally see a cartoon where a black man is a powerful entity in his own right and can lead a team to victory. However, when I open the pages of a comic that same black man is merely a supporting character to a white hero.

Why is that so? It occurs because the comic industry caters for the most part to an audience that is lost in time. This audience does not mind new characters and might even enjoy seeing a few different faces, but those characters must never be more powerful than the white heroes they know and love, and must never rob those characters of the spotlight.

That audience is shrinking, and comic companies are beginning to covet the larger audience spending billions in disposable income on video games and DVDs. And so you see the absolute hilarity of comic companies attempting to sell to a new, diverse audience using the same old tactics and the same old roster of artists, writers, editors, and publicists geared towards selling comics to that dwindling sect of fans desiring the comfort of stagnation. And then you see the absolute bewilderment from employees of those companies when they are bombarded by complaints from that diverse audience—because they’ve presented work that is considered to be at best out of touch or at the very worst sexist and racist. They are stunned that readers haven’t warmed to a heroine with a costume as tiny as a bikini. They are surprised to find that their new book starring a minority character has low sales. After all, they put an ad in Wizard magazine.

However, this is not a rant stating that middle-aged white men can’t write, draw, or publicize wonderful stories starring minority heroes who are treated with dignity and respect. They can and they do. For the ones that do, diversity is a part of their daily lives—either through the individuals they interact with or the research they do. Is it what keeps them from being out of touch.

I honestly feel that the best approach to gaining new readers is to have a workforce that reflects the type of audience a company is attempting to reach. Another wonderful approach is to have a workforce that is willing to interact with the type of audience a company is attempting to reach. A third solid approach is to have a workforce that is willing to do extensive research on the type of audience a company is attempting to reach.

Yes, I know I’m on the outside looking in, but given the output produced and/or the way it is being marketed, I’m fairly convinced that the majority of comic companies in the US and overseas aren’t concerned with any of the preceding approaches. And when they come across an employee that is, it is generally due to luck rather than actively searching for one. So, how does a company that is terrified by the idea of changing its status quo reach out to an audience that longs for something different? Well, that’s a post for another day.

Dear Comics,

It’s not you. It’s me. I still love you, you know? Yeah, we fight almost all the time, but you know I’m down for you, right? I’d slap the taste out of a dude’s mouth in a heartbeat should he try to look down his nose at you. I believe in what you’re trying to do here. I always have. I always will. You’ve got plans, and I want those plans to come through for you. You deserve that spotlight. You can do things that nobody else can do. I just wish you believed in yourself as much as I believe in you. You always seem so surprised by the success. Even now, when it’s happening all the time. I never questioned it. You shine.

You remember when we first met? You were chillin’ in the basement after my cousin had stepped out on you? I remember that you were too much for me to handle at first. Too violent. Too extra. My cousin always liked that wild stuff, but I couldn’t deal with it. But then you toned it down. You showed me a different side of you. Man, when we first got together? It was like I couldn’t get enough. I wanted you around me all the time. I even dreamed about you. You had me so open. I think I would have done anything you asked me to back then. But all you asked of me was time and loyalty. And I had more than enough to give.

And then came the fights. I don’t think you even realize how much you used to insult me. You still insult me. You were forever trying to put me and my girls down and it just—it wore on me. And when you apologized, it seemed like you didn’t really care, like you were only doing it because you didn’t want other people to look at you funny. And I felt so foolish. I still feel foolish now.

Do you know how many times your old girls rolled up on me and told me to leave you? Every show I followed you to, I’d get at least one. And your boys would always drag me away, tell me to pay her no mind. She was just bitter. Angry. She wasn’t down for the cause like I was. And it’s true. But the cause doesn’t need me.

I’ve seen the way you look at others, you know. And surprisingly there’s no jealousy. There’s only relief. And joy. Because those other girls? They look good. And they’re strong. And they’ll fight for you. They’ll fight for your dreams. And they’ll win.

And I’ll still fight for you too. It won’t be as much as I used to, but I will. But now it’s time to find someone that will fight for me. And that’s not you. See, I’ve given you my time, my heart, my mind, my money, my blood, my sweat, and my tears. And what have you given me? A whole lot of stories and a whole lot of aggravation. And that’s just not enough.

And I’m not blaming you. Lord knows, I didn’t have to stick around as long as I did. But I’m glad I did. Because I learned a lot from you. I don’t think you’ve learned anything from me though! You’re arrogant and stubborn as always. But you have learned it on your own. And that’s just as good.

I’ll be around for a little while. I still need to pack up my stuff and find someone who can do all of the things for you that I used to. It shouldn’t take long. And you don’t really need me anyway. Trust me, you won’t even notice that I’m gone.

So…I guess this is it. And yes, I still reserve the right to call you on your shit. And no, I won’t be giving up any of the friends I met through you. And yes, we’ll still see each other around. And no, I won’t be following you to shows to tell other girls not to get involved with you. C’mon, do you really think I would do that?

Anyway, I’ll see you Wednesday. And make sure you have my pull list ready. How come you’re always freakin’ late?


Cheryl Lynn