Diversity and Goliath redeux!

I’m thinking about this in conjunction with DC’s new talent programs and Ronald Wimberly’s comments on spec.

There are many creators of color and female creators who are at (and beyond) the talent level we see in the mainstream. And in the process of integrating the mainstream, they are being judged not by their work, but by their outward appearance. And it’s insulting. Would you ask a woman who has produced multiple books independently to join a training program? A black man with a résumé outside of the cape books that’s longer than a highway for unpaid spec work? C’mon now. We’re talking vast portfolios here.

Editors are stumbling upon the names of popular creators from marginalized groups—creators with followings and established brands—and treating them like college students who just rolled out of bed with a degree in art or English. It’s dismissive and stems from bigotry. It’s the same as the white A&R rep or label owner who rolled up to established musicians in black communities with garbage deals like they were doing an amateur a favor. Nah, son. You’re a visitor in a spot where people know what they are doing. If you have any respect and you’re serious about your company and diversity? You approach as an equal. Do the necessary research before you sit down.

Frankly, these numbers are abysmal because those in power don’t know where to look or how to act once they get there. Frat boy and good ol’ boy behavior is driving off and angering (or scaring) the very folks these companies need to be better.

So? So you step your game up and do some work. You can’t post up in a bar and wait for creators to buy you drinks at cons. Well, you can, but you’re only going to get talented white dudes that way and that’s only one element of the mosaic you need. You’ll have to go to different places and behave in new ways. And if you can’t do that? Get you some editors who can, b. Or a creator to be your ambassador. (Although since most of these creators bring up folks who look just like them—Morrisons beget Ways—you’ll need to vet those ambassadors.) And let me tell you, the last thing you want to do is go out and hire you a whole bunch of Timberlakes and Whedons and think you’ve done something in regards to diversity. You’ve done nothing but boost the voices of white men. And if you try to present it as anything else? I’m coming for your neck in the messiest of ways. (Do continue to hire them because their work is nice, but you best watch your marketing.)

Also, don’t Buzzfeed the very people you should be hiring. Biting cultures at best and actual specific marginalized creators at worst is going to bite you in the ass because those folks have a direct line to the people you want to sell to. And you’ll end up having to hire folks from those groups anyway to do immediate damage control and drown out the voices of those you originally stole from.

Don’t be afraid to roll up to someone and say you like what they do and want to build with them if you have building blocks on deck. “Let’s build” has become a massive joke amongst black creators, but because folks come to them with nothing. But if you have something? Shoot your shot.

ETA: This post was taken word for word from my Twitter account because I have got to stop bombarding my poor followers with tweet streams of this length! Journal entries over tweets!


A new spin.

I’ve blogged at length about Vertigo in the past—and its relation to Image’s ascendance to Vertigo’s former position as the reigning leader in publishing avant-garde works from famous writers in the realm of comics. There is no way Vertigo can regain its former glory in the short term. Success begets success and Image has been riding on a wave of positive press and celebrity that sees no signs of cresting. Yes, there were critics who rightfully pointed out the lack of racial and gender diversity in its current crop of superstars, but given that this is an issue that plagues nearly all of Image’s peers, it seems strange to hone in on one company in regards to what is so very clearly an industry-wide problem.

It is a problem that in regards to racial diversity will likely not improve at companies such as Marvel, DC, Image, and Dark Horse—not due to willful bigotry, but the focus on established writers to increase notoriety means that these companies are not interested in discovering new talent, leaving them to a pool that is overwhelmingly white and male. At best, one can hope for an increase in the number of books written by a small number of established female writers. Unlike the dismissal of concerns regarding racial diversity, gender diversity does seem to be a clear focus. The purchasing power of women is phenomenal (as is the number of women who read for pleasure). So while there is irritatingly not a press to increase the number of female creators, there is a clear desire to create an environment where female consumers feel welcome and can purchase books that reflect their interests. I predict Marvel, Image, and Dark Horse will continue to press female-centric ad campaigns, increase the number of books with female leads, and attempt to increase the number of books per month written by the one or two established female authors available to them. DC, for all its negative press, has bucked the trend by smartly leaning on Snyder as a talent scout, slowly increasing not only the number of female writers, but writers of color as well. DC would do well to keep Scott Snyder extraordinarily happy, for he does three jobs for the price of one: writes well-received comics, discovers new talent, and possesses the ability to launch a charm offensive for DC greater than its management or editorial staff. In layman’s terms, he’s a genuinely nice person to be around.

But the focus today is not on DC proper, but the Vertigo imprint. And I feel that as DC has bucked trends, so should Vertigo as well. Where Image and Dark Horse are focused on acquiring superstars, Vertigo should be focused on creating them by locating fledgling talent. The imprint should also lean on the talent pool largely ignored by Image and Dark Horse—female writers and writers of color.

And Vertigo had best work fast, for smaller companies such as BOOM! Studios have done an excellent job crafting a quirky, female-friendly image that is highly appealing. Note that the company was the first to participate in the successful We Are Comics campaign, showcasing the diversity in its staff. A quick rundown of its creators also shows a greater number of women when compared to companies above its weight class.

Where BOOM! woos women, even smaller companies such as Lion Forge and crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter woo writers of color. Those who have been discriminated against previously will turn to areas where those of their group are clearly visible in campaigns and have found success. Why bother approaching an editor who has no interest in you when you can take your project directly to the people? And so Kickstarter swells with projects—some good and some bad—but with a diverse selection of writers not found anywhere else in comics. Everyone is afforded equal access to be considered.

So with companies chipping away at its platform from above and from below, how does Vertigo compete? Surprisingly, by resting on its laurels. Vertigo still has name recognition in many circles even beyond the realm of comics and into the world of prose publishing where so many women are key figures. It should use its reputation to focus on adapting key works by established female prose authors and authors of color. Of course, this route will only remain successful as long as Karen Berger remains inactive. For many she still is Vertigo, and the moment she should decide to set up a comic imprint at a prose publisher (or even worse, a comics publisher), Vertigo maintaining any foothold would become that much more difficult.

However, money helps in overcoming adversity. Should Vertigo have access to a budget larger than its peers, providing a decent paycheck to creators would help the imprint look a great deal more appealing to struggling talent, even if the contracts being offered down the road provide greater freedom or possible long-term gains. Many will willingly accept a work-for-hire situation or endure editorial missteps for additional funds—especially if Vertigo takes great care to ensure said missteps do not occur often.


Crossing the streams.

I’ve been thinking about my previous post concerning Eric Stephenson’s recent interview. If one has read any of my older posts regarding the comics industry and diversity, I know it must sound as if I’ve contradicted myself. I often state that writers can express themselves creatively and reach others even while eschewing the mainstream. I believe that. But, for me, there is the black individual and the black collective. There is the impulse to create and the need for a community to be heard and to provide for itself.

The comics industry is closed to me. I understand that now and I accept this fact because it has absolutely no impact on my ability to either create new works or share those works with others. Any individual with working vocal cords or access to a library can create and distribute a story. Yes, the scale is certainly limited and there is no monetary compensation, but the need to create and to share one’s creation with another can easily be fulfilled. WordPress journals are free; a vanity press will allow for one’s book to be published. For me, this is enough.

However, the mainstream comics community is also closed to professional black writers. An entire racial group has been shut out, their stories barred from the one arena that garners the most money and the most attention. I do not understand this and refuse to accept it. Black men and women with decades of experience as writers, fame and fan followings, and widely distributed works have been denied access. Unlike their peers, they are not sought to provide pitches nor are they considered for work unless there is a rare book featuring a black lead (and more often than not, white men are chosen to write those books as well).

I cannot accept this because I have the need to see black people and hear their voices when I consume mainstream entertainment. No, I do not expect black people to helm every project or star in every vehicle, but I do expect them to have a clearly heard voice in every creative industry.  The comics industry as it currently stands is unable to meet those expectations. It is for this reason that I am no longer a consumer. I’ve simply walked away from the mainstream. For the industry, this abandonment is no great loss. Eight dollars less a month certainly will not cause any major comic company to crumble. Being one reader short will not result in a book being cancelled.

However, I am not the only one to walk away. Many black men and women who once created comics have been lured away by film, television, animation, books, and magazines—industries where their contributions are desired. The impact is glaring. An entire component of American culture has been severed from the industry. Given America’s obsession with its black subculture and the comic industry’s mad scramble to create projects that will appeal to an increasingly diverse audience, this seems blatantly stupid.

For the most part, I attempt to remain quiet. (Really, I do!) These are topics that should be addressed by men and women working in the industry, not outsiders, but their overwhelming silence often causes me to blurt out impatiently.

I promise to try to do better. Instead of using this blog to focus on what and how mainstream comic companies must change, I’ll use this blog to champion the creators I enjoy. A little positivity never hurt anyone!


Cycles.

“RE: The Stephenson interview. The Image method is meaningless when it comes to creators of color, so I wish that Eric Stephenson wouldn’t push it as the method of finding talent. All of the creators he named as new finds were white. I don’t see Jimmie Robinson being offered a slew of Marvel and DC books. (Note: it’d be nice!) The only way new writers of color can break in comics and receive regular mainstream work is if they’ve achieved success in another arena. And Image is not searching for creators of color in other arenas to lure them to Image. That is what DC and Marvel have been doing. I could not care less how we get new writers of color. If we need to steal famous people from other mediums, that’s great! But that whole ‘rising through the ranks of Image’? Son, that doesn’t work for you if you are black. Can we just be honest about that? The Image grooming process works fabulously for white people though. Still, it’s not gonna get me a Hudlin or Liu.”

—Cheryl Lynn Eaton

My comments on Twitter, shown above, grew out of a discussion of Heidi MacDonald’s interview with Image’s publisher, Eric Stephenson. It also grew out of the acknowledgment of the dearth of black writers in mainstream comics and the lack of upwards mobility for black writers within the comics industry. For talented white men with aspirations of working in mainstream comics or gaining widespread notoriety, the “Image to Big Two” cycle awaits: embark upon your career with an Image miniseries; get offered work on mid-tier Marvel or DC comics; develop a cult following; get offered work on a major Marvel or DC ongoing series; develop a need to branch out creatively and own one’s own intellectual property; return to Image with huge fanfare; bounce back and forth between corporate and creator-owned work until mainstream fans grow tired of your industry dominance and Marvel or DC will no longer offer projects.

This route is sealed for black writers. Jimmie Robinson has not been tapped for a Marvel miniseries. Enrique Carrion isn’t registering on DC’s radar. I’m baffled as to why. Marvel and DC rifle through Image as a kid skips through a candy store, gobbling up all the jellybeans save the black ones. (To be fair, black jellybeans are awful, but black writers—like all writers—run the gamut when it comes to talent.)

DC and Marvel do occasionally notice the need for diversity within the talent pool and actively seek out writers of color. However, instead of seeking these men and women at Image, they scout for popular writers in other arenas—film, animation, television, video games, music, prose. It seems the only way a black writer can garner mainstream success in comics is if he or she has already achieved mainstream success outside of it.

I don’t know why the route to mainstream success for black writers has become so narrow, warped, and difficult to navigate. All I know is that there thankfully is a route and I want to see black writers with the fame and talent needed to manage the journey traveling it. I want black people to have a voice in comics that is able to be heard by mainstream audiences. We are not a niche. We are not a tiny subculture to be denied larger access. We deserve to tell our stores, not in a quiet corner, but in front of a microphone.

Yes, black writers can thrive outside the mainstream, just as a musician can earn a living foregoing radio play and an actor can make a living never appearing in a major motion picture or national television show. However, when an entire group composed of multiple ethnicities is denied access to the mainstream? The industry is woefully incomplete. Imagine if one could only hear black musical acts via college radio stations. Imagine if Lucy Liu’s available roles were limited solely to those in plays. Imagine if the four women writers currently at Marvel and DC had their books cancelled, were not offered new projects, and fandom said not one word regarding their disappearance. (Note: the latter actually happened in regards to black writers.)

What do I want? I want exactly what I’ve been getting in drips and drabs, successful black writers from other arenas being offered work. However, I want this occurring in much greater abundance and at mainstream Marvel and DC (as well as at smaller imprints and independent comic companies). I also want something I haven’t been getting as well—talented black writers with years of industry experience (Priest, Burrell, Benardin, Trotman, etc.) being tapped to write series.

It’s 2013. Let’s make some changes.


Hope and change.

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.

Choose.


BHM: What can brown do for you?

I’ll make this one short and sweet. Originality is not achieved through color. Applying a pallet swap to someone else’s story does not qualify as a “new spin.” It’s a cheap trick, a shortcut to reach a previously untapped resource—minority audiences.

It’s not uncommon to want to pay homage to the stories that precede us, to revisit the myths that we will hand down to our children and grandchildren. An alien falls to earth. A vigilante haunts the streets. A patriot fights for justice. We repeat these stories like ballads in old watering holes, each incarnation shifting slightly to fit our culture and our desires.

But how that slight shift matters! And that shift must be more than just a variation in shade. Point blank? If you make the decision to create a black character pastiche, you best make that decision mean something. It should alter the nature of the work. We don’t need a black Superman. We have Superman. To make audiences sit up and take notice, to truly examine the theme of the alien beneath the lens of race?

You establish an Icon.


BHM: God bless the child.

As much as I love Idie, she isn’t ours. Luke isn’t ours. David isn’t ours. T’challa isn’t ours. Miles. Isn’t. Ours. Yes, they look like the men, women, and children in our lives, at our tables, and on our minds—and that is important—but they do not carry our voice. There are no black writers working on mainstream comics at DC. There are no black writers at Marvel at all. In the DC universe and in the Marvel universe, black people are voiceless. It is what it is.

I wish I could say I was concerned. At one point, I was very concerned. However, over time that apprehension has dwindled like sales of the books from the companies in question. Black people are voiceless at two companies that struggle to sell a hundred thousand copies of a single comic to a potential audience of billions. Black people are voiceless at two companies currently being admonished in the press for stifling their creative staff, submitting production and editorial to poor working conditions, and utilizing underhanded practices to swindle individuals out of their creations or proper compensation. DC and Marvel are no longer happy, hale and hearty IP farms where a man or woman could spend a lifetime spinning stories about established characters while earning a check that could provide for the family and benefits to keep that same family healthy and whole. Those days are over—and were only enjoyed by a select few to begin with. When white voices are being silenced, can we truly expect black voices to be heard? When white writers are losing exclusive contracts that once provided them with much needed safety nets, can we really expect those same contracts to be offered to black peers?

The pie is gone. It has been gone since the late ‘90s, continually consumed and regurgitated by the same small handful, and there is nothing left to get a piece of. You are not going to George Jefferson off Stan, Jerry, Joe, and Jack, my friends, hence the title of this blog post.

Tabu referred to Image as a black writer’s last refuge. I’d alter that statement to include Kickstarter, other self-publishing methods, and independent publishers in general. However, the gist of the message is the same—“Have one’s own.”

I certainly don’t advise turning down paid work from DC or Marvel, but one cannot put faith in either company. When they call concerning that rare miniseries featuring a tepidly-received black character, get in, do one’s work, and get out. And don’t expect them to call again soon, no matter having provided them with one’s best work. A black writer is a rare necessity at DC and Marvel—especially now that established white writers are only too happy to take on projects featuring black characters. Green is an important color that can make a third-tier black sidekick seem quite interesting to those who once looked for whiter pastures.

The entertainment industry is an exceptional industry where one is able to own the company where one produces. Man is the farm and factory. The assembly line is composed of a writer’s fingers; his products, miniaturized worlds, are shipped to all four corners of the globe to be quickly devoured by eager audiences.

A writer can work on decorating delicacies from someone else’s assembly line—i.e., contract work—and there’s no need to feel an ounce of shame in doing so. It’s an honest (and fun) job. But without steady work and benefits—and black writers are not being provided these things—what is the point? To finally tell that Luke Cage story? Oh, sugar. I love Luke, but I’d rather be in for a World of Hurt if that’s all Marvel has to offer.

Aside from looking over one’s shoulder to peer down at the foundation of Kirby Inc., there’s nothing being presented at Marvel and DC that is unique to either organization. And the man who laid the foundation? I think he would have preferred to see a few more crates from one-man farms.

Isaiah is ours. Aya is ours. Miranda is ours—from the root to the fruit. These characters bear our features, carry our voices, entertain us, and—most importantly—provide for our welfare spiritually and financially. And I can think of nothing more delicious than that.


Who should we have considered? Who should we have hired?

Sans snarky tone, these are valid questions that one ill-informed about what takes place outside of his small social and professional circle should ask. Editors should interact with consumers in order to remain aware of industry trends and to gain insight into areas they know nothing about (in the case of DC’s editorial staff, how to reach out to female and minority consumers and add a healthy dose of diversity to their current creative bench).

A creator isn’t going to be considered for any position if he has not made himself visible to those in a position to hire him. And in the case of comics, where cronyism abounds and editors are often (1) working with a very small and stable Rolodex and (2) have absolutely no interest in searching for new talent, visibility is difficult to achieve.

And if you are an editor walking that same well-worn path you have always walked when searching for talent, the angry cries from disgruntled fans can be disconcerting and exasperating. Where am I supposed to find these female artists? Where am I supposed to find these minority writers? Do you think I have time to read random scripts when I have two books to put out on time—and one of my artists just had a baby, my star writer is passed out in a bar, and my old industry buddy is complaining about lean times? Please.

But that fan has all the time in the world to venture off the beaten path. And she has discovered amazing creators who are producing fantastic work. And she can’t comprehend why they are being ignored.

I can. That editor and that fan? They visit different tables at conventions. They attend different parties. They read different websites. They follow different people on Twitter. Same industry, different worlds. And the majority of female and minority creators? They aren’t chilling in the one that EICs and CFOs inhabit.

But that doesn’t provide an answer to the question of the day. You say you want more black writers, so who should we have considered?

This is in no way a complete list of black writers! There are so many others out there creating! However, these are the men and women found on the path that I walk. These are the names from my bookshelves and feeds—established, professional, capable of producing quality work, and well aware of how the comics industry works.

There’s my answer. I’m sure there are many others who would be happy to provide you with theirs. All you have to do is ask.


Lock and key.

I’ve spent some time sifting through this ol’ blog, cleaning up dead links and correcting stray typos. Probably the most depressing part of the whole process is the realization that many of my older—and cynical—predictions regarding the current state of the industry have come to be:

“Of course, I still think Ultimate Spider-Man is going to sell well. The character has enough company support and calculated marketing to make up for the casual racism of some readers. Remember when I said that Marvel should blatantly push the characters that DC ignores? It’s happening. And Marvel’s doing a pretty good job of it too. There’s no way any book featuring a brand new black and Latino teen character should outsell Static Shock. Static has years of history and a very successful cartoon under his belt. But Miles? Well, Miles has the power of the Spider-Man franchise and blisteringly hot creators as a sales anchor. Miles is popping up in news articles all over the place. Miles will have guest appearances in popular Marvel books. And Miles is going to make more money than Virgil and Jaime—all while wearing Peter’s hand-me-downs. I think Miles is adorable, but that doesn’t sit completely right with me.”Cheryl Lynn Eaton

Know what else doesn’t sit right with me? That the sole remaining black male character with a solo title at DC is currently wearing Batman’s hand-me-downs. And is a subordinate. It is frustrating that minority heroes who are their own men, who do not depend on older white heroes for their inspiration, attire, or methods, are simply shunned by readers. And publishers are well aware of this, resulting in these characters receiving poor promotion, the occasional green or lackluster creative team, and a very limited timeframe to “prove” oneself before the onset of cancellation. Better to push that minority character draped in a web, “S,” or bat-symbol. After all, that’s what the readers want. That’s where the money is. And so that’s where the USA Today articles, publisher support, and the established white creative team (who will gladly exercise any and all “first dibs” rights to obtain a successful franchise) will be too.

Because that black writer—be he talented or a hack, experienced or a newcomer, beloved by fans or an internet pariah—is only called when there is a title featuring a black male lead on the table. And only when the title on the table is one that no one else wants. And so black writers get funneled into books that are quickly shunned by fans, cancelled, and forgotten. And the creators are forgotten just as quickly.

Nobody is asking for a hand out. No one desires a quota. All I am asking for is for established black writers to have equal access to be considered. This is not happening. They are only being considered for a small number of books that have long proven to be received poorly by an increasingly shrinking market that refuses all that is different from what has come before.

Equal access. When Luke Cage is on the table. Or Nightwing. Power Girl. Or Shang Chi. Or Batman. That’s it.


Last hired, first fired.

Today I learned of the cancellations of Mr. Terrific, Static Shock, and Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive (late to the party, I know), and the departures of Marc Bernardin and Eric Wallace from DC’s staff of writers. I jokingly referred to it as “Official Black People Pink Slip Day” in comics along with providing a couple of mildly snarky comments about the timing of the news.

“We wanted to make sure we got rid of all the black writers and solo titles before February. That would have been sooooooo awkward.”Cheryl Lynn Eaton

I’m not as angry as I would have been in the past because we’ve been around this block before. But I am disappointed. I’m disappointed that DC didn’t take the careful time and planning needed to create a successful launch of these books and characters from jump. I’m disappointed that Green Arrow is rewarded with Ann Nocenti after performing poorly and Mr. Terrific gets a pink slip instead of Priest. It shows a lack of faith and a lack of concern. And the constant fumbling of what should be clear and easy decisions regarding launches, sales, and marketing is just frustrating.

“And the fact that DC has cancelled Static Shock and will push a Ravagers book instead of Gen 13 is just such a boneheaded move. Static and Blue Beetle should have never started out in solo titles. They should have been part of a group book from jump to build a base. And that base should have been Gen 13, which still has name recognition a decade later. To be fair, I would have cancelled all of those books but Mr. Terrific and Men of War or Blackhawks. The two I kept would be retooled. The four books I would have added to the DC lineup would have been Gen 13, Huntress (w/Cass as the Nu52 Huntress), Lobo…and Wildcats. I don’t give a damn. I love Wildcats and I’m armchair editor here, damn it.”Cheryl Lynn Eaton

Brandon Graham and I went on to develop the best Gen 13 series you’ll never get to read on Twitter this morning. Brandon and Adam Warren switch off writing duties, Emma Rios draws it, and I edit. It’s amazing and it will never exist. Sorry about that, folks. And I’ve changed my mind about the Huntress book now that I’ve realized that The Ray isn’t an ongoing—and clearly should be. Plus, the Huntress is in my imaginary Gen 13 book, which—again—is amazing.

But I’m being silly. And I shouldn’t—not completely. Because in regards to black writers receiving paid work in comics, the industry is actually regressing. A degradation is occurring as opposed to simple stagnation. And this concerns me far more than the loss of solo titles featuring black characters, especially when those characters will receive major panel time in popular team books. (If Black Panther doesn’t take a leading role in an Avengers title, I will be extremely surprised.)

If not for the wonder of self-publishing, we’d be looking at the slow silencing of the voice of an entire group. I believe we are currently down to one black writer receiving paid work in the industry, though I would be positively ecstatic to be proven wrong. Please drop me an email, if so. If not? Tread carefully, Mr. Hinds. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. With the loss of McDuffie, I cannot think of one black person in a position of power in this industry. Yes, we all have power over our own creations, but that is not akin to the type of power held by those who can launch successful lines and create multiple jobs, or who can influence large numbers within multiple industries. Do comic companies even realize how many talented black men and women are slipping through their fingers? How many are simply drifting to advertising, television, music, etc.? Do they even care? Eh, not likely.

Given the option of self-publishing, I wouldn’t care either, but many black creators simply do not have the funds to take that route (nor the option to become Kickstarter successes in an industry filled with fans that can be…difficult in regards to certain projects).

There is no way one can point to low sales as the reason for the lack of diversity in regards to black writers. An Avengers title written by Priest would sell. Detective Comics is being written by a Latino guy right now! You know how well that book is selling? Insanely well. And Batgirl certainly hasn’t suffered from Gail Simone’s estrogen levels. That book is snagging accolades left and right. So why the dearth of black writers? What’s the problem? Seriously, why is this still a problem? And why is the problem getting worse?


The Orange Wallpaper.

Sexist depictions in comics will continue to appear because there will continue to be moments when the creators involved will commit to a sexist act. It happens. People are human and are prone to each and every “ism” that has plagued our society for centuries. And each “ism” is promoted and strengthened in the art we consume—for what we are seeps into the art we create, which then seeps back into us as we sit before screens and speakers and leaflets of paper.

Red Hood and the OutsidersThis image, were it just one in a sea of images where women were depicted in myriad ways and from an inexhaustible supply of viewpoints, each getting a similar amount of attention, would not be a problem. This is not a problem of images. This is a problem of access and distribution.

We have a medium where white, straight American men from the ages of 25 to 65 are allowed and encouraged to dominate a market in all aspects save for the consumption of goods. For decades, one particular viewpoint has obliterated all others. One viewpoint has had access to national distribution. One viewpoint has enjoyed access to key editorial and creative positions of power. One viewpoint has been selected to give voice to all people. One race, one gender, one sexuality, and one class has dominated an entire creative medium! We have a method of storytelling where only one type of person is given the power to create stories heard by the masses and told about the masses. This is the problem.

I can count the number of current mainstream writers who are female, non-white, or gay on one hand. Women are crowded into assistant editor positions with no hope of advancement and no power to implement change for fear of severe retribution. We can’t pull other women and minorities up the ranks because we are still tottering on the first rung of the ladder—and the trap door in that glass ceiling is only big enough for one.

The women upset about this image aren’t merely upset that Starfire has been reduced to a vapid, emotionless object for the visual pleasure of men. Fanservice ain’t gonna end the world, folks. Tits happen. However, the repeated promotion and distribution of these images and stories to the masses coupled with the lack of opportunities for women to give voice to their own viewpoints—and more importantly, have those viewpoints seen (shelf space) and heard (PR)—is infuriating. We’re depending on men to tell our stories for us because we are not hired to tell our own. Forgive us for being a little agitated when you use that power to depict us in a way that makes us look like morons. And collect a check and health insurance for it.

Several nationally distributed tales of a white man who is shown to be a slovenly idiot is not going to have negative repercussions for white men because they have the power to refute those images (and do) by bombarding the market with positive images that are also widely seen and heard. Several nationally distributed tales of a black woman who is shown to be a slovenly idiot is going to have negative repercussions for black women because there is only one black woman in a position to refute them and even she does not have the power or money to bombard the market with positive images. So, lo and behold, a stereotype is born decades later and very real women suffer the consequences for it in their personal lives.

We all have our biases. Luckily, bias sans power is toothless. I don’t want these images to go away. I don’t even want to scold those who enjoy them. I just want to strip the power from them.

Fight Starfire with Starfire.


Um, can we talk about this?

“DC Comics seeks a New Talent Administrator-Digital for the Editorial (West Coast) department. Assists the Group Editor-Digital in creation, development and maintenance of DC digital comics. Works with Group Editor-Digital to select and develop New Talent through DC’s online New Talent Search and DC’s own internal new talent development program. Edit special online titles or books as needed.”

One, if I had the money to relocate, I would apply for this job. Two, a new talent search? Three, how come no one loves Oxford commas anymore? This position fascinates me more than any of DC’s fifty-two new comics hitting store shelves this month. I had assumed that DC’s talent pool had been effectively locked into place once the fifty-two creative teams had been hired. For the most part, DC had chosen established creators—those who had experience with DC or its top-level editorial staff. The fact that they are searching for new talent provides me relief, given my concerns regarding the lack of diversity behind the scenes (which is a problem in the comics industry that extends far beyond DC). The fact that larger companies are actually doing the work to seek out and groom new talent instead of relying on Image as a “creator farm” is appealing, especially given the revealing news about how women simply don’t apply to Image. After all, if new talent is plucked from areas where a lack of diversity is an issue, then DC is simply carrying that issue right to its front door.

And can we talk about the fact that DC may (finally) be getting serious about digital comics? And they aren’t the only ones. (I see you, Marvel. And I like what I see. You too, Dark Horse.) Of course, the digital divide may further complications in regards to diversity. Still, a splashy PR-driven donation of e-readers or surplus comics to inner-city schools or libraries near DC offices might help soothe concerns. I’m sure Diane Nelson and Cory Booker could make that happen in two or three tweets.

I am mildly bummed that all of the interesting editorial opportunities seem to be drifting from NYC. Hopefully, they will drift to areas where a diverse selection of people will have the chance to be considered.


Paper chaser.

Von Allan has written a fabulous article on the obvious. Are comics simply too expensive for the masses to see them as a viable form of entertainment? Yes. Fans have been saying it for quite a while. But it is a surprise to hear the same from professionals. Anyone who has a product to sell is going to emphasize the benefits and minimize or even eliminate all discussion of possible flaws. So to hear these salesmen—and make no mistake, these men and women are salesmen as well as creators and editors—openly admit to inflating sales to ridiculous proportions to compensate for a shrinking audience is a bit mad, isn’t it? If one isn’t going to lower prices, why even bring that up? Shove that unpleasantness in the closet and razzle-dazzle ’em with new costumes and the number one.

I’m not rich. I’m not even middle-class. However, I do have a very small amount that I am able to spend on entertainment, like many of my working-class peers. We have televisions, but no gaming consoles. We have used computers off Craigslist and no tablets in sight. We have library cards and no comics. We have land lines and bills—lots and lots of bills. For me, the goal is to get the most entertainment for the least amount of money. However, I’m not going to consume anything simply because it’s cheap. I’m looking for quality plus quantity for the least amount of money I can spend.

When one make one’s purchases this way, life becomes a waiting game. I buy critically-acclaimed computer games years after they have been released. I picked up Arkham Asylum off Steam not too long ago for five dollars. This provides hours of quality entertainment featuring a superhero that I love. I can pay seventy-five cents an hour to role-play as Batman or I can spend three dollars to read a story about Batman in five minutes. No contest. I want the most bang for my buck.

However, unlike most of my working-class peers, I do buy comics. Well, I buy trades. Close enough, right? I’m the one rifling through the five-dollar rack at comic conventions. You paid $17.95 for that B.P.R.D. trade? I snagged three B.P.R.D. trades for $15.00. You got to read a story way before me? Yeah, I couldn’t really care less about that. I’m too busy over here saving money.

I’ve changed more than the format. I’ve also reduced the amount I buy as well as the type of comic I buy. I don’t buy superhero comics anymore. There’s no point. I can keep up with the canon for free via Scans Daily (which I’ve actually been doing less and less) and enjoy quality superhero stories via video games and movies. I do plan on picking up the first Mister Terrific and Voodoo trades if the first few pages intrigue me. But I doubt either story will be wading through many superhero tropes.

I have a slightly off-topic interjection here. DC and Marvel should really find some way to steal traffic from Scans Daily and comic news sites. Those hits could put a few advertising dollars in DC and Marvel wallets. And a few dollars are better than none. Make them come to DC or Marvel websites to view and talk about the five pages you’ve released. Give fans a free, unmoderated area to socialize around your content. No hoops to jump through or accounts to create. Slap some ad space and a disclaimer off to the side and walk away.

But, uh, back to the lecture at hand. What’s the point of this post? I’m thinking as I type, so please bear with me a moment. I started off with three posts which seem to be folding themselves into one. The three topics I wanted to address? I wanted to discuss how the exorbitant price of comics has drastically altered my buying habits. I also wanted to mention my desire for a Gen 13 comic featuring Static, Blue Beetle, and a very popular teen character to give readers who ignored Static and Blue Beetle previously the chance to “warm up” to these characters via a team book with a popular sales anchor. Finally, I wanted to express my fear that the upcoming books from DC featuring minority heroes will not sell well, resulting in DC yanking these books from its lineup and retreating from the idea of including minority characters within its titles.

I think the fear is warranted. Americans as a whole have less than we used to. Americans who are brown? Well, we have even less than that. And if Chris Stokowski, a middle-management man and a die-hard comics fan from Pittsburgh isn’t buying comics like he used to? Well, Devontae Evans, a high-school kid who works Saturdays and Sundays at Foot Locker, damn sure isn’t going to start picking them up. Not when they cost three or four bucks. And when Chris is over at Newsarama complaining about how there’s no need for a black Spider-Man and this PC nonsense is just getting out of control? It’s not farfetched that sales featuring minority characters might be meager and comic companies might decide that integration and diversity are no longer priorities. Minority characters will once again be reduced to background shots in team books. Minority creators will not be hired.

Of course, I still think Ultimate Spider-Man is going to sell well. The character has enough company support and calculated marketing to make up for the casual racism of some readers. Remember when I said that Marvel should blatantly push the characters that DC ignores? It’s happening. And Marvel’s doing a pretty good job of it too. There’s no way any book featuring a brand new black and Latino teen character should outsell Static Shock. Static has years of history and a very successful cartoon under his belt. But Miles? Well, Miles has the power of the Spider-Man franchise and blisteringly hot creators as a sales anchor. Miles is popping up in news articles all over the place. Miles will have guest appearances in popular Marvel books. And Miles is going to make more money than Virgil and Jaime—all while wearing Peter’s hand-me-downs. I think Miles is adorable, but that doesn’t sit completely right with me. Regardless, it’s going to happen. DC will simply toss Jaime and Virgil into the solo waters to sink or swim. Marvel’s hauled out the Coast Guard. Yes, DC is going to obliterate Marvel with its higher level launches, but if I were a DC rep I’d still take the time to start nipping this kind of lower-level ish in the bud right now. I mean, isn’t this how Marvel gained its foothold in regards to diversity in the first place? By actively supporting the type of minority characters that were languishing at DC? And now they have a nice little roster of second-tier IPs to make money from in the future. Well, the future is now.

Actually? The future was the past.


L. A. Banks has passed.

Her passing hurts because in general it hurts to lose anyone who was genuinely a good person—and Esdaile was. But while she was loved and wanted by her family, her friends, her fans, and her peers, she was also desperately needed to bolster a gradually fading voice for a group seen but not heard.

Black women writers are fading from view. Robinson, Henderson, and now Banks. According to my notes there is currently one black woman writer working for a comics publisher. Anywhere. Not just the big two. Not just American publishers. Anywhere.

Please tell me I’m wrong. That’s not a dare or me being snarky. I desperately want to be wrong. Please, if there is someone I have forgotten, let me know! I need to know.


First round’s on me.

“Also, nerds, are there any other currently working black female writers aside from Abouet, Henderson, Banks (who has passed) and Robinson? Wait, does Robinson still have a job? Wait, does Henderson still have a job? I think there might actually be only one black woman writer working in all of comics publishing right now.”

—Cheryl Lynn Eaton

I’m gonna go get a drink.