May 11, 2011

Comics diversity is an "agenda"?

Blogger Sue reports on a comic-book coloring mistake in her DC Women Kicking Ass blog. She continues the argument noted in All-White Avengers Isn't "Contrived"?:

When a coloring mistake means much more

[A] mistake that changes one of the few women of color in the Flash family, one of the few women of color in the Legion, one of the few women of color in comics is more than a mistake. It’s a painful reminder that in comics, white is the default. White is the majority. White is the easy choice because you have, according to Marvel’s Tom Brevoort, only a 1% chance of being wrong.

One year ago this week, DC Comics killed off Ryan Choi. The only male Asian superhero of prominence was murdered and shoved into a matchbox. The reason? To make the Titans look evil and, of course, to pave the way for his white predecessor Ray Palmer to return to comics. The timing of this latest fumble on race by DC would be amusing if it wasn’t so enraging and sad because

  • It’s not as if comics hasn’t been accused of white washing before.

  • It’s not as if comics hasn’t been called out on the racial politics of returning to “classic” characters.

  • It’s not as if the the most prominent voice for diversity in comics hadn’t just died and his thoughts regarding racial diversity and comic book companies hadn’t been repeated over and over.

  • It’s not as if Tom Brevoort of Marvel, who has previously said positive things about diversity, hadn’t described the idea of a Black Avengers as a contrivance because and, I quote,
  • 99% of all super heroes are white. It’s the law of averages.This conversation with Brevoort has been written about elsewhere and I was only tangentially involved; the conversation was driven by the essayist SonofBaldwin, but I can tell you it was one of the most disheartening things I’ve experienced during my time in comics fandom. Why? Because it confirmed something I and others have suspected for a long time; that white is the default because anything else is less important and hard. Need proof? Read why there are not more white faces at Marvel comics. Why 99% of superheroes were white and are white. Why a Black Avengers is a “contrivance” (as say opposed to “Pet Avengers”)

    Oh, that’s social justice and that’s not their job. Their job is to writethe best, most entertaining stories we can, not to fight for social justice. It’s nice when we can do both, but not job #1.I had to ask.

    Why not make it both? What’s the downside to it? And why is including faces that are non white social justice?

    Brevoort’s response?I need writers to tell stories they believe in, not to parrot corporately-mandated causes.

    The downside is when agenda comes before storytelling. That tends to lead to didacticism, and crummy stories.
    So says the man whose company published “Wolverine: The best there is” and so many other comics that make a steaming pile of dog crap look good.

    How painful is it to hear a representative of Marvel, a Disney company--a company who does “corporately mandate” diversity--dismiss diversity so casually? As if it was an effort that wasn’t important? As if it were something that in the scheme of things didn’t really count? That the idea of being inclusive is less important than allowing writers to do what they want.

    Is it any wonder why their medium is in a slow, painful decline?

    And that brings me back to this “coloring mistake.” It is easy for DC to hand wave it. “We were rushed” “There was a miscommunication” “The artist and writer didn’t communicate the right way” I can go on and on thinking up the reasons they could give (because they haven’t given any reason). But the bottom-line is this. Somewhere along the line, somebody didn’t care.

    They didn’t care to check. They didn’t care to think that a black woman would be in a “white family.” This is an industry where superheroes are “99% white” and where including characters who are not the white default is considered “social justice.” Where killing off and marginalizing characters who are not white in favor of characters that are white is done over and over. Where we have seen, time after time, readers who are not default of white, male and straight are not a main focus.

    I get lots and lots of aggressive responses from people when I post about race and gender on this blog. And many of the responses fall into the same meme, “white males are the majority of readers in comics so why shouldn’t comics consist mainly of them?”

    And you know what I say? I say comics is better than that. I say the majority of comic readers are better than that. I say Warner Brothers/DC and Disney/Marvel are better and smarter than that.

    You don’t grow a business in a global and diverse world by catering to a minority. And that’s what white males are. Sorry guys, you are a minority. The world is far more diverse than that and is getting more diverse everyday. And it is time for big two comics to smarten up and pay attention. To care. Because if they don’t, the big two comic companies will get left behind.
    Comment:  Great responses, Sue. I should add that the notion that diversity is a "mandated cause," an "agenda," or "didacticism" is a crock. If you're not a myopic white writer, you see the world the way it is. You see that 36% of Americans are minorities. And your stories naturally reflect this. You don't have to "make" comics diverse because our country--the storytelling environment for most DC and Marvel comics--is diverse.

    In fact, the truth is the other way around. If you write "white" comics despite the country's demonstrable diversity, you must be the one with an agenda. And that agenda isn't hard to understand. You're promoting a return to the whitewashed 1950s and 1960s. A sanitized view of reality where the heroes were white, middle-class professionals. Where Father Knew Best and trouble was nothing worse than a goofy Gilligan, a super-intelligent gorilla, or a Joker in a jack-in-the-box. Where women, blacks, and gays weren't demanding equality; global warming and pollution went unmentioned; and no one knew anything about Muslims or terrorists.

    In short, these writers want a nostalgic return to their whitebread childhoods when Mommy and Daddy protected them from the world's complexities. When life was safe and sane just like the fireworks. And that isn't an agenda?! The hell it isn't.

    For more on the subject, see 19th-Century Cartoons About Indians and Native Women = Whores in SCALPED.


    Anonymous said...

    "Agenda" depends. I hate tokens. I really do. Mostly because they remind me of Zack from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

    dmarks said...

    "and no one knew anything about Muslims or terrorists."

    The 1950s were the era of King Nasser of Egypt, an aggressive fellow who promoted terrorism and his idea of Arab imperialism (expansion into non-Arab areas and purging of "non-Arab" culture. This was covered in the news back then a lot.

    Rob said...

    A lot of stuff gets covered in the news but doesn't filter down to average Americans. For instance, the truth about Obama's religion, "death panels," and birth certificate.

    Writers should invest all their characters with depth so they aren't "tokens." That's a different issue from including the minorities they can see around them, wherever they go.