Recapping such an epic comic-con is hard to do when I normally don’t leave the Image Comics booth but to use the facilities or get lunch. I spent most of the week selling amazing books and helping out creators by assisting them at their signings. It was truly beautiful―though of course hard on my feet (oh well!), my voice went in and out, but at least I brought enough clothes (yes!). After working nine conventions, I think I finally have it down to a science and I was able to experience this con in a deeper way than any before.
So many things are inspiring about comic conventions: the creators, the publishers, the fans and cosplayers; the genuine interest in discovering new stories; the art and the commiserating; the very thoughtful conversations exhausted people somehow pull off; in short, the community. But right now I want to tell you a short story of some of the raw emotion I witnessed and how it inspired me to write about a few of the things on my mind recently.
At Chip Zdarsky’s signing at the Image Comics booth, a girl approached his table and thanked him for his work (on Sex Criminals) and told him she’s asexual. In case you haven’t heard, Zdarsky and Matt Fraction plan to include an asexual character and have already included trans characters who aren’t out as trans yet. From their short interaction, I could tell this girl had faced ridicule and saw in Sex Criminals something she could identify with, which is so lovely and inclusive, right!? This is the positive impact art has on people.
Now, depending on the content, what the reader can project into the work, and/or how they interpret it, it can also have a negative effect, as we saw in the response to Airboy #2. Airboy is a book about two creators, one at a particular low point in his life, struggling with rebooting an outdated superhero character and the bad decisions they make along the way. To recap the response: There were a lot of people hurt and offended by the use of the slur “tranny” and the depiction of trans women, as both have been known to trigger violence. At Graphic Policy, they asked Image to pull the book from shelves and invited others to take action by tweeting this message. The writer of Airboy, James Robinson, publicly apologized after the issue’s release and it was quite heartfelt. He noted that part of him feels creators have a right to tell the story they want to tell, but that the other part is saddened that his creation added to the load that the transgender community faces.
There were many people that chastised the creators and publisher, and also many who came to their defense. In so doing, there was a surge of communication regarding the matter at hand. It happened over at Eat.Geek.Play wherein my fellow writers and I discussed issue #2. Hopefully with the exchanges that occurred and Robinson’s clarification and apology, we’ll see increased education, acceptance, and respect towards the transgender community. It could be a tipping point from which people will start to instinctively be more accepting, less judgemental, and less othering. Of course it’s not the only tipping point (the SCOTUS decision to make same-sex marriage had farther-reaching impact), but these conversations in the comic book industry, coupled with the recent strides in comics to represent different groups of people well, particularly LGBTQ or MOGAI characters, are helping to create awareness and acceptance without a second thought. Because really, as the human race we shouldn’t be so inhuman. “We’re all in this together” aren’t we?
My first experience reading about a transgender character was with Rat Queens Special: Braga #1 by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Tess Fowler, and I’ll never forget it.
If we’re all in this together like I like to assume we are, then we all need to work at being more understanding and inclusive. Think for a moment. What have you read that portrays a transgender character in a positive light? Do many comics or books come to mind? My first experience reading about a transgender character was with Rat Queens Special: Braga #1 by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Tess Fowler, and I’ll never forget it. The story is about Braga’s powerful and sad journey as the son and heir of an orc king that ultimately leads to her self-discovery. It’s one of very few published comic books out there that gives transgender women a voice.
Mey over at Autostraddle does a lovely job of documenting the trans characters featured in Image’s comics and DC’s plans to include the LGBTQ community more in their books. Marvel Studios has also made strides over its history, and recently its head, Kevin Feige, was asked by Peter Sciretta: When will there be a gay Marvel Cinematic Universe character? The answer was “the near future,” which is vague, but at least there’s hope we’ll see an increase in representation translated from comics to the big screen.
The more I’m involved in the creative community and the more I write, the more I’m able to see how art really does reflect life, whether it’s the good or the bad. I’m sure this is nothing new but through art, it teaches us about ourselves. It is AMAZING that through the power of storytelling whole worlds can change, viewpoints can be put to the test, and people can feel enlightened or enraged.
At the same time, it can also be a dangerous thing, as we saw with the story Mark Waid and J.G. Jones are telling in Strange Fruit, a historical fiction tale set in 1927 Chatterlee, Mississippi, where racial and social divisions, and a flood, threaten the town. A superhuman alien is introduced, in the form of a black human male, and is depicted as a hero who doesn’t speak. The day of its release, Women Write About Comics published an article criticizing the nature of the story and arguing that “it shouldn’t have been made.” Waid recently responded to the criticism and spent a little time explaining, but not defending, his creative choices. He recognized his privilege and acknowledged that the response to his story is more important than his intentions, and he’s trying to listen.
Giving people the benefit of the doubt, even for a minute, despite the instinctual anger that occurs when facing things that offend us, is something we all could do
From all of this frustration and the politics that come with accurately representing diversity in comics, I’ve learned that comic book readers are passionate, striving to protect marginalized people from oppression, and creators are striving to tell stories well and accurately without maliciousness. Since the intention of the author isn’t always clear cut, unless they come right out and say it, as readers what we end up with is our perceptions and all our experiences wrapped up into the media we consume, and I think that because of this we sometimes we forget that there are actual humans behind art, pouring their own perceptions and experiences into their creations. Giving people the benefit of the doubt, even for a minute, despite the instinctual anger that occurs when facing things that offend us, is something we all could do more of―especially on the internet, where hate seems to spread faster than love.
A friend of mine, who understands institutionalized racism but wonders how it applies to art which anyone can make, asked me:
Do you have a way of explaining the lack of diversity in comic books among writers and artists? Who is to blame for such a thing?
Honestly, it was hard for me to answer my friend’s question. I began my answer with who I felt was to blame, but then realized there could be a more productive outcome if we changed the question.
What can we do to change that lack of diversity? For one, we should stop blaming and begin acknowledging and doing something about the racism, sexism, and bigotry that still exists in our society whether in the comics industry or not.
Facts: Our incarceration system puts more people of color in jail. Minority communities are portrayed poorly in the media. Women don’t get paid the same as men, etc…
What else can we do? Travel more, talk to communities outside our own, surround ourselves with people of differing opinions, engage in hard conversations without being combative, put ourselves in other people’s shoes, be more flexible, and listen–and I mean really listen.
Just this week, Writer Ales Kot offered some thoughtful solutions as well for what the comics industry can do:
On encouraging and hiring transgender creators and creators of color, we have to make big steps forward, and do so immediately.
The industry can improve by listening to criticism and marginalized voices, and by opening up spaces for nonwhite creators and transgender creators. The industry can improve by ceasing to be a gigantic circle-jerk where people pat themselves on the back for every halfhearted attempt at creating anything other than superheroes. The industry can improve if and when all the individuals who make the industry educate themselves and start following a code of conduct focused not only on monetary gain but also on a strong ethical stance. Mainly, all of this goes to the men in the industry, and especially all the white heterosexual men.
Where it concerns criticism, it can be fueled by anger and this can have a positive outcome depending on the delivery. However, coping with criticism is not always easy for the creators or their fans. Some may see it as a personal attack especially when a response is highly passionate or seems like exploding rage. Others may see it as productive and move forward carrying the feedback with them. I think there’s a few things we all can do as reviewers, fans, and creators when conveying or discussing sensitive topics. Since anger is a natural response when someone or their work is criticized, facing it, learning how to better handle it and how to mediate it; welcoming the differences while recognizing the similarities among opposing opinions and people; choosing to be less defensive during discussions thus opening ears to listen more; having two-way conversations–all of these things will make us better and more inclusive as individuals and members of a community.
I’ll close with a friendly PSA:
Be careful out there and be considerate. Do something kind for someone–you never know what people are really going through, what fears they face everyday, or what hardships they’re overcoming. Reflect, see, and hear people for who they are and not who you think they are. Maybe even keep your eyes peeled for art that you’ve overlooked or maybe misinterpreted. It’s up to you how thoughtful, humble, flexible, welcoming, and forgiving you choose to be.
If you were hoping for a true recap of SDCC, a photo gallery is on the way! Stay tuned.
Xoxo, dear readers.
Edited by: Brian Colella
This post was not sponsored by Lego.