We Need Diverse (Comic) Books
Moderator: IW Gregorio
The We Need Diverse (Comic) Books panel was put together by the American Library Association and the We Need Diverse Books campaign. The room was one of the smaller panel rooms by it was standing room only by the time they were ready to begin and they had to turn people away. Moderated by IW Gregorio, it began with a few slides of early comics and both the way they were progressive (Superman faced the KKK and exposed some of their secrets, leading to plummeting membership numbers) and racist (Whitewash Jones and WWII era Japanese stereotypes).
There was brief discussion on comics of the 60s and the introduction of several black superheroes, including Black Panther, Black Lightning and Storm (“the great thing about Storm was that her powers weren’t her blackness”). Talking about contemporary comics, Miles Morales as Spiderman, Kamala Khan as Ms Marvel, and Sam Wilson taking up the Captain America shield were brought up, before moving on to the ways in which comics are sometimes used in education. Comics are increasingly being used as a tool in school, but aren’t used to their full potential: giving access to diverse stories to comic book “nerds,” “reluctant” readers and students in between, fiction and non-fiction. There was some discussion on the struggles librarians face when shelving comics–they’re often categorized incorrectly, causing historical nonfiction comics to be sorted next to superhero comics.
The panel had a few good quotes (like the Storm one from above) but it felt a bit rushed and nervous, perhaps it’s the first for this organization. One attendee questioned the lack of racial diversity on the panel, considering the topic, but the one PoC slated for the panel had an emergency. I personally learned some new things and there were certainly topics that, if there was time, could have been expounded upon, like the ways in which libraries and schools can use comics in the classroom (which I believe was the focus of a couple other panels) and they can be sorted better to share more diverse stories. Hopefully, next year should they do a panel like this again, there can be a bigger room, a clearer focus, more speakers of color, and time (many of these factors being out of the control of the panelists of course).
One major takeaway I got from this panel was the comment that many mainstream stories are being adapted from comic books, from movies to TV shows, more diverse comics might bring that diversity to the mainstream. This is, of course true, since while I type this, DC just announced it’s DC Cinematic Universe lineup through 2020 and only one of the movies is about a comic character of color and one is the Wonder Woman feature we’ve been waiting for for years. The panel room was full and so were some of the other panels I attended, so clearly we need more diverse comics, because there are droves and droves of people aching for them.
Geeks of Color Go Pro
Moderated by Diana Pho
Moderated by Diana Pho, the Geeks of Color Go Pro was a panel where various artists in literature, animation, and comics were able to share their paths into the industry. Everyone on the panel was a person of color and it was great hearing stories about how they realized that the industry they wanted to join didn’t tell stories like theirs, but they went for it anyway. Two major things I got from their combined stories was the idea of networking and staying connected to the community you come from. Daniel Jose Older said, “Look at your community to build you up and keep you grounded,” and even, mentioned Black Girl Nerds as such a community! If you follow Black Girl Nerds on Twitter, you might have seen Daniel retweeted or in conversation with Jamie.
Alice expressed that clearly we “need panels like this because it’s about visibility so people can see that there is a panel, there is an audience, there is a demand for diverse media.” We also need panels like this because the lack of diversity in these various media can be discouraging to future and aspiring artists.
Irene (IW Gregorio) said that authors of color have told her, “from now on, I’m only writing white characters.” The room gasped at that statement. The lack of diversity discourages not just people from entering the industry, but from writing about the people they want to write about. Their stories were inspiring and I wish I’d gotten it all down. I’ve provided links to their work, please check them out and be the supportive community that Daniel Jose Older knows we are.
A few quotes that were funny or stuck with me:
Daniel Jose Older: “Reimagine what success means to you.”
Tracey J. John: “Hasn’t Princess Peach taken self defense classes by now?”
LeSean Thomas: Be genuine when talking about social justice issues in your art, especially when it’s humorous.
Women of Color in Comics
Moderated by Regine Sawyer
Alitha Martinez (Marvel, Archie Comics), Comic strip creator Barbara Brandon-Croft, Actress Vanessa Verduga (Justice Women webseries), Blogger Jamila Rowser (Geek Gone Girl), Artist Alice Meichi Li, Juliana ‘Jewels’ Smith and Cosplayer Geisha Vi.
A beautifully packed room!
The Women of Color in Comics panel was the biggest of the three diversity panels I attended. The line filled up really fast and was spreading past the line barricades by the time the doors opened. It’s great to see how many people wanted to attend this panel, including non-women of color–it’s so important that it’s not just us demanding more representation for ourselves, others want to see us represented too.
While on line, I met up with Kia T. Barbee of Elmhurst Ent and we hung out in line together. Read her piece on NYCC here at Shadow and Act. While on line, we came across Helvetika Bold, a social justice superhero. She handed out comics before and after the panel (we complemented each other on bold afro hairdos). She definitely knows how to work a crowd!
Once inside, the panelists sat down and talked about how they got into the industry. Althia said she “didn’t know women didn’t write these stories” when she was just starting out, but she soon found out that others didn’t think women should/could. Jewels, an educator, used comics to inspire her kids to read before creating her own. Vanessa shared something that I knew but want to explore some more: Lynda Carter, of 70s Wonder Woman fame, was born Lynda Cordova Carter–her mother was Mexican, making her the first Latina superhero. “No one tells that story.” Vanessa expressed later that she was told she could follow the same path as Carter and pass for white, hiding her Latina ancestry. She decided against it and created her own Latina superhero in Justice Woman. Jamila, Barbara, and Geisha all had parents who were into comics, usually their dads, who passed the love on to them.
What do you convey about yourself in your work? Geisha answered, “I put love of myself into what I do.” Conversely, Althia, as a mainstream artist, can’t convey anything about herself in her work. She must do as she’s told. She was once told “you don’t draw like a girl.” Whatever that means.
Regine asked about the growing demographics of women as comics readers and Alice pointed out the growing demand for visibility of women of color in comics, how discouraging it was to not see yourself in the medium, but how panels like this one show how fast female demographics are growing (or at least becoming more visible) even in just the past few years. Jamila noted that there was still a need for more accurate representation. “We’re not even there to be represented.” When naming black superheroes, “we shouldn’t be able to name them all.” “When you don’t see yourself in things you love, you feel like you’re not welcome,” said Jamila.
Was there a point where it was brought to your attention that you were a woman/woman of color? Althia had it brought to her attention when she walked in a room and was told, “we don’t need you yet,” thinking she was the cleaning staff. There was a collective gasp of outrage in the room at that. But Althia isn’t going anywhere, “I’m here, I’ve been here, I’ll be here.” she said, to applause from the room. Barbara said that she was on Good Morning America and they assumed she’d only be in black newspapers in black cities.
When asked why it was important to diversify comics, Jamilah said that while not seeing herself in the medium didn’t stop her, it does stop future artists and fans of the medium. “sci-fi writers write us out of the future, after we’ve already been written out of the past.” She wants her presence to help other girls know that they’ll meet other girls with their interests, if not now, then later in life. Something I know a lot of us in the Black Girl Nerds community can certainly relate to.
Advice? Althia and Alice agreed that you can’t just assume that the higher ups at these mainstream companies are going to know you’re talented, and it’s not a meritocracy anyway. They’re content with the status quo, so you’ve got to show them you’re talented, even if you have to breakdown the doors at Marvel and DC. “If you want it, you’ve got to show it yourself.” Realizing, both as artists and consumers, that it’s all about money and supply & demand.
The room was big enough to need a screen for all the panelists!
I’m so glad I attended this panel and that it was given a big room in the middle of the day. The women on this panel were so engaging and intelligent. It was great to hear them speak about their different experiences. They came from different backgrounds, were different ages and ethnicities, and had different opinions, a prime example that the term “woman of color” does not encompass one or two things. Please check out their work and support artists of color in the comic medium, because you are supporting both future artists and future readers, who in the future, might have what you didn’t have: more than a few women of color comic characters to look up to.
Justice Woman (Vanessa Verduga)
Helvetika Bold works the crowd.
The panel crew, Helvetika Bold, and some friends pose for a photo.