Pull Up a Chair is an opinion post where I discuss different things about comic books, culture, and the industry.
The white male dominance found in comic fandom is extremely complicated. Sure, there’s a very clear and targeted market of white men, but there’s a reason why it’s that way. Some would say that it’s because the “core” audience is the only one that gets treated like they matter. Others may say that it’s because that specific market is what built the comic industry therefore, it’s favored, thus most of their major characters are modeled after it. Oddly enough, I would agree with that, but maybe not for the reasons you may think. The target demographic of comics has always been the same, since the earliest days of comic books…and that’s the problem.
In recent years there’s been a rising tide of diversity within comic fandom. More women, and people of color, have begun to speak out about their desire for characters who represent them more closely. There’s also a rather boisterous portion of the “core” fan base, who feel like they’re being attacked. If not attacked, at the very least, feel as though being both white and male has become wrong somehow. There’s even a fear that changes in the comic industry would push this “core” audience out of the very clubhouse they helped create. It’s a sensitive situation to be sure. People of every group fear change, but I’d argue that sometimes, even though fear is justifiable, and the change is painful, it’s something that must be done.
People of color need to be more than the sidekicks and background characters awaiting the great white heroes to arrive and save/defeat them. Women are not distressed damsels, scantily dressed, awaiting a man to save them. They most certainly don’t have the back issues, which plague the pages of comics, causing them to contort into the position wildlife documentaries refer to as, “presenting.” What’s worse, is how difficult it is to find a comic that doesn’t consistently fall into one of these pitfalls. You have a better chance of finding a leprechaun riding a unicorn, who’s selling rides to Hogwarts aboard the Millenium Falcon.
Yet, I’d dare say, things aren’t hopeless. Changes, albeit slowly, are happening and we’re seeing small efforts being made, occasionally. Yet, even these tiny changes are being fought against. People are upset that these iconic characters who have a long, rich history, might change or have changed. The problem as I see it, is that people may not understand what it is they’re actually fighting for, or against.
The inclusion of people of color, and realistic females, into the genre of comics should’ve been there from the start, although, I do understand why it wasn’t. During comic’s earliest beginnings things were very different than they are now. This country was far more messed up, and generally treated women and people of color horribly. Socially at that time, women being anything other than a homemaker was unacceptable, and racial slurs weren’t, ” that bad,” at best. So, when I see comics that use the subservient Asian sidekick, the African-American street “thug,” or any woman in tattered rags with her booty all up in the air, I’m not shocked. Yet, here we are today, fighting and arguing to keep those things around as though it’s not a problem. Whether we’re talking about today, or seventy years ago, those things are wrong.
I understand that the audience back then didn’t care, and maybe even enjoyed it, but that’s no excuse. People, all people, deserve to be treated and portrayed with human decency. That’s why the phrase, “that’s how it’s always been,” is a truly horrific argument. It’s a statement that carries with it the desire for a continuation of intentional exclusion and objectification of other human beings. You may disagree on that, but you can’t escape comic’s history being wrapped in America’s dirty past, and unfortunately, the roots of that time have blossomed into today’s comic world. Therefore, a large portion of modern comics are the the fruit of the very tree that was planted during a negative time in American history.
Fighting for things to stay the same, is fighting for the continuance of unacceptable behavior. Ignorance, objectification, and exclusion don’t become acceptable just because they’ve been slowly marinating in our culture for decades, and there’s a group willing to spend copious amount money on it. Much in the same way that slow cooking a turd for hours and hours, doesn’t change the fact that it’s a pile of crap, even when a large amount of people are willing to eat it up. Wrong is wrong, and neither time nor money change that.
So the big question we’re left with is, why is racial exclusion, and the continual propagation of women being nothing more than sex holes, allowed to continue? More personally, maybe the question we need to ask ourselves is, why aren’t I bothered by any of it?
Although things can feel hopeless, today’s world gives us many outlets and podiums from which to speak. A solution, and not the only one, is to reach out to comic creators who step outside the traditional box. Encourage them, support them in whatever ways you feel comfortable. Share their work through various and available avenues. Another option is to continually ask publishers to include people of color, as more than sidekicks and background characters, in their work. Tell them exactly what changes, and the types of characters, you want to see. They may not always be able to respond due to legal issues, but rest assured, they take notice.
That’s the beauty of social media, we can now interact with the companies and creators we love. If done correctly and constructively, it’s a huge benefit to everyone. Lastly, one thing needs to be clear: beratement, belittlement, name calling, threats, slurs, and opinions voiced in anger often create little to no change, and arguments made using such things are easily dismissed. However, conversations, constructive dialogue, open-mindedness, a willingness to listen more than we speak, and positivity toward change can create a closer, and more diverse, comic community with both fans and the creators benefiting.