Media Consumers for Entertainment Equality
Racebending.com held our third annual San Diego ComicCon International Panel on Sunday July 21st in Room 23ABC: Shattering Convention in Comic Book Storytelling.
Moderated by Racebending.com’s Michael Le, a panel of comic book authors discussed their experiences writing diverse and innovative work for big franchises, indie, small press, and web comics. Brandon Thomas (Miranda Mercury), Gene Yang (Avatar: The Last Airbender), Christina Strain (Runaways), C. Spike Trotman (Smut Peddler), and Gail Simone (The Movement) discussed diversity without stereotyping, creating compelling heroes and villains, and reader advocacy.
Despite a few technical difficulties, we managed to capture full video and audio of the panel! Watch the embedded video below or click here to watch on Youtube The full panel is also transcribed below with annotated links!
RACBENDING.COM: Thank you all very much for coming on this fine San Diego Sunday afternoon–the one tiny corner of this country that has avoided the heat wave. So, let’s get started! We have a great panel. I’m really excited to be up here today. In case you don’t know me, my name is Michael Le, and I work with Racebending.com. We’re the website that complained the loudest about M. Night Shyamalan’s adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender, where all of the characters were whitewashed–except for the bad guys. And we continue to complain about different things, and also advocate more positively for creators and people who are willing to put diversity in their works, which brings us to our amazing panelists. I’m going to go ahead and let them introduce themselves, starting with Brandon Thomas.
BRANDON THOMAS: Hey everyone, how are you doing? My name is Brandon Thomas. I am the co-creator and writer of The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury, from Archaia Entertainment. I also just finished up an eighteen issue run of Voltron comics from Dynamite Entertainment. And I also write columns occasionally about comics and about trying to break into the industry.
CHRISTINA STRAIN: Hi, my name is Christina Strain, I was a colorist at Marvel for–I don’t want to admit, because I’m that old–on Runaways, Spider-man Loves Mary Jane, World War Hulk, and I am now transitioning to writing and I am a writer on the web comic The Fox Sister.
C. SPIKE TROTMAN: Oh, that’s you?
CHRISTINA STRAIN: Yeah.
C. SPIKE TROTMAN: That’s awesome!
BRANDON THOMAS: We’re all learning something today!
GENE YANG: My name is Gene Yang, I’ve been doing comics since Fifth grade. I did a book called American Born Chinese in 2006. Currently, I write the Avatar: The Last Airbender comics for Dark Horse. And I also have a set of graphic novels about the Boxer Rebellion coming out this winter, Boxers & Saints. I totally overestimated the demand for Boxers & Saints postcards. I don’t want to take them home so if you want to take them from me I’d really appreciate it…
C. SPIKE TROTMAN: Hi there, I’m C. Spike Trotman, just Spike, usually. I have a webcomic called Templar, Arizona–which I am not updating, because I’m a flake. But I have a good excuse. I’ve been incredibly busy, mostly exploiting Kickstarter. I imagine the reason that I am on this panel is because in 2012 I Kickstartered Smut Peddler–I know, right–which is 330 pages of some of the most unusually diverse porn that you will find anywhere. Mostly female creators, like don’t know, a couple dozen of them. It’s award winning and critically acclaimed and beat out Dark Horse and Fantagraphics for the Best Anthology award at the Stumptown Comics Arts Awards…which was pretty cool considering some of the stuff that is in here. And writing the comics and the webcomics that I write, as a black woman, people have sent me some very interesting emails criticizing my black characters. I’ll get to those later on.
GAIL SIMONE: Hi, I’m Gail Simone and thank you guys for coming and being interested in this topic. I currently write Batgirl for DC Comics, The Movement for DC Comics, Red Sonja for Dynamite Comics. I’ve written Wonder Woman, JLA Classified, All-New Atom, a new team, Birds of Prey, for five years…I’m probably forgetting some. One of my biggest goals is to get diversity into mainstream comics. I’ve been working as hard as I possibly can since I started, doing just that.
RACEBENDING.COM: So to get started, why don’t we talk about that topic exactly, which is fighting to get more diversity in comics–not only mainstream, but many of you worked in the mainstream industry and found it less conducive to the stories that you want to tell, so you’ve actually gone out and forcefully told your own stories, formed your own publishing companies etc. I know Brandon has a lot of experience with that so why don’t we start with him first.
BRANDON THOMAS: Well, a few years ago, I had a very um, exciting but short-lived stint of writing comics for Marvel. I wrote a Fantastic Four tales miniseries for the kids line, I scripted over a Shadow Star miniseries which was very interesting–I can’t tell you exactly why, but just take my word for it. And when that was over, I was uh, it wasn’t–basically the situation, how I kind of left Marvel, I didn’t really like how I left it, I had a couple of bad experiences that everyone who works in comics has had. So I was out there, and I was–it was time for me to create something that was me, something that was all me that I was the ultimate boss on. When I created Miranda Mercury, she was always going to be black. That was very important to me. If you read Miranda Mercury, there is a lot of Star Wars in it, there is a lot of Indiana Jones in it–it’s basically everything that I loved about comic books, in one place. Except most of the characters are black. Which is a big deal, unfortunately.
It was just one of those situations where i had to go out and I had to create the kind of comic book that I wanted to see. Instead of banging my head against the wall, trying to convince Marvel or DC Comics to make a comic like that, I basically made it for myself.
It’s been pretty exciting, pretty gratifying, the commentary I have gotten from people. And it goes to show that a lot of you guys do care about diversity in comics. It was just very important for me to do what I could to try to create the characters and create the world that kind of reflected my life experiences, so that is basically the little two minute story–I guess it was a four minute story, about Miranda Mercury.
CHRISTINA STRAIN: I had a very unique experience at Marvel. I actually really loved being there. But I worked on books that other people haven’t. Runaways was a very diverse book. Three out of four of us that were on it the longest were Asian. I’ve worked on some very diverse–there’s Runaways, Daughters of the Dragon, some amazing stuff with Misty [Knight].
BRANDON THOMAS: Was that the one that Khari Evans drew?
CHRISTINA STRAIN: Yes, it was an amazing series to be on. I’ve done a bunch of Grimm Fairy Tales. So I’ve actually been very lucky in working with some very interesting people and books, and those are my interests.
The real reasons why I started to leave Marvel was 1) I wanted to write and 2) I just didn’t want to do superheroes anymore? I just wanted to do a different genre, and like, when I came up with The Fox Sister, I grew up in Korea, so I just did a book that felt like something that I was familiar with and something that I would have read when I was growing up. And it just happened to be that the majority of the characters are Asian. And that is just what I know, and I didn’t really get that anywhere else.
I didn’t think about that aspect of it until eight months down the line. Somebody was like “You have a female Asian protagonist! That’s pretty rare!” I was like, “Oh. Yeah!” I forgot. Because I colored Nico [Minoru, an Asian American lead character from Runaways] for so long. I think with web comics and indie comics people tell more personal stories and the truth is when you do stuff like that you get a lot more diversity. I’m just a lot more interested in those, and so that’s what I’m doing.
GENE YANG: I’ve never worked for Marvel or DC [Comics].
CHRISTINA STRAIN: You don’t have to!
GENE YANG: Dark Horse [Comics] is as close as I’ve gotten to mainstream comics. The only thing I’ve done for them is the Avatar series, which is set in this Asian/Inuit fantasy world where all the characters have black or dark brown hair. So, yeah, within the wider world it’s pretty diverse.
With my own stuff, I started with mini-comics, which means I would draw my comic and xerox it and if at the end of the day I sold twelve of them, I would feel really happy. When you’re working in mini-comics, there’s no rules! Because there’s no money. Any time there is no money, you can do whatever the heck you want. So for me and my friends, we had diversity in every sense of the word that was in our comics–and nobody was reading it. But we were doing it.
SPIKE Um. People really like pornography. But it’s kind of interesting, because if you go to your average porn site or walk into the average porn store (this is obviously a generalization)…It’s really monochromatic and I would say the vast majority of it is produced by men, for men. So a significant percentage of women are under the impression that they do not actually like porn; however, that is a shrinking percentage–mostly thanks to Tumblr.
There are–women are filthy! They’re just filthy. In the early 2000s, from 2003 onwards, there was actually a mini out, which actually predates all of that stuff. This mini was called Smut Peddler. It was produced by Saucy Goose [Press]. And Tricia L. Sebastian was one of the editors. I bought all these minis because they were kind of the best and the brightest in the alt comic world, Carla Speed McNeil was in there. I think there were three issues and then there were no more.
Every year I would bother Carla at cons: “Is there going to be another Smut Peddler?” And eventually she just told me, “you do it.” I asked around on Twitter, “Hey, Carla says I should just resurrect Smut Peddler. I wonder if she knows how seriously I took her.” Then she emailed me and said “Do it. Ask Trisha. Ask Johanna Draper Carlson, who is also working on it,” and okay, I’ll do it! I sat down and made a list of all of the women cartoonists who I’d like to see do porn. It was fun.
And then I emailed them–not expecting a response–but it was like a fire hose had been turned on! And I was like, “Do you maybe want to do something like, y’know, for Smut Peddler, it would have to be dirty–” “WHAAAAATTT?” It was like they were all vibrating with this need to draw body parts mashing into other body parts and just waiting for someone to flip that switch!
When Smut Peddler was published most of the editorial oversight was mine and it turned out incredibly diverse and inclusive. I can’t go into a lot of detail, but there are a lot of people of color in here, a lot of body sizes, a lot of sexualities and gender identities. It opens with one of the characters in the story being disabled and I’ve had people buy it on the power of just opening it up and seeing a guy on crutches (a lot like Walter White’s son on Breaking Bad, he has crutches like that.) He is depicted as a sexual being. And it is shocking how much some people value that. They open it up, they see the second page and they slap down money for it.
And it’s been a really rewarding experience. People are high-fiving each other over porno. Just the fact that people can see themselves in this book and they can see that, you know, it’s a porno that doesn’t have the same shape and the same hair color and the same talk and the same action that we have kind of been programmed to think of sex as tab A into slot B and it doesn’t have to be that. We are all programmed to think of sexy and a sexualized body as a certain shape and it doesn’t have to be that. And I’m going to make another [anthology] for absolute sure because all Smut Peddler has demonstrated to me is that there is a market out there for ladies who want porno and are not getting it–unless they subscribe to the right secret tumblr blogs.
I mean, that’s something that needs to be acknowledged. It is kind of weird to be sandwiched between Gail and Gene and being like “SMUT!”
GAIL SIMONE: Don’t ever think we don’t like smut!
SPIKE: It’s a legitimate genre and it’s a market that is not being catered to. And I cannot wait to make more porno for you guys.
GAIL SIMONE: Independent comics have done a better job, historically, of bringing diversity into comics for sure. And it’s one of those things where if you want something, and you’re not seeing it, and you’re creative, you really should go out and make it happen. These are just great examples of, you know, demand that was there that the mainstream companies didn’t have faith in. Someone went on and provided it.
For me, when I first came into comics–well, I’ve been reading comics since I was a very young girl. Don’t get me wrong, I love Batgirl, I love Superman, and I have been reading fiction since I was a young girl and I loved my Alice in Wonderland and Wizard of Oz books and everything, but I would just latch on to these female characters even though they may not have been fully developed or they may not have been believable. Or their adventures may have been thrust upon them–they weren’t necessarily proactive in their story.
I’d grab onto these breadcrumbs and hold onto them as examples, because these were things that I could relate to. When I came into the [comics] industry, my secret goal was–because I had been reading comics pretty much all my life–was to prove that we could have a mainstream comic book with three female leads. They could be successful. That would have value without having male counterparts and exist without being a prop for the males to go on and save the day and the story becoming about men. With Birds of Prey, I think we proved that. I wrote that book for five years, and we showed that you could have three–and more–females who got along even if they didn’t agree with each other, and they got things done. And they weren’t the same people, they were different from each other, fully grown with three-dimensional characters.
But then I started coming to conventions, and I started looking around at the attendees, and I realized: that was not enough. Providing three-dimensional, well-rounded female characters was not inclusive enough. It did not reflect our audience. We were leaving out a whole lot of things. And it was just wrong. It was just wrong.
With The Movement, we were going to have a range of ethnicity, we’re going to have a complete sexual gamut, all of it, and if it was too much for DC and they didn’t want it, I was going to take it somewhere else. I really believed in this book. And thank you, all of you guys who have supported this. We even have two cosplayers from the book–Virtue over here, her character is a young sixteen year old girl who leads this team, who is African American, gay, and has super powers. And then we have Vengeance Moth over here, her character has not been fully revealed yet, but she is a person of disabilities who has a really strong role in this team. None of these characters are stereotypes. I’ve gone out of my way to try to give us something new and different that we haven’t seen before. It’s really important to me that people can find something, that they are not just grasping at breadcrumbs to find something that they can respond to, that can inspire them, and make them feel that they exist.
SPIKE: When you’re a minority character, seeing yourself reflected in the story that you are reading, there is a power to it that I also feel that the average, maybe white, straight, cis male can’t really understand.
GAIL SIMONE: Well, and I think it’s really important to shout out some of this. In Batgirl, I introduced a character named Alysia [Yeoh], who is trans. And the thing that the letters, the comments, people who have come to me who are so emotional about having a character to identify with, it’s trans people, it’s their families, it’s their friends–they just really have responded to that. It’s just an amazing thing to be able to kind of open out this world and make these interesting stories that people can hopefully identify with and learn with. I do believe that awareness can really save lives. Make people feel like they–
SPIKE: Like they exist.
GAIL SIMONE: Yes, that they exist in the world and are not just invisible.
SPIKE: I think a lot of the time people are expected–like we all kind of, a lot of people internalize this, that white/male/straight/cis has become the standard human being. And everyone in the world who doesn’t fit that mold is expected to identify with that person. The default human being. So when we see entertainment and the majority of movies star white male straight cis people, and the majority of television, the majority of comics, it’s almost like background radiation, you don’t even notice it after a while. So when you see a character who doesn’t fit that mold,and is put in a place of prominence–they aren’t supporting cast, they aren’t the guy who pokes his head in the door and hands somebody papers in the police drama, or the person who gets to die, or the red shirt, or whatever, you know, it’s such a shock to the system.
And people who maybe share demographic check boxes with that character–it’s almost a relief to see it. and people who don’t and maybe aren’t necessarily to step out of their comfort zone, it’s almost like you’re insulting them. It’s just one of those things that I’ve noticed, that um, a lot of people kind of retreat into this defensive posture. They talk about tokenism and race cards and stuff like that.
GAIL SIMONE: And that’s the counterpoint to Alysia in Batgirl, too, is that I have a lot of people also say, “Why couldn’t she just be trans?” That was such a shocking statement to me. I can’t even–you almost don’t know where to start. So she has to be white and female and straight if she’s going to be trans? She can’t be Asian and bi and trans? I mean, just– I don’t even understand that type of thinking, there’s just a lot–and I mean, a lot of these people are very–they feel like they’re very liberal and very non-bigoted. It’s just…I guess it’s just lack of exposure. It’s just such a shocking statement. That’s where a lot of people are at.
INTERRUPTING MANSPLAINER IN THE AUDIENCE: Some people are “PC” synthetically. But uh, that’s the exception rather than the rule I would think these days but once in a while it doesn’t seem genuine if they pull it off that way, like uh, they’re not doing it because that’s how it is, they are doing it because they really are following a checklist. That’s the only merit to that argument that I find, and everything else you say is true, though. It’s mostly just people complaining about being out of their comfort zone.
SPIKE: Well, I think a lot of people also, it’s like–my husband and I talk about this occasionally, we call it Black Vulcan syndrome. You laugh, so you know, clearly. Like, in case everyone here is younger than a thousand, back when the Super Friends–the old old old Super Friends–was on there was clearly some discussion between seasons, and someone in charge was like, “we need to be more diverse.” They plopped a bunch of “ethnic” characters on the Super Friends who basically did nothing interesting, said nothing interesting, because they weren’t characters. They were paragons. They were symbolic of an entire race.
For example, Black Vulcan was the black guy. We knew that because he had “black” in his name. Apache Chief, hey, he’s the Indian guy, he’s over there, he’s the Indian guy, he doesn’t do anything unless something requires someone to get 500 feet tall, he comes in and does that, grows back down, goes away. And they couldn’t express opinions, or have faults or anything like that because they were a minority character.
At the end of the day they weren’t characters at all, they were just “the minority.” And I think the approach–people have come to expect that in a lot of ways. The black character can’t have faults. The Asian character cannot have faults. Because if they do, they decide to interpret that–by the way, that is a failing of the audience, not you as a creator, if you ever run into this–a character is a character, not your opinion on an entire kind of person. A gay person can be a kleptomaniac. It’s okay. It’s because that person is a kleptomaniac, it is not a statement that all gay people are kleptomaniacs. But that is something that you are going to run into, you find, that if you write characters that fall outside the standard issue human category.
RACEBENDING.COM: Well especially with comic books, comic books are so driven by nostalgia. So when you talk about Apache Chief and Black Vulcan, when the discussion comes down to 2010, “hey, let’s make a cartoon, and we want to make sure it’s diverse,” so where do they go, they go back to the 1960s and 1970s. Even when it is done well, like in Young Justice, for example–that was a great cartoon, anyone watch Young Justice? Well, they killed it because it was too awesome.
BRANDON THOMAS: It was too awesome to live.
RACEBENDING.COM: In that case, what do you do? Because you can go back to the source material and try and fix it. There was a lot of controversy around Iron Man 3 bringing back the Mandarin. What do you do in that situation? Or do you do what so many of you have done here, which is: “Forget everything else,I’m going to create something new and hope it sells?”
BRANDON THOMAS: I think it’s probably easier to create your own character, to make your own way, to kind of show an equal way to something. But I know part of what I do a lot is publicly–I don’t want to say complaining because that is a very strong word, with negative connotation. But for me personally, as a writer, and as a black consumer of comics? I’ve been buying comics since 1992. I think I’ve probably missed maybe 10 Wednesdays since then. I’m in the shop every Wednesday. That’s what I do–I don’t smoke, I don’t drink. I buy comics! That is my vice. But I know that personally…I do take it personally that right now there are no black writers at DC or at Marvel, maybe things will change in the future, but as someone who takes this medium and just this form of expression so seriously, I really think it is important to have more diversity on the creative side of comics.
Personally, I think that diversity will save, save or will expand the comic industry. And I think that there should be diversity at all levels. Diversity in distribution channels, diversity in creators, I think that the way the industry is now is because we are telling the same story over and over again with the same characters that all look the same and unfortunately the people behind the scenes are also the same. And I think that’s why we have the mainstream comic industries that we do, unfortunately. I’ve always been of a mind that the war should be fought on two fronts.
I think that what we are doing in the independent sphere is very importaat and can drive content, and change minds, and change perceptions, but I also think it is important to maintain a sense of pressure on the mainstream companies to at least make an attempt to diversify their offerings. And at the end of the day, you guys, the fans, tell the companies what kind of products that you want to see.
So, I mean, I love independent comics, I created independent comics, but I know that if you know much about the comic industry, the mainstream comics make up about 70 to 75% of the marketplace. As a creator of color and as a writer I will not accept being shoved in the corner permanently. When you are doing an independent comic only an X amount of people are going to see that. And I think that that work is very important. But I also think it is very important to let the companies know if you think that Marvel or DC needs to have more diverse characters, more diverse creators. you have to tell them, you have to let them know. It is easier than ever to correspond with editors, tastemakers. It is very easy to make sure that your voice is heard.
I think that is a very important thing for all of us to do. all of us as creators. I try to do what I can to be an advocate, to let people know what type of books I am enjoying that have diverse characters and creators to try and get other people to give these books a chance. There’s a lot of good stuff out there that people do not know much about and if they did, I think things would change for the better.
SPIKE: That’s a really interesting perspective because speaking as an independent creator I have never once–I’m 34 and I have never ever once attempted to approach Marvel or DC or honestly even Dark Horse or anybody like that with a pitch or an idea. Part of that, admittedly, is “Why would they give a crap about me? Why would they know anything about me?” I don’t feel my style is right. I don’t feel my writing is right. I honestly don’t have much of an interest in superheroes aside from a very sixteen year-old obsession with Nightcrawler (that a surprising amount of girls seem to have.)
CHRISTINA STRAIN: I don’t think–it’s a tricky question. Diversity alone can’t sustain comic book characters. It is not an easy solution. For one thing, Marvel–I don’t know when the last time you worked for Marvel was, but Marvel is a little more, as far as creators or editors go, a little more diverse, though it’s got a long way to go. You would never know from my name that I am half Korean, and I spent fifteen years of my life there. I didn’t know Khari [Evans, the artist Strain worked with on Daughters of the Dragon] was black. All I see is a name. Most of the time I knew somebody’s gender.
BRANDON THOMAS: Well, I knew Khari was black.
CHRISTINA STRAIN: But I’d never met him! I’d never met him, and from the name, I can’t really tell what somebody is. When I worked with David Hahn, I was like, I’m guessing you’re not Korean because of the way it’s spelled? These are things you can’t really tell and the problem there is that there are a lot of editors who are not straight white guys. It is a pretty diverse group. The thing is, we are give these preexisting characters that have been established, that are old. And for me, I agree with you, I’m not really that interested in superheroes, which is part of the reason why I started my web comic. Those are the types of stories that I am interested in, in telling, reading, participating in. It’s really hard because I do know that recently Marvel creators have gone out of their way to diversify newer characters. But a lot of the pre-existing ones, they are the way they are.
SPIKE: The decade they were made in is very reflective.
CHRISTINA STRAIN: Like Superman: Superman, Superman ain’t–you aren’t changing his gender or sexuality. That guy is established. He is Superman. These things do not change. Which is why I think it is really important to understand that if you want diverse comics, you go make them. You don’t sit there and beg Marvel to give you a job. You go make your own superhero comic that is diverse. You don’t need them to do that. They may own a huge chunk of the market, but at the same time, you aren’t going to expand that market by not creating different content. So it is up to everybody involved to make, diversify, the industry by producing diverse content. You can’t just look at DC and Marvel and go “you guys are going to fix this.” It is on all of us.
SPIKE: Alternative, independent comics. Web comics. I honestly feel in my heart it is some of the most vibrant and creative, interesting stuff being made right now and it is as diverse as it comes. With no editorial oversight, I mean obviously you’re going to get some weird stuff–but that is part of the appeal to me, y’know, (said the pornographer.) Whenever a comic book website talks, the occasional article about diversity in comics or the shocking things some editor said when a fan asked a question at the con of the month, almost without fail, there is a comment in the comments section saying “Well, how do we get those people to start reading comics. Maybe the audience isn’t there.”
And that always seems like a question from Mars to me, because those people are reading comics! They just aren’t reading your comics, dude. People come up to my table in Small Press Expo and fangirl at me or those people have tables right now in Small Press and they are reading comics and are making comics. They’re just not really interested in White Dude 47-B who was invented to punch Hitler in the face n the cover of Action Comics #78.
GENE YANG: I really agree with what Brandon said about the two fronts. I personally really like a lot of those legacy characters. I like young Mexican American Blue Beetle. I think he’s an awesome character. But the problem is that as Mike said, they are nostalgia driven. And when the nostalgia gets strong enough…they die. They have the tendency of getting killed. All these young heroes of color are killed by nostalgia.
RACEBENDING.COM: Kind of like what DC did, y’know.
GENE YANG: And I think that is the particular nature of that industry. But I really think that diversity of all sorts is going to come from creator owned material.
GENE YANG: When there is no overlord telling you what to do.
GAIL SIMONE: I’d like to say with The Movement, I haven’t had any–there has been no editorial input in terms of the content of that book. To me, like I said, independent comics lead the charge. They are breaking all of the rules, in a good way. But a comic book like The Movement, where we have basically no editorial input at all in terms of the content and what is in there, has shown we have come quite a long way. I think we need it on all fronts. Because why cut out any of the audience. If there is demand for something, why not do it?
GENE YANG: I have a question for you, though. Do you think that you would be able to do that if you were not the Gail Simone?
GAIL SIMONE: I don’t know the answer to that. I think part of it might be my history of creating new characters that are diverse and the way I tell the story, the way the characters interact may have to do with it, too. They feel comfortable with me controlling that book. I think it is probably more that I have the history and the track record, for it. And also, they know they need newer characters that are not straight white characters. They know that they also need it to have it be viable economically which takes a larger effort and larger audience then something that is produced on a smaller scale. By the time they pay us to do all the different components of a comic, they need to sell a certain amount. That’s why it is so important for all of you to support that book, because that is what will keep it alive. Companies will say, “Hey, the readers wanted this book and they supported it.” It makes a huge difference on what the next person can do.
SPIKE: To kind of segway, that’s kind of why whitewashing happens. It’s not that movie studios are “racist”–well, I’m sure some of them are, but it is not because they sit there with a wingback chair with a crow and lightening going “Neeeehheeeehee muahahaha now they’re all white!!!!” Movies are incredibly expensive. Ridiculously expensive, Hollywood movies anyway. And at the end of the day, they have to worry about every single dollar.
RACEBENDING.COM: My frustration with the “economic” argument is that it cuts out the issues of, the assumptions of what the American consumer is like today. If you look at movie sales, 55% of movie tickets are sold to women. Not sold to men. And yet the overwhelming majority of movies are geared with a male gaze towards male interests with male leads. Especially with, for example, the recent Justice League movie announcement, I was really frustrated that the Big Three that they are going to create movies for are Batman, Superman, and the Flash! Who asked for a Flash movie? Seriously, if you’re going to go with one, two, three, then: Wonder Woman! Who else would it be? But somehow, some DC bonehead–well, anyway…
GAIL SIMONE: This is what I have to say: If you guys scream as loud as the people who are complaining about diversity, or why we have to do this, if you guys scream as loud as they do, that will make a huge difference.
It’s the companies starting to get a little bit worried about the people who are complaining, and putting their attention on people complaining and saying something really racist or whatever–they don’t want to get involved with that. If the other side is yelling just as loud, that they want it, that they accept it? It will make a difference. I really believe that, especially y’know, I don’t know…now I am upset about the Wonder Woman movie.
SPIKE: Aren’t there weird superstitions about the Wonder Woman movie? I remember reading somewhere that nobody wants to do a Wonder Woman movie because no Wonder Woman movie has ever been done?
RACEBENDING.COM: Yeah, I like that attitude–we’d love to be the first but we can’t because we’re never been the first before.
SPIKE: It’s like that rumor that women won’t go see movies with the word “Mars” in the title? That was why the movie was called “John Carter,” apparently, because someone told someone that women won’t go see a movie with “Mars” in the title.
RACEBENDING.COM: We have a few minutes left so we have time for some questions via the microphone, which is hopefully hooked up to something. If you line up we can probably have time for three or four questions.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: I just want to respond to the Wonder Woman thing, when there are adaptions and something happens kind of like whitewashing where we are just losing the entire [essence of] the character. It kind of dissipates, if that makes sense.
GAIL SIMONE: Like the TV show? My experience is that everyone has their own idea of who Wonder Woman should be. They don’t necessarily agree with each other, so then they give up. Someone complains about how they don’t like this version of Wonder Woman, and then they feel like it is not going to be successful. That is kind of how I am seeing it. So that’s why when they say things like, “We’re waiting for the right take” that is what they mean. Nobody seems to be agreeing.
AUDIENCE: You should write it!
GAIL SIMONE: I obviously have opinions about that!
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: Hi, I’m trying to write a story that has an interracial love story in it right now, and I was wondering what was your advice if you could help me do a good job with it.
SPIKE: No matter what color, people are people. This is a good example: I write a web comic and one of the main characters is a black man. And I get some of the most interesting email about him because he is kind of a wuss. He is weird and anxious and has penis disintegration dreams and he wears a kilt. And you’d be surprised–well, no you wouldn’t. People take me to task for not knowing anything about actual black people. And then they find out that my husband is white, which is really fun.
But yeah, advice-wise, people are people. Please do not descend into stereotype. Stereotypes are not established by the people they are describing, you know what I mean?
Being black, being gay, being a woman, will give you certain experiences in society that are irreproducible by other groups that don’t share that particular check box. That is a part of what makes you who you are, but there is way more to you than the color of your skin or your sexuality. That is an aspect of your character, not your entire character. I think the world could benefit from a lot more stories that star people of color and people of different sexualities and gender identities where the story is not about that difference. I don’t walk around all day thinking about how I am a black person and other people are not black people.
And I think the temptation for the person who does not want to mess up is for, instance, I see a lot of web comics with blaxploitation characters who are the black character of that web comic,and it’s just like, why? People are real.
GAIL SIMONE: Don’t put these characters on pedestals. It makes for a boring story.
SPIKE: No Paragons. They are real people. The checkboxes are a part of who they are and make up their personality but there is so much more to them.
CHRISTINA STRAIN: What’s your fear about writing an interracial relationship?
SPIKE: That’s a good question.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: Just in general, a lack of knowledge.
CHRISTINA STRAIN: As a child who is mixed race, nowadays it doesn’t really matter. My parents got married a few years after it was legal to marry someone who was of a different race in Texas. Back then it was a big deal, but now it doesn’t really matter. I mean, if you’re writing two people that of different race, as long as their attraction is their and their chemistry is there and we understand why they care about each other, that is all that really matters.
SPIKE: I actually have to jump in real quick and say that 364 days out of the year it doesn’t matter but every once in a while, it matters a lot to one very strange person.
CHRISTINA STRAIN: But I don’t think that is the primary thing you should be concerned about.
SPIKE: It’s not forces of society.
CHRISTINA STRAIN: Realistically, nowadays there are still areas where that is an issue, but it is not what it used to be. So if you have two characters that you think really connect, you can’t let the fear of them being in an interracial couple bother you.
GAIL SIMONE: Just write it. Don’t preach it.
SPIKE: Don’t make it the centerpiece of their lives, because it is not.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: It’s not. It’s a science fiction horror story. I was just wondering if there was any advice you could give me.
SPIKE: Please don’t write any love at first sight stories. Those are kind of creepy. That’s pretty much it. If they are in love, make them loveable! That has always been important to me in romance stories. Give me a reason to understand why person A is actually attracted to person B that is not “They saw each other across the lunch room and the sun beam hit their profile just right…” People in love should be loveable.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: Thank you all for being here. I was a late arrival so if I repeat something that was said, please shoot me. Gail, first of all, Red Sonja Legends!!! And that you for pointing out people who are considered as marginalized by race, by orientation, for any reason at all shouldn’t be the crux of their character. The “we have a superhero and the most important thing about him is that he is gay!” no, he’s a superhero who just happens to be gay. The question I have on LGBTQ issues–this is mostly to Christina and Gail because you work for [Marvel and DC]–is there any way do you think of breaking out of the habit of using LGBTQ people as marketing instead of solid characters? Where someone is a real character and not “oh look we have a real gay character now.”
CHRISTINA STRAIN: I think it depends on the way you want to go about it. I just came from Outfest [Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival]. I love me some LGBT cinema. I love it so much. If you want–you can write as an LGBT creator, LGBT characters. If you want to write a world that is that way and highlight that, you can. If you want to write something that is y’know quote/unquote “more mainstream” with “a character who is gay” there is nothing wrong with that you can do that too. Karolina [Dean] in Runaways is a lesbian, and that was not what defined her. So, I mean, you can easily do that. I am a very–I think more than race I am a lot more concerned about integrating gender and sexuality into characters probably because I don’t know, I grew up in Korea where we were all half something. For some reason…I feel like I grew up on a military base where nobody ever came out, except for one of my friends. For me, that’s a bitter cause that I would rather fight.
For me, I don’t like being identified as a female creator, I like being identified as a kick-ass creator. If you want to write a character who just happens to be gay, you can do that, there is nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to highlight that. You just do it.
GAIL SIMONE: Her question was, if I misunderstood, I apologize, the question about how the companies approach it. I really feel that we need both. I don’t like that that’s the way it is but I really feel we need sometimes for it to be highlighted for awareness purposes. Not marketing, not money purposes. But if people are not aware of the material then they don’t purchase the material; however, if you kind of notice this especially with this past year because of Batgirl and The Movement, those were not used as huge marketing tools. We did a couple of little interviews, [having LGBTQ characters] was not what those books were about.
CHRISTINA STRAIN: Marvel’s done the same thing with Northstar’s wedding and their gay and lesbian characters they don’t market.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: I guess I was thinking more of the Green Lantern when they made him gay…
GAIL SIMONE: I wasn’t involved with that. I can only tell you that this is what I feel and this is the example with the books I am working on, because that’s what I ask for. Sometimes you just have to fight for it and explain to the company why I didn’t want to do it that way. I’ve had conversations with executives: “How do you feel, Gail? Do you think we should market this as a big huge story or should we have it be revealed in story?” My preference is that it be revealed in the story, but sometimes I feel we need a little bit of the other, like I said before, for that little bit of awareness, so that people start talking about it. Sometimes if we don’t do that, then we can’t move to the next level.
RACEBENDING: I’m sorry Gail, but unfortunately we are completely out of time. Thank you for all of the questions!