News was flying hot and heavy out of the Diamond Retailer Summit yesterday. DC Comics announced a new line of comics called Dark Matter that seemed to capitalize on Marvel's recent PR gaffe about artists, but they failed to pay attention to Marvel's even bigger recent gaffe about readers not wanting diversity any more (though even that was not as big as the hidden hate messages in their X-Men comic gaffe — look, Marvel has been having a very bad month). DC's "Master Class" of artists and accompanying writers on the Dark Matter line were all men.
Naturally, the subject of diversity was a major topic of discussion between DC's executives and master artists and hand-chosen comic book journalists given the honor of questioning them at the summit. One of those outlets was CBR, and that's the report which our own Rumormonger-in-Chief Rich Johnston used in his dissection of the events. But CBR's report was missing some crucial details, it seems, when it comes to an account of artist John Romita Jr.'s statements, which were partially paraphrased by CBR:
Romita backed this claim up, noting that the new hero Silencer he's creating with writer Dan Abnett is a female assassin, but that "I don't think of it as a diversity item. I think of it as a new character." The artist said that if a story like this would be attempted with, say, Marvel recreating the Punisher as Francine Castle, he'd understand how readers would question the integrity of the story. But when artists start with the goal of making something totally new, there were no restrictions or second guessing, adding that with original characters as the focus, "There have been great female characters and great characters of color over the years."
Setting aside that second generation comics veteran John Romita Jr. apparently doesn't understand that legacy characters, a longstanding tradition in comics, are most often new characters taking on the mantle of an established character and not, as he suggests, The Punisher transitioning to a woman (though, with the right creative team, we would definitely read that story), it turns out that the paraphrasing didn't quite capture the full extent of Romita's comments. Newsarama reporter George R. R. Marston, however, probably because of all that practice writing the lengthy Game of Thrones novels, transcribed Romita's quote in full:
"There's a cynical side to this, to your point," said Romita. "Why are you creating these characters just to add more diversity when everyone knows you're doing that?"
"If somebody had taken the Punisher, and made him female instead of who he is now – Frank Castle is now Francine Castle – that would piss me off. We've got two choices – well, three, but we're not doing any transgenders just yet. I just don't think of this as diversity, I think of it as just a new character. I think it's great to have a new character. I just don't look at is a diversity thing, because there have been great female characters and great characters of color through the decades."
"One of the reasons it doesn't work is when you take a character that everyone's known for a long time, and because we want to create that diversity, you say 'I'm just gonna change this'," Romita added. "That's force-fitting, it's retrofitting, and it never works comfortably. The idea is to create new characters…to be judged on their own merit."
Spoken like a retailer writing an article for Bleeding Cool.
This isn't the first time creative paraphrasing has softened the blow of a comic creator's words at a convention. Last year, when Peter David made comments about Romani people at New York Comic Con, Newsarama's live blog reported:
But on Twitter, Newsarama's reporter, Pierce Lydon, elaborated on the sharing of "some negative feelings about the portrayal of Romani people," revealing that it wasn't the portrayal David had negative feelings about, but Romani themselves:
A video released of the incident later on, believe it or not, actually showed the incident to be even worse:
David later apologized for the incident.
All of this, of course, begs the obvious question: did anyone videotape the DC Retailer Summit presentation and subsequent press conference? Because if you did, we'd really like to see it.