A Geek Whitesplains, Mansplains, Straightsplains and Cisplains Diversity All At Once

picsart_03-12-04-15-41By Ray Flook

Going through my grocery list of topics I wanted to tackle before convention season madness started but had to put on hold…so I thought I'd start by giving my two-cents on diversity and representation within the comics industry. Now I know what you're thinking: "Great! Because the one thing this conversation was lacking was the opinion of a straight, white, middle-aged guy…" Point well-taken. And trust me…I went back and forth on whether or not this was something I was in any position to talk about. Because with all due respect? My demographic has pretty much gotten us to where we are today.

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But then I realized that was a pretty shitty reason to not say something…for two really important reasons. First one is a little more personal because by keeping my mouth shut, I'm essentially letting the "asshole wing" of my "straight, white, middle-aged male" demo speak for all of us. I've seen their grammar and spelling…it's horrible…can't let that happen. But more important than that is the second reason: for the comics industry to improve and grow…for it to truly represent the diversity of its readership on and off the page…people who give a damn need to speak-up, because a message only gets stronger as more voices speak-out.

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Do I have the answer? No…but don't we already know the answer? The comics industry needs to diversify on the page, within the entirety of the creative process and in the boardrooms for it to survive and stay true to its readership. If for no other reason (though you'd hope that the pride that comes with creating work that's socially representative across-the-board would be enough reward) than this sobering truth: that certain male demo that's still being fed-into isn't going to live forever, folks. If you're one of "The Big Two," the last place you want to find yourself is playing thirty-year catch-up with a younger, more diverse fandom that's left you behind. But I'll touch-upon DC and Marvel in a little bit…

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What I'm here to do is throw-out some rhetorical questions…some questions that do deserve answers, no matter how uncomfortable they might be…and random thoughts on recent issues that most of you will agree with and some of you will righteously fucking hate. I'm good with that.

* Let's start with killing-off some superheroes…or more specifically, their alter-egos. By "killing-off," I mean "dead"…and by "dead," I mean "DEAD dead." I'm talking "Uncle-Ben-Until-Dan-Slott-Finalizes-Bringing-Him-Back-From-The-Dead"-type dead. If you're going to have Sam Wilson be Captain America, then have Sam Wilson be Captain America. One comic book titled Captain America, with Sam Wilson holding the shield. Same applies to Thor, Iron Man and several others. Only way to do that? Put Steve Rogers, Odinson and Tony Stark six-feet-under and keep them there. If you want readers to buy-into a "new era" for a character, then you need to send the message that it's not just a cheap publicity stunt to boost sales and then return the characters to their previous identity. I'm a big fan of what's going-on in The Mighty Thor; but when you combine Marvel's track record for reboots/restarts/re-imaginings every twelve months with the alter ego's cancer and the fact that Odinson is still around, you can't help but feel like all of this is just temporary…and most comics fans can't afford to invest time or money in "temporary."

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* Repeat after me, "Women like the same kind of shit that men do!" Not exactly a clickbait headline but a basic truth for anyone who's ever spent more than sixty seconds actually interacting with a woman. Go ahead and tell one of my friends that she's supposed to love Jerry Maguire and she'll set you on fire at knife-point. She's a Shining/Exorcist woman through-and-through. One of the many things that make her awesome. Because women love horror…and action…and stoner comedies…and all the other stuff that men do, too. It's 2016, people. This shouldn't be a major fucking revelation…but it felt like DC Comics missed the point of that not too long ago during the Stewart/Tarr/Fletcher run on Batgirl and with how they approached most of their "DCYou" campaign. I know others have spent a helluva' lot of time and gray matter dissecting sales figures and demographics to explain why that initiative did/didn't succeed so I'm not interested in wading into waters that are well above my pay-grade. But from an online, anecdotal standpoint? Batgirl went from being a hero who was an integral part of the Batman family and a leader in her own right to a brightly-colored, comic book version of the shows The CW used to put out there before they sold their soul to superheroes. It went from a book with a strong back-story for Barbara Gordon to a book where the back-story was becoming the story and the importance of Batgirl seemed to have been lost in the process. But what bothered me the most was the way it was promoted, both directly and indirectly: that this Gordon/Batgirl was the one that new (and younger) female readers absolutely wanted to read. And I'm sure for some, it was…but female readers aren't some form of "Borg construct" with a hive mentality. For example, turns out a lot of female readers like having Barbara Gordon as Oracle and Cassandra Cain as Batgirl (big fan of both, by the way…); while others prefer the way Gail Simone interpreted the true strength of the Batgirl/Barbara Gordon character in Birds of Prey through Oracle as a leader in her own right. Subtleties and differences, folks…that's what it's all about, and that's what DC didn't understand. They got caught-up in the "quick fix" need to make changes fast: so while I'm sure (???) the intentions were good, the execution left a lot to be desired…and gave ammo to those already whining about how "girls don't read comics" and "female superheroes can't sell." Personally, I'm still waiting to see a female Lobo-like character…with the right creative team, that thing could be monster across demos.

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* Why do so many comics fans who look like me have such a raging fucking hard-on against superheroes who don't look like them? And so what if Miles Morales is the only Spider-Man in the Marvel U.? To the bigger point, if you're a white guy who claims that "race isn't an issue for you" then prove it and give a new and diverse generation of comics fans the heroes that they can grow-up wanting to be. Because we grew-up with superheroes who looked and talked like us; and when they didn't, they were either alien or some type of super-powered stereotype (I'm looking at you, Apache Chief). So it's time we paid our tab and did the right thing by actually giving books like Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Black, Bitch Planet and the tons of other quality books out there right now a try (IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT "THE BIG TWO," PEOPLE!) that you may have blown-past …start reading outside your comfort zone. And when (not if) you surprise yourself by connecting with a book you never thought for a raging second you ever would? Tell others. Spread the word. Keep reading. That's how you become the change agent you need to be It's time we paid-back decades of undeserved privilege by putting aside our collective insecurities…opinions of white-sheet-wearing, chromosome-lacking individuals aside, the world would righteously suck if everyone looked and thought like us. Why would anyone think for one second that would be a winning formula for comics?

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* The fact that people are using "Social Justice Warrior" or "SJW" as some kind of insult might just be one of the dumbest fucking things in the pantheon of dumb fucking things spawned by social media. Just the concept alone is both lazy and weird: using a good trait about someone as a negative. It's like saying, "You goddamned Lover of Dogs!" or "Oh hell, here's another one of those fucking Vegetable Growers!" I mean honestly…what non-head-up-your-ass argument can you make to say that championing for the rights of other voices to be heard is a bad thing? Unless you're happy with the status quo because you are the status quo. Because whenever I hear someone say, "Why does this character have to be gay?" or "Another female hero?!?" it's usually never from someone's who's gay or a female. It's usually from someone who still doesn't realize how good he's had it for so long…

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* Posting Pepe the Frog as your profile pic or as a meme doesn't make you some kind of fucking "cyber pirate" making a stand against "political correctness." What it does do is make you is a special kind of paper-mache "tough-guy," the kind that steals an artist's art (in this case, Matt Furie's) and perverts it to their own petty, narrow-minded cause…all while whining about how "oppressed" they are. Pretty ironic that they'll raise holy hell if Captain America's now a black guy…but have no problems taking a character like Pepe the Frog and changing him from how he was originally created. Hypocrisy is never a pretty thing.

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Well, that felt good! Look forward to hearing what everyone has to say. Who knows? Maybe somewhere in all of that you found some gooey morsels of truth that you agree with. Then again? Maybe not. Either way, what matters most is having the conversation without shoving out heads in the sand or "la-la-la"-ing with fingers in our ears when we hear things we don't like or make us feel uncomfortable. Own it and move on. In the end, we all love comics and what they bring to our lives. That's a pretty decent place for us to start from…

About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.

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