The NYCC Women of Color in Comics panel was kicked off by Regine Sawyer (Lockett Down Productions), who, as a founder of Women in Comics International Society, has emerged as a leader in supporting and encouraging creative diversity around the globe.
The most echoed theme of the discussion – only one of many that engaged issues of diversity and inclusion head-on over the four-day Con – was the panel of creators recounting their motivation to enter the industry as being fans who were frustrated at not seeing themselves in the medium.
Carol Burrell (Graphic Universe), Che Grayson (RIgamo), Jules Rivera (Valkyrie Squadron), Micheline Hess (Ovenland) and Barbara Brandon-Croft (Where I'm Coming From) all wanted to fix that (Camilla Zhang joined the panel late due thanks to a kitten that had to be rescued from the tracks in front of her train).
And in a sense, the other star of the panel was the crowd itself. The room was filled beyond capacity with a rainbow of faces reflecting the breadth and diversity of modern comics, with no sign of a majority race, gender or age group. It was a striking statement on how far the comics marketplace has come (and how much larger the rooms need to be to accommodate panels that celebrate that).
Brandon-Croft spoke with genuine joy at the changing demographics on the creative side over the course of her career as the first syndicated African-American comic-strip creator. She also offered a note of caution against complacency.
"(I'm) so happy to see so many women of color cartooning… but as much as things have changed, as much as they've stayed the same," she warned, noting that her father (breakthrough strip creator Brumsic Brandon Jr. of Luther fame) "(had) to deal with the same issues" in his day.
Rivera was pleased to see more Puerto Rican women like herself in comics, but made the point that seeing that diversity mirrored at the editorial and publishing level – where the corporate decisions are made – was at least as important.
"Maybe get us behind the table because we know what we're talking about" when it comes to the lives and experiences of characters of color.
It was noted that young women are the fastest growing comic reader demographic, but that female representation among creators was still proportionately lagging.
"We can always use more, that's the point," Rivera added, noting that the goal of increasing the representation of women in color in print and in the boardroom was ultimately good for everyone. "It makes society better because it makes other people be able to see us and empathize with us, and see us as humans."
"I'm a human!" she called out, eliciting laughter from the crowd.