In June of 2009, John Jennings and Damian Duffy hosted an art exhibition called Out of Sequence: Underrepresented Voices in American Comics at the
Krannert Art Museum. The show focused on work by women and minority artists, experimental and small press comic creators, webcomics creators and the contributions of comic book writers, inkers, colorists and letterers. The show featured numerous superheroes of color created by artists of color that do not always get the recognition of comics that get published by the big two comic book publishers -- DC and Marvel. Out of Sequence explored alternate histories of American comics and explicated the limitless possibilities for the medium in the 21st century. Some of the artists involved with the show included Ann Telnaes, Tak Toyoshima, Drew Weing, Masheka Wood, Larry Yang and Lev Yilmaz. This is to only name a few. Following this exhibition John Jennings, Damian Duffy and Keith Knight published the book, Black Comix: Independent Comics, Art and Culture (2010). The book features an unprecedented collection of largely unheard of, and undeniably masterful collections of comic art by people of color. In fact, John Jennings is the creator of a few different graphic novels, featuring characters of color, such as The Hole: Consumer Culture (2007).
In 2014, Ronald Jackson and I published the book, Black Comics: Politics of Race and Representation in order to provide a baseline of knowledge around the history of black cartoonist' contributions to the field of comics, as well as a collection that would introduce comic fans to people of color in comics who are oftentimes marginalized or ignored in conversations about the history of comics. One chapter in the book, written by Derek Lackoff, titled Black Comics and Social Media Economics, outlines the struggles black cartoonists have faced in breaking into the mainstream world of comics and the ways in which black artists have used social media as a tool to self-publish and create characters of color.
This chapter, introduces readers to ECBAAC (East Coast Age of Comics), which is an annual comics convention held in Philadelphia that provides support for cartoonists of color and features comic book artists from all over the country that are creating new and fresh characters of color. Many of which may be characters and story lines published by small independent publishers or self-published web-comics. The microcosm provided here is to shed light on some of the ways in which minorities are doing big things in the comics industry, despite the fact that it is still a white-washed industry. We should not be fooled by the recent surge in diversity in the comics industry by DC and Marvel, in which already established superheroes are being diversified. Totally ignoring the history and realities of the comics industry and Hollywood for that matter is what makes Michelle Rodriguez's initial comments on the lack of new superherose of color problematic. Her apology, which ignored the cultural gatekeeping of the comics industry and Hollywood, was lame -- more than lame.
If you are only consuming comics that are published by DC and Marvel, than you are not even scratching the surface of comic book culture and the various characters that are being created. These facts are particularly relevant as we put into context the recent comments made by actress, Michelle Rodriguez in which she accused comic artists of color of "stealing ... white people's superheroes." A reference to the recent trends in popular superheroes, such as Captain America and Spider Man, being taken over by characters of color. For example, in the new Ultimate Spider Man, Miles Morales, a half black and hispanic kid is now Spider Man in an alternate universe.
DC and Marvel have finally caught on that women and minorities actually consume comics and its white-male fan-base will actually buy comics that are diverse. However, those employed by DC and Marvel still remain predominantly male and white. In 2014, DC employed less than three percent of black creators and less than six percent female creators. These numbers are similiar for Marvel. The realities, not Michelle Rodriguez's misguided and blinded opinion, are the forces at play when talking about the lack of new superheroes of color being created. They are being created, they are just not being created by the big two, so most people do not know about them. The fact of the matter is, "lazy" is never a word to describe people of color or women who have worked so hard just to get the comics industry to even represent diversity in the way it is today.
It is not even practical here to list the numerous black superheros that were created by Milestone Media in the 1990s but the point is Michelle Rodriguez comments are completely unfounded. We are living in a time when sony execs are caught sending racist emails about mega stars, such as Denzel Washington, and Michelle Rodriquez as a woman and racial minority should remain cognizant of the cultural gatekeeping, not only in Hollywood, but the comics industry as well. People of color have been and are creating their own characters of color, it is the predominately white-male mainstream comic publishers that see a profit to be made off of diversity, in which they feel the need to "steal" white-male superheroes and make them racial minorities or female. There are countless numbers of talented people of color and women that would love the backing and funding to have their new and diverse characters go mainstream. The fact of the matter is that these artists and writers have to be invited to the party first.
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