Whenever I’m talking about Miranda Mercury, one of the questions that’s usually posed is something like, “What can people do to support diversity in comics and books like Miranda Mercury?”
And it’s a great question, no doubt about it, and I usually answer it in a very diplomatic way, but to put it very simply—you have to BUY IT. Buy it today, and tomorrow tell someone else you know whose tastes and sensibilities you know and understand that they should buy it too. Don’t put it on your Amazon wish list as something to buy after you’ve bought all those other books on the list you clearly want to buy more—buy it today. Right now.
Cause here’s the truth of it—people like to talk a good game and co-sign all of these articles that sprout up every February, bemoaning the lack of black and diverse voices in comics, while attacking the offending companies with red hot pokers of indignation, ignoring the fact that it’s not just the companies putting out the books. It’s all of it, which includes the fans and commentators that are saying all the right things in public, but in private, are just as much of the problem as anyone. All some people are doing is talking about the books instead of buying the books, and there could be any number of reasonable explanations for that, admittedly, but I know for a fact that the numbers of people appearing “concerned” about this whole thing far outnumbers the additional sales of any books that might benefit from that sentiment.
There’s a writer I’ve known for years, who has written for a number of comics news sites that I consider a brilliant and clever commentator on race, comics, hip-hop, and where it all naturally intersects. He writes so much better than I do, and unlike me, doesn’t seem consumed with this idea that one day he’ll be able to work in comics, and therefore everything posted must be tempered with some level of restraint. He tells the truth, and he doesn’t shy away from it. And I consider him a friend and an ally who shares some of the same sensibilities I do, and he helped get the word out about the existence of Miranda Mercury, which is something I’ll never be able to repay him for.
But I’m reading a review by him of the recently released Dynamite comic Red Team, and he makes a comment how this was the first time he’d seen the work of artist Craig Cermak, who made his comics debut with me on Voltron: Year One. And you know what, I’m man enough to admit that comment hurt my heart a little bit, and felt like being kicked in the chest. If there was one person in the entire world that I was supremely confident was reading not one, but both of my Voltron comics, it was this man, and the fact he hasn’t just confirmed a suspicion that I suspect a lot of black and diverse writers indulge in on occasion—that even the people you’d think would be willing to support your work with dollars isn’t doing it for whatever reason.
Now, I don’t believe for a second there was any malice intended on his part, and I’m not of the mind that every single person out there who claims to be alarmed by the lack of diversity in the industry should be expected to buy every single book by a black, female, or other diverse writer. But, if even that segment of the audience is unwilling to, or (and this is far more likely) able to somehow casually overlook the existence of something they’re claiming loudly, proudly, and publicly to want? Then yeah, I think that’s a concern, and one that deserves further discussion.
Here’s a quick, completely unscientific litmus test for the type of thing I’m talking about.
Did you buy Prince of Cats? Shadowlaw? Quantum & Woody when it appeared on Comixology? Number 13? Have you heard of Rotten Apple or Journeymen? Do you have any of the following books on your shelves right now—Beyond!, Birth of a Nation, Angeltown, You Are Here, Highwaymen, The Rinse, Nat Turner, Incognegro, Graphic Classics #22, Black Comix, Sentences, The American Way, Fierce, Bayou, or Adam: Legend of the Blue Marvel? Or dare I even say it…Miranda Mercury?
Obviously, that’s not anything approaching a comprehensive list of titles either written by black writers, featuring black characters, or both, but if you can’t raise your hand for at least a few of those books, here’s the honest, inconvenient truth—you are part of the problem, and no amount of public cheerleading or grandstanding is going to change that.
People are hopping up and down about Marvel or DC, and how they don’t have any black writers at least tangentially involved in the creation of their respective universes, and I think it’s a dangerous and self-fulfilling precedent to set both in the short-term and the long-term. More than anything, it gives the impression that the work or professionalism of diverse writers is somehow deficient or lacking in some way, and that’s not true.
There’s also the fact that “it’s a copycat league” and if one of the big publishers drew a line in the sand and said, “You know what, we might be doing comics, its present and potential fans a huge disservice,” and decided to really go after it, things could change. Maybe it’ll happen some day soon, maybe it won’t, but in the meantime, there are already great books out there by diverse creators and you should support them and not just talk about supporting them.
My concern for the comics industry as it exists now is not about how the marketplace will look next year, what makes me nervous is thinking about the landscape in 2019. It already seems pretty clear that mainstream comics will never grow beyond its largely static superhero dominated boundaries by continuing to only allow one relatively singular interpretation of what superheroes can and should be. That’s not to imply that just because all of the main voices driving superhero content are white male ones automatically means the books are all the same. That’s insulting and stupid.
However, there is no question that a female writer is going to bring some additional level of perspective or methodology when handling the portrayal of female (and male) characters that a man wouldn’t. I think we can all agree on that, right? That seems something reasonable people can agree on.
So how and why are people so convinced that’s not also true when dealing with other diverse elements of the marketplace? Or is that not the issue at all? The argument is not that including the perspectives of women or people of color in positions of true authority will ultimately produce “better” comics, but there’s little question in my mind that they could help produce different comics. Not better or superior, which seems to be a straw man argument that sprouts up when folks start huffing and puffing about why it doesn’t matter at all—but different.
And different, by any means necessary, is what comics always needs. It’s what comics are for in the first place, and if they’re unwilling to do it, then what makes our medium different from movies or television or any of the other ones that have spotty track records on this very subject? Comics are better and you only need to open your eyes for three seconds before that realization slaps you in the face. There’s just something about them that’s special, and they (and we) can endure when someone asks that they be even more special. Even stronger and more fertile a creative ground than they already are. And if we want them to and commit to applying the only pressure that means anything, there’s no reason at all they can’t be.
What I’m doing now, what many have done before me in broaching this subject with even more intelligence, integrity and wit—this is not pressure. It’s a necessary step for sure, and if you truly are passionate about the issue, and not just padding your hit counters, you deserve a real pat on the back for the effort. It’s difficult to discuss calmly and rationally, and talking about race and diversity in public is always like diving into a snake pit, so if you’ve got the stuff for it, you have my sincerest congratulations.
But let’s not fool ourselves here—what I’m doing here, with this posting/column/whatever? This is not pressure, no matter how much we’d like it to be. Buying the books we want to see more of, and in numbers that are impossible to deny? That’s pressure. That will bring about the change we all claim to want.
So that means a little additional work may be necessary on our parts. Having some idea of the kind of books that are being offered from ALL publishers, not just two of them, is essential. Do not sit and wait for Marvel and DC to magically present you the perfect book by the exact perfect people that you want. Yes, they drive the major trends, but how is any diverse writer going to build a career that might lead to attention from Marvel, DC, etc. if no one is supporting the independent work they’re producing?
If you’re truly a fan of something, then you should plan on being a willing participant in its success or failure.
Everybody always wants to point to the other guy and scream who’s at fault, but the truth is it’s everybody’s fault. We all bear some level of responsibility for “the way things are” and until we acknowledge that, nothing is going to really change. Except the dates being posted on these articles, I guess.
I’ve made my share of mistakes, overlooked or dismissed things that I shouldn’t have, but you know what, I’m pretty comfortable with the way my shelf looks ultimately. And with the knowledge that I’m doing my part to turn the tide with more than just these words.
A little more honesty and accountability can go a long way…and there’s still a much longer way to go…