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Monday, August 12, 2013 

Think Progress considers diversity more vital than good storytelling and decent escapism

Think Progress wrote about the PBS interview where Len Wein, Gerry Conway and Todd McFarlane came on, and their opinion has a pretty big flaw: they're oh-so concerned about diversity:
...Conway, McFarlane, and Wein all defaulted to another line of argument: that anyone asking for more diverse superhero comics is effectively asking for an entitlement that won’t produce good storytelling.
But it's true. If they're alluding to topics like race, skin color and sexual orientation, the mainstream has either cliched themselves into the ground, or, it's all they've been able to think of as a point of emphasis.
“There hasn’t really been historically a comic book that has worked that is trying to get across a kind of message, if you will,” McFarlane insisted. “So the female characters that work are the ones that are just strong women that actually it’s good storytelling, and the odd character that is a minority that works is the one that is just a good strong character. They’ve tried to do minority characters and bring that label and that surrounding [debate] into it. You’re aware that you’re reading a minority comic book. I think it’s wrong.”

Wein took the position that the best way to pursue equality in comics was through strict race neutrality.

“I think every time you take a female character, a black character, a Hispanic character, a gay character, and make that the point of the character, you are minimalizing the character,” he said. “I have written anything you can possibly think of. I have created Storm who was the first black female superhero. I created a number of other characters, and it never matters to me what the color of their skin was. I was writing about who they were as human beings, and it wasn’t Black Storm. She was Storm.”
Bingo. Some of the gay/lesbian characters appearing in mainstream have been the most noticeable where their orientation was the whole point of the character (including the new Batwoman, Northstar and even the retcon of Golden Age Green Lantern Alan Scott), and DC's racial minority replacements for white heroes in recent years were the result of similar thinking. Yet they never come up with heroes or supporting casts with Danish or Romanian ancestry, if racial background is really so important to them, remaining solidly stuck on the same superficial cliches of skin color.

This article also has a fumble:
Eric Jerome Dickey, who wrote a Storm arc in which she married Black Panther and becomes co-ruler of Wakanda, an independent African nation that stands in explicit resistance to Western imperialism, might have a few things to say about the possibilities of acknowledging Storm’s origins while foregrounding her personality had he been present. But it wasn’t a balancing act any of the comics creators on the dias seemed prepared to acknowledge.
Are they referencing the bias in the comics and/or cartoons produced in recent years, or is that their own bias seeping through? I know that in recent times, an anti-white bias showed up in some of the comics, and that's bad. But if Think Progress is defaming the West, that's bad too.

As for the issue of women being underrepresented in comics, I will say that McFarlane probably gave the weakest argument:
...McFarlane suggested that he’d steer his own daughters in a different direction to empower them — not because superhero comics promote damaging images of women, but because they are the natural preserve of men.

“It might not be the right platform,” he said. “I’ve got two daughters, and if I wanted to do something that I thought was emboldened to a female, I probably wouldn’t choose superhero comic books to get that message across. I would do it in either a TV show, a movie, a novel, or a book. It wouldn’t be superheroes because I know that’s heavily testosterone — driven, and it’s a certain kind of group of people. That’s not where I would go get this kind of message, so it might not be the right platform for some of this.”
Superhero comics can and do appeal just as well to girls and I don't think sex appeal in itself comes as a problem to all women. It's only if it becomes seriously pornographic and sensationalized, like the case where Spider-Woman ended up naked in the Avengers that frowns will definitely be justified. Other ways the mainstream have fouled up is when they publish screeds like Identity Crisis, among other books filled with nasty, lurid violence and insulting portrayals of women; that's how they succeeded in alienating plenty of potential female audience. If men find that repellant, women will too. But then, McFarlane's already long authored a very limp comic of his own, Spawn, so I guess it's no surprise if he didn't make a very convincing argument.

Unfortunately, the site fumbles when they bring up a few writers who've since proven themselves a most pretentious lot:
And having two X chromosomes hasn’t actually kept women like Gail Simone from writing wonderful characters of both sexes for decades–nor has possession of a Y chromosome kept men like Dan Slott and Jeff Parker from doing well by characters like She-Hulk and Red She-Hulk. The decision to stay within the narrow lanes of your own fantasies is a choice, not biological determinism.
What a pity they reference Slott, Simone and Parker in such a superficial way. Simone, who hasn't been in her career for that long, may have shown some promise early on, but quickly deteriorated in terms of storytelling quality. And Slott? I don't think his early work was something to write home about either, and it definitely isn't today, after the hack job he did with Spider-Man. Parker is nothing great either.
When the creators weren’t suggesting that comics are in some way biologically determined, they were suggesting that the failure of more diverse representations of superheroes was on readers, not on the companies that decide what kinds of images to promote and what kinds of artists they want to employ.

“I think the bigger question is why are readers not interested in those?” Conway asked.
The answer is because it's not so much about a decent adventure today as it is about massive emphasis on the character's racial background and/or sexual orientation. The writing efforts are very bad as a result too. And if the audience sees the non-negative emphasis on LGBT culture as a bad example, then it should be no surprise they fail to garner a big audience.
What’s a shame about the panel is that it doesn’t represent anything close to the breadth of perspectives in the documentary itself, which as executive producer Michael Kantor pointed out, includes women like Jenette Kahn, who as head of DC Comics was one of the youngest presidents ever of a Fortune 500 company, and in the sections I’ve seen, is thoughtful about why the comics industry has shrunk.

It’s a shame because there are good and nuanced arguments to be had about tokenism in comics. “When Stan Lee introduces Luke Cage and the Black Panther in the ’60s, there’s a level of tokenism to that, but it also reflects the growing Civil Rights movement,” Kantor suggested, drawing out the fact that the desire to reflect a historical moment can coexist with less attractive commercial impulses. But wanting a greater breadth of storytelling, and hoping a medium reaches its full storytelling potential is not the same thing as tokenism.
It's a shame Think Progress considers diversity more vital than good storytelling, and doesn't consider Wein's argument as the best case for adding minorities without making gigantic issues out of it all. Nor do they ponder that even minorities may not be desperate for having heroes of minority backgrounds introduced at all costs, or may not be asking that the heroes, specifically, be the ones to hail from minority status.

I notice Kantor got something wrong: Stan Lee did create Black Panther, but he was not the writer who created Luke Cage. That honor goes to the late Archie Goodwin, who introduced Power Man in 1972, inspired by the blaxploitation movies of the times like Shaft.

I would argue that most superhero comics decades ago were a lot more welcoming for women than today's efforts, since they didn't go miles out of their way to hammer the audience over the head with so much graphic mayhem and questionable politics. Now that this has taken up so much of the medium at the expense of good storytelling, that's why, so long as they continue that way, they'll never get a significant female audience, if at all. And DC may have already hinted they don't want any if 45-year-old men are the only kind of readership they care about.

And yet, the whole panel on TV may still have exhibited a telling weakness: they weren't critical of any of the editors in charge of DC and Marvel for doing exactly what they think is a mistake. If they didn't slam Joe Quesada for erasing the Spider-marriage, that's just one example of the veterans' inability to show the courage to pan bad editors for throwing away some of the best parts of mainstream comics. Too bad.

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