Diversity in comics has been an issue of late. It arguably came into the spotlight in its biggest way to date in 2011 with DC’s New 52 reboot. At the time the publisher took some heat for the dearth of female contributors associated with the project. While women in comics (and others) were right to point this out, I for one don’t think that it was in any way a conscious move on DC’s part to exclude women. Many just were not considered. Why would they not have considered them? Well to understand that, you have to understand how small and exclusive the ranks of the two largest publishers really are. When all is said and done, the number of big names floating around at that level is in the hundreds. That’s right—hundreds. DC, for example, puts out well under a hundred ongoing titles every month, and the same is true of Marvel. The combined pool of regular contributors at either is only in the hundreds of people, which is pretty small for such an apparently large industry. And most of the folk in that pool are, you guessed it, white males.
There is a stark difference between the number of creators who would be considered diverse working in the independent field, and those working at either of the Big Two. Why is that? Well, when it comes to working at Marvel or DC, your work must meet a certain standard. I’m not saying it’s a better standard, because it’s not, but Marvel and DC each have a certain house style that you must meet and which is unique to them. This unavoidably (and unfortunately) limits the number of people that can work for them.
Making comics is a very hard job, despite what might people think, and finding people who can do it the way the company requires, and who are dependable, is also extremely hard. Have you ever been looking through a comic at the art and thought, “Man, this guy’s art is not nearly as good as this other guy’s art. How did he get a job working for them?” I’ll tell you, even if his work isn’t to your taste, he’s both professional and reliable. Now this doesn’t mean that only white dudes are professional and reliable, far from it, but it helps show how when a company has guys they already know and trust, will keep sticking with them instead of headhunting for others that are untested.
So what’s to be done about all of this? Well, I think that you’ll all be happy to know that it’s improving. Something like this has to grow organically, from within. Comics have been a white male dominated genre for a long time, since the days of the birth of the comic book, and the super hero. In the late 60’s and the 70’s we started to get our first signs of diversity creeping into the genre, and it has kept up since then, slowly of course, but it’s been getting there. Comics by nature are a pretty liberal medium, which shines light on a lot of moral issues in their pages, one of which is diversity. But no matter how much comics tried to bring diversity into the comics, one thing has held it back from truly taking off, the lack of diverse creators.
Creators for the most part have mirrored the heroes they are writing about, and vice versa. Which doesn’t mean that a white guy can’t give you a truly great story about minorities or women, but no matter how hard they try, they will always be writing from the outside, looking in. That’s why the number one thing that can help diversify the industry is to bring in more creators from all walks of life. Which you would think would be easy, but it’s not, like I said, finding folk that can produce at the standards they want isn’t easy.
The past twenty years has seen my beloved comic book industry get transformed for the better. Comics are no longer just the realm of kids, and little boys. Comics have been accepted into the mainstream and it’s no longer a bad thing to be reading them as an adult. Which, has paved the way for people getting into the industry, because it no longer has the stigmatism that it used to. This is the number one factor that the publishers need to focus on, getting these people into the industry. And we as readers need to demand it, to make sure that we keep the publishers mindful of it, so that they will keep going out there to find them.
We are seeing the change happening now more all the time, and it seems that DC with their convergence is trying to do just that, by bringing in new blood, like David Walker, Gene Luen Yang, and Ming Doyle. This is a trend that I’d like to see more of out the big two, bringing in different minds, with different ideas and ways of looking at the heroes and villains that we love. In my opinion, it’s far easier to bring in new minds with fresh ideas, than reboot everything so that you can tell the old stories over with a new twist.