Divisive Diversity and Minority Mindlessness September 26, 2011 – Posted in: A Picture's Worth, Blog, Featured Columns – Tags: , , , , , , ,

Last month I came across another interesting, thought-provoking topic in a LinkedIn group. Someone posted about “diversity in comic books today,” and wondered why, so far, “…there is not a major superhero of Spanish descent. The only one is Zorro.”

Zorro the great, played by Guy Williams. Created by Johnston McCulley (white American of Anglo-Saxon descent).

 

I had a couple answers to this:

1) The geek in me had to note that Zorro is not technically a superhero (although he is “super” in terms of pop culture coolness and fame); like the Phantom, Tarzan, the Green Hornet, Batman, etcetera, he has no super powers.

2,) The logic-freak in me noted that there are probably major superheroes in Spain.

Brilliant Mexican-American cartoonist creates and draws brainless Anglo-Saxon barbarian. No white folk are offended–instead, they gleefully embrace both character and creator. (Art by–duh–Sergio Aragonés.)

 

I couldn’t help but wonder: what was meant by a “major” superhero? In the USA only? Globally? Are we talking “major” in terms of financial revenues over the last century? Last decade? Media exposure? Cultural influence? Critical acclaim?

And why Spanish descent? Why not Japanese, Nigerian, Brazilian, Russian, Indian or Iranian? Those countries have much larger populations than Spain. And who has more population (not to mention influence) than China? Yet I can’t think of any big Chinese superheroes in the US. If the person posting meant Hispanic instead, why not say that? Curious.

What got to me more were follow-up responses about so-called “minorities” being underrepresented in comics and the impact upon kids.

Let’s be clear: the question, comments and commenters were all intelligent, very sincere and good-intentioned. Unfortunately, we all know about good intensions as paving material for a certain south-winding road.

 

 

Blade the Vampire Slayer.

 

Regarding “minorities”, there are two big issues to address:

First, everyone is “a minority.” And everyone is also “a majority.”

Are you female? Majority in the USA. Male? Minority. Can you walk? See? Hear? Speak? Largest majority  of all. College graduate? Minority. Eat meat? Majority. Allergic to dairy products? Minority. American-born? Majority. Heavy metal fan? Minority. Rich? Poor? Middle class? On and on.

What makes any of these less of an identity for you than the color of  your skin or where your parents or grandparents were born? Why do you look in the mirror and first see an “Asian female”, “black male”, “white female” or “white transsexual” and not “a rock ’n’ roll fan”, “American geek”, “Healthy sighted teenager”, “Tall gamer”, “New Yorker”, “Gay pastry chef”, “Bilingual senior citizen”, “Bisexual soldier”, “Overweight Twilight fan” or whatever? (Regrettably, I’d say a majority of girls and women think they see “overweight eater” when they look in the mirror, thanks to pop culture…which is a much bigger media problem than diversity.)

Hell, if you even buy comics, you’re in one of the smallest minorities there are! Last estimate was about 100,000 people in the USA. That is a great deal smaller than any racial minority I can think of. (Well, maybe not as small as white Senegalese guys, but you get the idea.)

When I look in the mirror, I see me: Mike. That’s numero uno. I don’t see “an Italian”, “a man” or even “a Kirby fan” first.

When kids would make fun of my ethnicity growing up (and they did), I thought it was dumb. (“Hey Wop! How’d your Daygo?” was a favorite.) Didn’t bug me much. It’s completely superficial, and didn’t require any knowledge of who *I* was. What did bug me was when it got personal. My family. My clothes. My hobbies. My music and comics. My art. Even my hair–both on my head and then on my legs and chest. (Once Star Wars came out, my nickname became “Chewbacca.” Thanks, George.)

Granted, I didn’t get beat up because of it, nor was I harassed by the cops because of it (that was more for my youth and my old car). I understand that’s different. A lot. Maybe my identity would have been affected by that; but I’d sure hope not too much. I think Chris Rock thinks of himself as Chris Rock first, Oprah as Oprah, Jerry Seinfeld as Jerry Seinfeld, Lucy Liu as Lucy Liu.  I think that comes more from how one was raised and with what one chooses to surround him- or herself–I chose not to pay much attention to the news media that focused on stupid and silly things like race and ethnicity.

I tried to avoid letting others affect my identity. Therefore, the comics I read meant much, much deeper things to me than what race the hero was. That’s why I’m still a reader/collector after (gulp) four decades.

I liked The Black Panther, The Falcon and Blade The Vampire Slayer much more than Superboy, Robin, or Mr. Fantastic. I liked the Hulk even more, and he was green!

 

 

Marvel’s (and the North American comics industry’s) first and biggest black superheroes: all created by white Jews. But why should that matter? Art by Jack Kirby, Gene Colan/Joe Sinnott and Gene Colan/Tom Palmer.

 

Second, I think it’s a shame that people choose to focus on such a minor issue (pun intended). I sure didn’t see any Italian superheroes as a kid–and those “eye-talians” I did see were stereotypes (mobsters and organ grinders)–yet I couldn’t have cared less. My favorite was and always has been a blond Anglo adult–Captain AMERICA–and I had no problem whatsoever with his ethnicity. (Or his age–I hated kid heroes like Robin–so much for demographics.) Cap stood for everything that mattered to me. And he defended everyone, no matter their ethnicity, sex, or size of their shoes. That’s a hero!

He was a blond white guy but created by two Jewish guys. Same with the world’s most popular black superhero (whose designer also became a Christian Scientist). The major female superheroes of the Golden Age were created by white men. The sexiest of all, Phantom Lady, was redesigned–and had her most famous/infamous adventures illustrated–by a young black man.

 

Hot, white female hero, drawn by handsome black male. Again, who cares as long as it looks good? Art by the incomparable Matt Baker.

 

There are superheroes of (literally) every color of the rainbow, as well as black and white (and I don’t mean the racist terms for Negroid and Caucasoid–I mean pure black and pure white!) There are heroes from dozens and dozens of different nations, planets and dimensions. Heck, if you’re Martian, there’s even Martian Manhunter. Whatever you like.

Sure, I believe diversity among characters and readers is important–every major and minor group that reads comics should ideally appear in proportion to the readership. Easier said than done. But it should never be forced, nor should it matter as much as the character of the character.

Some think it important that superheroes look like the kids who read their adventures. I agree it’s important to some but it shouldn’t really matter. (The alter egos, secret identities and supporting characters are more identifiable and therefore more important. Who identifies with Superman, white or black? I never did.)

What truly matters is what the character stands for, what they say and how they behave. They must act like a hero. Too many these days do not. I’d rather have a kid read about a heroic ideal that looks completely alien than one with whom he can identify but acts like an idiot or a criminal.

When I was a kid, I focused on the art and stories, and I still do today.

How nice it would be if others did too.

 

 

Kirby, Colan/Sinnott and Colan. African, African-American or just American–heroes all. (Thanks to those who own these amazing pieces for allowing me to reproduce them here.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks,

Mike

 

P.S.: I would love to create a custom character commission for you–of ANY race. Female, male, Christian, Jewish, Athiest, Capoid, Caucasoid, human, animal, alien, whatever! Same goes for my customers. If you’re from Mars and want a commission, I’ll draw it for you (you’ll just have to pay postage to your planet). Just ask Craig here!

 

 

 

 

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