Panelists: Amy Reader, Sophie Campbell, Heather Hogan, Terry Blas, Steve Orlando, Greg Pak
There isn’t a panel topic that gets me more anxious and excited than diversity and representation in media. And while Flame Con itself is the most diverse venue for this discussion, I was curious to see where this was going to go. Spoiler alert: it went to amazing places. Not only were the panelists insightful and engaging, they were real about their experiences. Each panelists discussed some of their own experiences in the comic book industry and the obstacles they faced, or didn’t face, while creating stories with characters who are queer, from different ethnic backgrounds, of all body types, and from different disabled cultural groups. Here are some highlights that stuck with me during the discussion:
The overall consensus was that more is in the answer to the question of diversity in comics. The more that diversity grows, the increase in diverse fans. The creators shared that they have found and worked with many editors who have genuine interests in diverse characters and storylines. The shared feeling was that representation is a responsibility. The world is diverse and the readership is diverse, so the comics need to reflect that.
Comic companies are ready for diversity. Most of the creators made it clear that they don’t have much trouble from their editors and hire-ups when they propose new diverse characters. It was admitted that most of the pushback came from fans. Specifically, the pushback comes from the vocal minority. A relatively small group of fans who are willing to be the loudest when it comes to their inability to accept change. Luckily, these creators continue to instigate change and add diversity to the properties that they work on.
While, there has been an increase in diverse characters when it comes to race, orientation and gender, variation in body types as well as disabled characters are still not well represented in comics.
Diversity in diversity is another struggle discussed by the panelists. Every character worth writing is complicated. So, each diverse character needs to be able to have strengths and weaknesses like real people do. This is what allows for an interesting story. When certain groups not usually represented finally get a character that is a member of their group it causes these creators “Representation sweats.” The need for these characters are great and everyone is watching, if that character is messed up it reflects poorly on the group which causes these creators to worry about what they are bringing on to the page.The sweat come from when these creators want to show that these characters are realistic and interesting. Characters who have specific needs and wants along with obstacles that they need to face and overcome. They want to stay away from stereotypes, while not rule out certain characteristics just because they feed into a stereotype. And, spotlights on single characters who are the only representation of a character making it harder to give them flaws since they are the only character of their kind.
When asked what the next “Big step” is in improving diversity in comics the main answer was making the diverse character the lead character in more series. And when it came to what the creators and audience want more of it was clear that everyone is excited of the idea of more gay villains, who are actually written well and not just caricatures of gay stereotypes.
By the end of this panel there was one clear conclusion in answering the question of how to break the mold and properly bring diversity to comics? Just more!