Diversity Isn’t Pandering: Notes For the Next Era in Media

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When I think about having a discussion about comic books, I know that I just don’t stop at the books themselves. The conversation can easily turn into a debate about animation as well. Often times comic books are the inspiration for animation. In either case, diversity is always an issue. Next up on the guest blogger list: Carrie Tupper.

“You’ve got a pretty colorful crowd here. Did you check off a list or something?”

“Where are all the white people?”

This is a pretty normal response we get when people see our pitch for Kamikaze, a TV show concept that my husband, Alan and I created. See, the majority of our characters aren’t white. In fact, our core cast only has one white person in it, who also happens to be female (but that’s another discussion entirely). Because of this lack of white people we sometimes get ‘The Rainbow Coalition’ question. Did we really create our entire cast and world to simply pander to non-white audiences?

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Now I do have a few confessions to make before I go any further, especially when I’m given the privilege of taking the podium here at Volume 2. You see, Alan and I are a little different from the other creators who’ve blogged this month by a few factors.

  1. the-kamikaze-team-behind-the-scenesWe’re animators, and fairly new to the comic world
  2. We’re a husband and wife team
  3. We’re ‘sun-reflecting-off-our-skin-will-blind-you’ white
  4. The only PoC on our team is the lovely Havana, who is amazingly talented and adored by all.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s the Rainbow Coalition of Diversity took a forefront to the TV animated world. It was like suddenly there was this checklist that had to be filled out planeteersbefore anything could get the green light. The one I remember most vividly was the gang ofPlaneteers from Captain Planet, and that’s probably for good reason – they were the ones that got people talking. Every representation you could want for a racially diverse cast was there. And yet I remember being a kid and hearing adults talk so much smack about the show. “This PC crap has got to go!” Or the best one, “Real life isn’t like that!”

The kneejerk reactions against Rainbow Coalitions are founded on two perspectives. EP-Razors-EdgeThemost often complaint is in the vein of “Political Correctness Sucks.” People who say this are simply reacting against the idea of change, acting on bigotry so deeply ingrained they don’t realize (usually) what they’re saying is harmful. The other side of this coin is the reaction that these characters are frankly mere shadows of what they could be. There’s reason to be frustrated with the concept of Rainbow Coalitions. They’re often used as shorthand vocabulary for stand ins of true diversity in any kind of media looking for an effortless way to expand their audience base and brand. Basically it’s lazy.

There’s a fine line between the Rainbow Coalition Diversity and genuine diversity. Rainbow Coalitions bring us characters who look like the part, but can’t act like it; they’re cardboard cutouts of tired tropes and stereotypes in a world of 3D white characters who get to think, have feelings and emote them. Meanwhile genuine diversity allows for characters who are diverse in a myriad of ways while still being thinking feeling and emoting beings. Genuine diversity also stems from the world your characters inhabit.

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When we created the world of Kamikaze, we created a world still rebuilding itself in the aftermath of a global catastrophe. Our world is a diverse world because it can’t afford not to be. There’s a reason behind our world being populated with a diverse amount of people, which is why our cast has to reflect that.

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Does that mean that we pandered for the sake of diversity?

We don’t think so.

According to the Miriam Webster Online dictionary Pandering is defined as such: “To do or provide what someone wants or demands even though it is not proper, good or reasonable,” OR “to provide gratification for others’ desires.” Demanding the world be represented as diverse as we know it to be isn’t an unreasonable request. Demanding it remain a space devoid of diversity is unreasonable. If the team behind Kamikaze has been providing for anyone’s gratification, it’s been our own. With very few exceptions Kamikaze’s characters came out of the box as diverse as they are. The end goal has always been telling a compelling story with a cast of complex and vivid characters. No checklists needed.

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The thing is genuine diversity isn’t something limited just to race. It encompasses sexuality, gender or lack thereof, ability, body type and a host of other constantly evolving considerations. True diversity means embracing all the complexities of the world, not just the cliff notes.

Yes, there are people who do pander using the Rainbow Coalition model, but we shouldn’t let that distract us from the fact that genuine diversity isn’t pandering – it’s the path to better storytelling.

new years imgeTo find out more about Kamikaze:

Our Website: http://kamikazeanimated.com/
Our Tumblr: http://kamikazeanimated.tumblr.com/
Our Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KamikazeAnimated

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The Unlikey Muse: Bigotry in Comic Books

1912229_10202493266268143_1977853857_n“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet,
then you must write it.” ―Toni Morrison

The one thing that I’m personally learning this month is that there are a plethora of people who feel the need to create work because there is absence of something or because there is a void that needs to be filled. With that being said, here is today’s guest blogger, Denny Upkins:

They say necessity is the mother of all invention and by extension, creativity. As a storyteller I’ve certainly found that to be true for the narratives I penned.

As a queer geek of color, I’ve learned early on that geek culture is for white people for a number of reasons, and to be a PoC or an LGBTQ means to be treated like a pariah.

More than that, countless marginalized characters are endlessly undercut and buried due to the rampant bigotry that pervades the media. Extraordinary characters such as Storm (the First Lady of Marvel), Renee Montoya, Regina Mills, Freedom Ring, Midnighter, Cassandra Cain and countless others who have been lightning rods for racism, misogyny, and/or homophobia by fandom and the industry alike.

But as any artist will tell you, inspiration can often come in the unlikeliest of forms.

My online better half and partner in crime, playwright Shawn Harris and I were having a discussion one day about how bigotry can often be the best muse. We’re often empowered to tell the tales that white supremacy, homophobia, and patriarchy refuses to acknowledge. For example, if the comic book world is hellbent on not giving the proper shine to Cassandra Cain and Midnighter, then I would simply have to pen an original adventure honoring the spirit of these heroes and hopefully in the process educate, entertain, and empower neglected and marginalized audiences.

Make no mistake, this is about power. It always has been. Not only is there power in the narrative but power in controlling the narrative. Why do you think so many whites work tirelessly to block us out of spec fiction or the media in general? Power. Case in point, there’s a reason why even though the m/m slash romance genre for and about queer males, it is dominated and run by cis-gendered white women. It’s difficult to be heterosexist, homophobic and fetishistic about queer males in a genre where we’re empowered to share our truths. This is why harassment, stalking and death threats of queer males is the norm with these sociopaths in that genre. See how it intersects?

Ask yourself this. Even though X-Men is based on the Civil Rights struggle of blacks (ie OUR STORY), how many black writers have actually written for Marvel’s flagship title? For that matter, how many writers of color? Again, power.

And while their bigotry has paid off for a season, it will ultimately prove to be media’s undoing. Insiders can’t understand why Hollywood continues to hemorrhage money while Kickstarters, web series and other online media initiatives continue to gain ground. To quote Jack Harkness, it’s the 21st century, everything changes. The internet allows us to exchange ideas, information, and other resources to circumvent a crumbling and corrupt image(1)industry. We get to share our stories our way and connect with our audiences on our terms. In other words, we take our power back and excel in the face of adversity as people of color tend to do.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have another epic adventure to write.

And they say there’s no new tale to tell.

Black Independent Comics: Ultra Supreme

ULTRASUPREMEContinuing where we last left off, I’ve noticed that there is a lot of buzz this month about Black Superheroes, which is awesome. I think that many of us have had the same ideas at the same time. It’s time to show this industry that the lack of diversity in comics is unacceptable and it time to create our own. Now, here is today’s guest blogger…

I’m Derek Mason, creator, writer, cartoonist and Publisher at Mason D Entertainment. I’ve been a life-long comics fan, mostly of Independents, but just recently got into (and out of) comic books from the big 2.

ultrasupremecolorGrowing up, my favorite comic book was Eastman & Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I didn’t get into superheroes, particularly BLACK super heroes until after seeing Robert Townsend’s Meteor Man and buying Milestone and ANIA comics, which all seemed to debut at the same time. Those comic books came and went so I got into reading Marvel and DC. Due to the lack of credible minorities and the lack of black female super heroes,(tired of Storm only getting recognized) I decided to create my own team: Ultra Supreme.

Based in Atlanta, Ultra Supreme consists of Keyo Keyz (warrior angel), Panther Huey (mutant revolutionary), Mecha-X (Japanese student with alien armor/robot), and 3 BLACK FEMALE Heroes; E.G (immortal goddess), Mz. Unstoppable (super strong/fast alien ), and Lady Gunz ( soldier/sharp shooter).

My goal is to hopefully inspire other black creators like Mr. Townsend and Mr. McDuffie inspired me to create their own Independent comics and to add more black female superheroes to the pop culture super hero mythos.

Ultra Supreme will be the first of 3 titles to be released from Mason D Entertainment.  A “Mason D Universe” source-book is also in the works and should be released by April. The first issue of Ultra Supreme will drop by mid September with art done by character designers O.C. Taylor and Oliver Banks. I don’t have a website as of yet, but you can follow Mason D Entertainment on Facebook.

Black Independent Comics: The Horsemen

oyaclovenAs promised, this month I will have several guest bloggers that will promote their work in the independent comic book industry. It is imperative to understand that there are great writers of color out there doing good work by creating characters that are appealing to everyone. With no further ado..

Hello!

My name is Jiba Molei Anderson, owner of Griot Enterprises and I will be your guest blogger today. I am also the creator its flagship title, The Horsemen.

What is The Horsemen, you ask? Well, The Horsemen is the story of seven ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances, as the gods of ancient Africa possess them. They have been chosen to protect humanity from themselves…whether humanity wants them to or not. They have been chosen to combat those who control the fate of the planet. Through their actions, the world would never be the same.

Since 2002, there have been three Horsemen series… Let me break it down for you…

HORSEMENDIVINEINTERVENTION_2002The Horsemen: Divine Intervention
The Orisha emerged from a deep slumber. Seeing that their mission had been perverted, they had set about to free us…whether we wanted them to or not. The Horsemen returned. And their presence will change the world.

The Horsemen: The Book of OlorunOLORUN#3COVER_2011
The Orisha emerged from a deep slumber. Seeing that their mission had been perverted, they had set about to free us. But, what if there were others not Orisha, not Deitis, not Human, but something more, a new Race? What side would they choose in the coming war?

And, who truly controls the Eight Immortals but the number seven?

HORSEMEN(Cloven)The Horsemen: Mark of the Cloven
Africa is now the new frontier and a beacon of hope for the rest of the world…

However, controlling the world is a family business… And the bastard children of the Deitis want in.

The entire Horsemen series is available in print and download through IndyPlanet, Drive Thru Comics and Amazon. Become a part of the New Mythology… Cheers!

The (lack of) Black Experience in Comic Books

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This journey that I have taken as a writer sometimes makes me think about my past. In my high school days I created an entire universe filled with characters. My friend and I created so many super powered heros and villains that the list stretches for pages. Neither of us could draw very well so the focus was very much on the characters themselves.  I was very proud to come up with back stories and histories along with story arcs. The name of my favorite hero was Supernova aka Philip Maldonado.

I bring this up because, as I look back at it, there was a need for me to see myself in the super hero genre. Growing up all the comic books I read were of white men saving the neighborhood or the world. If I was lucky enough I would get to see a person of color being drawn or even in costume. In any case, I never thought I was bothered by this. I just collected comic books for the sake of reading about my favorite super heros like Firestorm, Spider-Man, The X-Men, and the Justice League to name a few. Yet with hindsight being 20/20, I realize now that I created an outlet for myself with the understanding that if it was up to me, whatever universe I create would be filled with heros and villains of all colors, genders, and creed.

This brings me to the Big Two (Marvel and DC) and how there is a serious lack of black luke-fox-asks-if-hes-batwing-because-hes-blackexperience in their characters. This points to the lack of diversity in both companies. I’m quite sure there is a thought that all heros are cut from the same cloth and are some how homogeneous. So someone like Mr. Terrific could act like someone resembling Tony Stark but there is no sense of the baggage the comes from being an African American. It is not ok for Batman to assign the Luke Fox (The new Batwing) to Africa simply because he’s black (the first Batwing was African) without much push back from that character (and laugh about it when it is brought up).

The point is many of these Black/Latino characters are one dimensional because of the lack of diversity from the Big Two. While it can be a good thing for Marvel to have a few books featuring black characters as the lead (The Mighty Avengers, Fearless Defenders), the characters themselves become bland because there is no real depth to them. That lack of depth shows in sales which ultimately leads to the cancellation of books like Mr. Terrific, Static Shock, and Blue Beetle. The only book that has been the exception to all this has been Miles Morales (the Ultimate Spider-Man) and that is because he is getting the complete backing of Marvel to be the hero for that comic line.

1298402248When it comes down to it, the Big Two have no idea what do with theses characters besides using them as a market tool. I tend to use DC in these examples because they seem to fail the most in just about everything except animation, which brings me to my other point. Cartoons like Justice League and Young Justice has done very well with a broad audience and for the most part, that has to do with the late Dwayne McDuffie. It was his development of John Stewart and Hawkgirl that really made the show what it was and by extension Young Justice’s diversity is linked to Milestone Comics, which he was one for the founders of, but I will circle back to that.

There is no way for us to expect any less from the Big Two or any other comic book company that follows the exact same formula. Sure you can create a Black super hero but then what? Do you de-power them or never use them to their full potential? I love how Cyborg has the potential to like Brainiac but will never get there because that would make him a little too powerful. Or we can talk about how DC has a virtual pantheon of characters from their “deal” with Milestone that they are willing to use for a cartoon to draw us in but never use them in the books. That is why it becomes imperative to join a new movement of independent titles created by people of color.

Generally when I think about black comic books, my thoughts revert to Milestone and how those individuals lived the dream of doing it themselves. Their success is a reflection that there is an audience for this but we need to be prepared to support each other. That is why for this month I have invited some independent comic book creators to appear on this blog and talk about their work. It is time show everyone that there are alternatives to the mainstream comics books out there. We deserve better.