2013/08/10

Comics panel and demographics


I largely agree with the blogger and not really with the comics creators on this. The creators are represented pretty well by Len Wein's comment:

“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.”

Essentially, the writers on this panel think that the writing takes precedence over the specific situations that the characters find themselves in, that storytelling involves presenting characters as being certain types that transcend certain characteristics, i.e., their ethnicity or gender or sexual preference.

I read a review of Supergirl in The Comics Journal back during the 1980s and the reviewer looked at possible new directions for the character to take in a new series. The reviewer's approach to thinking about a new series for her was to think of problems that she could be confronted with and ways that she could go about solving them.

Once, in the TV series Family Ties, Alex P. Keaton filled in his sister Mallory about an American president of the 1800s. He had a couple of seconds to get her to think about this president, not just as an old figure from musty, yellowing history book pages, but as a real and once-living person that she could immediately identify with and understand. He took the tack of describing the problems that the president faced, the decisions the president made in response to those problems and the reactions that various groups had to his decisions. Alex's approach worked and Mallory understood the president as a real person who faced understandable problems.

This, to me, is what drama is all about. Wein is right in that an author shouldn't just place characters in a limiting box and shouldn't just think of how an African-American or a gay Iranian would approach a problem, but I think that could be a good starting point for many interesting stories.

it's valuable to get other perspectives into the comics field. I think it's valuable to be aware of how other demographic groups see situations and to take an approach to comics that's not dependent on being a white, straight male. Writers can then increase the number of the kinds of problems that characters can face and increase the number of ways in which characters can go about solving problems.

Update: Do comic stories have to be violent? The superhero stories certainly are, even though they've had "day off" stories from way back when where the superheroes take their colored, skintight outfits off and just hang out and enjoy the day. They can also have scenes that are visually jazzed up, but where the main point is a dialogue between some of the characters, but yeah, there's not much point in having muscular men and tough-looking women in body-hugging outfits if the authors can't toss two or three fight scenes an issue in.

But do comics stories in general have to be violent? Not at all. Fantagraphics publishes a whole series of comics where the violence is either completely absent or is kept at a minimum and when it's used, is clearly relevant to the story. Love  & Rockets is one of their flagship titles. That has a bit of nudity here and there, but again, it's clearly relevant to the story when it's used. Hate is another cool series they published at one point.

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