Creators say fans must push comic book publishers to feature more diverse characters

Gail Simone, Turtel Onli, Gene Ha, Jay Fuller, Ramon K. Perez, and Marjorie M. Liu with moderator Gabe Canada discuss art and storytelling techniques in comics that allow fantasy worlds to mirror real world diversity.

Creating characters that mirror real world diversity was one panel’s focus at the Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo on April 26.

“The Boy in Pink Earmuffs" by Jay Fuller.

“The Boy in Pink Earmuffs” by Jay Fuller.

Its panelists featured creators Gail Simone, Turtel Onli, Gene Ha, Jay Fuller, Ramon K. Perez, and Marjorie M. Liu talking about their experiences including women, people of color and the LGBQT community in comic books.

“It isn’t so much that my generation is changing things,” said Ha. “It’s that you guys are…allowing us to push boundaries.”

Ha’s an Eisner Award winning artist that’s best known for working on “Top 10” from America’s Best Comics and the Batman graphic novel “Fortunate Son” from DC Comics.

He said he remembered a time not too long ago when portrayals of gay characters were something that was considered too taboo for mainstream comic books. Ha said that comic book readers showing not only acceptance, but also a genuine embrace, of gay characters has led to an expansion of their inclusion in mainstream comic books.

“I feel a lot of acceptance has come from the web,” said Fuller. He’s from Chicago’s indie publishing scene and is the creator of “The Boy in Pink Earmuffs.” The self-published online comic focuses on the life of two young queer kids growing up and solving mysteries together.

“I think [queer and gay characters are] just becoming more and more acceptable,” said Fuller.

Kate Kane as Batwoman on the cover of Detective Comics #854. Art by J. H. Williams III.

Kate Kane as Batwoman on the cover of Detective Comics #854. Art by J. H. Williams III.

An example of this is DC’s Batwoman, who was reintroduced into continuity for the publisher’s yearlong “52” series in 2006. The character was reintroduced as Kate Kane, a lesbian of Jewish decent and military veteran in an effort by DC’s editorial staff to diversify its publications. While she isn’t the industry’s first gay character, Kane has become the publisher’s highest-profile LGBQT character.

Her portrayal by co-writer W. Haden Blackman and artist and co-writer J. H. Williams III earned the duo a GLAAD Media Award for “Outstanding Comic Book” in 2012.

The panel was titled “Diverse Means for Diverse Worlds” and was hosted by Racebending.com.

The website was founded in 2009 by fans of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” who said they were appalled by the “casting discrimination” that occurred during the production of the live action adaptation of the animated series, according to the organization’s website.

Specifically, the casting of white actors as characters that were of Asian ethnicity in the animated series.

Panelists Ramon K. Perez, Turtel Onli, Jay Fuller, Marjorie M. Liu and Gail Simone at Sunday’s “Diverse Means for Diverse Worlds” panel at C2E2 (left to right). \ PHOTO BY ALEX V. HERNANDEZ

Panelists Ramon K. Perez, Turtel Onli, Jay Fuller, Marjorie M. Liu and Gail Simone at Sunday’s “Diverse Means for Diverse Worlds” panel at C2E2 (left to right). \ PHOTO BY ALEX V. HERNANDEZ

During the panel Liu said she had also experienced situations where a character she’d written as a person of color was almost turned white.

Lie is a New York Times best-selling author whose work includes the Marvel Comics series “X-Men,” “Wolverine,” and “X-23.”

In one instance she said she had to repeatedly remind her editor and artist of the character’s ethnicity to make sure it didn’t get changed.

“I’ve had to physically request people of color,” said Liu. “It’s really weird, this resistance to diversity.”

Situations like this are why Simone said the idea that women, people of color and LGBQT characters should only be introduced “organically” and not forced into comic book stories was an ignorant one.

“The thing is, we didn’t get to where we are with a bunch of straight white characters organically,” said Simone. “That’s why I don’t like the term ‘let it happen organically.’ It doesn’t.”

In regards to this Onli, a Chicago based creator and teacher, said that the power to push publishers to diversify their characters was in the hands of comic book readers.

Onli’s illustrations have been featured in publications like Playboy Magazine and he’s considered the father of the “Black Age of Comics,” a movement dedicated to the promotion and support of “Afrocentric” comic books thanks to his creation of African-American superhero NOG in 1979.

“When you go to iTunes there’s more than just The Beatles,” said Onli.

Nog, one of the earliest Afrocentric comic book characters, was first featured in The Chicago Defender.

Nog, one of the earliest “Afrocentric” comic book characters, was initially featured in The Chicago Defender.

He said that comic book readers should have the same kind of variety music fans have when it comes to songs written by and about the experiences of women, people of color and the LGBQT community. He said the best way to change the status quo at the major comic book publishers was to spend money on comic book titles and creators that feature diversity over those that don’t.

“Consumers have power,” said Onli. “Manifest that power and be heard.”

Note: I was not able to stay for this entire panel because I needed to cover another panel at C2E2 for comicbookresources.com. However a video of the full panel has been embedded above this story.

Notes from the peanut gallery.

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