by K. Hopson
I got to Wizard World early for Sunday’s Battle for Multicultural Heroes panel because I just knew the discussion was going to be filled with witty, meaningful conversation. (And also because I’d read coverage on Racialicious last year.) Let the final day recap begin!
Artists Terry Huddleston, Sara Richard, and David Wong discussed cultural and gender diversity and its obstacles in gaming, comics, TV, and film. This panel was moderated by epic con moderator Tony Kim. Who is absolutely delicious, might I add! I need him to bear my children sometime in the future.
There was a lot of material here. I tried to gather the most important comments with a general sense of the conversation flow. I wouldn’t exactly say it was all linear discussion, but it was way more organized than some of the other panels I went to. Kim started it off nicely.
“I know that it’s very important to engage in this conversation, because even as far as we’ve come as a culture, there are still tons of barriers and obstacles when it comes to creating content for minorities,” he said.
Richard said a little about working in a male-dominated industry, which was surprisingly positive. She also gave away three of her oiran-themed prints to the first three audience members who asked questions, hooray!
“I like to think times have come far enough that I’m at the tail-end of the whole girl-in-comics thing, but there’s still a little bit that sneaks through every once in a while. I’ve been on bunch of women in comics panels and I kind of have a love-hate relationship with them because part of me doesn’t want it to be specialized. But at the same time, if there’s a girl who needs to hear that…just get your stuff done and meet your deadlines. As long as you’re professional, unless you get a really chauvinist editor, you should be fine.”
Kim, being the wonderful moderator he is, broached the subject of today’s pop culture landscape. Has it changed, or not so much?
“Nothing much has changed. And this could possibly be inflammatory, but black culture has always been pushing pop culture. If you look at pop culture, we’ve always been the forerunners of it, but this is a market thing not a race thing. Basically there’s more caucasian people in America than not,” Huddleston responded.
“And I don’t care how tight it is or how awesome it is, unless you can sell it to them you’re not gonna make money. It’s almost like a cultural take of ‘nothing existed until white people discovered it.’ Same thing with other entities as well.”
This comment prompted a little laughter from the audience. He went on to mention how it’s now cool to be black and smart and how Obama and The Cosby Show helped to improve the image of black people in America.
Richard commented on what Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the BBC have done for marginalized communities.
“Buffy was always someone I looked up to. It’s really hard to think of one now though, because it’s either they’ve got their boobs hanging out. Like Catwoman now is doing Batman on the first page of her new comic, and it’s just ugh,” she said. “But BBC makes me really happy. As much as I wasn’t a huge fan of Torchwood, I loved that Jack was the main character and was openly gay,” she said.
Huddleston suggested that comics are the last to adopt cultural changes because they are “ultra conservative.
“It’s good versus evil, it doesn’t get any more dogmatic than that. Personally I would say take one of the big three in Marvel– Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman. One of those needs to be of some ethnicity.”
In regard to the current landscape, Kim asked the age-old question of whether games, television, and comics should try to be more inclusive, or should marginalized communities make their own media?
“I think it’s both. Whenever you try and break any barrier, may be gender, or sexual or racial, that sometimes you have to either push the barrier or start a whole new field. But the main thing is will the masses accept it? And will they take offense? Hollywood and comics are getting better about it, but we still have a long way to go,” Wong replied.
Kim offered perspective on the current state of things.
“The major properties that we all know and love were created 10-15-20 years ago. Trying to create a new property to compete with all those old properties …”
But he didn’t quite finish his thought. The panelists briefly mentioned lesbian characters on Arrow and Batwoman’s gay marriage. Then an audience member brought up Mr. Glass, the villain from Unbreakable, and his character development. Terry highlighted the recent trend in casting black actors as the central villain, and explained the difference between a regular criminal and the villain, as it relates to negative representation of black people in media.
“Villains, like the big bad, have a special place in comics. He’s the smartest guy in the room, right? There’s a difference between him and the black henchmen. Being the big bad guy, the guy that’s coordinating everything, is a little different than being the guy that gets punched by the hero,” he said.
“And we [Asians] went from being karate experts to fixing computers,” replied Kim, which prompted some laughter. “It’s a sideways step I think.”
An audience member mentioned the new hyper-sexual Harley Quinn, which brought out another vein of discussion.
“I have a theory on her. Harley from Batman: Animated Series will always be the real Harley,” said Richard, to a round of applause. “She has (inaudible) then retired like Betty Page, and now all these little Hot Topic girls are cosplaying her in the comic. That’s not really Harley, in my mind. She looks awful.”
“When it’s a really popular character it becomes pop culture and people want to put their own spin on it. And when you get the new, young writers that have not read the any comics before the 70s, they don’t know what’s going on,” said Wong.
“A good example is movies—they change the storyline all the time. Why would a movie studio take Superman and make him a black woman with a club foot—“
“—still be better than Man of Steel,” quipped Huddleston.
The audience did a little needling at that comment, which made everyone laugh. Wong continued his explanation.
“When you start getting into new ideas, you get young people who want to take it in a whole new direction. When you talk about the new Harley book—young writer, new direction, ‘I wanna stand out from the other writers and artists’ and all that stuff. They’re all trying something new,” he said.
“I commend them for trying something new. It doesn’t work all the time. But at least they tried. But if they take it to a whole new stupid level…”
“It’s like her clothes get smaller and smaller,” Richard interjected.
To which Wong responded, “Big surprise, sex does sell.”
“Comics are a business, always has been. There’s no golden age where women weren’t exploited in comics. Wonder Woman was an exploitive character who was all into bondage and whips, so it’s in the DNA to sexualize women in comics—monsters, male fantasies, and female getting tied onto train tracks. It’s easy to point out the wrong, but it’s like Jenga. If you pull one thing out…” said Huddleston.
“Just like vampires have to be sexy, because it’s built into the DNA of vampires.
Any minority group can go overboard, where they want so many concessions you might as well just not do it at all. Do comics sexualize women? Heck yeah. That’s definitely the case. But seriously, I can’t see that going anywhere.”
Richard implied that using character sexuality is all about context.
“I personally love Jessica Rabbit, and I know that sounds super critical. But if they are going to use their sexuality and there’s context for it, I’m cool with that. It’s when there’s no context in no story, that doesn’t the story at all. With Jessica Rabbit, that’s her whole thing,” she said, in the way of an example.
“I think with stereotypes for women and any minority, as long as the stereotype doesn’t end there and the characters kind of grow beyond that,” said Kim.
“I totally get that it’s a great way to introduce characters…I love the Walking Dead. He [I’m assuming he means the character Glenn?] started out as a stereotype, a nerd kid but he’s evolved into a leader and a hero—“
“—and getting the hottest woman on the show,” added Wong.
“So the moral of the story is: zombies will solve our racial issues,” said Kim.
And lastly, the panelists explored the recent surge in lesbian relationships after a comment from an audience member. Is it good for the simple fact of representation?
Or bad, because most of it plays up the male gaze?
“They try to put the face possible on when they’re trying to sell something, so you always get these super-hot, even-straight-guys-would-want-to-mess-with-these-lesbians lesbians. They’re never the type of lesbians I see every day, with like the flannel jacket and Justin Bieber haircut,” said Huddleston.
“They’re still having a hard time pushing the more male version of lesbians, so I feel like they still give you this kind of male-fantasy version, like ‘There’s these two hot girls going at it, guys!’”
Mah boo Tony Kim rounded out the end of discussion by saying this important little bit:
“In order to perpetuate and to grow the industry of any TV, film and comic, it does take the support of minority creators. We have to have more creators at the core. We have to have more creators, like Sara, who are authentically exploring other cultures and doing research and building relationships. So we have a voice and a part in that.”
Do y’all hear what this man is saying?
“When you consider the comics you read, the movies you see and the TV shows you watch and support, your voice has a part in that. Keep supporting content out there that properly celebrates cultures, sexual orientations, all that stuff. It’s a collective battle for all of us.”
Well! That was a mouthful, but well worth it. I hope they keep this panel around for a long while.