Opinion: Representation in Comics

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 Modern-day comics are deteriorating ever more slightly each year, and it’s because writers — who don’t deserve their credible roles in the industry — misrepresent the people they’re supposedly “bringing awareness to.”

What’s wrong with comic books?  Numerous things for sure.  One, however, has piqued my interest, especially after hearing people discuss the topic: misrepresentation in comic books. I’m not a political guy, but when I see this kind of stuff on the pages, I start to grow wary about how I should confront it.  I’ve been putting this editorial on the side for quite a while, postponing my opinion on it day after day.  It’s a growing problem that people don’t truly understand, and I hope to clear it up for them.  

“I really wanted to do something that was family-oriented, and I’ve always wanted to do a mother-daughter story, and I’ve always wanted to do a story about a fat character, and it just kind of evolved from there,” Mariko Tamaki tells EW about her newest graphic novel “I Am Not Starfire” — a novel tackling LGBTQAI+ relationships and growing up in the shadow of a prominent superheroine.  

First things first, LGBTQAI+ stories are done extraordinarily well in media. Take “Life is Strange,”  a series of primarily episodic graphic adventure games about a teen struggling with her relationships and her superpower of turning back time. The game was flawless, getting The Game Award for “Games for Change” and several others for its creative yet emotional story.   “I Am Not Starfire” doesn’t seem to follow in this game’s footsteps.  It will center around Mandy, the daughter of Starfire turned goth teen who deals with the distinction between her and her mother daily. While the story sounds good on paper, it is the execution that becomes its downfall. The art style, while having its unique look, can come off as simplistic.  The book looks more like fanfiction than it does a DC work, and that’s not a good thing. Furthermore, Mandy bears a striking resemblance to none other than the writer Tamaki.  It doesn’t help that Mandy looks nothing like her mother, even when she’s not wearing her goth attire. 

“To be super clear, this is a version of Starfire, not in continuity Starfire,” Tamaki says. “This is obviously a Starfire story, where we are creating a separate universe world where, for one thing, she has a daughter. Starfire is such a great character who is a literal beacon of light, so it was fun to think: What if she came home and she had this kid who was blasting punk music and was like, ‘I don’t want to talk to you?'”

When writing and drawing a story, there is always the one question you need to ask yourself: who would want to read this?  I ponder about this question whenever I can because it helps me fully understand what the audience wants.  “I Am Not Starfire” doesn’t meet that standard.  No one I know would think about spending their money on a book dedicated to Starfire’s daughter and her tribulations while standing in her mother’s shadow.  It’s not on the same pedestal as “Batman: The Long Halloween” or “All-Star Superman,” but it should be meeting those standards. 

Newsflash: it isn’t.

“I Am Not Starfire” proves that comics have been evolving backward ever since writers and creators used their works to push for a preferred social climate.  She shouldn’t just be a goth lesbian for the sake of it.  She needs more than that. She needs to be a character, not a hollow figment of one.

Comicsgate: Suppressing Free Speech through Harassment 

What is Comicsgate? The Newest Geek Controversy, Explained | Inverse
Courtesy of Inverse

Inspired by Gamergate, Comicsgate is an alt-right movement that opposes diversity and progressivism in comics.  The campaign is a horrible way to address the issue at hand, harassing and threatening several creators for their unique storytelling abilities.   “Injustice” writer Tom Taylor brought light to the controversy back in 2018 when he tweeted against the movement.

The supposed origin of Comicsgate was in July 2017, when a group of female creators shared a selfie on Twitter to celebrate the departed Flo Flourney and her past career as an industry icon. For some reason, the photo brought to the beginnings of a toxic movement: Comicsgate.  

The movement sought out to move away from left-leaning graphic novels as the audience grew tired of the blatant agenda pushing.  They decided that the best course of action was to harass the SJWs with foul language and threats — not the best idea.  

In my opinion, the best way to address this issue is by bringing light to how it has affected the comic industry and then address the issue in a new light. Changing the sexuality of a prominent superhero — like turning Batwoman lesbian or the original Green Lantern gay — can lead to conflict within the community.  Instead, create original characters that symbolize a specific group, like the new gay Captain America Aaron Fischer. 

“Aaron is inspired by heroes of the queer community: activists, leaders, and everyday folks pushing for a better life,” said the series writer Josh Trujillo. “He stands for the oppressed, and the forgotten. I hope his debut story resonates with readers, and helps inspire the next generation of heroes.”

While Aaron seems like one of the best LGBTQAI+ characters we could see in future comic books, it shouldn’t be the entire point of his character. It should be one attribute of a character, not their entire personality.  

Marvel decided to publish a somewhat strange series last year that adopted this controversy, and I was not a fan.  

Marvel's Relaunched New Warriors Lineup Sparks Fan Backlash
Courtesy of Marvel Comics

Alright, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.

The new “New Warriors” is a group that combines the original founding members of the New Warriors as well as a handful of recruits: Trailblazer, Screentime, B-Negative and the duo Snowflake & Safespace.  If you can’t tell by the list of names, each of these characters are titled after insults made against SJWs.  

“Because we’re doing a story about teenage rebels, a lot of the names are about teens fighting against labels that are put on them,” writer Daniel Kibblesmith explained.

The character designs look like something you would see in a McDonalds Happy Meal rather than a Marvel one-shot. In other words, they are super generic. 

When the team first made its debut, the demographic it tried to represent stormed Twitter, trashing Marvel for its somewhat horrible design choices.

“I know there’s more in the world to be mad at but this STINKS. It feels like a parody made by redpilled teens,” nonbinary comic writer Kate Leth tweeted on March 18, 2020.

Screentime’s origin story of being exposed to his grandfather’s “experimental Internet gas” can be, at times, stupidly funny.  Trailblazer’s power of having an endless backpack can get people to draw comparisons with Dora the Explorer — if she is either Hispanic or Native American, the implications can differ.  And, finally, Snowflake and Safespace can come off as parodies of non-binary people instead of legitimate characters in the Marvel Universe.

Due to the heavy backlash and ongoing pandemic, the new New Warriors haven’t appeared on the pages just yet, but when they do, I will definitely be reading it in awe of what Marvel thought was a good idea.

Comic book writers need to step up their game and create good characters that symbolize all communities, not a select few. Then again, them being nonbinary, gay, or Hispanic shouldn’t be their entire character.  It’s one part of them, not their whole personality.  

The LGBTQAI+ audience needs to have a hero they can look up to that is beautifully written, so give them one.

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