Comics are finally becoming more representative of the real world
Some make the argument that the landscape for people of color, women and members of the LGBT community in the world of comic books has definitely changed.
Fans are anxiously awaiting new episodes of Marvel’s “Luke Cage” and “Jessica Jones” to be downloaded onto Netflix and characters Northstar being openly gay (and married to boot) in the comics, it’s hard to remember that it wasn’t always this way.
But it wasn’t.
“‘Lion Man’ was the first black superhero to have his own comic, and it didn’t last long,” said Thomas Strange, one of the hosts of the Thinking Outside The Longbox podcast. “Stores in the South wouldn’t stock it. ‘Black Panther’ started out as part of the ‘Jungle Action’ series.”
Strange and his fellow members of the Longbox podcast—Josh Opper, Michael Manning and Thomas Boucher—recently joined Victor Dandridge, president and CEO of Vantage: InHouse, and creator of the comic “The Samaritan” as part of a discussion on stereotypes in comics at the WizardWorld comics convention in Philadelphia. They were part of four panels that focused on social justice issues earlier this month during WizardWorld, which also featured panels with the stars of Captain America: Civil War, Thor, Arrow, Back to the Future and the recently cancelled ABC series Agent Carter.
Panelists discussed ways that people of color, women and the LGBT people have been portrayed in comics through stereotypical characters including “Go-Go Gomez,” “He-She,” “Pie Face” and the “Rawhide Kid.”
And then, there’s the depictions of female characters like Batgirl, whose crime fighting is sometimes derailed by a broken fingernail or ruined stockings.
But one of the more cringe-worthy of these portrayals is that of Big Bertha, a mutant who fights as a member of the Great Lakes Avengers, a group of superheroes whose job it is to protect the Midwest. She has been a part of the Marvel Universe since 1989.
By day, Bertha is Ashley Crawford, Milwaukee’s most famous supermodel, a constantly sought after figure who turns down assignments from all over the world in order to be there when her fellow Great Lakes Avengers need to answer the call.
But when that call comes, Ashley becomes the 285-lb Bertha, able to deflect bullets, leap long distances and other feats of strength. When she’s done saving the day, she reverts to her supermodel form.
How? Well, she goes into a bathroom and purges, or put simply, she throws up.
“It’s not everyday that you see a superhero with bulimia as a superpower,” Strange said.
Attempts to make the comic marketplace more reflective of the real world has been slow. DC Comics, for example, was once home to Milestone Comics, an imprint launched in 1993 by a coalition of African-American artists and writers (namely Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Michael Davis and Derek T. Dingle) who believed that minorities were severely underrepresented in American comics. Milestone Media was their attempt to correct this imbalance.
Milestone was discontinued in 1997, but a reboot was announced at the 2015 ComicCon in San Diego.
More creators understand that comics have to be universal, Dandridge said.
“You have to be able to find yourself in a comic as a comic book reader,” he said.