Last week’s blog was focused on respecting diversity in comics. Diversity does plenty of good for the medium and the market as it creates an opportunity to broaden the audience and explore the boundaries of material offered.
But too often what is masked as an attempt at diversity is actually just a marketing gimmick, dependent on the buzz created by knee jerk reactions to dramatic changes in major characters that have long been ingrained in our popular culture.
It has become a disappointing and predictable common practice by publishers to boost sales figures by implementing any of the following strategies:
Kill the character.
Have the character get married.
Expose the character as gay.
Change the gender of the character.
Change the race of the character.
Any one of these options is a guarantee that airtime on The View will follow!
It won’t be long before Whoopi Goldberg will be waving a comic book featuring a traditional white male character that has returned from the dead as an, African- American lesbian about to get married to her same-sex partner!
This is not really a respectful implementation of diversity. This is merely pathetic evidence that the character has become so old and stale that the editors are willing to try anything to spice it up to get attention. It also broadens the corporations ability to protect the trademark, like when Stan Lee quickly generated a She-Hulk and a Spider-Woman after the suggestion that anyone could otherwise easily swipe the characters from Marvel.
Creating diversity in a product line in this manner is like mass producing Santa or plastic Jesus figures of all ethnicity just to appeal to all common denominators possible. It is a confirmation that the character in question is so ingrained in the public consciousness based on its most rudimentary properties that nothing else really matters other than the costume and the powers of that character.
So why change it?
Stan Lee once described Spider-Man’s success as being attributed to the fact that behind the costume Spidey could be any race and that allowed him to appeal to readers of all ethnicities because they could easily imagine themselves as him.
It is possible that idea of the mask on so many superheroes has allowed whole cultures be able to relate to them, establishing the “modern mythologies” that the trademark owners of superheroes are so proud of? If that’s the case, the audience has been responsible for diversity in comics through their own imagination.
The success of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a great example. People don’t relate to them by race. They can’t. They are turtles! Individually they appeal to people by the color of their mask, their weapons and their personalities. That’s all! Ask anybody who their favorite turtle is and most will say, “the red one,” or “the purple one” and so on. Almost anyone can identify with a Ninja Turtle because they are essentially animals that we don’t usually identify by race or gender.
Someday it will be realized by the public that disrupting the foundation of iconic characters in the name of diversity is merely a marketing ploy that dilutes the property and minimizes its cultural impact.
Implementing diversity would be better served by developing new characters created by diverse talents that appreciate the differences of those characters first hand and are willing to target a specific audience. It all goes back to respect. Respect the talent. Respect the audience. Create great, diverse works and the gimmicks won’t be needed.
Making Comics Because We Want to,