Recent political events in Indiana have showcased the dangerous idea that there are evil minority groups who want to take away what we hold dear, and we must fight to protect what we believe in. Sadly, there are those who fear progress and cling to what they see as the norm and what is right. Why? What are they afraid of? What do they fear losing?
This attitude is nothing new to both creators and fans of the comic book industry, a field that is populated mostly by heterosexual white males on both sides. Diverse voices can be found, but they aren’t always met with the praise they deserve. When the race or gender of a major character is changed, the fan uproar on social media and in the local comic shops is clockwork predictable. They’ll accuse the companies of doing it just for a quick buck or to stir up controversy. It never occurs to them that a young girl might pick up a copy of the new female Thor and get excited about comics because she finds that the character inside “is just like me!”
The backlash isn’t only targeted at fictional characters. Female writers and artists in the comic book field know all too well the backlash that comes with creating material with a perspective outside the industry norm. They are often bombarded with rude and sexist comments on social media for speaking their mind or even for no other reason than being a woman. At a recent panel at Emerald City Comicon, women and LGBT creators shared their stories of being harassed and excluded from the industry by readers and sometimes by other creators. Their desire to create and publish diverse work in no way diminishes the work of others, yet it’s seen as a sort of threat. They explained that they are not out to replace the mainstream material enjoyed by the average reader, but instead wish to draw in a new audience that is not being represented. This shouldn’t be an uphill battle, but it still is. To the “average” comic book reader, again I ask: Why? What are you afraid of? What do you fear losing?
So how did we get here? In the golden age of comics back in the 1950s, comics of all genres were published. Spinner racks were filled with western, humor, romance, crime, science fiction and superhero comics. Soon, the big publishers dropped most titles except for the superheroes and created a predominantly male readership that survives to this day. Like putting a “No girls allowed” sign outside their tree house, this fan base has become resistant to letting in new readers who aren’t like them. They adhere to the tradition of the white male hero and any attempt by publishers to venture away from that is eventually undone, equality be damned.
Although women still make up a small percentage of readers in the comic book industry, their numbers are growing. They are bypassing the superheroes for more independent titles and helping that market to grow and cater to a new fan base. Attitudes among creators have begun to change as well, and the major publishers are admitting that inequality exists both on the page and on their staff. Like with any industry, the tipping point will come from the fan dollars and not the vocal minority fighting change. The fan dollars have spoken and the current female Thor series is enjoying higher sales than the previous male version. This new Thor may not be permanent, but her sales numbers prove that there’s room for all kinds of heroes and readers on the comic shop rack.
Eddie deAngelini co-owns Hi De Ho Comics, 1431 Lincoln Blvd., in Santa Monica.