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There are no Black comics writers at Marvel or DC
February 7, 2013 1:31 PM   Subscribe

"As near as I can tell, throughout DC Comics' more than 75-year history, the publisher has only ever hired two black women writers on monthly titles: Felicia Henderson on Teen Titans and Angela Robinson on The Web, both in 2009. That should be put in some perspective: If those numbers are accurate, it would mean that DC has more white women writing monthly books for them right now than they've had black women in the same role in more than three quarters of a century. That said, they are potentially doing better than their principal competition: Try as I might, I cannot find a single black woman who has ever written a monthly ongoing comic for Marvel in the publisher's history." -- Joseph Hughes talks about the lack of Black comics writers at Marvel and DC both right now and historically. posted by MartinWisse (50 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
eee. this is difficult in general. There is a lot of institutionalized sexism and racism in the comics industry in general. There is also a lot fewer active books than most people think- and not a heck of a lot of opportunity in comics in general. We’re talking about super competition- and jobs are given based on friendships and through socializing. You don’t “apply” for a gig writing comics. Somebody saw your stuff AND knows you because you were out drinking with that dude at Emerald City last year and do you even remember that blond’s name cause she was totally into jimmy! Anyway- did you want to do an issue of Superwunderkindacool?
posted by Blisterlips at 1:50 PM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


The other day I realized there has never been a single New Yorker cartoon with a black character in it.
posted by gertzedek at 1:55 PM on February 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


As soon as I started reading this title in the RSS feed, I thought, "Priest had a lot to say about this!" Thanks so much for linking to him—his perspective is always welcome and I really miss his writing. I hope that whatever he's doing today makes him happy.

Why did you capitalize "black" throughout this submission?
posted by koavf at 2:10 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the number of people actively involved with the creation (writing and art, not editing, publishing, or marketing) currently-published comics from an actual publishing house (not self-published) is way smaller than most people think. Most comics have two creators attached, a writer and an artist, though some will occasionally have two of one or the other, and a few are actually written and drawn by the same person. It's also quite common for one person to be involved in multiple comics. Mark Waid is currently writing two comics, Brian Michael Bendis three, Geoff Johns four, Dan Jurgens is wearing at least five hats, etc.

So DC does, what, fifty-two current titles? Marvel has thirty-odd. We're looking at a maximum of maybe 170-ish creators at any given time. But given the number of people doing more than one, a realistic figure is maybe 100-120. Might we expect there to be a bit of diversity? Yes, I think we can probably expect that. But understand that this is not an industry or major job category. It might accurately be described as a slightly over-sized social club. It does not work like the hiring process for, say, teachers or human resource managers. It is done almost entirely on the basis of personal interactions.

Indeed, the comics world is somewhat unique amongst art and entertainment-related jobs. It's got a constant output requirement, like TV, but even a cable TV show will have a budget for a single episode that could easily exceed the budget for an entire year's worth of a comic. And unlike in movies or TV, the margins are low enough that very few artists or writers are working with agents.* Hires are made directly, and there's no sort of intermediate actor that works to create and expand relationships between employers and creators.

If we were talking about a company with hundreds of employees, or an industry with thousands of jobs, it'd be pretty easy to say "Look, you've got no black employees. Seriously, do something about that. It's not that hard." Here it's more like "Go hang out with more black people," i.e., it's a much squishier problem with a much less traditional solution. There's a lot about the process that is pretty dysfunctional, but I'm not seeing a whole lot of obvious solutions other than waiting for certain people to move up and out. That or encouraging more black artists to go to after parties at comic conventions. I have the distinct sense that copious amounts of alcohol are involved in a lot of these relationships. . .

*At least not for this sort of thing. Joss Whedon wrote a few comics for Marvel back in the day, and he presumably has an agent, but he's one of the only comics creators that anyone who doesn't regularly read comics will have ever heard of. It's my sense that the few creators that do have agents mostly use them for things other than comics.
posted by valkyryn at 2:22 PM on February 7, 2013 [4 favorites]



The other day I realized there has never been a single New Yorker cartoon with a black character in it.


It's old but

Also

And
posted by The Whelk at 2:27 PM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]




I admit I'm surprised to see ComicsAlliance post this. I figured their crusading days, particulatly against DC, ended when Laura Hudson left (see, for example, the complete non-reportage on the Gail Simone firing, only picking it up weeks later when she was rehired).

I'm a WASPy dude who likes Silver Age comics. I'm thankful for pieces like this that help remind me that my experience is not everyone else's.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:32 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


And it's by the new EIC (who one might presume had put the kibosh on that sort of thing in the first place), no less.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:42 PM on February 7, 2013


The other day I realized there has never been a single New Yorker cartoon with a black character in it.

"And, if elected ..."
posted by Kabanos at 2:42 PM on February 7, 2013 [12 favorites]


That hiring is a largely social interaction in comics explains how this situation might come about, but it does not excuse the situation. The NFL has some of the same problems w/r/t head coaching jobs. The NFL's effort to promote minority coaching hires is not at all perfect, but it's a step in the right direction, and Marvel and DC could make the same kind of effort, seeking out ways to find different voices and fold them into the social, clubby world of comics.
posted by incessant at 2:48 PM on February 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


Sadly, every time this issue comes up, DC and Marvel demonstrate their disinterest in understanding Racism or Sexism 101.

I miss Priest. His Black Panther rocked.
posted by Zed at 2:50 PM on February 7, 2013


I miss Dwayne McDuffie.
posted by Oktober at 2:54 PM on February 7, 2013 [20 favorites]


Has anyone else watched the animated Black Panther series that BET aired? That was great stuff (and had a catchy theme song).
posted by asperity at 2:56 PM on February 7, 2013


I miss Dwayne McDuffie.

RIP Dwayne McDuffie - were he not dead I'd happily see writers for the entire DC line replaced by him.
posted by Artw at 3:00 PM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


That hiring is a largely social interaction in comics explains how this situation might come about, but it does not excuse the situation.

I'm not saying that it does, I'm just saying that most of the obvious ways to remedy this sort of thing don't really seem to apply. Heck, there are way more football head coaching jobs* than there are professional comics creation jobs, and the way you get to be a professional college football coach is far more institutionalized than the comics world is.

I think what I'm saying is that this seems to me to be more a substantive problem than a procedural one. It's not as if there is a readily identifiable pool of willing and able potential comics creators who happen to be black who are being systematically ignored. I'm sure there are plenty of them out there, but I couldn't tell you who any of them are, or how to find them. This is in contrast to the football coach example, where there are a ton of black football coaches who would do fine jobs if anyone bothered to hire them.

Instead, the problem seems to be that the culture of the very small group of people that create the majority of major comics titles seems pretty okay with an uncomfortably high level of racism and sexism. This is bad in general, but it's uniquely problematic here because it also discourages the kind of social interactions which might lead to a more diverse group of people. As I'm not really aware of an terribly effective way of getting people to be better people that can be easily and reliably implemented, I'm kind of at a loss as to what to do about this. I'd like to see something done about it, but other than showing up at cons and busting people's balls while drinking, I'm short on ideas other than yelling about it on the Internet.

In short, I think the problem is not so much that there aren't more black comics creators as it is that many comics creators seem distressingly unworried about the extent to which their work is sexist and racist.

*If we include college ball, which seems reasonable given the revolving door between the NFL and prestigious college ball programs.
posted by valkyryn at 3:02 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Brandon Easton's take.
posted by Hartster at 3:45 PM on February 7, 2013


Marc Bernardin on being a black writer of comic books.
posted by Artw at 3:55 PM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Don't new writers to DC/Marvel typically get picked up from smaller (or indie) publishing houses? Are there any promising female black writers in there who might be of interest? Whats the writer demographic breakdown outside of the mainstream industry?
posted by asra at 3:56 PM on February 7, 2013


For everyone not DC/Marvel? Probably just as white and male, for the most part. Possibly outside of print comics the situation is better, web and digital having more reach and tending to be more diverse in readership than the crowd that shows up at comics shops. Comics recruit from fandom, and an insular fandom makes for an insular set of creators.
posted by Artw at 4:04 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


(and sadly the UK comics scene, where I do my work, is even more of a pastey sausage fest. )
posted by Artw at 4:08 PM on February 7, 2013


Those Christopher Priest links are fucking fascinating and I strongly, strongly recommend them.
posted by Amanojaku at 4:31 PM on February 7, 2013


> Has anyone else watched the animated Black Panther series that BET aired?

i'm intrigued. I assumed that they'd be crappy b/c they were on BET.

Many, many of the episodes are available on YouTube (but sadly, not the BT channel).

They were produced by then-BET President and current Django Unchained producer Reginald Hudlin.
posted by vhsiv at 4:40 PM on February 7, 2013


Came in to mourn Dwayne McDuffie, glad to see I'm not the only one.

The Ladydrawers Comics Collective produces a lot of comics based on stats about both comics and their creators. They're mostly focused on gender disparities in comics, but the latest one they put out is about race (might be NSFW for fuzzy male nudity).

One of the facts their research turned up is that characters in comics, taken as a group, tend to be even whiter than the population of their creators.

And you've got a better chance of getting a speaking role in a comic if you're non-human than if you're Black.
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 4:52 PM on February 7, 2013




One of the facts their research turned up is that characters in comics, taken as a group, tend to be even whiter than the population of their creators.

That seems sorta doubtfull. We're talking pretty white here. Then again, if you throw in all the B&W indie comics about people having angst maybe it bleaches everything out entirely.
posted by Artw at 5:01 PM on February 7, 2013


They were produced by then-BET President and current Django Unchained producer Reginald Hudlin.

... who also wrote the Black Panther comic for three years, so the quality of the show makes sense.
posted by Amanojaku at 5:33 PM on February 7, 2013


I've been really enjoying Black Panther on BET. Top notch actors doing the voice work. Black Panther was my favorite superhero growing up, so I was delighted to run across this during a particularly bad bout of insomnia. Unfortunately, I always seem to run across the same four episodes.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:54 PM on February 7, 2013


I am glad Hughes wrote about this, especially in the way that he did. These things need to be said and they need to be said more often.

It's a complicated issue, and I want to say "well, indie comics are doing things so much better!" but while indie comics do well for women, they don't necessarily do well for non-white people. I can think of several Black and Asian-American creators, male and female (many of whom are awesome), but it's still a scene predominantly full of white people and I don't think that's necessarily good.

But many of us care. It's not about diversity for diversity's sake, but it's about making sure people feel welcome in this world (don't get me wrong -- it can feel cliquish, but I think that's more of a matter that comics people protect their own). DC and Marvel are pretty bad at that, sadly, so I think the rest of us can do better.
posted by darksong at 5:57 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Ladydrawers Comics Collective produces a lot of comics based on stats about both comics and their creators. They're mostly focused on gender disparities in comics, but the latest one they put out is about race (might be NSFW for fuzzy male nudity).

One of the facts their research turned up is that characters in comics, taken as a group, tend to be even whiter than the population of their creators.

And you've got a better chance of getting a speaking role in a comic if you're non-human than if you're Black.


Some of their research seems weird to me (or maybe I'm just having trouble parsing it). Reading the "Women are Invisible, Unless They're Naked" comic, for instance, they say (as of July 7, 2011) "Of the last 30 titles from the 12 biggest comics publishers in North America, there were approximately 1,649 identifiably male main characters with no identifiably female main characters." But even coming solely from a "capes and tights perspective," I just don't see how that's possible.

As much as I agree about the base problems they're addressing, I'm not quite sure I'm willing to take their statistics at face value just yet.
posted by Amanojaku at 6:16 PM on February 7, 2013


It's a complicated issue, and I want to say "well, indie comics are doing things so much better!" but while indie comics do well for women...

Interestingly enough, there's a Ladydrawers comic about that. They say, "In a study we conducted, we found that of 30 recent Marvel titles, 197 featured male contributors (writers, inkers, etc.) with 27 female contributors. That's a total of 227 jobs, distributed thusly: 88% dudes. And lest you think it's better in the liberal world of indie publishing, of 29 recent Fantagraphics titles . . . 90% dude creators."

Okay, obviously I'm fascinated, but I'll stop over-posting now.
posted by Amanojaku at 6:27 PM on February 7, 2013




The 25 Most Memorable Black Comic Book Characters

A good list, and it's notable how few of them (except Lightning and Panther) have "Black [Noun]" names.
posted by Amanojaku at 6:36 PM on February 7, 2013


He might have Black in his name, but Black Panther is still pretty awesome - he's got his own super-science African nation! He's like Doctor Doom without being a dick!
posted by Artw at 6:40 PM on February 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


Okay, I will agree to the common charges of sexism in the comics industry, and to a large extent, the racisms problems too.

Problem I always have with proclamations like this is sample size.

So, there's been two female black writers.

Out of what size group? 5? 50? 50000? And as we all know, just because you claim you are a writer doesn't mean you are one that's ready for publishing, regardless of race, creed, color, gender, sexual preference, or any other criteria.

Not so much complaining about the topic at hand so much as complaining about the presentation.

(Black Panther on BET? News to me! I AM SO ON THAT!)
posted by Samizdata at 6:54 PM on February 7, 2013


(Tries to figure out if he should post a link to a portrait of himself drawn by his comic artist transgirl ex-girlfriend but still friend)
posted by Samizdata at 6:57 PM on February 7, 2013


To be fair, Amanojaku, indie comics is a lot bigger than just want Fantagraphics publishes. Not that they can't do more, of course, but I think they're getting there. (Hiring Jen Vaughn didn't hurt.) But that's totally off the initial subject.

I do think things are changing -- however slowly. I've watched things change in the time I've been doing all of this, and it's only gotten better and more diverse. There's still a long way to go, though, and I think the more all people in comics realizes that, the better off we are.
posted by darksong at 7:07 PM on February 7, 2013


He might have Black in his name, but Black Panther is still pretty awesome - he's got his own super-science African nation! He's like Doctor Doom without being a dick!

I like to think of him as what would have happened if, while Bruce Wayne sat in his chair and bled and brooded about symbols, a Dr. Doom came crashing through his window.

To be fair, Amanojaku, indie comics is a lot bigger than just want Fantagraphics publishes.

Agreed. That was their chosen sample, not mine.
posted by Amanojaku at 7:22 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not as if there is a readily identifiable pool of willing and able potential comics creators who happen to be black who are being systematically ignored.

Well...

David Brothers has done a spreadsheet of all Black writers who have done more than 1 issue of a Big Two cape comic: 19 in total, including Samuel Delany's 1970ties Wonderwoman work.

When you look at how long writers like Christopher Priest, Dwayne McDuffie or Kyle Baker have been around and how much more fractured their career has been than those of their contemporaries... Waid and Busiek both got into comics slightly later than Priest frex, but whereas the latter had to hang around as copy boy (and to hear him tell it, for certain people there the boy was very emphasised) for a couple of years in the late seventies before he got his break, Busiek got his break one day when he was doing some writing for a fanzine and somebody liked the look of him and offered him Powerman and Iron Fist. Nothing against Busiek, but why did Priest or McDuffie, both of whom are easily as good writers as he is, never get these sorts of breaks?

(Related.)
posted by MartinWisse at 10:51 PM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Question for US comics retailers/frequent customers: what would you say, off the cuff of your thumb, is the percentage of black customers and female customers? Here in Australia (Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne) I can safely say I have NEVER seen a black person in a comic book store, and maybe one Asian every, say, thirty or forty whitefella customers. Females, maybe one in twenty.

Not really related to the post as a whole, this is just me being curious.

As far as I can recall the only comic I've been reading lately with a black character is New Avengers, which I dropped after two issues because it is terribly boring. Nothing else has a black dude or dudette in it.

Are comics maybe not really a black "thing" simply because, or are they not a black "thing" because there is a dearth of black characters or creators? If comics haven't ever really been a black "thing" then maybe that explains the lack of black creators?

(For reference I think the Black Panther is a pretty sweet character and I always played as him in Ultimate Alliance, so I guess that's like my "I'm not racist, I play as the Black Panther in Ultimate Alliance!" thing for me to trot out if I ever need it.)

I guess I'm also ashamed to say I've never read anything by the late Dwayne McDuffie, the only black comic book creator I can think of off the top of my head (not that I really look up pictures of the people who work on books I read). I do hear good things about his work though, so some recommendations would be welcomed.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 1:14 AM on February 8, 2013


Mark Waid is currently writing two comics, Brian Michael Bendis three...

Bendis is writing like twenty fucking things at Marvel at the moment. I can think of one Daredevil title, two X-Mans, the Ultron thing, Guardians of the Galaxy. So...five, not twenty. But still!
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 1:21 AM on February 8, 2013


So...five, not twenty. But still!

That doesn't exactly undermine my point. . .

posted by valkyryn at 2:14 AM on February 8, 2013


Yeah Bendis got to write Guardians of Galaxy just in time for the movie, while the people who actually made that movie possible in the first place with their series of Marvel space opera comics, Abnett and Lanning are frozen out.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:24 AM on February 8, 2013


Judging from Annihilators, they went out at the right time, though.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 4:30 AM on February 8, 2013


That doesn't exactly undermine my point. . .

Not trying to undermine. If anything, I am buttressing your mine. I'm running an extra mine in parallel. DOUBLE-MINE.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 4:41 AM on February 8, 2013


I miss both Priest and Dwayne McDuffie
posted by dolilmao at 12:08 AM on February 9, 2013 [1 favorite]




This should be good...
I'm David: Welcome to Black History Month
posted by Artw at 11:12 AM on February 13, 2013








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