On February 6, DC Comics made an announcement throughout the entertainment and comic book industry circles, one that earned the publisher positive publicity above and beyond the kind that comes with just another superhero universe event, yet existing on the periphery of just another superhero universe event.
In the aftermath of their two-month “Convergence” event, DC Comics will launch twenty-four new series with characters of varying levels of popularity, from The Justice League of America and Black Canary to Hellblazer and The Omega Men. That’s exciting on a fan level, without question, in part because of the range of creators being brought to the mix. People like Bryan Hitch and Cullen Bunn. But the real history-making move is in the hiring of three writers, in particular.
All three of these writers are exceptional and unique talents in the comic book industry.
David Walker is the writer of the “Shaft” series published by Dynamite Entertainment and based upon the popular Black ’70s-era detective from various films. His other published works in comic books and prose include “Reflection on Blaxploitation: Actors and Directors Speak,” and David is the creator of the website badazzmofo.com.
Gene Luen Yang is the award-winning writer of various graphic novels spotlighting Chinese culture and history, including “American-Born Chinese,” “Boxers and Saints” and “The Shadow Hero.” He is a member of the faculty of Hamline University, and an advocate for using graphic novels in educational programs.
Ming Doyle is an accomplished illustrator whose work has been seen in comic books for top industry publishers including Marvel Comics, Image Comics, Valiant Entertainment and DC Comics and titles like “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the Vertigo series “The Kitchen” and “Quantum and Woody,” among others.
Another commonality shared by this trio of talents is that all three of them are people of color.
David is Black, and both Gene and Ming are Chinese.
As we all know, the issue of a diverse pool of writers of color at the two major comic book publishers has been discussed a great deal, without a loss of traction. In a time when cultural and ethnic diversity is at a peak in the United States’ population, that variety has not been reflected in the writer communities at the top two American comic book publishers for a handful of years, at the very least.
With Marvel Comics as the undeniable leader of the American comic book industry and DC Comics historically being a publisher of more writers of color than their competitor by way of their co-publishing deal with Milestone Media, Inc. in the ’90s, it’s been nothing short of amazingly offensive to various fan and creator communities that neither company has employed enough writers of color to gain credibility as progressive publishers.
Especially when other companies and smaller-scale publishers have managed to do so.
DC Comics has not only hired a trio of writers of color in their new initiative, but have aligned those writers with some of the company’s most popular characters in global entertainment.
David is the writer of the new “Cyborg” series, a character featured in the publisher’s top-selling “Justice League of America” series and lead character for the upcoming Warner Bros. “Cyborg” film coming to theaters worldwide in the year 2020.
Gene is the writer of “Superman,” known by tens of millions of people spread throughout four generations. Even my mom knows who Superman is.
Such a move by DC Comics does at least four things:
1) Proves a show of faith by trusting these writers to helm popular characters.
2) Gives the writers access to royalties through sales expected to be better-than-average due to the popularity resulting from existing and eventual saturation of Cyborg, Superman, and the Hellblazer across various media and licensed product.
3) Earns DC Comics positive publicity for their relatively progressive creator-hiring practices, thereby trumping their well-known competitor.
4) And last but not least, acts as a mea culpa to fans for the company’s previous failure to provide a truly inclusive writing pool of consistency for more than half a decade.
Hell, honestly, I was blown off my legs by the news. It was a shock to me, a shock to the fans, and DC Comics was counting on that.
The move was highlighted on the website of “Entertainment Weekly,” in which writer Joshua Rivera went so far as to spotlight David Walker’s “Shaft” series by way of a personal recommendation.
DC Comics dropped their news on the same day their competitor Marvel Comics announced a new female superhero team book co-written by critically-acclaimed writer G. Willow Wilson, spinning out of their “Secret Wars” event, and exploiting the popular “Avengers” association through its title “A-Force,” but the news from DC Comics is more groundbreaking, more significant, and more mind-blowing.
So DC Comics gets points for being progressive, knowing how to get the most promotional bang for their buck, and trumping the competition on two fronts.
The hiring of David, Gene and Ming is good news because of the impressive abilities displayed in their individual and collective bodies of work.
We know that “Superman” by Gene Luen Yang is going to be a fun comic book, the kind of fun that has unfortunately managed to elude an association with Superman in some time.
We know that David Walker writes stories speaking to timely social themes, so working on a Black superhero who represents the S.T.E.M. subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics will be right up his alley.
We know that Ming Doyle brings an unconventional style to mainstream comic books of various genres, so having her as co-writer for a popular horror magic series will bring her creative perspective to bear in unpredictable ways.
But the bad news is that this is news.
It shouldn’t be news that the publisher of comic books for more than seventy-five years, of the thousands of tales about heroes such as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, hired people of color to write, give or take, one-twentieth of their monthly comic book output.
But it is.
It shouldn’t highlight the lack of equality in the hiring of writers of color on the part of DC Comics’ competitor, because there shouldn’t be one.
But it does, and there is.
Well, so far, because we know that Marvel Comics is not a company to be outdone, or put to the back of the bus.
So with the good news of expanded hiring and the bad news of the relatively-late progressiveness of said hiring, what is the proper response to DC Comics’ “new” initiative in the, among others, cause to support, promote, and reflect diversity in comic books?
For me, it means I’m going to do something I haven’t done in twenty-nine years.
Buy a comic book called “Superman” month after month.
It means putting aside my issues with the flawed symbolism of the Cyborg character and putting my faith in David Walker to bring the potential for this character’s social relevance to the surface.
It means caring about John Constantine for the first time since he was separated from the womb of the Vertigo imprint that was his home for many years of great comic books by great writers. Having faith in Ming Doyle and her co-writer to remind me of the wonders of John Constantine and his particular brand of magic, even if it sits alongside the world of capes and costumes.
It also means that I am not going to deify these writers.
I’m not going to expect them to shoulder the burden of compensating for the imbalanced creator pools of their publisher.
Not going to categorize them as symbols not allowed to fail or falter, for fear that if they don’t “succeed,” then the future road for writers of color by their publisher will be reduced to scorched earth.
I will support them month after month, and not wait for trade paperbacks, because they’re uniquely and amazingly talented, and they earned these opportunities through years of effort and hard work.
In comparison to the final decade of the 20th Century, the comic book industry’s hiring of writers of color in the 21st Century on the part of the two major publishers has been lacking.
Maybe this initiative by DC Comics will be more than an event in which the company utilizes binoculars to envision the road ahead.
Hopefully, it will also inspire an archaeology project, in which the company looks back and uncovers the fossils of its past self, a company dedicated to bring more writers of color to the sandbox of the DC Universe.
Maybe Marvel Comics will engage in a similar project.
The sooner the comic book industry can move forward to the past, the sooner it can power walk from the past to catch up with the present, and finally get in step with the future.
It’s about time.
Joseph Phillip Illidge is a public speaker on the subjects of race, comics, and the corporate politics of diversity. In addition to his coverage by the BBC and Publishers Weekly, Joseph has been a speaker at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Digital Book World’s forum, Digitize Your Career: Marketing and Editing 2.0, Skidmore College, Purdue University, on the panel “Diversity in Comics: Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Sexual Orientation in American Comic Books,” and at the Soho Gallery for Digital Art in New York City.
Joseph is the Head Writer for Verge Entertainment (www.verge.tv), a production company co-founded with Shawn Martinbrough, artist for the graphic novel series “Thief of Thieves” by “The Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman, and video game developer Milo Stone. Verge has developed an extensive library of intellectual properties for transmedia development. Live-action and animated television and film, video games, graphic novels, and web-based entertainment.
His latest project is “The Ren,” a 200-page graphic novel about the romance between a young musician from the South and a Harlem-born dancer in 1925, set against the backdrop of a crime war and spotlighting the relationship between art and the underworld. “The Ren” will be published by First Second Books, a division of Macmillan.
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