What Marvel and DC Comics can learn from Fox's "Empire"

In the Jan. 6 issue of Variety, an article titled "'Empire' Revels in Diverse Dynamic in the Writers' Room" revealed a writing team led by showrunner Ilene Chaiken, a White woman, and inclusive of a number of people of color.

"Empire" is a new television drama with a diverse cast, starring Terence Howard from the first "Iron Man" film, and it started out the gate on Fox with impressive ratings. Due to the diversity of the characters and their world, Chaiken chose to go on the side of authenticity and get writers with an intimate knowledge of the culture of the characters as it relates to the music industry and beyond.

The jury is very much still out on "Empire" in terms of its capability to last in the brutal landscape of prime-time network television, but one thing is for certain: various parties involved were interested in having a collection of different voices at the table to inject the story, the show, with some believability on issues of Black culture in America.

It made me think about the Marvel and DC Comics editorial teams. Their writer pools.

There is some diversity in the Marvel editorial team. We know this for sure. Additionally, "Ms. Marvel" author G. Willow Wilson was present at Marvel's most recent editorial summit. Additionally, Wilson became a Marvel-exclusive writer, so other than anything she may or may not have negotiated for creator-owned projects, her mainstream comic book work will be for Marvel Comics.

But... will Marvel Comics do more? They can, without a doubt, but will they?

Considering that Marvel Comics can now boast to have the highest-profile Black superheroes in mainstream comics, with the new Captain America, Luke Cage, and the Ultimate Universe Spider-Man, as well as various other characters of color, how impressive would it be if Marvel Comics did what Fox and Ilene Chaiken did?

The DC editorial team has some diversity, but not a lot in its known writer pool. If the credits of its monthly comic books are any indication, DC Comics has less diversity in its writer pool than Marvel -- and Marvel doesn't have that much. So that's less than not a lot.

Will DC Comics decide to add new blood, people from different cultural backgrounds, inclusive of Black people, to its writer pool this year?

In recent news for DC Comics, the company has boasted a new Power Girl to feature prominently in the "Teen Titans" series. A Black female teenager of high intellect, superhuman abilities and a full-body suit.

Additionally, the DC Comics' character Vixen will soon appear as the star of an animated series on the CW Seed digital network, owned by DC Comics' parent company, Warner Bros. "Vixen" will be part of the continuity of the shared live-action television universe of "Arrow" and "The Flash", and both shows have quite the diverse cast of regulars and recurring guest stars.

Beyond the small screen, DC Comics also has a number of characters of color in its "New 52" Universe.

We all know that through their parent companies and cinematic works, Marvel Comics and DC Comics are having a greater impact on popular culture than ever, and their impact was impressive from time to time to begin with.

The impact extends to careers, and the potential success of those persons allowed through the gates into the kingdoms of four-color dreams, and to the institutions they build and the careers they help foster.

Prosperity and success are, in part, generational.

They're also partially contingent on expanded thinking.

Earlier this year, Deadline Hollywood's article "Disney-ABC Writing Program Names Eight For 2015" announced writer Brandon Easton as one of the writers chosen for that program, a program which has helped launch the careers of writers on popular television shows including "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men." Brandon's work in comics earned him an Eisner Award nomination last year, and this next step will certainly lead to various writing opportunities in large-scale media.

How would the comic book industry be impacted if Marvel Comics and, or DC Comics had a similar program that resulted in the acquisition of a culturally diverse pool of writing talent?

If either or both companies had a diversity board like NBC?

The visual symbolism of such a variety of cultures and experiences would undoubtedly have a positive impact... and I am willing to bet that the comic book company that does it first would be exactly that, the first.

Others would follow, because success breeds imitation and emulation.

The PR alone would be worth its weight in gold, and the authenticity of which "Empire" showrunner Ilene Chaiken spoke, would be clear.

Considering the fact that the comic book industry is intertwined with Hollywood, and various members of the industry in different areas of the hierarchy are viewed as celebrities, it would seem organic that said companies adopted some of the better practices from networks and studios.

The Marvel Entertainment Diversity Board.

The DC Comics Writers Program.


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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