More diverse characters in comics

NEW YORK • America Chavez, a Latina and lesbian superhero, saves an alien planet, enrols at Sotomayor University and punches Adolf Hitler in the first issue of her new Marvel comic-book series.

But what is being celebrated as most fantastic in this comic is that Gabby Rivera, a young-adult author who is gay and Latina herself, is writing the adventures of America.

While the comic-book industry has been making great strides in its efforts to reflect the real world in its characters, the same has not always been true of their creators, who have typically been straight, white and male. But the ratio of representation continues to change.

David F. Walker, who is black, is writing a new Luke Cage series for Marvel that begins in May. That same month introduces a superhero universe from Lion Forge, with a diverse team of creators and characters, including Noble, the flagship hero who is black.

This summer will see the return of Kim & Kim, from Black Mask Studios, about two bounty hunters, one a transgender woman, the other a bisexual, written by Magdalene Visaggio, who is transgender. They join the growing list of comic-book series with diverse characters at the forefront.

For a long time, "the American comic-book industry has marginalised and excluded the voices of writers of colour", said Mr Joseph Phillip Illidge, a senior editor at Lion Forge Comics. That has caused some fans to ask that characters of colour have their stories done by creators of colour.

When characters and creators share a special bond, there is an increased chance of authenticity. That seems to be the case in Rivera's work on America, judging by the early reviews.

"One big part of this book's personality is that it allows America to be totally, unapologetically queer," copyeditor Kat Overland wrote on the website Women Write About Comics. "It's the same with her brownness. She's Latina, stylewise, speechwise, everything, and it feels natural."

Chavez's rise to prominence took some twists and turns. Joe Casey and Nick Dragotta created her in 2011, but she gained popularity as a supporting character later, in two series by two other creative teams (whose writers and artists are also men). With her solo title, the heroine and writer are in sync. (Casey and Dragotta will be presenting an upstart version of their creation in All-America Comix, starring America Vasquez, being published by Image this year.)

A Latin experience is also at the heart of La Boriquena, a Puerto Rican heroine created by Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez last year. As a young fan, Miranda-Rodriguez said he did not find characters who looked like him, but he managed to forge connections with alien all- American heroes, billionaire orphans and warrior women.

Now, as a father of two, he demands more. "When you grow up not seeing yourself, it slowly eats away at you," he said.

In the world of independent comics, Love And Rockets, by brothers Gilbert and Jaime (and sometimes Mario) Hernandez, has been one of the most consistent depictions of Latinos. Fantagraphics has published the series since 1982.

Having creators and characters be of similar backgrounds may also be an opportunity to right past wrongs. Gene Luen Yang, who is chronicling the exploits of Kenan Kong, a Chinese man of steel in New Super-Man, is bringing back a regrettable caricature from 1937. Chin Lung was a "yellow peril" villain who personified fears of the East.

"DC used an image that dehumanised an entire group of people to sell comics," Yang said in an e-mail message.

The character would be difficult for most writers to tackle, but Yang has an edge. "Do I think that it's easier for a Chinese-American writer to do something like this? Absolutely. Because I'm a Chinese- American, I got a head start on my homework because I lived it."

While having diversity among creators and characters is a step forward, more needs to be done, said Lion Forge's Mr Illidge.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2017, with the headline 'More diverse characters in comics'. Print Edition | Subscribe