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New York Comic Con 2014 Panels: Diversity in Comic Books Evolved From Stereotypes to Latino, Black and Female Heroes

First Posted: Oct 10, 2014 12:55 PM EDT
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new york comic con teen titans(Photo : Michael Oleaga)

The latest decade has seen comic books become diverse, but it hasn't come easy or as rapidly as fans would expect.

At the 2014 New York Comic Con session "#WeNeedDiverse (Comic) Books -- Diversity in Comics," the panelists comprising of Amie Wright, Craig Anderson, I.W. Gregorio and Mat Bird addressed the history, present and future of diversity, and the lack thereof, in comic books.

"I always feel that comic books have been a little bit progressive, in general," Anderson said. "That's not to say there haven't been more conservative comic books over the years, but I always feel that they kind of leaned a little more towards the progressive-liberal side."

According to Anderson, comic books were liberal because of the perspective from a journalism and humanities background who tend to be "sympathetic" toward progressive elements in society. Regardless of ideology, stereotypes were "rampant" with superheroes having a sidekick of "color" such as Ebony White and Whitewash Jones. The World War II era also introduced stereotypical Asian villains.

The years between the 1960s and 1980s saw comic books further exploit the "Blaxploitation" era, but Anderson credited Storm as a game-changer as her abilities and powers was not representative of her "blackness" or caricature of a person of color. Green Lantern and Green Arrow were also credited to changing stereotypes for providing socially conservative and liberal issues, respectively.

The comic book industry has encountered dilemmas to introduce or engage in diverse character and topics. In 2011, Marvel Comics introduced Miles Morales, a teenage Spider-Man of Black Hispanic descent. Morales, however, is the second Latino character to take on the Spider-Man role after Spider Man 2099's Miguel O'Hara, who was of half-Mexican descent.

The Hawkeye Initiative was also referenced. The initiative has characters such as Hawkeye and other male comic characters into situations typically portrayed by women. The Hawkeye Initiative has seen females drawn as the male comic book hero and recognize the "extreme sexism" in modern comics.

The #WeNeedDiverse(Comic)Books session at New York Comic Con on Oct. 9, 2014.
(Photo: Michael Oleaga) The #WeNeedDiverse(Comic)Books session at New York Comic Con on Oct. 9, 2014.

Formerly known as The Falcon, Sam Wilson takes over as Captain America. Wilson is a black superhero and comes after the addition of the first female Thor.

Wright, as a librarian, said there is a lot of diversity in comic books, but it can be overlooked. Bird noted that even the face of a character could become a caricature with aspects of the eyes, nose and mouth becoming subjects of whether or not it's a "racialized" image. Bird said that while some comics may be "universal," it does not mean there needs to be a lack of diverse comics.

"I think it's not just comics, but the whole culture is getting to that point where 'You know, can't we all just root for the white guy?' No," Bird said and added people can instead support characters that may be a Persian female.

"You need diverse comics because you need communities to see themselves reflected. ... You need them because you want people to read about other communities. ... You need them because everybody needs to have a sense of 'I can be a hero,'" Bird said. He also said television shows and movies are introducing diverse characters, but the same needs to be done for comic books.

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