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Why Diversity in Comics is Much More Important Than You Think

It's not just about us. It's about future generations as well.

The comic book industry has changed a lot with the past generation. Whether it's the comic book movies bringing fans to the theaters in droves, the animated series captivating kids, or the toys in every store screaming to be played with, this industry is growing in a much different way. People from all walks of life are jumping onto comic books. According to our analytics, 45% of the folks that visit Comic Vine are female. Moreso, people from different cultures and races are also coming into comics at a larger rate. The stereotype of only white, nerdy males read comics is slowly fading away because comic book heroes and villains have invaded American culture, along with the rest of the world.

However, characters within comics aren't changing as quickly. There's a plethora of reasons why the change in comics isn't happening as fast as the readership is, but what people need to realize is that having more diverse characters within comic books is much more important than reflecting those who read the books.

I was in a comic book store, over the weekend. There was a kid (let's call him "Ted") about the age of 10 looking for comics and needed some suggestions. The guy behind the counter asked me to help out, and I showed "Ted" some various books. He said he liked Spider-Man, but trade-wise, all the store had was SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN, which, in my opinion, is way too heavy for someone that age, so I showed him ULTIMATE COMICS SPIDER-MAN. I told him it was a really cool book because Peter Parker was no longer Spider-Man and this new Spider-Man was really close to his age. He flipped through and saw Spider-Man, in a black suit, kicking some bad guy butt, and he told me it looked really cool. He then flipped to a page where he saw Miles Morales and started laughing. I asked him why he was laughing and he said "he's black."

Now, "Ted" is a good kid. I know his mother, who is incredibly nice, caring and completely normal, but it seems like he's been in an environment, at some point, where some closed-minded folks have put thoughts in his head. He's young and impressionable, so I told him about how cool I thought Miles Morales is and that I actually like him more than Peter Parker, which is all true. Then, another customer chimed in and said he thought Miles was a really cool character and skin color doesn't matter. The guy behind the counter did as well. All-in-all, it turned into a cool moment, and "Ted" ended up excited and bought the book.

People aren't born with prejudice. A baby's first words aren't words of hate. They're usually just words they are familiar with because their parents or someone else around them said them. Hate is taught, and I'm pretty sure almost everyone reading this will agree. There's no better way to stop hate than to educate a whole new generation of readers. How do you do this? By showing people from different walks of life. It's the whole idea of showing readers that people from different cultures and races may seem different from them, but at the end of the day, we're all pretty much the same. That seems silly, but it's a lesson that could be important for the upcoming generation.

From G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona's MS. MARVEL

Within comics, there are books doing this. At Marvel, MILES MORALES: THE ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, YOUNG AVENGERS, and MS. MARVEL are leading the way. MILES MORALES does a fantastic job at giving readers someone to relate to, even if their skin color is different. YOUNG AVENGERS shows readers that it doesn't matter if you love the same sex or the opposite sex. MS. MARVEL does an amazing job at giving readers insight into what home-life is like in an Islamic family. DC does a fine job at providing strong, well-written female characters like Wonder Woman, Batwoman, and Batgirl, among others. They also have a long list of characters from different cultures that could easily drive their own books, such as Blue Beetle, Cyborg, and Steel.

The point of all of this isn't to make diverse characters for the sake of diverse characters. It's about never having a kid laugh or judge a character in a book because that character isn't the default, which is a white, heterosexual male. Sure, it's true that the majority of readers are white males, but as an industry, making baby steps away from that could be a start.

With any large problem, there is no easy answer though. It's not as simple as editorial shouting "we need more diverse characters" and everything magically falling into place. However, it feels like both Marvel and DC are in a transitional phase to move closer to much more diverse worlds. This is a good start, but another part of this problem is will fans accept this?

New 52 Wally West

In recent months, there's been quite a lot of controversy over characters changing over at DC. Since it's the New 52 and this is a whole new world, creators and editors can take liberties with some characters because they've never been introduced before. The biggest one, in recent, was changing Wally West from white to black. Wally West fans are outraged because it wasn't the character they knew and loved pre-New 52. In addition, there were some personality changes as well, but it's still really early to say the character was ruined or anything over-dramatic like that. This is a subject we've talked to death on the Comic Vine podcast in recent weeks, and most discussions end with me not understanding why fans are upset. Without getting heavily into this whole debate, over changing characters versus creating new ones, it's important to remember that as long as the characters are written well and are compelling on the page, then we should all just enjoy what's presented, and if we don't, then don't buy it.

Creating a more diverse world for comic book characters to live in is not just important because the growing market contains more than just white, heterosexual males reading and these new fans may want characters that reflect them. It's important to educate a whole new generation of readers to show them that it doesn't matter where you're from, what you look like, or who you love, every different type of person on this planet is still a person. In essence, we're all the same. We're all comic book readers and comic books are and should be for everyone.

Mat "Inferiorego" Elfring writes and podcasts on Comic Vine, tweets about comics and wrestling, and sings "What's Up" by 4 Non-Blondes way too much for a man in his 30s.

409 Comments
Posted by Twix_Right_Side

Very well said.

I just hate forced diversity and stereotypes....kinda like Nu Wally.

And when a character's race is changed in a cheap attempt at diversity.

Posted by micah

great article. I agree with everything you said.

Posted by RulerOfThisUniverse

Well said.

Posted by CaptainMarvel4Ever

@twix_right_side: Not really a cheep attempt, DC tried to make new diverse characters in the New 52, and nobody gave them enough fan support. Look at Vibe (technically he's an old character, but he was forgotten and reintroduced) he was a cool character with a really good book, and what happened? it got canceled because people didn't buy it. Maybe that's how DC has to do diversity. I don't care, as long as what I'm reading is good.

Ultimately though it doesn't matter, we all know the real reason he had a race change was because of the Flash television show coming out.

Posted by Professorreid

Well said.

Posted by Squalleon

The only thing that I can add to this is that I never had a problem with Miles Morales but I will always hate Nu Wally.

@inferiorego The problem with Wally as I am sure you will know, heard, discussed is that he is nothing like his previous counter-part. His whole fan-base feels alienated. Think about how angry people became for Nu Superman's lack of red underpants. You may not feel it because you were never a fan. But in the visual medium that is comics, appearance means a lot. And Wally was very unique since there aren't many red-head Super-heroes, while black-teenagers are considerably more.

Posted by Carolina574

I agree wholeheartedly with this, I am even ok with the new Wally because this way you are bringing in diversity and have a built in audience for them. Who knows, maybe in a couple years this Wally could be "The Flash" and we could be looking at one of the first main stream black super heroes.

Posted by Project_Worm

It's exactly as important as I think it is... >_>

Posted by i_dont_like_comics

ugh. won't these discussions ever end? these and the 'i want more female characters in video games'. being a female, doesnt make you automatically want to read about a female character. same as being black, handicapped etc. these are short term gimmicks to companies. most are smart enough to not listen to the vocal minority, that is pretty much 20-30 people. people complain but they still buy comics with white guys as main characters. things will never change, deal with it or do it yourself. stop piling your niche wishes on a company that needs mass appeal to survive.

Posted by inferiorego

The only thing that I can add to this is that I never had a problem with Miles Morales but I will always hate Nu Wally.

@inferiorego The problem with Wally as I am sure you will know, heard, discussed is that he is nothing like his previous counter-part. His whole fan-base feels alienated. Think about how angry people became for Nu Superman's lack of red underpants. You may not feel it because you were never a fan. But in the visual medium that is comics, appearance means a lot. And Wally was very unique since there aren't many red-head Super-heroes, while black-teenagers are considerably more.

This is all I'll say about the whole Wally thing, since my points will never really sway people who are very passionate about this. I am a Wally fan and was pre-52. As I've said on the podcast, I connect a bit more with this version of Wally because I was a little jerk at his age. I can't say I like him more or less because it's too soon to tell. I'm always in the camp to let things play out before making a judgement.

To me, it's like rating a film based on the trailers or even the first 3 minutes. Let the character develop and grow before making that final judgement.

Staff
Edited by Twix_Right_Side

@twix_right_side: Not really a cheep attempt, DC tried to make new diverse characters in the New 52, and nobody gave them enough fan support. Look at Vibe (technically he's an old character, but he was forgotten and reintroduced) he was a cool character with a really good book, and what happened? it got canceled because people didn't buy it. Maybe that's how DC has to do diversity. I don't care, as long as what I'm reading is good.

Ultimately though it doesn't matter, we all know the real reason he had a race change was because of the Flash television show coming out.

Saren actually made a good point as to why this forced attempt at diversity is really just pathetic on DC's behalf. Changing the character's race doesn't help me relate to him at all,especially when they made him the way they did.

Posted by brinkthemoviemyfavoritemovie

@squalleon: You do understand there's a MASSIVE difference between "red-haired white person" and a black teenager, right? I really hope so.

Posted by V_Scarlotte_Rose

Well put. :) This little story seems appropriate to add:

"This Wednesday, Marvel comics released All New Marvel Now #1 which featured the first super hero appearance of Kamala Khan, the new Ms Marvel who will be getting her own series next month. She is the first female Muslim character to receive her own series from either of the big companies, and because of this some people are saying this is all a stunt, that this is just something Marvel is doing to get attention. And you can say that all you want, but today two Muslim women who had never come into my store before came in and asked for the new book with Ms Marvel in it. We gave it to them and they started flipping through it and they both had the biggest smiles you could imagine on their faces. In fact I would describe both of them as being “giddy” even. So you can say its a stunt all you want, but end of the day thanks to the new Ms Marvel, those two ladies now have a super hero that they’re excited about, and that’s pretty awesome."

Now, Ms. Marvel is the best selling female solo title at Marvel, beating Black Widow, Elektra, She-Hulk and Captain Marvel. Considering she doesn't have an established fanbase, being a new character, it makes me kind of wonder if a whole load of people have been introduced to comic books because of her.

If companies can introduce characters that people can relate to, and make them feel welcome as readers, I think that's a great thing to do. :)

#KamalaKorps

Posted by M1cAL

that was a good read

Posted by Avenging-X-Bolt

Yea verily!!

Online
Edited by sesquipedalophobe

To be perfectly fair, I have never seen a ginger run really fast. Asthma.

Posted by MatthewParker

It's to long I'll read it later, but all I have to say is MORE COOL ASIAN AMERICAN SUPEHEROS!!!

Edited by CaptainMarvel4Ever

@twix_right_side: I don't know who Saren is, but your missing the point at of what I said, this may be how DC Has to do diversity. Also, it wasn't their choice to make Wally that way, it was likely passed down from the higher ups of WB to make it fit in better with the television series.

Posted by brinkthemoviemyfavoritemovie

@i_dont_like_comics: Your prejudiced kind of opinion is exactly the kind that needs to be completely gone in this day and age. You sound incredibly ignorant and immature.

Posted by Rubear

Very... surreal feeling.

Online
Posted by Dratini1331

I haven't gotten my hands on any issues with n52 Wally yet, but if what I hear is correct, then that one's just dumb. Why make an entirely new character and then just give him the old one's name? Why not name the n52 West something else? Why not name him William West, or something to that effect?

Why not make an entirely new character that's a main timeline alternate version of the old one? This isn't about just race changing, but the entire changing of a character personality wise. When they made Miles Morales or John Stewart, they never thought about having a new character still named Peter Parker or Hal Jordan. Changing Wally's personality just means it's not Wally, but an entirely new character. (Once again, this is going off statements I've heard)

Posted by Erik

Who cares that the New Wally is black? When are they going to make Wolverine stop being Canadian? Eeeeeew!

Posted by CaptainMarvel4Ever

@v_scarlotte_rose: That's good for her, I don't like the fact that she has that name, but I am glad she is getting proper representation.

Posted by V_Scarlotte_Rose

@twix_right_side: I don't know who Saren is, but your missing the point at of what I said, this may be how DC Has to do diversity. Also, it wasn't their choice to make Wally that way, it was likely passed down from the higher ups of WB to make it fit in better with the television series.

Could there be a compromise? Like rather than introduce a new character in new role, or change an existing character, could a new character taking up an existing title work? Kind of like Simon Baz(though I don't know if he was successful).

Posted by daredevil21134

@inferiorego: Great article. I want to feel like the company I spend a lot of money on loves me back. So all Hail Henry Hayes the new Deathlok!!!!

Posted by Jonny_Anonymous

ugh. won't these discussions ever end? these and the 'i want more female characters in video games'. being a female, doesnt make you automatically want to read about a female character. same as being black, handicapped etc. these are short term gimmicks to companies. most are smart enough to not listen to the vocal minority, that is pretty much 20-30 people. people complain but they still buy comics with white guys as main characters. things will never change, deal with it or do it yourself. stop piling your niche wishes on a company that needs mass appeal to survive.

You realise you contradict yourself in your own post?

Posted by Caladorcp

Agree with the whole article. But I don't think they should change the established characters. And not because I'm against diversity, but because it's just weird. Simply for the fact that when you say (for example) Wally West, a certain image of the character I've known for quite a long time comes to mind. And I like that character. If they had introduced a new flash that was of a different ethnicity and had a different personality from any other flash ever, that wouldn't bother me in the least. In fact, I'd love to see it. But if you take a character and change both their personality and appearance, isn't it a new character? So don't call this new Flash Wally West. Give him a name all his own. Or her own if that would apply.

I think some of the issues with comics could actually be solved by just letting some characters go. For example, kill a hero, and have them stay dead. Period. And if you replace them, you have a chance to diversify the comic world. Like Bendis did with Ultimate Spiderman.

Of course, that wouldn't be the only way of diversifying (killing a character) but you get the point. I'd also like to see some NEW heroes with NEW personas. Not just another new person stepping into someone else's shoes. Not a character remade, rethought, or renewed somehow. But a whole new character in every way.

Posted by Ostyo

You loss me at diversity is important.

Posted by i_dont_like_comics

@brinkthemoviemyfavoritemovie: look kid, because you are a naive child throwing around words thinking he's defender of some cause. i'm fine when developers and comic book writers create these type of characters of their own volition, just not when a couple of people are screaming at them to do it.

Edited by i_dont_like_comics
Posted by V_Scarlotte_Rose

@captainmarvel4ever: I'm not necessarily a fan of the "Ms. Marvel" name either, but I get why she has it, in-canon.

I suppose she's a good an example of a successful passing on of a title that adds diversity.

Posted by micah
Posted by Outside_85

The reasons for people not liking the change in Wally is pretty simple:

  • basic fandom mindset; as you know fans are a conservative lot and prefer that major changes are eventually undone (Death of Superman, Breaking of Batman, Barbara Gordon and so on)
  • changes like the ones in Wally thats been done only for reasons outside of the comics themselves are particularly hard to swallow for the existing fans because it's usually not for their sake the change is made, its for an hypothetical audience the company is hoping they can draw in.
  • And in cases like this, the choice of altering the race of an existing character with a built in fanbase, just comes across as a cheap and lazy way to create diversity rather than spend the time and effort of creating a new character for the job and boost him or her to the desired prominence. (I have actually heard from one creator at DC half-heartedly excuse the change with "Nobody buys/cares about new characters.")

John Steward is a great Green Lantern, he didn't have to absorb Hal to be that. Even the new guy could have been great as well, but DC hasn't done anything with him in months... and so I've forgotten his name :S

Miles Morales is a great Spiderman, and since it's from an AU of a high profile, the loss of Peter is marginal.

Micheal Holt made a great successor to Terry Sloan

Cassandra Cain has a fanbase that rivals the other two Batgirls

And so on. Point is that there is no reason to change popular existing characters and annoy most of the characters fans when you (as a creative individual in the creative business) could just make a new character to be and do what you are aiming for.

Posted by SupBatz

@inferiorego: Diversity absolutely matters. And that story about Ted very appropriately gives one of the many reasons why it does.

That being said, I do not approve of New 52 Wally West. Even on a foundational level, I that we've lost 50 years' worth of the character's history. But even going past that, this new character is not Wally West. You can argue that we haven't seen enough of him to know for sure. Perhaps the future will make him a more sympathetic character, or justify his actions, or make him more likeable. But even if that does happen, it isn't Wally. You can tell from the very little we've seen of him already that this is another character, NOT Wally West.

I love diversity. I think that we owe some of the greatest characters in comics to diversity. But I hate that it is coming at the expense of a beloved character like Wally West.

I could deal with a race change if his character remained the same. Granted, I would rather he was still the white, red haired kid we know and love (because I've always loved his design), I could absolutely look past the color of his skin if we were readimg the beloved Wally West character that I've followes for years. Unfortunately, I do not believe that is the case.

It feels a lot to me like the fact that this is a race change muddles the issue. Anyone who has problems with the change is automatically declared small-minded, with a desire to perpetuate the elitist and racist attitudes that have persisted for generations. That is absolutely not the case. I hate New 52 Wally West for the same reason I hate New 52 Tim Drake and Harley Quinn. They're not the same characters that I once loved. Race has nothing to do with it.

Posted by Twix_Right_Side

@i_dont_like_comics: Your prejudiced kind of opinion is exactly the kind that needs to be completely gone in this day and age. You sound incredibly ignorant and immature.

Agreed

@captainmarvel4ever said:

@twix_right_side: I don't know who Saren is, but your missing the point at of what I said, this may be how DC Has to do diversity. Also, it wasn't their choice to make Wally that way, it was likely passed down from the higher ups of WB to make it fit in better with the television series.

Could there be a compromise? Like rather than introduce a new character in new role, or change an existing character, could a new character taking up an existing title work? Kind of like Simon Baz(though I don't know if he was successful).

This is my point. Look at Kamala Khan. I was amazed that my friend (who has never shown interest in comics and doesn't follow comic news) got interested in them because of Kamala and she was happy (and is a fan) that they introduced a muslim character with her own title.

Posted by i_dont_like_comics

@micah: good thing i'm not calling myself internet_wolverine_killah26, huh guy?

Edited by Squalleon

I connect a bit more with this version of Wally because I was a little jerk at his age. I can't say I like him more or less because it's too soon to tell. I'm always in the camp to let things play out before making a judgement.

But I really don't need another teenage jerk in a medium which is full of them. Anyway I have been at this before and I am not gonna be at it again. Nu Wally is the perfect example of hypocrisy and a slap to the fans both white and black. And as other viners said before Kamala Khan a brand new character is outselling most if not all of Marvel's established female powerhouses.

Posted by CaptainMarvel4Ever

@captainmarvel4ever said:

@twix_right_side: I don't know who Saren is, but your missing the point at of what I said, this may be how DC Has to do diversity. Also, it wasn't their choice to make Wally that way, it was likely passed down from the higher ups of WB to make it fit in better with the television series.

Could there be a compromise? Like rather than introduce a new character in new role, or change an existing character, could a new character taking up an existing title work? Kind of like Simon Baz(though I don't know if he was successful).

He wasn't very successful, honestly I think making a lantern with such a down to earth back story was a bit of a mistake. I think if DC really wanted him to be more interesting, they would make him a yellow lantern, who is still a good guy. That would tie his powers to his own personal problems of being feared, and in many ways fearing others.

@captainmarvel4ever: I'm not necessarily a fan of the "Ms. Marvel" name either, but I get why she has it, in-canon.

I suppose she's a good an example of a successful passing on of a title that adds diversity.

Personally, I'd like it if the title is just a temporary name she goes by, and later on she becomes confident enough to be her own hero and makes her own cool/unique identity.

Posted by CaptainMarvel4Ever

@brinkthemoviemyfavoritemovie said:

@i_dont_like_comics: Your prejudiced kind of opinion is exactly the kind that needs to be completely gone in this day and age. You sound incredibly ignorant and immature.

Agreed

@v_scarlotte_rose said:

@captainmarvel4ever said:

@twix_right_side: I don't know who Saren is, but your missing the point at of what I said, this may be how DC Has to do diversity. Also, it wasn't their choice to make Wally that way, it was likely passed down from the higher ups of WB to make it fit in better with the television series.

Could there be a compromise? Like rather than introduce a new character in new role, or change an existing character, could a new character taking up an existing title work? Kind of like Simon Baz(though I don't know if he was successful).

This is my point. Look at Kamala Khan. I was amazed that my friend (who has never shown interest in comics and doesn't follow comic news) got interested in them because of Kamala and she was happy (and is a fan) that they introduced a muslim character with her own title.

Yes but that's Marvel, they've proven they can make new characters, and DC hasn't. So as I said many times, this may be how DC has to do diversity.

Posted by Twix_Right_Side

@twix_right_side said:

@brinkthemoviemyfavoritemovie said:

@i_dont_like_comics: Your prejudiced kind of opinion is exactly the kind that needs to be completely gone in this day and age. You sound incredibly ignorant and immature.

Agreed

@v_scarlotte_rose said:

@captainmarvel4ever said:

@twix_right_side: I don't know who Saren is, but your missing the point at of what I said, this may be how DC Has to do diversity. Also, it wasn't their choice to make Wally that way, it was likely passed down from the higher ups of WB to make it fit in better with the television series.

Could there be a compromise? Like rather than introduce a new character in new role, or change an existing character, could a new character taking up an existing title work? Kind of like Simon Baz(though I don't know if he was successful).

This is my point. Look at Kamala Khan. I was amazed that my friend (who has never shown interest in comics and doesn't follow comic news) got interested in them because of Kamala and she was happy (and is a fan) that they introduced a muslim character with her own title.

Yes but that's Marvel, they've proven they can make new characters, and DC hasn't. So as I said many times, this may be how DC has to do diversity.

They can still make new characters,like Simon Baz

Posted by Samurai_Beetle

Loved reading this, I agree wholeheartedly. I was especially interested to read about Ms. Marvel; I had no idea they had made her Islamic. To me, that is very interesting, although I still probably won't read it. I'm not a big fan of cosmically powered heroes. :P

Posted by i_dont_like_comics
Posted by k4tzm4n

Great article, Mat.

Staff
Posted by CaptainMarvel4Ever

@twix_right_side: They did make a new character like Simaon Baz, he's not very successful.

Posted by Jonny_Anonymous

You said that just because a character is female, black ect doesn't mean a female, black ect reader would want to read about them. Well same goes for female, black ect characters and NON-female, black ect readers.

Posted by The Mighty Monarch

You know what I miss? Milestone Comics. Chock full of superbly written diversity characters. Sooooooo good.

Posted by Twix_Right_Side
Posted by micah
Edited by CaptainMarvel4Ever

@twix_right_side: It doesn't matter, unlike Baz Wally is important and can't fade away.

@micah: I wouldn't call it a waste, he was just a miss. Although as I've said, I think if DC made him a yellow lantern, then he would go from a miss to a hit.