Category Archives: comics

Diversity in Comics

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AriseTV America invited me on to discuss New York Comic Con and diversity in comics. I did the best I could in a five minute segment.

It’s a loaded subject because comics readership is increasingly diverse but the comic properties published by Marvel and DC don’t come close to adequately representing that diversity. So we are forced to look for ourselves in legacy characters that won’t necessarily remain relevant to us. That’s why I took pains to highlight Black creators like Jimmie Robinson and the great Kyle Baker, who both offer interesting work that comments on issues of race and class. I wrote a scholarly article on Nat Turner a few years back that I’ll be revisiting in my forthcoming book on race and representation in comics.

It’s not enough, but I’m happy to do my part to make sure their stories receive the wide attention they deserve.

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Recent Goings On…

So, I’ve been writing some for Entertainment Weekly.

A friend asked me why I wasn’t updating my blog with links from EW.com.  The answer: because I’m an idiot.  In the future I will update the blog with links to my mainstream writing.  I will also run some things here that don’t get picked up elsewhere. Below are some links to the things I’ve written at EW.  (Try to guess which of these articles got 50,000 clicks.) Enjoy.

http://family-room.ew.com/2012/08/09/searching-for-common-ground-with-a-tween-comic-books/

http://popwatch.ew.com/2012/08/06/dark-knight-rises-batman-franchise/

http://popwatch.ew.com/2012/07/14/on-their-30th-anniversary-love-and-rockets-move-to-the-digital-age/

http://popwatch.ew.com/2012/07/14/comic-con-chew/

I love you like a fat kid loves cake…

I am no fan of 50, but I always appreciated the elemental simplicity of this line. Sometimes, simplicity is best because it communicates a genuine sincerity.

Which brings us to brotha brub. Watching this makes me happy. Enjoy.

Watchmen review, part one of three

Ben Walker at WNYC hooked me up with tickets to the media screening of Watchmen, and I am SO grateful. Ben and I are going to be collaborating on something, so watch this space for more on that.

What follows is a spoilers free review of the movie and so is very general. I will be revisiting this topic at least twice more, though, since I have lots to say about how the film was adapted. But we’ll save that for other posts.

If interest in a free screening has some bearing on box office receipts then Watchmen is going to be a blockbuster. Media companies get passes to events like this all the time, but rarely, I suspect, does the line for admission stretch a city block.

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The film mostly lives up to the exceedingly high expectations of its audience. Watchmen is a spectacular film that falls short of greatness. Director Zack Snyder is mostly faithful to his source material, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal graphic novel. This movie won’t please everyone, and I think that those who have not read the comic may well enjoy it more than those raised on the text.

The cast performs admirably for the most part (the most part being Malin Akerman who is somehow both alluring and wooden at the same time). Jackie Earl Haley conveys a sense of mystery and menace that compels you to study him every second that he is on the screen, even though for most of that time his face–an actor’s greatest resource–is obscured by Rorschach’s iconic mask.

I was most afraid of Jeffery Dean Morgan as the Comedian. His pedigree (Grey’s Anatomy, uhgh) suggested he couldn’t pull of the verve and insanity needed to embody Edward Blake. I needn’t have worried. I have seen some reviews that have criticized Matthew Goode’s Adrian, but I think Goode’s trouble in the role this has more to do with the tremendous compression of time that occurs in this film.

It’s well known by now that Alan Moore designed Watchmen to be impossible to film. Moore wanted to demonstrate that there were some kinds of stories that only comics could tell. Advances in technology allow ambitious directors like Snyder successfully translate the feel of comic book stories like 300 and Watchmen to the screen. But it is comics unique usage of time that prevents Snyder from truly realizing his vision. If your interested, Scott McCloud has lots more to say about time in comics.

The set pieces–a funeral, a prison escape, a trip to Mars–look and feel exquisite. But the film is missing the sense of expansive time, the simultaneously backward and forward looking nature of the comic that ties together the narrative and gives the comic its true emotional punch. This becomes more and more apparent as we near the end of the film.

Zack Snyder’s Watchmen is an exercise in relentless, focused film-making, but this winds up being a blessing as well as a curse as his film is compelling without being truly moving.

Asian Americans in the mix…

I’m still sort of recovering from NY Comic Con.   It’s given me a tremendous amount to think through, which is great.   After the fun of the Black Panther panel, I wanted to share thoughts about the other amazing panel that I attended at the Con.

The panel was about Asian Americans and comics.   The panel’s formal title was Asian Americans and Super Heroes: Secret Identities.   It was organized around Secret Identities a forthcoming Asian American graphic novel anthology edited by Jeff Yang.   But really, promoting the book (preview here) was just an excuse for a bunch of Asian people to talk about race and culture.

It is so easy to fall into dichotomous considerations of race in America, and this panel really drove home the point that there is more to race (*sigh* fine, race and ethnicity) than just Black and white.

Listening in on the conversation made me appreciate how mainstream Black culture has become.   It also made me feel sort of clueless.   Think about it: the Scream movies had a running joke about the fact that Black characters are always to first to die in horror movies.   As a result, a plurality of people are aware of this trope and will look for it.   But when someone on the panel pointed out that all the popular leading Asian men in Hollywood got their start in Hong Kong, I was like “really?”   But recognize: Chow Yun Fat, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, none of them are from around here.   Daniel Dae Kim, the Korean-American actor who plays Jin on Lost might be the Asian leading man exception to this rule, except that he has to play a Korean on the show.   He must stand-in for his ethnicity. And lord knows women lust after him, so why hasn’t someone cast him in a romantic comedy opposite  Drew Barrymore?   Oh, right.

And can someone get John Cho a sitcom? Anyone?

Jeff Yang asserted that one of the goals of Secret Identities is to expose the diversity of Asian American culture.   I’d be curious to hear what he thinks about Gran Torino, which focuses on Hmong immigrants.   Anyway, this lack is powerfully felt.   Its possible to become acquainted with Black culture passively, but where are the uniquely American narratives of Korean-Americans? Of Japanese-Americans? Of Chinese-Americans?   I’d venture to say that American media consumers know more about Chinese culture than Chinese-American culture.   And, as the panel evidenced,  its not that there aren’t talented people who want to tell these stories.

This brings me to an uncomfortable observation, something I certainly wasn’t going to bring up during the panel.   The most popular Asian-American voices in graphic novels (as opposed to comics where Jim Lee runs things)   are Gene Luen Yang and Adrian Tomine.    Yang currently has a serial running in the New York Times magazine and Tomine work is omni-present in the New Yorker and elsewhere.   But their best known texts, Yang’s American Born Chinese and Tomine Shortcomings are both about self-hating Asian men who desire to be more mainstream.   What does this say about the kinds of stories Asian American creators are allowed to tell?

Elmcitytree on WNYC, live from NYC Comic Con

I make my debut on WNYC!    My first thought as I listened to the clip was, wow, do I really sound so nerdy?

The Black Panther stuff begins at 6:40 on the clip

Tree @ ComicCon

So as I said in my last post, I asked Reginald Hudlin a question about the lack of Black creative voices in the comic industry. It turned out that Ben Walker from NPR was there, and asked me for some feedback.    Through the magic of editing, you get to hear Hudlin responding to my question and then my motivation for the question.    I might need some media training.

And then, at the end, you hear the fellas opine on their favorite hero. That makes it all worthwhile.

UPDATE
wnyc took this cool picture of me and the fellas. In my haste to link to the audio I didn’t realize it was there:

me-and-the-boys

the closed world…

I attended my first New York Comic Con this weekend and it was a tremendously edifying experience. I met some great people including Karen Green, the comics librarian from Columbia who writes Comic Adventures in Academia.

But the best part of the weekend were the panels. Two stood out to me, the panel on Black Panther and the panel on the lack Asian-American representation in comics media. I’ll have more on the Asian-American panel later, but I want to focus on the Black Panther panel.

Reginald Hudlin, John Romita Jr., and Axel Alonzo were on the Black Panther panel, which was designed to promote the relaunch of the monthly comic series as well as the forthcoming Black Panther animated series on BET. During the course of their presentation, Hudlin and Alonzo dished about producing a ‘Black’ comic for Marvel.

The panel took questions from the audience, and I was lucky enough to ask the final question of the session. And since you read me here you know what it was: why Marvel and DC do such a poor job of developing Black voices (really any voices of color). I pointed out that Reggie Hudlin is a successful film director and screenwriter, that Eric Jerome Dickey, who wrote the Storm miniseries, is a successful novelist, that G. Willow Wilson who is currently writing the Vixen miniseries is also a successful novelist. Where, I wondered, were the Black storytellers ‘native’ to the media.

To his immense credit, Hudlin gave a great answer. He noted that, until quite recently, the comic industry had been a closed world. He reiterated that Marvel has been very supportive of his Black Panther series, which I’m sure is the case. Still, his answer illuminated something I’ve always suspected.

The comic industry, despite fits and starts, continues to view itself as a closed world. It functions sort of like the film industry before Spike Lee broke through and started throwing brickbats. What is amazing is that it continues to do this even as American culture has become more inclusive and diverse, and even as comic culture has become a pillar of mainstream pop culture.

The comic industry continues to lag behind despite the progress that people of color have made in other industries and in the nation as a whole. And I don’t think casting Will Smith as Captain America or inviting in a film director who has made hundreds of millions of dollars to write your signature Black character is the best way to address this lack