The Minds Behind Diversity in Comics: A Reading List

Comics inspire me to be brave, to collaborate with my friends, to try new things, to stand up for myself. Maybe that’s trite, but it’s true. Vanity Fair’s profile of Kelly Sue DeConnick (#7) includes statistics about women: they are the fastest-growing demographic interested in comics; they are protagonists of twice the story arcs. Wired says diversity isn’t just good business–it’s honest, truthful storytelling (#1). I want everyone who walks into a comic book store to feel comfortable (#4), to find someone who looks or feels like them (#9) when they open a new issue of their favorite series. The people interviewed and profiled in the following pieces–creators and critics who advocate for diversity and inclusion in pages and on-screen–are the real superheroes.

1. “It’s Time to Get Real About Diversity in Comics.” (Laura Hudson, Wired, July 2015)

Rather than a superficial issue of optics or quotas […] Rather than seeing diversity initiatives as a matter of altruism or avoiding controversy, the most transformational approach advocated by critics and creators alike is the one that views it both as a form of honesty and as a valuable creative investment…

“I love that DC’s hired both me and Gene Yang to write Superman books,” said [Greg] Pak. “A lot of people smarter than me have written a lot about the fact that Jewish creators brought Superman to life and invested his story with their specific experiences. It’s a thrill to see DC embrace the idea that other children of immigrants might similarly find exciting ways to relate to the character.”

2. “23 Female Cartoonists on Drawing Their Bodies.” (Kristen Radtke, Buzzfeed, August 2014)

Two dozen super-smart artists explore nudity–their own–outside the male gaze, describing their artistry and their perspectives of the sexualization of women.

3. “A Jordanian Spins Comic Book Tales to Counter Terrorist Ideologies.” (Danny Hakim, New York Times, November 2014)

To counter ISIS’s pernicious influence, Suleiman Bakhit created superheroes for his home country, Jordan.

He says he has not been offered American government support and would not take it. “If I get any funding from the U.S., it’s going to be perceived as propaganda, C.I.A., and doomed to failure,” Mr. Bakhit said. “We as the Arab world, we need to take responsibility for this problem. We have to develop the solutions from the ground up.”

4. “Beware the Valkyries: Kate Leth on Organizing Women Comic Book Retailers.” (Janelle Asselin, Comics Alliance, October 2014)

Kate Leth, comic book author & illustrator, wants women to feel welcome in comic book stores. As a former store employee, she knows firsthand the sexism and microaggressions women face on both sides of the counter. So Leth organized the Valkyries, a coterie of like-minded women in comics. They meet online and at cons, offering support and suggestions to each other, from which titles to stock to dealing with misogynistic customers.

5. “The Subversive and Liberating World of G. Willow Wilson.” (Molly Hannon, LARB, February 2015)

G. Willow Wilson is the multilingual academic turned novelist behind the new Ms. Marvel series.  A Muslim convert herself, Wilson’s take on the classic American heroine is a 16-year-old Pakistani-American Muslim girl named Kamala Khan, who deals with school, boys and being grounded by her parents. Ms. Marvel is undeniably excellent–well-written, well-illustrated, with a captivating protagonist and a host of delightful supporting characters–and its presence in the comics world is revolutionary, destroying Islamophobic stereotypes and advocating for the agency of teenage girls.

6. “Ta-Nehisi Coates Unpacks the Way Comics Have Taken Over the World.” (Abraham Riesman, Vulture April 2015)

In this interview with Vulture, the acclaimed author of Between the World and Me talks diversity in comic books vs. their Hollywood adaptations, why he reads Marvel but not DC, the relationship between hip-hop and comics, and his childhood obsessions growing up in Baltimore.

7. “Why ‘The Future of Women in Comics’ Thinks It Helps to be Terrifying.” (Laura A. Parker, Vanity Fair, July 2015)

It’s hard to describe Kelly Sue DeConnick, because she does it all. She writes super-popular feminist comics (including original takes on iconic superheros), co-owns a company and her work has been optioned for television:

“I wasn’t like, writing feminist pamphlets, you know. I was writing stories about this lady who shoots beams out of her hands. But I had the gall to have inter-generational female friendships and a largely female cast and, you know, every once in a while, a joke. It ruffled feathers and I thought, Well, if that’s what we’re going to talk about, then let’s talk about it.”

8. “10 Words & Phrases Coined in Comic Books.” (Paul Anthony Jones, Mental Floss, November 2014)

Besides popularizing onomatopoeic exclamations (WHAM! BAM! POW!), cartoons disseminated slang and invented words in the 19th and 20th centuries. Read about the origins of “malarkey,” “shazam,” “Jeep,” “goon” and more.

9. “Lumberjanes: A Conversation with Noelle Stevenson and Shannon Watters.” (Andrea Towers, EW, July 2015)

Lumberjanes is one of my favorite comics–is my favorite comic?–in the whole wide world, and it’s getting a movie deal?! What the junk! I’ve never before read a comic that advocates for girls, friendship, adventure, diversity, intelligence and love–platonic and queer alike–quite so beautifully. It’s a gift. Give it to everyone in your life.