Before we begin the festivities, a quick word of introduction. My name is Allison Baker, and I'm the co-founder, co-publisher, and God-Empress of Monkeybrain Comics, the digital comics imprint. And I spend a LOT of time thinking and talking about comics, as a business and an industry and a community. But the WAY I think about comics is informed by my experiences in two other fields: politics and film. In my daylight hours, I create political media, producing radio and television spots for political campaigns. And before working in politics, I worked in feature film for many years. All of which serves to give me a somewhat unusual perspective on things.
I also enjoy a tasty burrito or a well-made cocktail and am almost always one of the last ones awake at any given night at a convention, talking into the small hours of the morning.
As I was eating my very delicious carne asada burrito and watching all the news come out of the latest Image Expo on twitter last Thursday, a couple things crossed my mind. First, I felt Image was doing an excellent job creating a space to promote their brand and get attention. Second, I questioned when all these great sounding books being announced would actually be put on the schedule for publication. Something to consider since sales can be problematic if a title takes too long to get to market.
I lean toward the "don't talk about it until you have to" model of marketing and besides that, through the years I've seen a lot of books announced from various publishers that never materialized. But despite my opinion on the matter, clearly something Image is doing is working, right? They've had a huge 2013 and 2014 looks to be even better.
So there I am having the most excellent experience of eating my tasty burrito, getting caught up in a lot of the enthusiasm. See, I know a fair number of people on the various creative teams and was happy to hear their new projects get announced and re-tweet along with everyone else. It wasn't until I saw Deb Aoki's photo on twitter with all the creators on stage that my perception of the event went off the rails.
"That's a LOT of white dudes." I said to myself.
Once you work in political media for as many years as I have, you learn a thing or two about perception. The reality of any given political race is often very different than what is perceived by the public and the press. Perception is only what people THINK is actually happening.
I know you're asking yourself, "What in the world does politics and perception have to do with a bunch of comic creators standing on stage? And why does this woman keep talking about tasty burritos?"
Funny you should ask.
Say I'm making an ad for someone running for Congress, in a district with a fairly ethnically diverse constituency, half of them women. We make the ad and the candidate is only shown to be speaking with white men. Hell, let's throw a couple of white women in there for good measure. Totally normal. Wouldn't be weird at all. Right?
You wouldn't perceive the candidate might have issues with persons of color and/or women just because they weren't adequately represented there in that ad. Just cause you only see the candidate hanging out with white men. MSNBC wouldn't jump on that like white on rice or anything...
The issue with the picture isn't that Image Comics is against diversity. The problem is the picture makes it look like they don't care about it. And I know that isn't true. I also know a number of the creative teams DO have gender parity AND are racially diverse. But here's the big but...
Those men and women weren't up on stage and possibly not even in San Francisco for the event.
The whole event is essentially a giant ad for Image, spotlighting the people who make the books to help sell them and promote the Image brand. Shouldn't we see a more realistic snapshot of what that Image family looks like? And shouldn't that family look like ALL of us? Shouldn't it be that way at every publisher?
I don't have to explain this is not a single publisher issue. It's an industry-wide issue. I can't tell you how many times I've looked at convention photos in disgust because everyone one on the panel was a white man and the panel topic wasn't "How it Feels to be a White Man." It's really not hard to find someone of another gender or race to talk about any subject in comics with authority and put them on a panel.
I know. I've done it.
If more of the artists from the creative teams announced on Thursday had been brought out into the spotlight and put on stage, the "picture" would have looked very different. Still has room for improvement, in my opinion, but it would have been much more diverse. A demonstration, a real beginning and vehicle for change.
So instead of ruining the candidate's chances of winning with misconceptions about issues regarding ethnicity or gender just because they just hired a lazy media consultant who made a bad spot, let's be better. Let's show the world what diversity really looks like in a split second.
Until we can actually SEE a diverse group of creators, put them out front and center, the perception of a comics as a sea of vanilla-flavored men will persist, reinforcing the existing problem. Keeping it from changing. We will continue to be deprived of art coming from a broader base of experience. We will continue to be small.
Let's decide to be better. Cause who wants a burrito with only rice inside?