Two weeks ago, Canada’s newly sworn in Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, was asked why it was important for him to have an equal number of men and women in his cabinet. He response, “because it’s 2015,” got a lot of international attention. Why? Why would such a simple and obvious a statement make such an impact? Despite the fact that it is 2015, gender inequality still exists in many places around the world and within many insitutions. Not only is Trudeau’s cabinet exhibiting gender parity but it also employs quite a few minorities who also hold key positions. Diversity is still a very real issue in many key arenas including comics which has made some strides but still has a ways to go.
This year, I attended New York Comic Con for the first time and what stood out to me the most was the sheer number of panels dedicated to diversity. Not panels that talked about diversity when the topic came up (those panels existed too) but panels where their very existance was to address the problems of diversity in the past, present and what we could do to improve the future. Disability, mental health, LGBTQ, women and people of colour in comics…were all topics covered at NYCC 2015. I personally got to attend these panels:
- We Need Diverse Comics
- #BlackComicsMonth: Diversity in Comics
- Marry, Do, or Kill: What Will It Take To Shatter Female Stereotypes in Comics
What all of these panels discussed were the importance of giving people from marginalized groups a chance to tell their own stories, and that the characters from these marginalized groups are treated like human beings rather than a list of stereotypes. “We’re here!” many panelists stated.
Nothing could have been more true than when I went to the Anime News Network panel and saw so many anime fans from all walks of life. No matter where I looked in the Javits Centre, I could see people who looked like me and who were into the things that I was into. This has become more and more evident the last few years so, of course, it would be reflected in the programming at major conventions. The people and community behind these conventions and festivals are important in making your attendees feel safe and comfortable. They exist, they want to have a good time and who they are should not become a barrier in achieving that great experience.
So why? Why are these panels becoming more and more of a staple? I personally believe it’s because of social media. It’s giving a voice to those who were voiceless for so long and this generation of fans have decided that enough is enough. They demand and will no longer ask to be present in the content they’re devouring and are signal boosting the content that IS out there like MizCaramelVixen did with #BlackComicsMonth. The way that sites like Black Girl Nerds, Comics And Cola, Panels, The Rainbow Hub, and so many more who elevate these voices. How webcomics and blogging platforms like Tumblr allow for cartoonists to put their work out there without having to wait for traditional publishing platforms to give them their shots.
This diversity train is giving no sign of slowing down so as the end of the year approaches and convention season starts to wind down, I ask myself if comics companies are willing to acknowledge this simple fact.
It’s 2015 after all.