Diversity Is Reality, Mainstream Comics Needs to Catch Up: Interview with Spike Trotman

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Spike Trotman, publisher and editor of Iron Circus Comics’ Smut Peddler and creator and publisher of Templar Arizona and Poorcraft, is an important voice in comics. From advocating for indie comics as business to bringing diverse comics to a wider audience, Spike is putting her money and her efforts where her mouth is. She sat down with us to discuss the indie vanguard, diversity initiatives in mainstream comics, and doing diversity right.

Indie comics don’t have the restrictions of a corporate marketing and law team keeping them on the safe road, and have never had a comic code authority to hold them back. Do you think the Big Two are trying to take a cue from the waves of artists who are doing their own thing their own way now that webcomics in print are becoming a viable force in the marketplace?

I don’t think they have a choice about it! The readership of comics is changing, regardless of what they do. They’re just exercising good judgement by trying to change with it. It’s not unusual for the small press and underground to lead the charge when it comes to subject matter, but there’s more than a diversification of genres going on right now; there’s a diversification of the audience. There are so many more types of readers and readers that aren’t afraid to ask to see themselves in the books they buy and read. It’s no longer socially acceptable to ignore them or a financially sound idea.

Do you think it’s harmless or harmful that the big two keep trying and trying these diversity initiatives? Marvel seems to be doing greater diversity in its books than in the movies, so is it a sincere effort, or is it worthless lip service?

I wish there was Less Talking and More Doing. I wish some publishers could just put feelers out, browse Tumblr or DA or Instagram, send job offers to good prospects, without expecting pats on the back for it or taking their “We’ve Decided To Acknowledge You!” victory lap before they’ve hired their first warm body. I would much, MUCH rather just see more diverse faces in the credits and more diverse experiences quietly appear on the pages of published work without fanfare than read another press release about how Diversity Is So So Important To Us. Talk is cheap.

What are your thoughts on which mainstream comics actually are handling diversity well and respectfully?  Which indie comics are, in your opinion, doing it better than they are?

I’m probably a terrible person to ask this? I haven’t read a “mainstream” comic in a long, long time. I fell out of that world in my teens, so I can’t offer a valid opinion. But most indie and small press comics, in general, handle diversity like everyone should. Without fanfare. None’s really ever expected, either. I mean, it’s a pretty rare occurrence to have anyone come up and say, “Wow, look at you! Totally alive and black/gay/trans/Latin@/queer/disabled/etc. and having coffee while you wait at the bus stop, realizing you forgot your gloves at the office! GOOD FOR YOU!” in real life. Our lives aren’t EXCLUSIVELY about what makes us not white, cis, heterosexual men. But sometimes, I get the feeling when marginalized stories are are handled by white, male, cis, hetero writers … that’s exactly what they expect. That characters need REASONS to be not white or not men. I’m pretty much one thousand percent over that.

Do you think the indie comics wave is losing money to the “more established” mainstream creators’ push to try being diverse, or are indie creators carving out their own niche and getting dollars the big publishers haven’t really sought after?

Definitely the latter. I can only speak from my own experiences, but I’ve never had a customer tell me they were going to buy something I published, but they changed their mind and bought a superhero book instead because Thor is a lady now or whatever. There’s not a ton of crossover. My biggest competition isn’t the “mainstream.” It’s other small press, alternative and independent creators. Always has been.

Since we’re talking viable forces, which indie creators do you feel are really pushing the envelope with regard to diversity in their work?

Melanie Gillman’s As the Crow Flies immediately comes to mind. Greg Pak’s ABC Disgusting project is doing its bit to diversify children’s books, let kids who don’t usually see themselves in children’s lit have that experience. I’d be remiss in not mentioning Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Bitch Planet, which has hit an incredible chord with readers. And Alex Woolfson’s The Young Protectors! You’ll note a LOT of these creators are people writing and drawing stories that they just wished were already out there; they’re writing for people like themselves. I think that’s a big part of why they ring true, why other people take them on so readily and enjoy them so much.

As someone who’s now the head of her own comic company, what are your favorite refined motivational skills for when you hit those pockets of creative slump? What helps you shake it up to help you mix it up?

Y’can’t force it. When something’s not gelling, I get up and leave for an hour. Play a video game, take a nap. Sometimes I let it go a whole day before I come back to it. If its forced, it’ll LOOK forced and FEEL forced. And forced isn’t good.

Any advice for indie creators who want to respectfully do a more diversified comic aside from the obvious “avoid the stereotypes”?

Write marginalized characters as human beings. A black person’s life is affected by being black in a white supremacist world, but that’s not their entire being. That doesn’t dominate their every thought and action. Sometimes we watch anime. Sometimes we’re that kid who cries when we get a B+. Sometimes we wanna ditch our office jobs and go stake a silver mine in California. A black person is a person. They can have the same dreams, thoughts, weaknesses, and failures as your lovingly, carefully developed white characters, even if you’ve never seen a black person in popular media depicted with those features or desires. Don’t limit yourself. Don’t ask yourself, “Would a black person do this, would a black person say this.” They answer is yes. It’s always yes. They can even be anti-black. Ask Raven-Symoné or Ben Carson.

Any suggestions for readers who are seeking to get out of their privileged comfort zones and seek out more diverse reading?

Any small press show of a decent size. SPX, MoCCA, MICE, CAKE. Walk the aisles, keep an eye out. Pick up some zines or anthologies. It’s the easiest thing in the world.

You’ve never been shy about saying your success comes from breaking the rules. When it comes to genres and diversity are there any specific ones you’d like to see given a fresh look with diversity?  Buddy cops? Epic quests? Space opera?  Steampunk western?

Sci-fi. Coming of age stories. … Porno.

We know that you’ve got at least one more installment of the amazingly popular and extremely diverse Smut Peddler project in the pipe for 2015, and I’ve heard rumblings about 2016.  Are there any other upcoming products for which you’d like to strike a spark of excitement?

Ha ha, well, I start accepting unsolicited submissions this month. How’s that for exciting? I know I’m in a tizzy over it. LET ME PUBLISH YOU, EVERYONE!

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About Author

Jamie Kingston is a Native New Yorker, enduring a transplant to Atlanta. She’s a lifelong comic fan, having started at age 13 and never looked back, developing a decades-spanning collection and the need to call out the creators when she expects better of them. Her devotion extends to television, films, and books as well as the rare cosplay. She sates her need to create in a number of ways including being an active editor on the TV Tropes website, creating art and fan art, and working on her randomly updating autobiographical web comic, Orchid Coloured Glasses. As a woman of color, she considers it important to focus on diversity issues in the media. She received the Harpy Agenda micro-grant in November of 2015 for exceptional comics journalism by a writer of color.

2 Comments

  1. Great interview! I liked hearing about her view as a publisher, but I would have liked more about how she has seen the industry change and what she’d like to do in the future, like the next 10 years.