HBO Wants to Increase Their Writer Diversity – The Big Two Should Do the Same

The need for diversity in geek media is nothing new, but the collective voice afforded to under-represented communities to see themselves in media is growing as the social media machine only increases in influence in the age of the internet. This speaks to the need for the presence of under-represented races, genders, and sexual orientations not only on the screen (or the page), but behind the scenes as well.

So HBO decided to provide fellowships to increase writer diversity with the HBO Access Writing Fellowship, which was sort of a disaster. While the application process had its issues, the fellowship itself is certainly not without merit. What does that mean, and why should Marvel and DC do the same?

The HBO Access Writing Fellowship is a program that was open to “diverse and female writers 21 and older”. However, the application process could not support the volume of applicants, leaving many POC and women writers unable to even submit an application. The fellowship program was intended to “give emerging writers from diverse backgrounds an opportunity to attend a week of master classes held at the HBO campus” Following the completion of the masters workshops, fellowship participants will be partnered with an HBO development executive as a mentor for a period of eight months. The fellowship offers a diverse (re: not white cis male) crop of writers the opportunity to develop their writing with a mentor and through a workshopping process, as well as network with industry professionals.

HBO Access was initially capped at 1,000 applicants, a cap that was reached within a week. Once that cap was reached, all other applications were rejected. There are still scores of qualified applicants interested in this opportunity. The rapid time frame in which the cap was reached speaks to the need for these types of opportunities in mainstream media. The entertainment industry needs this. It is important to note that The Mary Sue has already examined why it wasn’t really all that accessible, given that applicants are expected to pay all associated costs of relocating to and living in Los Angeles for eight months, and all the other fine print of what constitutes an emerging writer, so I’m not going to duplicate their findings. Yes, HBO Access was flawed, but it is a model that could be adapted for comics; it’s time to step up to the plate, Big Two.

Marvel and DC are in dire need of more diverse creative teams. Even though recent studies have shown that 46% of comics readers are women, more than 80% of comic creative team members at Marvel and DC are male. IT’S 2015 Y’ALL. The time for change is now.

Data on Big Two comic production teams in 2014 won’t likely hit the net until mid 2015, so we’ll be running off 2013 stats for this run down. Though I’m certain it could be argued on solid grounds that the diversity on comic book production has increased since then, historical trends exhibited in the 2013 data show that the path toward diversity on Big Two creative teams is a little bit slow at best. In 2013, the teams on DC comics were 88.3% male and only 11.7% female; this denotes a 1.8% growth in female creators from the previous year. Marvel didn’t fare much better; in 2013, their comics teams were 85.1% male and 14.9% female, boasting 3.7% growth in female creators from the previous year.

Yes, things got better, not worse in 2013. Yes, diversity also increased at the Big Two in 2014. But it’s still a little slow when a 3.7% margin of growth is considered laudable. This data only represents an increase in gender diversity; it does not speak to racial diversity on creative teams. Just in case you were wondering, at the time in 2013 when this data was culled from, there was not a single black writer working at an ongoing title for either DC or Marvel. Not one.

Data has shown that comics aren’t just being consumed by white hetero cis white males. This is supported by hard data and soft data alike. The numbers are rolling in, and diverse comics (comics that are female-led, character of color-led, or queer character-led) sell.

aconnor_harleyquinnIn 2014, Ms. Marvel was Marvel’s number one digital best-seller. I don’t even know what printing Ms. Marvel #1 is on. The last time I checked it was at seven (SEVEN Y’ALL). More recently, Jon Erik Christianson of honestlycomics reported that in January 2015 the Harley Quinn solo title “outsold Detective Comics, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers, Superman, and all of Batman Eternal.” Hot damn. Oh yeah, and both of these titles have women as major players on their creative teams. Harley Quinn is co-written by Amanda Connor, who is also the cover artist for the title. Ms. Marvel was co-created by Sana Amanat and G. Willow Wilson, and is written by Wilson. There is potential for comics with diverse casts and diverse creative teams to drive sales; there’s no doubt about it.

Marvel and DC are industry leaders, and still pulling the majority of the market share when it comes to comic sales. Despite an increase in diversely led titles, the diversity in creative teams is still lacking. So Big Two, we need to talk. Host a diverse writers fellowship program like HBO. Or just hire more diverse creators. It will drive book sales. It will increase audiences. It will even increase box office sales and television ratings. More female led titles is a good start, but it is not enough.

The diversity that is bringing in booming sales for the Big Two cannot just be skin deep. There are issues with HBO Access, and yeah, it was kind of sort of a total disaster, but that doesn’t mean that the model cannot be adapted and improved upon in the comics industry.

We don’t just need female, character of color, and queer-led titles in comics; we need more creative teams that are led by women; creative teams that are led by people of color; creative teams that are led by people across the LGBTQ spectrum. Comics should not just be an opportunity for white men to tell their stories and interpret the stories of others for mass consumption; it is an opportunity for under-represented communities to tell their stories themselves. Because comics are for everyone, and they can be anything we want them to be.

LB Royal

LB Royal

LB Royal is a project manager that spends a lot of time thinking about gender representation and intersectionality in geek media. She holds an MBA and an MA, and tries to use her powers for good (mostly). You can find her on twitter @laurabeastly

One thought on “HBO Wants to Increase Their Writer Diversity – The Big Two Should Do the Same

  1. While I absolutely agree with your overall point (we do need a lot more diversity in hires at Marvel and DC) I’m a bit conflicted about how you’ve framed your argument. I know that “official” stats about hiring in 2014 isn’t available yet, but there’s a lot of information out there already. There’s a huge problem with people regularly erasing Felipe Smith’s identity as a black man writing (and in 2015 drawing) a comic for Marvel, and while I understand that All New Ghost Rider didn’t begin until 2014, it’s worth noting that here’s a demonstrable change that’s happened. Not a big change, not as much change as is needed, but change. And, frankly, I’m just sick of people forgetting about him.

    More than that, DC’s announcement about Convergence and the titles coming this summer specifically includes a diversity initiative, hiring Ming Doyle, Gene Leun Yang, and David Walker (look, another black guy!). I’m aware it hasn’t happened yet, but discounting that DC has clearly said “Yeah, we agree this is an issue and here’s what we’re doing about it” strikes me as pretty disingenuous. (The news is over a month old:

    More than that, where’s the criticism of Image along these same lines? I can barely find Image books that aren’t written/drawn by white guys. Image TPBs outsell Marvel month after month. There are absolutely Image floppy titles that outsell Marvel and DC. But Marvel and DC get all the criticism, where Image gets a pass?

    I’m also always surprised that any discussion of diversity in writers doesn’t include James Tynion IV’s pretty astonishing coming out as bisexual a few years ago, to my knowledge one of the few openly queer writers at either company.

    Like I said…I absolutely agree with your overall mission statement here, but the way you’ve framed your argument is sort of half-baked. HBO had the luxury of soliciting people to apply, whereas DC and Marvel’s inability to legally accept pitches from people (for all sorts of copyright reasons that are perfectly valid) means that they can’t use the same tools. It’s a sticky situation, but changes isn’t just coming…it’s already arrived.

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