Friday, January 06, 2006

Guest Rant - "Give Us an African-American Spider-Man!"

So, my pal Stony did not think that his rant in this week's Current Comic Conversation came out that well. He actually had asked me to delete it, but I left it in, so I feel bad if it did not go over well, after I kept it in over his protests. So to make it up to him, here is the full, elaborated upon, rant. Enjoy!

So here it is, my challenge to creators in comics who don’t all come from New York and are, well, on the pale side of the spectrum. Allow me to start with the inspiration of this rant, a quote from the Reverend Al Sharpton on the tv series “Boston Legal”: Yes… yes… I know… Boston Legal… but hey, people get inspirations for the most unlikely of sources, no? Think about Sir Isaac Newton and that apple falling on his head

"Today! Give us an African American Spider-Man. Give us a black that can run faster than a speeding bullet and leap over a tall building in a single bound. Not tomorrow, today. Today! The sun needs to come out today!"

Now, a lot of people are going to look at that quote and think, "Well that’s just Al bucking the system, he's just trying to get the system to change and that's never going to work, holding the system to ransom to put out minority comics" The thing I like about what Al says… this isn't a thing about blacks crying about reparations that some guys... I think Brian likes to call them “disenfranchised whites" always moan and piss about with their bleatings about "I never got a handout! and waah waah waah wahh" Man do those guys bug the hell out of me, but that's another thing totally. I see that quote... as a challenge.... to the Black creators, to the Asian creators, to the Hispanic creators, to the Maori creators, to us, a rallying call for us to create our own mythologies, and damn the consequences if they sell or not, but to make them anyway

I see it as a challenge to us to stretch ourselves and not just creators who mirror the white trends to put out our own flavour... Not just another black Superman, or an African American Spider-Man but to stretch our creativity to look into ourselves and create our own heroes, with their own virtues, their own weaknesses, and just put them out there and to give a right royal kick up the bums of our own future generations to pick up the trends and run with it, to want to tell stories about ourselves, and not just about any honky who gets a Green Lantern ring. No, I haven’t forgotten Mr Stewart… Isn’t he hosting some news show now…?

“But there’s no demand for minority comics! Look at what happened to Milestone!”

Who cares about demand? Was there a demand for Superman before he came out? Was there a demand for Spider-Man before he arrived? Was anyone really thinking "You know what I'm craving for? A guy... that dresses like a bat!" I say: Just put it out there, and if it's any good... it'll fly. Milestone was good stuff... and when that folded, what? Do we all just pack up and stop trying? Do we all just give up and go home? Do we all just resign ourselves to writing/drawing mainly white guys for the rest of comics history?

And to the readers out there, the ones who are largely from a majority perspective, let me assure you… this rant is in absolutely no way a threat to your way of life. This isn’t a threat to your paycheck, to all that you have earned and worked hard for so far. This is a rant for the other guys to take chances. And hey! If you want to read different comics that are put out by those other guys? Go ahead! If you don’t… guess what? That’s cool too. And if the other guys still want to read and enjoy the standard fare? Well get going! There’s some good stuff there!

Screw it if it's "minority' or not I'm just saying... to the creators of other ethnicities out there... Hurry up and put out your own stuff and stop copying off Kirby and Jim Lee.... hmmm... that last analogy doesn't quite fit, non?

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Blogger Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

I saw that Boston Legal episode and loved it! I like your interpretation of Al's comments even better.

Was anyone really thinking "You know what I'm craving for? A guy... that dresses like a bat!"


PS: If you haven't already, check out Rich Watson's "What's A Nubian?" column from November, wherein he covers similar territory.

1/06/2006 09:59:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

Hey man, Boston Legal's one of the best shows on TV.

1/07/2006 12:19:00 AM  
Blogger Marionette said...

I totally agree with what is stated here. In fact I think it doesn't go nearly far enough.

I won't settle for a black Superman or Spider-man. I want to see a black Supergirl.

1/07/2006 09:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Matthew Craig said...

What, you mean the Reverend Al Sharpton hasn't read STATIC? or ASTRO CITY?!


(also: Jesse Owens. Faster than, leaping in, did more to hurt Hitler than Captain America. And he was real. OH MY GOD, why didn't they make a Jesse Owens comic?)

I think the priority of any creator should be to make a good comic with good characters, irrespective of any other factors. Spider-Man is probably a bad example, because he works from an essential truth - Spider-Man could be black, in the same way that he's been Indian, Japanese, and, um, Mexican-Irish-Future-American. Spider-Man is manifestly not Spider-White-Man, or Spider-American. He's beyond that. He's above it.

I think that it's much more important to aim for strong universal truths than anything else. That's probably why Static was such a good character (what I saw of him). Like The Ray, like Jack-in-the-Box (kinda), like Invincible(? Never read it) and yes, like Spider-Man, he had that youthful, self-determinatory sort of thing about him.

Of course, I can understand the need for more (and better) representation. I mean, what have I got? I've got Banshee and his family (the grotesque stereotypes), Cassidy (the monster), and Matt Murdock (the misogynist son of a drunk bully father and a demented nun). Go Team Paddy! And let's not get started on the British characters, which, for the most part, you can stick up yer arse. It's odd, I know - I don't feel particularly Irish, or British, come to that, but I'd happily throttle Banshee. And Captain Britain only felt "British" during the Moore/Delano/Davis years (here's a related essay).

That said, there are essential truths and there are essential truths, right? I'm writing superhero stories right now which feature black and asian (i.e.: Indian) leads (having done a couple in the past, including this one) and I'll admit, I'm shiteing myself at the thought of getting "it" wrong. I mean, what do I know about being a black woman in modern Britain? About as much as being Irish, to tell you the truth.

I have to keep telling myself that it's not about being black, or a woman, or even modern, but about, well, whatever the story is about, instead. And I want these stories to work on the Spider-Man level, you know? I want people from all walks of life to read them and say, "OK. I get that. There's something there that speaks to me."

I mean, does that make any sense? I dunno. I may have missed the point entirely. I'll get back to work, now.


1/07/2006 01:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Matthew Craig said...

I forgot one: The Manhattan Guardian. He's a Spider-Man-esque character. His father-in-law even looks like Stan Lee!


1/07/2006 05:16:00 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

"Of course, I can understand the need for more (and better) representation. I mean, what have I got? I've got Banshee and his family (the grotesque stereotypes), Cassidy (the monster), and Matt Murdock (the misogynist son of a drunk bully father and a demented nun). Go Team Paddy!"

You think that's tough, try being an Italian-American comics fan. My ethnic representation consists of GiGi Cusimano and the Huntress.

"I want people from all walks of life to read them and say, "OK. I get that. There's something there that speaks to me.""

The funny thing about this is that to pull it off you HAVE to have genuine, honest-to-gosh three-dimensional characters for it to happen, and one way to do that is to really get inside their heads, give them a real background, etc. Roger Ebert said in his review of Brokeback Mountain something to the effect of he could imagine someone watching it and wishing they'd stayed in the Marines or gone to cooking school; because the movie is about such a specific regret it is actually easier to relate it to one's own life. Similarly, when you read about Peter Parker, you don't have to be a picked-on, nerdy, orphan with a frail aunt to relate to him, but the specificity of his life and plight helps readers identify his life with theirs. So, yeah, I think more ethnic characters in comics would be great, but if their ethnicities and backgrounds aren't actually part of who they are and what they do and why they do it then it might not amount to much more than window dressing. Done right, on the other hand, it becomes something that ANY reader, regardless of their own ethnicity, can relate to and enjoy.

1/07/2006 05:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Matthew Craig said...

but the specificity of his life and plight

That's just it. The detail is specific - he's inadvertently responsible for his Uncle's death - but the core of Peter Parker's motivation to be who he becomes isn't. We all grow up. We all have to decide what kind of men and women we want to be. And many of us have to cope with the responsibility of living up to (or living with the failure to live up to) our parents' hopes and expectations for well as our own, of course. None of that is wrapped up in Peter's ethnic identity.

Again, if you read The Manhattan Guardian, the same is true. Jake Jordan's motivation is guilt, the need to move past his guilt, and the need to work out who he is: a man, or a uniform. None of that depends on his colour.

Maybe I'm biased. My ethnic identity means pretty much nothing to me, beyond a weapon to use against the ignorance of certain relatives. And while it has direct bearing on where and how I grew up, it is manifestly not me. What it is, is a part of my backstory. It's the coincidence of events that led me to be born in England, instead of Scotland, or Ireland, or Philadelphia (all valid alternatives). But it's no more important to me than what my grandfather did for a living.

I dunno. I know such things have informed some of my favourite creators' work. But then, so did the maybe I should be writing about Maggie Thatcher...



1/07/2006 06:26:00 PM  
Anonymous thekamisama said...

look at Milestone huh?
Milestone might have failed in the comics genre, but it worked well with the more mass popular animated adventures of Static. Static begat Justice League and the casting of John Stewart as the one true Green Lantern for a whole generation of Cartoon Network kids who may never even read a comic.
Maybe its not yet the "African American Spiderman" but we are getting there.

Funny, I keep thinking the idea of an actual African American Spiderman in the context of having a whole multicultural Spideyforce.

Indian Spidey, Japanese Spidey, 2099, the various Spiderwomen/girl's, Ultimate Spidey, and of course the original recipe forming a team. Yeah its silly. But I like it in a cheesy retro idea way...

1/07/2006 09:40:00 PM  
Blogger kelvingreen said...

Indian Spidey, Japanese Spidey, 2099, the various Spiderwomen/girl's, Ultimate Spidey, and of course the original recipe forming a team. Yeah its silly. But I like it in a cheesy retro idea way...
And don't forget the Dutch Spider-Man.

I can see it now. Give it to the Japanese to do, and we'll get Super Mega Spider-Force, and it'll be spectacular.

1/08/2006 12:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this post is right on. The point is there, the point has always been there.
Chris Claremont showed us first, I think. His characters were like real people, and he treated them as such. He defined, for a time, "all-new, all-different", and made it matter. Most of his characters were from countries and backgrounds that were more-or-less alien to the readers, even to himself, but because of how he wrote, most people didn't care. I STILL think Nightcrawler and Colossus are the only German and Russian characters who aren't old soldiers from the cold war or WW2 who fight Captain America. And their following has far surpassed that of the KGBeast and the Red Skull, for that very reason.
It's been done. We're waiting for it to happen again. It's just hard for a writer to come around, I think, and take the investment to CARE, not only enough about the character in the first place, but to be secure enough to tell so personal a story to a readership that can take it or leave it. Factor in the work-for-hire atmosphere of comic books (look at what happened to Claremont for all his efforts) and it gets even bleaker. It's far easier, I think, to say "Hey! I always wanted to do this Iron Man story!" Rather than "I've got this idea for a unique character whose idea is so universal that any reader will get it. It means so much to my heart to tell this, but you guys will own like Iron Man later".

1/09/2006 01:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Mike Loughlin said...

I'm a teacher at an inner-city school in Boston (85 - 90% of the students are black, 10 + % Hispanic), and I see many kids come in with Spider-Man, Justice League, Teen Titans, & Batman backpacks. Last Halloween, 3 (non-white) Kindergarten & 1st graders dressed up as the Human Torch. While most super-heroes are white, their actions and personalities resonate with a non-white audience.

That being said, I agree with the above rant, and I would like to see a black headliner super-hero on t.v. (now that Static has run its course). My room is across the hall from the 5th grade class, so I interact with those students on a regular basis. When they create their own super-heroes, the characters are black. I would love to see one of them get their ideas out there someday.

1/09/2006 09:02:00 AM  
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