The comic book industry has changed a lot with the past generation. Whether it's the comic book movies bringing fans to the theaters in droves, the animated series captivating kids, or the toys in every store screaming to be played with, this industry is growing in a much different way. People from all walks of life are jumping onto comic books. According to our analytics, 45% of the folks that visit Comic Vine are female. Moreso, people from different cultures and races are also coming into comics at a larger rate. The stereotype of only white, nerdy males read comics is slowly fading away because comic book heroes and villains have invaded American culture, along with the rest of the world.
However, characters within comics aren't changing as quickly. There's a plethora of reasons why the change in comics isn't happening as fast as the readership is, but what people need to realize is that having more diverse characters within comic books is much more important than reflecting those who read the books.
I was in a comic book store, over the weekend. There was a kid (let's call him "Ted") about the age of 10 looking for comics and needed some suggestions. The guy behind the counter asked me to help out, and I showed "Ted" some various books. He said he liked Spider-Man, but trade-wise, all the store had was SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN, which, in my opinion, is way too heavy for someone that age, so I showed him ULTIMATE COMICS SPIDER-MAN. I told him it was a really cool book because Peter Parker was no longer Spider-Man and this new Spider-Man was really close to his age. He flipped through and saw Spider-Man, in a black suit, kicking some bad guy butt, and he told me it looked really cool. He then flipped to a page where he saw Miles Morales and started laughing. I asked him why he was laughing and he said "he's black."
Now, "Ted" is a good kid. I know his mother, who is incredibly nice, caring and completely normal, but it seems like he's been in an environment, at some point, where some closed-minded folks have put thoughts in his head. He's young and impressionable, so I told him about how cool I thought Miles Morales is and that I actually like him more than Peter Parker, which is all true. Then, another customer chimed in and said he thought Miles was a really cool character and skin color doesn't matter. The guy behind the counter did as well. All-in-all, it turned into a cool moment, and "Ted" ended up excited and bought the book.
People aren't born with prejudice. A baby's first words aren't words of hate. They're usually just words they are familiar with because their parents or someone else around them said them. Hate is taught, and I'm pretty sure almost everyone reading this will agree. There's no better way to stop hate than to educate a whole new generation of readers. How do you do this? By showing people from different walks of life. It's the whole idea of showing readers that people from different cultures and races may seem different from them, but at the end of the day, we're all pretty much the same. That seems silly, but it's a lesson that could be important for the upcoming generation.
Within comics, there are books doing this. At Marvel, MILES MORALES: THE ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, YOUNG AVENGERS, and MS. MARVEL are leading the way. MILES MORALES does a fantastic job at giving readers someone to relate to, even if their skin color is different. YOUNG AVENGERS shows readers that it doesn't matter if you love the same sex or the opposite sex. MS. MARVEL does an amazing job at giving readers insight into what home-life is like in an Islamic family. DC does a fine job at providing strong, well-written female characters like Wonder Woman, Batwoman, and Batgirl, among others. They also have a long list of characters from different cultures that could easily drive their own books, such as Blue Beetle, Cyborg, and Steel.
The point of all of this isn't to make diverse characters for the sake of diverse characters. It's about never having a kid laugh or judge a character in a book because that character isn't the default, which is a white, heterosexual male. Sure, it's true that the majority of readers are white males, but as an industry, making baby steps away from that could be a start.
With any large problem, there is no easy answer though. It's not as simple as editorial shouting "we need more diverse characters" and everything magically falling into place. However, it feels like both Marvel and DC are in a transitional phase to move closer to much more diverse worlds. This is a good start, but another part of this problem is will fans accept this?
In recent months, there's been quite a lot of controversy over characters changing over at DC. Since it's the New 52 and this is a whole new world, creators and editors can take liberties with some characters because they've never been introduced before. The biggest one, in recent, was changing Wally West from white to black. Wally West fans are outraged because it wasn't the character they knew and loved pre-New 52. In addition, there were some personality changes as well, but it's still really early to say the character was ruined or anything over-dramatic like that. This is a subject we've talked to death on the Comic Vine podcast in recent weeks, and most discussions end with me not understanding why fans are upset. Without getting heavily into this whole debate, over changing characters versus creating new ones, it's important to remember that as long as the characters are written well and are compelling on the page, then we should all just enjoy what's presented, and if we don't, then don't buy it.
Creating a more diverse world for comic book characters to live in is not just important because the growing market contains more than just white, heterosexual males reading and these new fans may want characters that reflect them. It's important to educate a whole new generation of readers to show them that it doesn't matter where you're from, what you look like, or who you love, every different type of person on this planet is still a person. In essence, we're all the same. We're all comic book readers and comic books are and should be for everyone.