Represent Us! Represent Us!

If you believe this article, Marvel Comic sales are declining because fans are tired of the constant emphasis on diverse characters.

I’m not sure I buy all of the “tired-of-diversity” argument, but I do believe that, in introducing new characters, two things have to happen, one on the writers’ side, and one on the readers’ side.  On the writers’ side, you have to have thought out the character’s backstory and her storyline pretty far.  (Recall that the final shot of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer was in Joss Whedon’s head from the moment he was given the show seven seasons before, and that Buffy’s sister, Dawn, was imagined two years before her character actually appeared.)  The aim has to be to involve that character in the most compelling plot you can imagine, not simply create a diverse character because the social moment seems to be calling for one.  On the fans’ side, readers have to be patient and let the characters they’re reading about evolve a little bit before we decide that those characters aren’t worth our time.  In the 60s, for instance, the Hulk of the comics had to grow on me (no pun intended); on the other hand, I bought into the Fantastic Four immediately.  It wasn’t until much later that I discovered (with the help of the TV series) how much humanity there was in the Hulk’s character, and that the FF’s family squabbles didn’t necessarily translate well to either the small screen or the big one.

Just because a character is black or Latina or gay or blind or whatever doesn’t make him or her inherently interesting.  I’m very interested to see how Black Panther will fit into the Marvel movie universe.  I like him.  But if they waste his character (as Karl Urban’s Dr. McCoy has been wasted in the new Star Trek movies), then I’m going to be unhappy.  On the flip side of the racial coin,  Tony Stark may piss some people off ’cause he’s just another white dude.  (He pisses me off because he’s a “billionaire playboy philanthropist”and way too smug about it.)  But he becomes interesting when he allows himself to be reminded of the burdens he carries (in the old days, the shrapnel near his heart) and why he does what he does (Yinsen’s challenge before his death; the promising son who died during an Avengers battle, as Stark learns from the mother in Civil War.)

The aim has to be to make your characters grow and change from the persons they started out to be.  If that evolution makes sense, and if it’s fun (either in a comic or a serious way), then the writing is probably going to sell.  If readers sense, however, that the work is trite, or that the artists have felt obligated by social pressure to create it, then it’s not likely to succeed.  The aim is to create something we didn’t know we wanted to read.  That is hard to do–and it should be.

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2 thoughts on “Represent Us! Represent Us!

  1. This is a great discussion of character development in every genre, not just comic books…If I was still teaching, I would share this with my students–and I know wonderful conversation would ensue.(as it is, i will share it with my fan-fic writing son.)

    And I have to allow that, in the 1960’s, with a Marvel-addicted younger brother, the Fantastic Four comics were my favorite (Spiderman was next)…

  2. Pam, thanks for your comment. I had in mind the applicability of the post to the writing of fiction in general. I’m glad someone picked up on it. (I was a little afraid the post wasn’t general enough.) Spidey was also a favorite of mine. His grouchy boss at the paper resonated with me, and the fact that Peter Parker also had to mend his own costume every time it got torn hit home, too. The father of my cousin Larry, who *so generously* let me read all those Marvel comics when I was growing up, died last Thursday, and I must go to the funeral on Tuesday. Larry and I have recently bemoaned throwing away all those comics because we didn’t know we were throwing away a fortune: they were the earliest issues of what has now become the Marvel empire. (You can throw DC into that mix, too: Larry owned the early issues of the modern Batman comics, as well.) We laugh about it, though. We got value out of them anyway. They taught me to read and gave me–truly–a sense of good and evil in the world, including the idea that good and evil can be mixed up in the same person (e.g., the Hulk, Dr. Doom, Loki).

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