The 2014 New Orleans Comic Con has officially come to a close. Over the weekend, the evolution of pop culture and the comic book industry was at the forefront of this year’s gathering or, at least, one can hope it was.
With the presence of Matt Smith, the oversaturation of all things Doctor Who was ever prevalent. This year, The Walking Dead was not. Maybe that’s because for the past three years several cast members of the show have been present.
While the floor may have leaned toward the time travellers, both shows were present in the Battle for Multicultural Heroes panel discussion. With regards to Dr. Who, there was a cry for the new incarnation of the Doctor — the show's ever-regenerating protagonist — to be a female or an African American male. Neither of those changes transpired when the new Doctor was revealed in late 2013. The Twelfth Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, looks like all the other Doctors: a white male in a blue box with a female companion.
Panel participats pointed out, however, that in many cases the companions who dare to go on this journey at some point save the Doctor; they make him a better person. Whether a female would handle the situations better would be up to writers, but at least there is a female presence, a strong one, where ordinary women are made great, panelists said.
Simply casting the character doesn't necessarily mean diversity is covered, said panel moderator Tony Kim. He made a statement about the Walking Dead pertaining to Steven Yeun’s character, Glenn.
“Glenn started out as this geeky, Asian stereotype but now, he’s evolved into a leader and a hero," said Kim, who is Asian American. "As long as the stereotype is a starting point and helps the character grow beyond that, then that’s a great way to introduce a character.”
The panelists also discussed the hypersexualization of female comic book characters. One fan in the crowd asked the panel to discuss the new Harley Quinn comics, which portray the character in a lace-up corset — complete with cleavage — and thigh high stockings. It's a huge change from when she was first introduced in a fully body harlequin joker suit.
Terry Huddleston, an inker and artist on the panel made a point, “It is in the DNA to sexualize women in comics.” Another artist on the panel and lone female, Sarah Richards, had this to say: “If they are going to use sexuality (in comics) there needs to be a context for it.”
As for race in comics, there has been an introduction of many superheroes that are black but very few of them being mainstream. The most notable mainstream superhero is Blade, who had great success coming from comics to the big screen.
According to Huddleston, “Black culture has always been pushing pop culture; forerunners of it. However, we have to look at it from a marketing standpoint, not a racial one. There are more Caucasian people than not, so if you cannot sell it to them, it won’t work.”
On more than one occasion, both Marvel and DC have created black superheroes, most of whom were created during the era of integration in the 1960's and 70's.
“These characters were created by people who did not understand what it was to be black and had characters like, Luke Cage, aka Powerman, yelling, 'Sweet Christmas!' as his catchphrase because the creators had no idea what a black man would yell," said Thomas Strange, a historian and one of the panel members for the Civil Rights and Social Justice Movements as Reflected in Comic Books panel.
Strange was also dressed as Luke Cage and likes to address the issue that people have about different races dressing up as their favorite superhero or supervillian. The majority of superheroes and villains are portrayed as white because that is who created the characters, he said. These creators found ways to incorporate issues about civil rights, that when read today come off as disingenuous, racist and offensive.
One issue that Strange discussed is Lois Lane Issue #106, from 1970, aptly titled, "Black Like Me." Superman uses Kryptonian technology to transform Lois into a black woman so she can write her story about a black community. It takes her through what black people deal with on a regular basis, such as taxicabs not stopping or being looked at suspiciously. It’s an attempt to be cutting edge and mainstream and inclusive, but it fails, he said.
The panel (comprised of four middle aged men) started a dialogue about the current state of comics and how this inclusion of black people and black culture is not as prevalent today, nor is any other race or culture. As much as comics and pop culture has evolved, there are still not as many people of color, sexual orientation, and gender who are creating comics and being at the forefront of this movement, the panelists said.
The panelists pointed to current conversations happening about making Powerman into a series, having actor, Michael B. Jordan, playing Johnny Storm/Human Torch and possibly rebooting the Green Lantern as the John Stewart storyline, in which the character is black. The evolution of pop culture and comics has to happen, they said, because people are evolving and changing. Panels like Battle for Multicultural Heroes and Civil Rights and Social Justice Movements as reflected in comic books, help this conversation and movement.
Jerry Milani, Public Relations Manger for Wizard World, stated, “I think a lot of people forget about those (panels) but that’s what the convention is really about.”
The 2014 New Orleans Comic Con gave people more than celebrities signing autographs and taking pictures, it created a dialogue with others who are looking to create more diversity. Organizers and participants hope the discussion continues well beyond the floor and panels of the con.