I’ve been thinking a lot recently about acceptance in general, within the comics community, and in comics themselves.
I know the majority of us are painfully aware of a certain faction that exists just outside the comics community and delights in making life as miserable as possible for pretty much everyone else. They’re a vicious, vociferous minority, but that’s just it–they’re a minority. In my experience, most comics people, creators, and enthusiasts alike are really very lovely, accepting people who are excited to share their love of the subject.
Not everyone enjoys the same comics, but so what? We can manage to engage in civil debate. We can say, “It’s great that you like that. I like this.” We can live our lives without rigid conformity to what comics ‘should be’, because there is no ‘should be’, except that comics should be exactly what they are–a delightfully varied facet of literature told in a more visual manner than traditionally written stories.
Another form of acceptance I’ve been contemplating is everyone’s favorite creative buddy, the suspension of disbelief–the sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment.
Obviously, this isn’t unique to comic books, but it’s definitely an integral part of how people read them. If we weren’t prepared to go where the writers and artists wanted to take us, what would be the point, right? Every time we pick up a comic, we are making a conscious decision to forget everything we know about how our world works in order to enjoy someone else’s for a while. We accept that new world for what it is. We don’t question it. Maybe the story is set on a planet where lizard people are in charge, and they keep humans as pets–we can adjust our minds to that. Maybe the story is set in a matriarchy. Okay, sure, we’ll follow along. Maybe the story is told through the eyes of someone’s dog. Wow! What an interesting perspective!
Comics as a medium has really taken to the idea of diversifying its story and character base in recent years. We’re seeing something of a Renaissance of comics incorporating characters of color and non-heterosexual orientations, and for the most part, no one bats an eye, but there’s a caveat; this seems only to apply to new material.
If, for example, a comic starts its run with a universe like the one in Image Comics’ Monstress, where the inhabitants are a diverse collection of ethnicities closely aligned with ones we know to exist in the real world and the characters engage in intimate relationships without regard to sex or gender, the audience is inclined to accept those parameters as being definitive of that story. If, on the other hand, a major change to a character or storyline with a long history is announced, readers–even those who are the most open-minded–tend to get upset. I wrote about change and how it’s not necessarily a bad thing in my January editorial when it was announced that Kurtis Wiebe was passing the torch of the Rat Queens line. The readers know and love the characters and they have a firm grasp on the universe, and a change in the creative team can lead to changes to something in which the reader is invested and that can lead to trepidation regarding the future of the story. Existing comics that have a following can be the most difficult to change, especially if the characters or storylines in question have been around for a very long time.
For instance, there was a lot of backlash regarding the transition to Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel in the Marvel Universe in 2013 by devotees of the character. Because Ms. Marvel had a long-standing history in the Marvel canon it was a tricky change, but ultimately the switch stuck and the storyline is still going strong. It may have been a gradual acceptance, but it got there in the end.
Of course, audience buy-in is integral to the success of any creative undertaking. Without it, a project will eventually cease to be. With an increasingly vocal audience clamoring for more representation in comics (and elsewhere,) more and more creators and publishers have made an attempt to be more inclusive in their publications. The Big Two (Marvel and DC) have and will continue to have the toughest road to travel toward inclusivity since their work spans decades, but they seem to be making some progress, which is heartening. There is the obvious pushback from long-time fans which is understandable to a point, but you can’t stop progress; you can only stall it for a while. Other publishers that don’t operate in the same fashion as Marvel and DC have an easier time adding more diverse comics to their rotation. With the attention this call for change is receiving, I get the feeling that we’re in for an outpouring of more stories like Bingo Love, Department of Ability, and Quincredible in the comic and graphic novel arenas, and I, for one, couldn’t be more excited.