When it comes to comic books, like much of entertainment, there are a lot of white males in the industry. It's just a part of doing business - but some people are working to change that. Looking to offer more representation, there are folks of every race, creed, sexual orientation - every type of person, working to make comic books that include characters they, and others like them, can identify directly with.
"I want to make it abundantly clear that diversity in comics and representation isn't just about race - body types, genderqueer, mental health illness, and LBGTQIA individuals should all be represented in and on the pages of comics," Dean "Tee" Vixen, aka "MizCaramelVixen" on twitter, who founded #BlackComicsMonth told ComicBook.com in an interview. It started as a small, month-long hashtag during Black History Month, and became a movement that includes comic-con panels, comic book giveaways, and much more.
She explains the need for diverse creators simply. "Having a character of color inside the pages is all well and good, but what's on the cover is truly the epitome of #RepresentationMatters. We matter, any person of color matters, and we have voices that should not be erased. Yes, a white person can create comics full of diversity, but they can't tell our stories," she said.
It all started when she realized there were fans out there who literally didn't know about black superhero characters.
"After the Milestone 2.0 announcement in January 2015 happened, I started seeing people tweet if there were black superhero characters. I thought to myself had they never heard of Vixen, Storm, Static Shock, or even Black Panther? I immediately knew that if they didn't know about these black characters, they definitely wouldn't know that black comic creators existed," Vixen said. Thus, #BlackComicsMonth and eventually BlackComicsMonth.com was born.
Thanks to the support of creator Gail Simone, a proponent of diversity in comics both in creators and characters, Vixen said #BlackComicsMonth had a "huge impact," and she got support from two publishers initially that made the difference, BOOM! Studios and Dynamite Comics.
"I honestly intended to just focus 28 days of black comic book creators and call it a day until next year. By the middle of February, #BlackComicsMonth had trended twice and even publishers (Marvel, Image, Dark Horse) were using #BlackComicsMonth. People were not only tweeting their favorite black comic characters, but comic creators as well," Vixen said. "I knew that 28 days wasn't going to be enough, and the slogan changed to 'Every Month is #BlackComicsMonth!'"
That meant year-round promotion, and working to actually change the conversation about comics, not letting people forget that diversity is a goal that can be reached, and that will only happen if people make it happen.
"That decision led to #BlackComicsMonth: Diversity in Comics panels at Special Edition: NYC (SENYC) and New York Comic Con (NYCC)," Vixen said. "I didn't want to leave any other creator of color out of my promotion, because they weren't a black comic creator. Choosing to create a Diversity in Comics panel that was actually diverse was my goal. We've seen stories where Diversity in Comics panel would be all white creators who have diverse characters or a "token" creator of color. The first panel had Valentine De Landro (Bitch Planet), Amy Chu (Poison Ivy), Greg Pak (Storm, Batman/Superman), Alitha E. Martinez (Foreign), Brian Michael Bendis (Ultimate Spider-man), as well as indie creators Che Grayson (Rigamo) and Kim Gaines (Eventide). Oh, did I mention Darryl "DMC" McDaniels requested to be on the panel?
"Now that was a diverse panel!
"There were about 350 people in attendance and we trended on Twitter during the panel. People want diversity in comics and not just in the pages!"
That gave her the first real indication of what was happening with #BlackComicsMonth. There were people standing in line waiting for the NYCC panel, and donations from BOOM!, Dark Horse, Image, Top Cow, Lion Forge, IDW, and Valiant came in, giving her over 900 diverse comics to give out to fans who wanted to see themselves in their heroes.
Vixen's mission isn't just to promote the diverse creators and characters out now, but to inspire more of them.
"There are so many stories out there that we can tell and if these publishers aren't interested in letting us tell our stories, we can and will do it ourselves."
As for some specific creators she'd like to see get more attention? Well, Vixen said she finds new ones all the time, and the best way is to follow the BlackComicsMonth twitter account (and her personal one, for that matter). But she did have some suggestions when pressed. Here are some of her current favorites:
Shawn Pryor has an all-ages comic Cash and Carrie that was 250% funded via Kickstarter and will be making its way to your local comic book stores.
Olivia Stephens tear-jerker romance webcomic, Alone.
Mildred Louis' magical webcomic adventure, Agents of the Realm which is currently at 171% funded via Kickstarter.
James F. Wright's teenage crime drama, **Nutmeg, think Mean Girls meets Breaking Bad; teenage girls are ruthless when it comes to baking brownies! This comic is currently on issue 6 and available on Comixology.
Or Myisha Haynes' magical webcomic, The Substitutes, which is about roommates who accidentally acquire magical weapons and inherit the responsibilities that go with it and become the hero to someone else’s story.
"There are so many talented creators of color, who are phenomenal, that many don't even know they exist," Vixen said. Thanks to her, now more people do.