The Scene is Set
Our group chose the issue of the lack of representation of minority groups in comic books and how that can affect the readers. This includes people of color, women, individuals of all shapes and sizes, and the LGBTQ+ community. To complete this project, our group held a table at the Commons Mainstreet where students could come over and hear what we had to say. To attract more people, we had a large cardboard cut out of Groot (as seen in attached photos), a large collection of comic books provided by Mehr, and free merchandise from a local Baltimore comic book store called Cosmic Comix.
Our group invited people to the table and attempted to create a discussion and raise awareness and like any activist, we collided with negative comments, arguments from people we thought would be on our side, and differing opinions.
The Antagonists and Protagonists
There was a general backlash of opinions towards how there is diversity in comic books and how it does exist in smaller comic companies such as Image and Dark Horse. This does not tackle the issue that there is no diversity within Marvel or DC, and how women are drawn and represented. However, we were able to accomplish a general conversation discussing this problem with people rather than not being heard at all. Our goal was to keep people aware or make them aware that this is an issue. This doesn’t mean that there weren’t people who understood and supported us, because there were many who came to our table to hear us out. Shockingly, many were women of color.
The Mission, Should You Choose to Accept
This is an important topic, as it is a way young children develop their own identity and if they don’t have a superhero, which can be akin to a good role model that looks like them, there can be feelings of low self-esteem and a form of self-resentment. Especially with how women are portrayed, we cannot have bodies like the ones drawn in comics. There is also no visibility for LGBTQ+ members and people of color that are positive.
The only known superheroes that are of color or are part of the LGBTQ+ community are countries that have their comic book industries but aren’t as well known to America or to the whole world. It isn’t like Marvel and DC comics where almost every major country knows or has heard of these two industries. For example, India has comic book industries such as Graphic India and King Comics that are based in India with various Indian-based superheroes. The same goes for Africa with the Comic Republic.
A Shocking Twist
There is change, however, as Iron Man is now a black girl named Iron Heart and Ms. Marvel is now a Pakistani girl. These are small but important steps and there is more room for visibility and growth. This Buzzfeed video captures how adults view the way female superheroes are ridiculously drawn by dressing like certain female superheroes to get a feel for the outfits: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmvAWb26W1s
These women try to pose in a way that the specific female superheroes do, which turned out to be very uncomfortable. They share their thoughts on how it felt to pose like these heroes, including their initial and final thoughts on their photos.
The Battle’s Aftermath
While we were going about setting up this project, there were things that we could’ve done differently and one possibility is to have included more on-campus groups. We tried to include the Comic Book Club, but we were met with disbelief and sour comments on how there IS in fact diversity in comic books. Some things that worked for us was being as transparent in our discussion, using real-life examples, and talking about real-life consequences of the lack of representation. Something that may not have worked in our favor was the use of the word “Equity” in our opening question. It may have been too strong a word for some people and also may have confused listeners as the topic was about representation in comics. To counter this obstacle, for the future, using different language may be suitable as to include those who are not confident using words like that.
A Happy Ending?
This project has brought us closer to the reality of activism and the responses that come with shaking up the status quo and asking for something better. There was resistance and we grew as activists. We discovered the strength we have to educate individuals that do not fully understand this issue or issues that are a part of this topic. The definition of activism has not changed for us as a group. In fact, it has solidified the understanding that activism is doing something, even if it is as small as reposting something online or speaking out for something you believe in. Activism is subjective and changes with the needs of the activist and the activism they partake in, for example, some people were more comfortable with sharing #MeToo rather than partaking in the Women’s March.
The Battle Isn’t Over Yet!
We plan to continue or activism, especially with this topic because not only did this bring us closer as individuals, but we were able to evidentially learn and grow from this experience. Our work isn’t done just yet. We plan to keep people aware of this under-representation and with a stronger force. We’ve already thought of future plans to get the attention of UMBC students and have them tell their friends and family about our message.
This doesn’t just apply to UMBC. There are hopes of reaching out to the general public or joining activist groups that have already started this battle.