Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Inside New York Comic Con

By Amanda D. Stoltz, Night Manager at The Writer’s Center

Waiting in line with more costumed comic book fans than I could process, I searched the crowd for my cousin. He said he was dressed as Matt Murdock.

Who? I asked. Daredevil’s alter ego, he explained.


I do not read comic books, collect action figures, or play video games. All I knew about Comic Con was that it would be a great excuse to wear a ridiculous costume. So there I was, rainbow bodysuit with a yellow wig and a cardboard horn, waiting in a line that went all the way down the street with thousands of others excited for the first day of Comic Con. When I found my cousin, he was wearing rose-colored glasses, devil horns, and shirt that said “I AM NOT DAREDEVIL.” Everyone at Comic Con seemed to immediately get this costume, or rather, cosplay. It was from a specific scene, from a specific comic, and everyone seemed to know about it but me. We were stopped regularly just to take pictures of him. 

There were several floors at Comic Con. An artist’s alley where you could find prints of your favorite characters, a never-ending show floor where you could buy anything from a full suit of armor to a realistic looking light saber, and an entire space devoted to autographs and photos with the celebrities of geekdom.

Like many conventions, Comic Con also had panels. Some were specific: i.e. the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were promoting their new season and Stephanie Meyer was releasing a gender-swapped Twilight. But there were also several panels on diversity in comics, and those interested me the most. The crowd at Comic Con was very diverse, men and women of all colors and sizes, though when one thinks about the most well-known and celebrated superheroes, one finds that most of these heroes are white.
In the diversity panel that I attended, several comic book creators discussed how this was problematic. The panelists were non-white, except one. He explained that he had mixed race daughters, and that he wanted to create heroes who they could identify with. The screen behind the panelists fluttered with images of non-white, non-hetero, and non-male super heroes. When they asked the audience if there were any questions, I realized I had one. I got in line behind Doctor Strange and tried to think of the right way to word a question troubling me.
“I am a writer,” I said, the words shaking in the air, “And I care a lot about diversity, and I think it’s really important. But I just realized that all of the main characters in the story I’m writing are white. So I guess I’m asking, do writers have a responsibility to include diversity in the stories they tell?”
The answer was a resounding “Yes!” They explained that if I care about diversity then nothing is holding me back from creating diverse characters. They explained that I have the resources to write non-white characters and to write them well, and that I should do that. They explained that they are tired of reading stories about white people, that if I can contribute to positive change then that’s what matters most. 

This wasn’t the first time I’ve asked this question, but it was the first time I was given a definite answer. Comic Con surprised me by its fans—who are not only there to have fun, but also want to have complex conversations about comic books, cartoon characters, and video games that extend past their entertainment value. Comic Con ended up being a place where a serious question I had about writing was answered.

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