When A Coloring Mistake Means Much More

By Guest Contributor Sue, cross-posted from DC Women Kicking Ass

On Monday I posted how DC Comics had published a corrected version of the Flash family from Flashpoint #1. This portrait included the granddaughter of Barry Allen properly portrayed as a black woman. In the pages that were included in DC’s Green Lantern Free Comic Book Day issue, she has been colored and presented as a mysterious white member of the Flash family.

How did this happen? I have no idea. I asked DC if they wanted to comment on it yesterday, but my email has not been responded to. Neither have I seen any explanation. And even if they did respond, I am sure that they would say it was a “mistake.”

But a mistake that changes one of the few women of color in the Flash family, one of the few women of color in the Legion, one of the few women of color in comics is more than a mistake. It’s a painful reminder that in comics, white is the default. White is the majority. White is the easy choice because you have, according to Marvel’s Tom Brevoort, only a 1% chance of being wrong.

One year ago this week, DC Comics killed off Ryan Choi. The only male Asian superhero of prominence was murdered and shoved into a matchbox. The reason? To make the Titans look evil and, of course, to pave the way for his white predecessor Ray Palmer to return to comics. The timing of this latest fumble on race by DC would be amusing if it wasn’t so enraging and sad because

  • It’s not as if comics hasn’t been accused of white washing before.
  • It’s not as if comics hasn’t been called out on the racial politics of returning to “classic” characters.
  • It’s not as if the the most prominent voice for diversity in comics hadn’t just died and his thoughts regarding racial diversity and comic book companies hadn’t been repeated over and over.
  • It’s not as if Tom Brevoort of Marvel, who has previously said positive things about diversity, hadn’t described the idea of a Black Avengers as a contrivance because and, I quote,

99% of all super heroes are white. It’s the law of averages.

This conversation with Brevoort has been written about elsewhere and I was only tangentially involved; the conversation was driven by the essayist SonofBaldwin, but I can tell you it was one of the most disheartening things I’ve experienced during my time in comics fandom. Why? Because it confirmed something I and others have suspected for a long time; that white is the default because anything else is less important and hard. Need proof? Read why there are not more white faces at Marvel comics. Why 99% of superheroes were white and are white. Why a Black Avengers is a “contrivance” (as say opposed to “Pet Avengers”)

Oh, that’s social justice and that’s not their job. Their job is to write

the best, most entertaining stories we can, not to fight for social justice. It’s nice when we can do both, but not job #1.

I had to ask.

Why not make it both? What’s the downside to it? And why is including faces that are non white social justice?

Brevoort’s response?

I need writers to tell stories they believe in, not to parrot corporately-mandated causes.

The downside is when agenda comes before storytelling. That tends to lead to didacticism, and crummy stories.

So says the man whose company published “Wolverine: The best there is” and so many other comics that make a steaming pile of dog crap look good.

How painful is it to hear a representative of Marvel, a Disney company – a company who does “corporately mandate” diversity – dismiss diversity so casually? As if it was an effort that wasn’t important? As if it were something that in the scheme of things didn’t really count? That the idea of being inclusive is less important than allowing writers to do what they want.

Is it any wonder why their medium is in a slow, painful decline?

And that brings me back to this “coloring mistake”. It is easy for DC to hand wave it. “We were rushed” “There was a miscommunication” “The artist and writer didn’t communicate the right way” I can go on and on thinking up the reasons they could give (because they haven’t given any reason). But the bottom-line is this. Somewhere along the line, somebody didn’t care.

They didn’t care to check. They didn’t care to think that a black woman would be in a “white family”. This is an industry where superheroes are “99% white” and where including characters who are not the white default is considered “social justice”. Where killing off and marginalizing characters who are not white in favor of characters that are white is done over and over. Where we have seen, time after time, readers who are not default of white, male and straight are not a main focus.

I get lots and lots of aggressive responses from people when I post about race and gender on this blog. And many of the responses fall into the same meme, “white males are the majority of readers in comics so why shouldn’t comics consist mainly of them?”

And you know what I say? I say comics is better than that. I say the majority of comic readers are better than that. I say Warner Brothers/DC and Disney/Marvel are better and smarter than that.

You don’t grow a business in a global and diverse world by catering to a minority. And that’s what white males are. Sorry guys, you are a minority. The world is far more diverse than that and is getting more diverse everyday. And it is time for big two comics to smarten up and pay attention. To care. Because if they don’t, the big two comic companies will get left behind.

To less than 100,000 readers a month the Green Lantern is a white guy — to millions of television viewers he is a black man.

To DC Comics, Wonder Woman is a problem that requires constant fixing and doesn’t appeal to their core readers — to the Estee Lauder corporation she is a valuable brand that drives revenue.

To formerly “male-focused” entities such as the NFL and NASCAR women are a valuable, core audience — to the big two comic companies they are an after thought.

To Marvel an all black team of Avengers is a contrivance and the Avengers should consist of  “A team” players — to many sports teams an all-black starting line-up are their superstars and their “A-team.”

In big two comics gays barely exist — in the real world they are everywhere.

The world is changing. It is time to care. Diversity is important. The choice is simple — do it and evolve, or be a dinosaur.

 

 

  • http://www.facebook.com/joshua.dysart Joshua Dysart

    Just a side note, but I took great pleasure in the fact that while writing Unknown Soldier I used to have to specifically indicate in the script, and watch my artist and colorist closely, when characters were meant to be white. In fact there is one issue where a slew of people are supposed to be white and I wasn’t paying attention and my artist and colorist defaulted to black. How cool is that!? Especially because we were a team of anglos. My whole career it had been the other way around. I never had to mention that a character was white in my scripting, but any other ethnicity always had to be tagged. But for two interesting years (my best years in comics to date) I got to script a book where the opposite was true. I don’t mean this as a statement on the industry or an endorsement of my work or a comment on culture or anything… it just struck me as kind of cool while I was doing it. – Joshua Dysart

  • Antonio

    I can’t help noticing that the black hero in the corrected image is on the edge.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=666499006 Beth Peterson

    So tired of stupid, defensive responses from comics executives about race and gender.

  • Noah Brand

    A true story of a difficult and awkward coloring error involving comics and race that I was once involved in: I am a white man, and years and years ago I was writing an independent webcomic with a black hero. The artist was another white man, a wonderfully talented guy who lived in Italy. He brought some of that gorgeous European style to the comic, and I was glad to work with him. Aware that I might portray the hero insensitively, I sought out a community of black comics fans and creators (including the late, great Dwayne McDuffie) online, and got their input, and that went pretty well.

    I had to correct the artist’s coloring at one point: he was coloring the hero a shade that would read to American audiences more as Latino, so I showed him some photos of Taye Diggs and said “That’s your color guide.” Later, when I was wearing the T-shirt with the color image of the hero, I ran into Mr. McDuffie at a con. Proudly, I asked him what he thought of the shirt, and he frowned and said it looked great, but he didn’t like that the hero’s lips were colored redder than his skin. They never color white heroes’ lips that way, and it reminded him uncomfortably of Ebony White and that kind of nonsense.

    I was embarrassed and shocked. Mr. McDuffie was right, of course, and I should have caught that mistake. The artist didn’t know the American traditions of racial caricature or what they meant; he was just copying Taye Diggs like I told him to. And I hadn’t caught the error because I’m color-blind. No, this is not the bullshit “I don’t see race” line, I literally am red-green deficient, and I sometimes can’t distinguish between red and brown. It was a perfect storm of screwups that led to my having to apologize to Dwayne McDuffie.

    Short version: representations of race in American culture are complex and difficult, but that’s no excuse for screwing up, because this shit matters.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1600050042 Jennifer De Guzman

    @twitter-105037375:disqus — What you are describing points to wider societal problems of which the lack of diversity in comics is only a symptom. Why is it that the white men who write comics cannot empathize with people of color or women enough to write good stories about them? Why can’t they accept a black man as an inspiring superhero? Why are they given the message that they should not have to? Why is that so few women and people of color are writers/artists/editors of the comics that sell the most copies — superhero comics?

    We cannot go on with the attitude that white and male is the default and people of color and women should accept a marginalized existence in media — both as characters and creators.

  • http://twitter.com/RnRPumpkin Ebony

    Wonderful piece. Admittedly not a big reader of American comics, but it seems to me the writers are spending a lot of time explaining away why they aren’t taking pains to diversify their characters/content. If they spent even half as much time actually doing it… it really makes me tired thinking about it :(

  • http://jbullfrog.net jBullfrog

    I really don’t get how a colorist on a comic as big as the intro to the DC universes’ new story arc could make that mistake. Those colorers should know their characters.

  • http://twitter.com/RiqArt Tariq Hassan

    I don’t think the ‘miscoloring’ is a real issue. I don’t think it was as reported, just a mistake..

    And if we want more black characters, buy comics that represent them.. Hint.. Most aren’t sold at the big 2.. If independent comics represpenting black characters all of a sudden hit a boom and are selling like hotcakes, you can be sure that Marvel will put together a Black Avengers post haste.

    Most readers are white males, and it does make sense that the heroes will reflect that, and just as well that will be reflected from the writers, who are also mainly white males.

    And I agree with Tom Brevoort; when a writer is mandated to write something, it’s heartless and souless, and there’s nothing worse than a white person “trying” to write black characters..

    2 years ago I collected Black Lightining- loved the art- the characters were lifeless.

    There are so many black comics by black creators out there, why no just support them.. BTW there a is book call Black Comics that lists some of the creators in the industry- go buy it- it’s a beautiful book.