I wait at the help desk, marveling at the ceiling of the Javits Center, at the natural light pouring through the glass. I’ve seen architecture like this before—the crisscrossing beams as if standing inside of a colossal Rubik’s cube—but never on such a large scale. 1.8 million square feet. 840,000 which can be used for exhibitions.
A woman hands me back my badge, explaining, “You’re good to go. Sorry about that.” She seems anxious, tired already—only day one—dealing with problem after problem. Over her right shoulder, three massive screens play clips from Rise of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. However, it’s the blood red letters of the The Walking Dead billboard-sized sign, which most draws my attention.
“Welcome to Comic Con,” the woman says, shifting her eyes to the person behind me.
I turn and almost run into Harley Quinn—the 90’s version from the animated Batman cartoon show. Within the next 48 hours, I will see forty-four Harley Quinn’s—most resembling the Suicide Squad version. I will also see thirty-six Wonder Women, thirty-two Poison Ivy’s, thirty Overwatch suits, twenty-seven Captain America’s, twenty-five Deadpool’s, and hundreds of Wakandan’s.
Attempting to find my bearings among the throngs of people, I stumble upon an X Wing fighter, Jack Skellington sitting in a Chevy SUV, a six foot tall Lego Spiderman, and an interactive Harry Potter exhibit. Then, after taking a stroll down 39th Street to the New York Public Library—inside the century-old building—I walk past the displays of antiquated books, the columns of marble, down a long hallway, and find myself in a warm room, decorated as if I’m about to experience an Ivy League lecture.
A lady to my left, wearing a long black and purple dress, with hair reminiscent of Morticia from The Addams Family, fans herself furiously with a journal-sized notebook. The man next to her has on a black and yellow superhero costume, similar to Superman’s. The man’s afro is something to behold, and I wonder to myself if he chose to sit in the back of the room out of courtesy. He turns to his left, looks out the window into the street. I see the name on the back of his cape. Black Man.
The panel is a discussion of hip-hop and comics. Diedre Hollman—founder of Black Comics Collective—explains, “Hip-hop, as a culture, as art, style, and all matters of cultural product, intersects entirely with the language of comics.” She asks the panel how they became acquainted with comics, and I realize I’m sitting amidst hip-hop royalty. Darryl McDaniels. Better known as DMC from Run-DMC.
“Comics opened my imagination,” he describes, “When I learned about WWII in class, Captain America is what helped me to really care about WWII. When I learned about the stars, planets, and solar system, The Silver Surfer did the same thing.”
His voice booms into the microphone, “There is definitely a problem with representation in comics. I mean, I helped change the history of music. This isn’t arrogant. It’s the truth. I’m mother f***in’ DMC. But still, no one would publish my comic. Comics and hip-hop is supposed to be for everyone.”
Afterward, I walk up to Black Man in the hallway. I’m six foot one. He towers over me.
Me: I dig your costume.
BM: Thanks man.
Me: You mind if I take a pic?
BM: Go ahead.
-I take the picture. He glances down at my badge.
BM: You with the press?
BM: Who you working for?
Me: SHEEN Magazine. We’re in the Southeast.
Me: Yeah. Around there.
BM: I love Atlanta. That’s where Adult Swim is.
BM: If I could just get fifteen minutes with them. That’s all I really want.
Me: I wish I could help.
BM: Here’s my card.
Me: Thanks man.
Daryl McDaniels walks out of the room. Black Man turns toward him. I look down at the card.
“Saving Mankind One Stereotype at a Time”
The New Adventures of BLACKMAN
Back at the Javits Center, I walk for what seems like miles within the labyrinthian showroom, brushing up against thousands of people. The thick scent of buttered popcorn lingers in the air. A man repeatedly yells out, “Twenty-five percent off indie comics! For the next hour!” Lines for Soul Caliber and Resident Evil stretch into the main walkway. I see a child asleep in a stroller. A man pushing his twin in a wheelchair. A tall Bilbo Baggins. A short Optimus Prime. She-Venom, nude, besides the black body paint. Dr. Who. Lara Croft. Mario and Luigi. Pokémon characters galore.
I find the group of folding chairs and take a seat. In front of me, the stage resembles a morning talk show. Everywhere are the bright yellow almost green letters of SYFY. A woman to my right is reading Atlas Shrugged. I find this odd. Behind me, lounges a man dressed as a Power Ranger. I do not find this odd. “Lion Forge Creators Discuss Tackling Diversity In Comics,” flashes on the screen. One of the speakers, Rodney Barnes, a writer for Amazon Prime’s American Gods, exclaims, “Representation must become a norm, something standard everywhere.” And David Walker—after being asked about his comic, Superb, featuring a superhero with down syndrome—says, “Everyone deserves a superhero they can look up to, who inspires them.”
Yes, I think to myself. This is the message of this year’s Comic Con—inspiration for everyone, no matter who you are. It makes sense, given the event’s obvious inclusive narrative, regarding race, feminism, and members within the LGBTQ+ community.
During the “Women of AFK” panel, Chloe Fraboni, a senior editor at Scholastic, and Lindsay Jones, the voice actor for Ruby Rose in RWBY, both suggest the industry has begun to change, moving away from the stigma that video game/comic culture is only for the male demographic. “When I was a girl,” Jones says, “I played video games with the dudes, because I was told girls didn’t play video games.” Chloe adds, “The importance of women in video games has always been there though. Think of Zelda, Samus, or now with Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn…video games are now about community with games like Overwatch. But it’s still not great. If you’re a girl, you quickly learn how to mute your mic. Terrible things get said to you. But things are better overall.”
Inclusion is also the general sentiment at the “#METOO to #TIMESUP: An Action Summit for Comics” panel. Sarah Gaydos, editorial director for Oni Press and former editor of DC Comics, assessed the problem, stating, “Change, big change, isn’t really happening, in small pockets, but not overall. In comics and all institutions, more has to be done.”
Joan Hilty, an editor at Nickelodeon, advises those in the audience in want of change to “…access your special power, in order to create institutional change. My superpower happens to be in editing. I can impact the hiring process, and I do. You can change the environment around you.”
Much of the panel’s discussion involves the issue of collectivity or the need for togetherness, and how only through banding together can the question of what to do about furthering the inclusivity movement be answered.
As the group talks, a woman walks around, handing out pieces of paper to the 300 to 400 people present for comments, questions, or solutions. Towards the end of the panel, Hilty begins to read a few. One of them goes like this, “The representation of this panel saddens me. I know there are African American women who could have contributed to this conversation.”
Hilty clarifies, “We did originally. Alitha Martinez was supposed to be here. However, she was unexpectedly asked to give a speech in Algeria, for the UN.” All the panelists begin to laugh. Gaydo says something along the lines of how no one should choose Comic Con over the UN. But then everyone grows quiet. “Still,” Hilty solemnly begins, “We don’t have a solution. But we have to keep trying.”
Likewise, during the panel, “Women of Color in Comics: Race, Gender, & the Comic Book Medium,” Vita Ayala, a prolific comic book writer for DC, asks her own question of, “When will the diversity discussion not be needed?” in response to the question of whether the inclusivity conversation is still relevant, given how much the word is tossed around. Jamila Rowser, author and founder of the Girl Gone Geek blog, clarifies, “There has been a lot accomplished. But we have to move beyond some white guy using a black character for the sake of being inclusive. Representation must exist in all facets of every industry.”
Even if the solution has no clear answer, from the look of things, the New York Comic Con is at least attempting to be part of the solution, remedial in the fullest sense, giving a voice to those the industry previously ignored.
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