A group of Black and Latinx creators and academics came together for a Saturday Comic-Con-at-Home panel, speaking on their experiences working within the American comic book industry during a period of upheaval defined by a national quarantine and racial injustice.
Among the creators on the “Diversity and Comics: Why Inclusion And Visibility Matter” panel was David F. Walker, co-writer on “Bitter Root,” a series published by Image Comics that features an all-Black creative team and tells the tale of a family of monster hunters living during the Harlem Renaissance. Walker, whose latest project revolves around the history of the Black Panther Party, said that drawing upon the realities of Black American history for his work was a highly relevant pursuit, but often draining.
“When we’re dealing with some of these issues surrounding the Black experience or the larger African experience, sometimes it’s just soul-crushing,” Walker said. “That thing that somebody is able to read in a matter of minutes — we as creators, as educators and as myself, an armchair historian, we live with it for months; sometimes years.”
Walker added that as a Black creator in a small industry “based on cozying up to gatekeepers or already established people,” he often felt the “burden of trying to get something done because there’s some kid out there that needs to be inspired the way that I never was.”
This sentiment was echoed by Christina “Steenz” Stewart, co-creator of the graphic novel “Archival Quality,” which uses a ghost story to explore mental health themes and was awarded the 2019 Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity in Comics.
“It always feels like it’s on us to make the change, and when you have that sense of responsibility on your shoulders, on top of living as a person of color, on top of everything that’s going on right now, it becomes a lot,” Stewart said.
All of the creators on the panel commented on how their offers for work in the comic industry had suddenly shot up following the killings of George Floyd, with cultural anthropologist Stanford W. Carpenter musing that the sudden outpouring of corporate sympathy for the Black community felt like an “anemic attempt at low key reparations,” with multiple “companies bend[ing] over backwards to be like, ‘Okay, how can we show that we’re down?’”
Walker said that it was a “difficult thing” to consider where some of these work offers were coming from, and his peers agreed that all companies — especially the ones in the insular comic book industry — needed to reach out to creators of color regularly for their skill set, rather than to simply hit a diversity quota.
“When it comes to comics and the creative space, it’s very clear when people are just trying to put a Band-Aid on something,” Stewart said. “And I think in order for there to actually be change, it honestly needs to start at the top.”
Filmmaker and writer Chelsea Grayson, who has contributed to the feminist comic “Bitch Planet,” added that there was a noticeable difference to how mainstream America reacted to the latest wave of the Black Lives Matter movement in comparison to protests in Ferguson in 2014 and 2015, possibly due to the COVID-19 quarantine removing all other distractions.
“We’ve been dying this whole time, but everyone’s waking up [now],” she said.