An old, old wooden ship...
I came up with the concept for Captain Road-kill years ago, when I was still in elementary school. I had no idea what his powers or backstory would be but I knew three things: He wore a hang-glider, he got injured a lot, he looked a lot like me (dark-haired, male, white).
By the time I started drawing my superhero fantasy Bubblegum-Man, available now on Indyplanet, much had changed. Captain Road-kill was now an immortal named Diego Miranda, a Spaniard born in the 14th century, cured of the plague when his alchemist mother brewed him the elixir of life. You can see his origin story above. Captain Road-kill still looked a lot like me. White, male, dark-haired.
About part-way through issue three or so, I realized there was a lack of diversity in my comic. Sure, I had plenty of POC in the background, but nobody in the main cast. Then I thought, heck, why not make Captain Road-kill of Algerian descent by way Almoravid Spain?
So I did. I recolored Captain Road-kill brown after his fight with the Man-Drake, justifying it as him having been pale only due to lingering effects of a bout of tuberculosis from the 18th century. It’s comics. Weirder stuff has happened. You can see the panels in question below. Warning: They are not well-drawn.
Why on Earth did I do this? Why didn’t I just make a new character?
Well, because I believe diversity — or rather, representation — is important. I want my readers to see themselves in my stories. That means including people of all shapes, sizes, and, yes, colors. And that means taking risks. Not just creating token characters for the sake of diversity but having the guts to say “Here’s a major character, and they’re gay or they’re Black or they’re whatever.”
It does feel a bit odd lumping race, sexual orientation, and gender identity all together, since I’m Catholic and still believe all the Church teaches about non-straight behavior. I still accept my LGBTQ friends, but our beliefs differ in key areas. I think that’s ok. And regardless how I feel about what the Church teaches, it’s still important for folks of all stripes to see their experiences reflected in art. To be able to say, “Yes, that’s me. There I am. I lived. I mattered.”
I have two LGBTQ characters I’ve created, one bisexual, the other gay. Both female. Empress Ayesha Khan is another immortal from my fantasy series that has yet to take off, and Cape-Girl is a queer superhero who does make an appearance in a later edition of Secret Operations.
Anyway, I’m getting side-tracked. What I want to talk about is Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, those four pillars of modern leftism that seem to be taking a lot of flack online, particularly in the treatment of so-called “woke-ism” in film, TV, and streaming media.
Personally, I think it’s great that we’re getting so many diverse creators and characters. I’m all for casting BIPOC in traditionally White roles, likewise here for gender-flipping characters, playing with their sexualities, etc. I still think X-Men Dark Phoenix would’ve been improved by making Mystique Jean Grey’s lover, rather than Cyclops. It would’ve avoided splitting the focus between Mystique’s relationship with Charles and Jean’s relationship with Scott. Mystique’s death would’ve had a greater impact on Jean’s character. There were a ton of reasons to change Jean and Mystique’s orientations. (Which coincidentally would have reflected Mystique’s presentation in comics)
Lots of folks seem to have a knee-jerk negative reaction to all this new representation. Is it clumsy? Oftentimes, yes. Is it tokenism? Sometimes. But when it works, as with Netflix’s Sandman and the new Ms. Marvel show, it works really, really well.
Here’s my main point: I love everybody. I love diversity. I love that I have LGBTQ friends who worship multiple gods and straight friends who worship Jesus and brown friends who believe in reincarnation. I love knowing and talking and trusting people from a wide variety of backgrounds. It’s beautiful.
Why shouldn’t our popular culture reflect that beauty more truthfully?
My point isn’t to lecture anyone. But I do welcome the conversation. Feel free to comment your thoughts below. Talk with me, with each other. Let’s stop arguing and start learning from each other. It’s not about winning. It’s about growing toward mutual enlightenment.
Be sure to like, subscribe, share, and create with me! I look forward to hearing from you.
—E.M. Forster, Howards End