Ethnicities and Orientations as Sales Pitch

(Not so) Recently, over at Brian K. Vaughn’s message board, BKV pointed his readers to an interview with Chuck Dixon. I actually provided a link to the article a couple days ago. I have sat on this article for a few days. But I have been giving though to why I have an aversion to the idea of race/gender/sexual orientation as a hype tool.

What I am referring to is the fact that over the years, comics have been touted to the public based on their “groundbreaking-ness” in less than noble ways. And no doubt, in many cases, they were a needed challenge to the status quo. And yet, it seems to fall back on old fashioned forms of audience exploitation to sell a new back or a change in direction. In the 70’s, this was definitely done as simply as possible. Include “Black” in the name of an African American super hero’s name. Kind of makes you wonder what code names Marvel and DC would have come up with if they were pushing gay Super Heroes in the 70’s.

It’s different now. The exploitation is both an aim at the curiousity factor of those “not in the group” (and potential controversy) and the people looking for a hero or character that reflects them and their lives. Of course, I understand the excitement that some derive when they find out that a new hero (or an established one) is going to possibly reflect the reader’s own life experience. And yet, all to often, the attempts by publishers such as DC and Marvel (but certainly not limited to) smack of being more exploitive than genuine. When the new Batwoman was announced, the articles and promotion even made a point of noting she was not merely a lesbian…but a LIPSTICK Lesbian. See, they wanted to make sure we understood that she would still be hot. Just in case guys wouldn’t be interested in reading about lesbian Batwoman.

I remember when the Milestone first opened it’s doors. I was curious to read the books, but the hype always felt a little like, “Yes white guy, you can buy our comics, but remember, these are black super heroes”. The writing, thankfully did not, and I have fond memories of several of the Milestone books (such as Icon, Hardware and Static).   Their actual execution was “These are Super Heroes” not “These are BLACK Super Heroes!”  I ultimitely want to read a book based on the intriguing premise (And I know I am not alone in that, it’s probably a given).  And the Milestone books had those. Along with talented creators, it was unfortunate to see the company have to shut down. Although, Static has been resurrected as Static Shock, for the most part, the heroes of Milestone seem to be unfairly relegated as “past”.

Maybe my aversion to to this version of marketing comes from my history within Christianity, and specifically my experiences with Christian “entertainment”. Christian entertainment has a long history of promoting the “faith” aspect of itself. See, you can’t think a band is really talented and has interesting lyrics. It needs a deliberate “Christian” hook. Of course, the reult of this was that while Public Enemy was challenging their audience with politically charged and explosive rap, P.I.D. was telling their audience “get you a Bible” and singing safe lyrics that were youth group friendly.  And you were expected to buy this, because it was your “righteous” alternative to what “The World” was offering.

And this drove me me nuts. Christians were producing art that regularly pandered and never asked their audience to think. This led to lots of crappy music that sold well, because it was sold on the basis of being “Christian”, not being good.  And sometimes I fear that’s what’s going  to happen in comic books with the attempts to look diverse.  They will be “safe” alternatives to the less diverse worlds of Superman and Spider-Man.
The problem is, the diversity needs to happen. I want to see this wide spectrum of characters. I would hate for these changes to not occur. I guess I would just prefer to see the marketing feel more genuine and less like an exploitation. I would like it to be a natural flow for the character…not something shoe-horned in to make a company’s “Universe” look properly diverse. I hope to see more of this, and maybe the “sensational” and “tabloid” approach will die down.

Oh, who am I kidding??? In a world of Infinite Crisis’s and Civil Wars, tabloid is going to remain king for awhile.

Posted in: Comic Books

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