I’ve created a little project for myself. I’m collecting comics from the Superman line starting on the year of my birth. Recently I’ve picked up the first year, 1983 and started on 1984. The stories are good and Superman has a child like quality to him. However the one thing I’ve noticed is how white it is and the complete lack of diversity in comics.
There are no people of color in any of the books. There is one that pops up here and there, usually in the background such as being a bystander or technician, but none of the characters are of color. Not one.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever noticed this when I first started reading comics. I just never thought about it. But it is striking. Even when I think of my own childhood did I have comics that included people of color? I don’t think so. All my childhood superheroes were very white. I do remember the character Robbie in the Superman books being black, but I think that’s it. Spider-Man, Batman, the X-Men, all full of white characters. At least in the late 80’s, early 90’s when I started reading these things.
In fact, if you were to explore Metropolis and the United States at the time these were written, you would assume that only white people lived there. Literally.
Curt Swan is a wonderful artist and I’m sure he would be able to translate people of color on the page, but he just didn’t. Of the twelve issues that I bought there is not one single major character that is of color. In fact, I don’t think a person of color even had any dialogue.
It really makes me appreciate the level of diversity that we have in comics now. I remember watching an excellent documentary depicting the career of Dwayne McDuffie before he sadly passed away too young. McDuffie was part of a duo that approached DC Comics office with a manifesto that there should be more diversity in comics. The company Milestone Media was born and the characters of Static and Icon were conceptualized. This manifesto was really a comment that the line of DC Comics was way too white.
But why have diversity in comics? Diversity is creativity. It makes interesting stories and gives us variety that we can appreciate. Also comics are the one medium that we have today that really is a commentary on what is happening in the world at the moment. It’s quick, relevant and can be read in the moment. 2000AD is a very good example of that and even today, the stories within that comic are scary in the sense that you see aspects of it becoming reality today. The dystopian future and heavy handed law enforcement of Judge Dredd are recognizable in many of the news stories that we read.
It’s a fun project and I enjoy reading a character that I’ve loved since I was a child. And it strikes me that it’s not the quality of the stories that puts me off but the striking, premeditated lack of willingness to put people of color in them. It really makes me thankful for those like McDuffie who picked up the torch and created accountability for the people that are producing these books. Because diversity not only bring about more interesting storytelling but it keeps the books relevant, even after thirty years. I don’t think I can say that about the Superman books in 1983.