ECCC 2018: Notes On The Embracing Body Diversity In Comics Panel

by Hannah Means Shannon

At the Embracing Body Diversity in Comics Panel at Emerald City Comicon 2018, the panel, as it has in previous years, took the form of a very open and free-flowing discussion between panelists and audience members.

As such, it’s hard to convey the panel to readers in a traditional format, but I thought it might be helpful to publish some notes that I took in a topical way during the event. Some of the panelists included Casey Gilly, Lilah Sturgess, Che Grayson, Sabrina Taylor, Desiree Wilson, and Sarah Gaydos.

Topics that came up during the panel included:

Not all inclusivity needs to be spotlighted, but simply needs to be there, present in the comics.

Knowing where your own privilege lies is important, since every kind of person might find themselves in situations where they need to have hard, uncomfortable conversations about their own privilege.

Hiring a consultant is another route to go, paying people for their input from different community experiences. Twitter can be a resource, despite some of its problematic aspects. Hiring a consultant can help with the blind spots we all carry.

No two people have the exact came experiences, so nothing can be unequivocably “right”, but it’s about learning and breaking out of your own mindset in creating new stories.

People who aren’t used to doing “the work” of researching and exploring often get very frustrated. They might feel they have failed in some way even to have to ask a question or do work. Connecting with that fear and helping people get through that element of discomfort is important.

If you’re being asked to be a consultant, consider asking for pay, as well, since it can become a significant amount of work giving feedback on comic scripts or art.

Sometimes when calling out problems in comics, it doesn’t mean you are calling the creators bad people, but pointing out that they are being influenced by a tradition that might have been and traces of it have become omnipresent in comics.

There’s a lot of power in recognizing that people mean well and have good intentions. There’s a difference between intentions, though, and being experts or assuming they are experts. In the age of the internet and the ability to reach out, meaning well these days should mean reaching out.

Putting the right decision-makers in places of power at all publishers is an important step.

If a story is about someone who happens to belong to a marginal or minority group, that’s one thing, but if you’re creating a story where that aspect is key to the story and it’s an exploration of their identity, maybe a creator shouldn’t make that story unless they are a member of that group, too. Having both representation and greater nuance would be the ideal development.

Some of the questions that we might ask about comics are: How are differences used or handled in stories? Are they just plot devices? Are they integral? Or it is just about representation? Are stories being told in the right way for the right reasons?

If mistakes are made in comics, what comes next? It depends on how big the mistake is whether apologies are necessary, or a comic should be taken from the market. The worst thing for a publisher is to “double down”, but unfortunately that happens a lot. At the point of reprint, particularly, changes should be made if necessary.

If you’re trying to expand “own voices” for narratives, what’s the best method of finding out the ethnicity, for example, of creators? People put pictures online, and in their social media profiles. Resources might include “Women Write About Comics”. Finding journalists and media that can aggregate information and works for you might help. You can also visit publisher groups. You might also ask retailers for guidance, or check in libraries for collections. There’s also the “Cartoonists of Color Database”.

Aiming media at young people is a really important are to consider in the messages we are conveying. Moments from childhood that we can now look back on might help us understand the ways that young people internalize unhelpful messages in an unquestioning way.