“If the prospect of living in a world where trying to respect the basic rights of those around you and valuing each other simply because we exist are such daunting, impossible tasks, then what sort of world are we left with? And what sort of world do you want to live in?”
– Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman, Issue 170
“There’s an ancient wisdom I should have heeded long ago, if only I had recognized its truth applies as much to me as to all men. True happiness is found along a middle road – there lies the balance and the harmony – with reason and emotion. Not at war, but hand in hand.”
– Aquaman, Aquaman, Special Vol. 1, Issue 1
The lack of diversity with regard to gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and race in comic books has been an on-going issue since the form’s origins circa 1933. Comic books are read by children and teenagers, who tend to find role models in superheroes, and also by adults. With such a unique, expansive audience, it is imperative that the form be used to battle stereotypes and display the immense diversity of the world, rather than perpetuate them and present a limited worldview.
An example of an effort to change this was presented by Naif Al-Mutawa, a clinical psychologist who created a team of superheroes called The 99. Each member of the team embodies a different aspect of Islam in order to promote awareness and tolerance. In a cross-over comic, they teamed up with DC Comic’s Justice League of America, alongside household names such as Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman.
Al-Mutawa’s efforts began in 2010. Now, The 99 is also a cartoon series, broadcast on Cartoon Network to 49 countries around the world.
Still, certain representations of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and race are glossed over and sometimes even stereotyped. The portrayal of female characters in comic books is especially disturbing. Research conducted by Portland State University (The Depiction of Gender in American Superhero Comic Books, 1960-2010) made use of longitudinal quantitative content analysis of comic books to identify how gender roles are represented in popular American superhero comic books and to measure how those representations have changed over time.
The study concluded that, while the role of the ‘damsel in distress’ has decreased in recent years, gender stereotypes (specifically those of a sexual nature) are on the rise. Male features are physically exaggerated and female characters are slim and fetishized in their depictions.
Addressing the problem in comic books is another step on the road to promoting diversity and tolerance in the US and abroad. The comic book is a vehicle for change that is often looked over. As a medium, it reaches a wide-range audience and is gaining an increasing amount of attention with the advent of major productions such as Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy, Joss Whedon’s The Avengers (2012), Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013) and will soon be on national television with Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a series set to premiere on ABC networks this September.
With an initiative dubbed KAPOW! I hope to draw further attention to stereotypes and an overall lack of diversity in the American comic book industry and encourage that a difference be made in issues to come. I will begin by participating in panels at comic conventions, getting in touch with artists, writers and others involved in the production of comic books in order to spread the word about KAPOW! and establish connections.
In time, my end-goal is to gain a big enough following to secure KAPOW! as a new comic book publishing company, known for its balanced and respectful depictions of all genders, sexualities, races and ethnicities, while remaning true to the fantastical and unique storytelling elements that comic books are loved for.
As both an avid comic book reader and the Brazilian-born daughter of Lebanese and Sicilian descendants, I became personally drawn to this cause. My familiarity with the medium is one of the many strengths I have to offer, along with experience in digital media, graphic design, production and social work with non-profit organizations such as Girls Write Now.
I also hope to contribute to this cause with my writing skills, using my knowledge of different forms in order to create a new line of superheroes or perhaps even offer a different spin on already established characters and universes.
Zack Snyder, writer of American Vampire and other comics, is currently a teacher at my alma-mater, Sarah Lawrence College. Through such collaborative efforts, I hope to get through to major comic book publishers such as DC and Marvel, but also pay close attention to smaller brands such as IDW, Image and independent publishers.
HIGH-CONCEPT / PITCH
“Because we’re the good guys.”