For Black Women Comic Book Writers Marvel’s Riri Williams is Bittersweet<br />

For Black Women Comic Book Writers Marvel’s Riri Williams is Bittersweet

Many cheered when Marvel announced Riri Williams would be the next hero in the 'Iron Man' franchise, but Black female comic creatives still find themselves shut out.

by cameron-glover, August 12, 2016

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For Black Women Comic Book Writers Marvel’s Riri Williams is Bittersweet<br />

I was 19 when I bought my first comic book. I had always loved them from afar—comics were the modern day Greek mythology, and superheroes were the gods that I wanted to hear about, time and time again. The most popular superheroes are household names—Superman, Batman, Captain America—and are supposed to represent our best selves. They inspire us to what we can be.

It took me until I was 19 to gather the courage to enter the comic shop and purchase a physical copy of my own because of one vital fact: the comics industry is not an accepting place for Black girls and women. In fact, when you’re a young Black girl, there’s a very small list of heroes we can claim as our own, as one of us.

When Marvel announced their latest superhero was going to be a 15-year-old Black girl named Riri Williams, I wanted to be excited. And I was. But after learning more about her, and the people who would be guiding her to the forefront, my excitement quickly turned into sadness and frustration.

Riri’s announcement into the world concerned me. This 15-year-old was being heralded “a woman” in mainstream write-ups popping up online, adding to the all-too-real issues of hypersexualizing Black girls. But what was even more disturbing was learning about the creative team behind her. Led by writer Brian Michael Bendis, none of the people responsible for bringing RiRi to life were Black women.

This is, perhaps, most troubling because there’s a chance that Riri Williams could fall short because of the lack of Black women playing a vital role in her creation, which could limit the authenticity of the character. Without allowing someone who has the experience of being a young Black girl helping to shape this character, Riri may fall flat, or worse, become little more than a caricature of the stereotypes that already surround Black women and girls.

Black women may be underrepresented in the creation of mainstream comics, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t here. From comic book store owner Arielle Johnson to actress Amandla Stenberg and artist Afua Richardson, Black women are a vital part of comic book and nerd culture at large. But while the number of Black women creating the art we want to see is growing, there is still a large disparity in editorial and other managerial roles at major publishers, which could create an even bigger impact for our representation.

Jaime Broadnax, creator and managing editor of Black Girl Nerds, has been critical of mainstream comic book publishers, like Marvel, because of their lack of Black women creatives.

“What is most important is that we give opportunities to more writers to have a seat at the table. Marvel's history with hiring Black women writers is very poor, and with so many Black women writers as well as artists currently making their own comics it's pretty bad when you elect to overlook so many of them,” she told EBONY.com. “Riri is also a 15-year-old girl, so there's a lot of context with being and seeing the world through the eyes of a 15-year-old Black girl that a middle aged white man just wouldn't understand. Fans have also criticized Bendis for ignoring them when they have legitimate concerns on how he writes characters of color, notably [Spider-Man] Miles Morales. ”

As Broadnax pointed out, it’s important for both fans and creators to speak up about why Black women and girls need to tell their own stories in comics, and that currently, that isn’t happening with the big two, Marvel and DC Comics. To date, only one Black woman—Felicia D. Henderson—has ever been employed as a writer for a major comic book publisher, and that was for DC Comics back in 2009 and 2011. Henderson worked as a freelancer, not a full-time writer, for the company that produced Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Marvel, so far, has never hired a Black woman writer to lead a title, something Broadnax found troubling. 

The comics industry has a problem with acknowledging the importance of having Black women present as writers and editors, or as an integral part of the industry in general. So instead, we have Black women taking things into their own hands by being vocal on social media and creating their own webcomics or indie creations without the help of mainstream backers.

Tee Franklin, better known as MizCaramelVixen on Twitter, is working to bring more diversity and awareness to the field. In addition to lauching her site VixenVarsity, Franklin has gone on to kickstart other initiatives, like #BlackComicsMonth and writing her own title, to make the community more inclusive.

On Twitter, she went on to share her own apprehension about Riri Wiliams, especially when there’s still so much work to do with ensuring that Black women’s voices are heard.

Despite my concerns, there's no doubt Riri Williams is important. She represents the bright future we have both in the comics industry and everywhere else. However, Black girls and women have a disturbingly low number of role models to look up to within the subculture, and by publishing of this story without the input of Black female creatives, publishers are in danger of insinuating Black girls and women aren’t good enough to control their own narratives.

We all deserve to have our stories told. But more importantly, we deserve to be the ones creating them in the first place. As Riri Williams continues to grow, hopefully her success will open up doors for Black women writers, editors, and illustrators at the Big Two, and other mainstream houses in the industry. After all, we deserve the chance to fly with the rest of the superheroes we love.


Cameron Glover is a freelance journalist and an editorial fellow for Tech.Co. She regularly covers technologyculture, and comics. Catch her tweeting @BlkGirlManifest. 

 
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