When the doors to the Javitz Center opened last Thursday (October 8) in New York City, thousands of avid comic book readers, superhero stans and anime fans rushed the area to witness the next step in pop culture’s growth. Now running in its 10th year in Manhattan, the annual geek-a-palooza continues to be the go-to destination for self-proclaimed nerds.
If you’ve been sleeping in Odin’s trophy room too long, you might not have known such an event was going on inside of the real life Gotham City. Described as the “East Coast’s biggest and most exciting popular culture convention,” hundreds of thousands of people come from all over the country to see their favorite writers (Robert Kirkman, Frank Miller), actors (Chad Coleman, Elijah Wood), and cos players (Adrian Aroche, Katherine Chavez) in action.
New York’s comic book convention officially became the biggest in North America during last year’s romp, surpassing the original one in San Diego. This weekend, the 2015 edition boasted over 150,000 people (some wearing some interesting costumes), cementing the fact that comics and their characters are a hot commodity. As more films and TV shows are dedicated to publishers like Marvel and DC Comics, proud geeks and nerds alike are doubling down on their dedication to comic books.
In the midst of world-premiere screenings of The X-Files, Netflix’s Jessica Jones and Daredevil, and The Walking Dead, diversity continued to be a focal point during the four-day event. From Patrick A. Reed’s Hip-Hop & Comics: Cultures Combining panel to #BlackComicsMonth: Diversity in Comics, which featured newly minted Power Man and Iron Fist scribe David F. Walker and Batman writer Scott Snyder discussing what changes needed to be made in the industry, the subject of inclusivity was once again a matter of importance to the Black geek community.
One of the most captivating panels, From Blackface to Black Panther, was led by moderator Shayna Watson. The conversation about diversity was placed front and center as Black Girl Nerds’s Jamie Broadnax and That’s So Raven’s Eric Dean Seaton exchanged fiery, constructive thoughts about the independent and mainstream comic book industry. The packed room was full of liked-minded individuals all wondering why and how they could help facilitate change within geek culture.
A key takeaway from the highly anticipated chat was the lack of inclusion when it comes to Black women writing and drawing in the industry. “Everything must change in comics” was the rallying cry throughout the hour-long session. A truer statement couldn’t have been made.
There have been some positive changes in the comic world (i.e., Black Spider Man Miles Morales, or Samuel L. Jackson continuing to ride the wave as Nick Fury in the Marvel cinematic universe), and more recent moves are equally as impressive. Take, for instance, Ava DuVernay’s consideration (though she later declined) to direct the upcoming Black Panther movie, starring Chadwick Boseman, or the hype surrounding Luke Cage coming to Netflix. Ms. Marvel, a character portrayed as a strong blonde White woman in the past is now as a teenage Islamic girl.
“TV and film have it down to a science,” Eric Dean Seaton told the room during the panel discussion. “Think about it: why else would Marvel decide to move the Black Panther movie to Black History Month?” It seems that while the room was full of debate, celebration for independent creators of color, and the championing for more diversity, there’s a lot more effort from the consumer needed to demand change.
A Geeks of Color Meet-Up and Panel Discussion also took place in two different rooms, feeding fandom and nerd love fully in an unapologetic way. Organized by Diana Pho, an associate editor for Tor/Forge Books, the meet-up/panel was started “because there wasn’t a space for fellow geeks of color to meet and talk about concerns and representation in the media at New York Comic Con.” The purpose of these fans of colors connecting with industry pros and each other was to help build insider knowledge about all things geeky in the entertainment industry.
“I think it’s super important for underrepresented people to network and support each other and their work, which is why I try to cast as large a net as I can when getting people involved in the Geeks of Color panel,” Diana told EBONY.com exclusively. This year’s third edition found the likes of illustrator N. Steven Harris (Ajala, DC Comics, Marvel), narrative designer and journalist Tracey John (MTV, Gameloft) and celebrated podcaster Tatiana G. King-Jones (FanBrosShow) all discussing their respective trades, pop journalism and more.
Covering a wide range of topics, these brilliant creators and educators shared thoughts on whether multiculturalism is a trend, and if diversity has now become a buzzword. Eric Dean Seaton, who was pulling double duty that day, pointed out that “diversity is a hot word right now, but it is just a word.”
The writer and creator behind Legend of the Mantamaji has a significant point. Words like “appropriation” and phrases like “co-optimization of culture” are thrown around as interesting observations of multiculturalism, yet they don’t make a dent into the origin places from which ideas like Mantamaji develop from. “As long as there are only people of color in front of the camera and not behind the scene supporting and creating authentic work, diversity will still be used as set dressing,” said Ms. Pho.
The struggles and anxieties faced by Black geeks who simply love pop culture, science fiction, comic books, technology, video games, etc. are vast and complex. From not being able to find mentors within the industry (as discussed by N. Steven Harris) to experiencing extreme difficulties as women writing about tech (as mentioned by Tatiana King-Jones and Tracey John), overcoming these challenges remains a focal point.
“Promote, promote, promote, promote,” emphasized Diana Pho, as a message to those in attendance. “Also, take advantage of the new technologies available.” Adding her two cents, the New York University graduate said, “Your wallet matters. You have to support your artist by buying their work and supporting their livelihood.” As Diana and her league of extraordinary creators discuss racial identity and pop culture politics, she stressed the importance of love and intersectionality, saying, “We have to support other underrepresented identities too, especially since we all identify as more than one. It is so important that we help each other with all of our struggles.”
With goals of creating bigger industry names and more engagement with a growing audience, both panels served reminders to the mainstream that not only are people watching en masse, they’re also planning to be the next thing you talk about. There are some strong, dedicated people fighting for inclusion in the midst of all the pomp and circumstance involving the New York Comic Con, and if you look really hard, you’ll find yourself rewarded for the search. Comic books, video games, technology—this could be the wave for decades to come. And representatives like those who put on the panel discussions every year at NYCC are ripe to change the media they know and love.—Kevin L. Clark
Peep #GeeksOfColorNYCC, and these highlights from Black cos players who showcased their cool costumes at the 2015 New York City Comic Con.
Kevin L. Clark is a Brooklyn, NY based freelance writer whose favorite comic book characters are Wolverine and Batman. Keep up with what he does best on Twitter @KevitoClark.