16 Feb 19
San Gabriel Valley Tribune
By Kat Schuster, contributing writer
If you looked at some of the most well-known superheroes in pop culture, you’d see a few common, stereotypical ingredients: they’re mostly white, male and straight.
This is a theme that is rapidly becoming undesirable in the comic book industry, according to Ivan Cohen, director of programming for Long Beach Comic Con and a former editor of both Marvel and DC comics. While such developments as the big-screen “Black Panther” phenomenon prove progress is possible, industry experts say more change must come.
“People want to see stories and characters that reflect their own reality,” Cohen said. “They want something more modern.”
A handful of prominent movers and shakers on the business side of comic books spoke at the fifth Comic Creator Conference at the Long Beach Convention Center on Friday, Feb. 15.
The event set the stage for the Long Beach Comic Expo, which takes place Saturday and Sunday.
Panelists extended their advice on generating diverse stories, boosting the product through social media and the importance of not being a wallflower at networking events.
“The goal of this event is to get creators matched up with the business side,” said Martha Donato, president of MAD Event Management.
A scene from Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.” Courtesy photo
Published and budding writers alike — as well as illustrators, animators and screenwriters — took advice from industry professionals such as Marvel Comics Publisher John Nee; Joseph Illidge, author and former editor at DC Comics and Valiant Comics; and Barbara Kesel, who has authored and edited popular comic series such as Batman and Captain America.
The conference was set to conclude with the presentation of the McDuffie Award for Diversity in Comics, which was created by Donato and Charlotte McDuffie.
“The best way to come to work at Marvel or DC is to be self-sustaining by gaining at least 1,000 true fans,” Nee said. “You’ve got to have work to show and you need to go to [comic] conventions all the time.”
Nee’s suggestion was echoed throughout the night — with many budding artists asking the panelists how to attain that four-figure audience.
The publisher of Marvel Comics advised aspiring artists to give out free comics, attend 16 shows a year and try to pick up eight fans at each event. “We could call this the John Nee thesis,” Nee said.
When Illidge took the stage, he challenged artists to come up with ideas to further diversify and propel superheroes into the modern era.
“We all love comics and we all have hope for a better industry,” Illidge said. “And coming up with crazy ideas is going to be our solution.”
Illidge, who has worked in the industry since the 1990s, said he lost hope for comic books for a while after stories at DC Comics — home base of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman — took something of a dark turn.
It wasn’t until a DC series that he called the Bible for the DC Universe, “A New Frontier” by Darwyn Cooke, was published in 2004 that he fell back in love with superheroes.
“It was a fun story…I remembered what the DC Universe was, it was the defiance of gravity,” Illidge said. “It wasn’t trying to be what Marvel is which is the world outside your window, it was absolute escapist fantasy.”
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Another pivotal change in the industry: Illidge pointed out the shift from audiences favoring independent comic creators over the big, powerful publishers.
“Original ideas have more value,” he said. “The world has gone so crazy that it begs us for more honest stories.”
Illidge referenced the recent Golden Globe-winning — and Oscar-nominated — animated film “Spider-man: Into the Spider Verse.” It features a mixed-race teen hero — new-age Spiderman Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) — as well as a strong female lead in Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld).
“That story reached everyone,” Illidge said. “And it can still be done by speaking to an audience other than ourselves.”