Adventures in Comics and the Real World

A report by George Gene Gustines for the New York Times.

America Chavez, a Latina and lesbian superhero, saves an alien planet, enrolls at Sotomayor University and punches Adolf Hitler in the first issue of her new Marvel comic book series. But what’s being celebrated as most fantastic in this comic is that Gabby Rivera, a young-adult author who is gay and Latina herself, is writing the adventures of America.

While the comic book industry has been making great strides in its efforts to reflect the real world in its characters, the same has not always been true of their creators, who have typically been straight, white and male. But the ratio of representation continues to change. David F. Walker, who is black, is writing a new Luke Cage series for Marvel that begins in May; that same month introduces a superhero universe from Lion Forge, with a diverse team of creators and characters, including Noble, the flagship hero who is black; and this summer will see the return of Kim & Kim, from Black Mask Studios, about two bounty hunters, one a trans woman, the other bisexual, written by Magdalene Visaggio, who is transgender. They join the growing list of comic book series with diverse characters at the forefront.

For a long time, “the American comic book industry has marginalized and excluded the voices of writers of color,” said Joseph Phillip Illidge, a senior editor at Lion Forge Comics. That has caused some fans to ask that characters of color have their stories done by creators of color.

When characters and creators share a special bond, there is an increased chance of authenticity. That seems to be the case in Ms. Rivera’s work on America, judging by the early reviews. “One big part of this book’s personality is that it allows America to be totally, unapologetically queer,” wrote Kat Overland on the website Women Write About Comics. “It’s the same with her brownness. She’s Latina, style-wise, speech-wise, everything, and it feels natural.”

America Chavez’s rise to prominence took some twists and turns. Joe Casey and Nick Dragotta created her in 2011, but she gained popularity as a supporting character later, in two series by two other creative teams (whose writers and artists are also men). With her solo title, the heroine and writer are now in sync. (Mr. Casey and Mr. Dragotta will be presenting an upstart version of their creation in All-America Comix, starring America Vasquez, being published by Image this year.)

A Latin experience is also at the heart of La Boriqueña, a Puerto Rican heroine created by Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez last year. As a young fan, Mr. Miranda-Rodriguez said that he did not find characters who looked like him, but he managed to forge connections with alien all-American heroes, billionaire orphans and warrior women. Now, as a father of two, he demands more. “When you grow up, not seeing yourself, it slowly eats away at you,” he said.

In the world of independent comics, Love and Rockets, by the brothers Gilbert and Jaime (and sometimes Mario) Hernandez, has been one of the most consistent depictions of Latinos. Fantagraphics has published the series since 1982. “One of the conscious decisions was to have people of color because that’s what I knew growing up,” said Gilbert Hernandez, who is Mexican-American. He noted that the younger generation, which is always more progressive, has come to expect multicultural depictions.

Having creators and characters be of similar backgrounds may also be an opportunity to right past wrongs. Gene Luen Yang, who is chronicling the exploits of Kenan Kong, a Chinese Man of Steel in New Super-Man, is bringing back a regrettable caricature from 1937. Chin Lung was a “yellow peril” villain who personified fears of the East. “DC used an image that dehumanized an entire group of people to sell comics,” Mr. Yang said in an email. The character would be difficult for most writers to tackle, but Mr. Yang has an edge. “Do I think that it’s easier for a Chinese-American writer to do something like this? Absolutely. It goes back to the homework question. Because I’m a Chinese-American, I got a head start on my homework because I lived it.”

A more welcome remake happened recently in the pages of Midnighter & Apollo, from DC Comics, written by Steve Orlando, who is bisexual. Mr. Orlando reintroduced Extrano, a suicidal H.I.V.-positive gay man named Gregorio, who debuted in 1988. Gregorio now shuns his Extrano persona and is more confident. “With a book like Midnighter & Apollo, which from cover to cover is a love letter to queer characters and our struggle to live, be visible and love, it felt right to return to one of the first and reintroduce Gregorio to a new generation,” Mr. Orlando said.

While having diversity among creators and characters is a step forward, more needs to be done, said Mr. Illidge, who also writes for Comic Book Resources (, where he spotlights diversity in comics and popular entertainment. “The ultimate answer cannot be that people can only write characters that reflect their experience,” he said. “Part of the answer should be that companies that publish books that contain a significant number of characters of color should have a significant number of writers of color in their talent pool.” Ultimately, “the more diverse voices you have in the room, the greater the worldview you’ll get in your fiction.”

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