THE TURNAROUND BLOG

On Diversity in Comics, and in their Readers

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Last week, somebody wrote an opinion piece whining about the “loud” internet minority who have been calling for a much-needed diversity overhaul in comics, and then shaming them for not buying the series these pesky kids had demanded. Let’s leave the fact that the author had chosen to blast any movement of diversity after waiting just a few months to check up on sales for now, and focus on what’s grinding most comics fans’ gears: the “sales” he analysed were solely those of Diamond/ICv2’s monthly periodical sales.

Reading this was a bit of a shock to me. I’m pretty new to comics, but this article would have me think I’m not a part of comics at all, because I read trades and standalone graphic novels more than single issues. I’m definitely not alone in this – a regular point of discussion at the very excellent Let’s Talk Intersectionality’s Feminism in Comics series has been the multitude of ways women, people of colour, queer folk – all sorts of groups that don’t fit the false white-male-geek stereotype – read comics. There’s plenty of documentation on how women have been made to feel uncomfortable in their local comics shop, so they read digital – they’ve put their money where their mouth is with huge series like Ms. Marvel, which has performed better in digital than in print. Somebody new to the medium might find themselves drifting from their Waterstones’ fiction section to a curious and colourful graphic novel shelf, so they buy trades – Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s omnipresent The Wicked + The Divine has sold twice as many of its second trade collection than any  of its single issue sales.

The many responses made in the aftermath have rightly declared this shoddy analysis a load of “twaddle”, so rather than flogging that dead horse, we’re taking this opportunity to celebrate all the different ways to approach and appreciate comics.

Heather

Despite growing up pretty nerdy in a lot of my tastes – picture a small girl scouring rural Ireland for any scrap of Harry Potter merchandise, obsessively replaying Final Fantasies 7, 8 and 9 – I somehow missed comics. I’ll put that down to being a two-hour drive  to my nearest comics shop when I was young, and entering an often snootily academic School of English when I moved to Dublin. But since moving to London, I read pretty much half-and-half sequential art and prose.

I started off reading cartoon collections and graphic memoirs, but it took The Force Awakens’ prequel comic Shattered Empire to really get me hooked. Then, I found Saga – or maybe Saga found me. It ticked every box I’d ever had, and many more I just hadn’t been aware of yet: sharp art; effortlessly cool dialogue; weird-looking creatures that vary from the squee-ably cute to the vomit-inducing; a love story that breaks my heart again and again; a kick-ass lady protagonist I can dream of being one day as bold as; and, crucially, space travel. So I devoured the available collected trades – learning what terms like “trade” mean along the way – and eventually started to read my first ever long-running monthly series.

Now I have series that I can’t wait to be collected arc-by-arc to read – Saga, Poe Dameron – but mostly I just don’t have the brain power to read single issues. I forget what’s happened each month and often end up re-reading entire series after doing a NCBD shopping spree, so I stick to the trades that appease reading habits that are borne out of several hundred-page novels.

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Sarah

While I despise digital reading (sorry, eBooks, I hate you), I looooooooooove web comics. Achewood, to me, remains one of the all-time greats. Aside from the odd Calvin and Hobbes in my Christmas stocking or the colour funnies in the Sunday paper, web comics were the only way I digested the medium until sometime in 2015 when I got a little bored late in the day at MCM and ploughed through Junji Ito’s Cat Diary (brilliant, btw!).

As for reading good ol’ physical comics… Well, it *could* be a coincidence that my entry into comics-reading sounds exactly like Heather’s… or it could be that we work closely together at a book-and-graphic novel distributor and were both loaned Julia Wertz’s books by the same colleague at around the same time. Likewise with Marvel’s Star Wars graphic novels, which I bought with my staff discount the second they arrived in our warehouse to get myself even more amped up about The Force Awakens. Likewise about Saga, which “found me” when a friend quite literally smacked me in the face with the first trade collection and told me to drop everything and read it. So I did. And then I ordered all the other available collected trades online and dropped everything and read those too.

But it’s true that I don’t buy comics in the way that old-school people think they are all meant to be bought. I’ve never gone to a comic shop on a Wednesday. I’m not at all keen to buy single-shot issues (they end too quickly!) and probably wouldn’t go to a comics shop if there weren’t a complete-with-free-wine launch taking place (sorry…). For me, comics are about word-of-mouth and instant access, meaning I’m either borrowing endless copies from my friends and colleagues, or reading them digitally.

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Tom

My comics career started promisingly, took a near-fatal nosedive, and is now recovering again quite nicely. Throughout my formative years I was an avid Beano, Dandy, Simpsons and Sonic Comics fan – as well as picking up the occasional issue of classics like Commando (still going strong!). Then my teens came along and I pretty much ditched comics in favour of prose (and movies, and music) for a period of about 10 years, convinced I had in some way “moved on”.

Then I started working in bookshops and realised I had missed out on an awful lot of good stuff from the comics world. I read Jason, Love & Rockets, and Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s graphic short stories with an increasing disbelief that none of them had appeared anywhere near my English syllabus – but that’s probably another debate for another time.

I’ve never really been a single-issue buyer, but I’m definitely open to the idea – perhaps “my” series hasn’t come along yet. At most of the comic-cons I go to, you can find me poking around the independent artists’ village, away from the dazzling, roaring fortresses of the big company’s stands – not out of any kind of affectation, but simply because there’s such an incredible wealth of alternative brilliance waiting to be discovered out there. And I applaud the mega-corps’ moves – however superficial they might turn out to be – towards at least including diversity in the conversations they have about making comics. Let’s hope they stick at it, and that in the future that those two very different sides at comic-cons can come closer together.

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Leo

So I’m going to have to go against the grain here as I am one of those people who go to the comic shop every week and buys single issues. I have been reading and collecting comics since I was six years old, starting with Marvel UK reprints at my local newsagent in 1996 (Spectacular Spider-Man Adventures #6 being my gateway after becoming obsessed with the 90s Spider-Man animated series, which quickly pollinated onto X-Men, Fantastic Four, Daredevil etc) before moving on to the original US comics found at my nearest comic shop where I solidified my Marvel obsession and discovered the wonders that other publishers were presenting.

I don’t have one favourite genre. I grew up on Marvel and it was my introduction to comics, so the superhero genre (Marvel in particular) will always have a special place in my buying habits. I will read any American, British, European or Japanese comic that grabs my interest. I’m not looking for any particular tropes when I’m finding something to enjoy, although there are certain creators I am a fan of which can often affect what goes on my shopping list. If I enjoy the comic, that’s all that matters. One of my favourites right now, Ms. Marvel, is the real sum of all this. It’s not one of my faves because the main character is a Muslim Pakistani-American teenage girl, or because the writer is a woman. I love it because it’s a fantastic comic in every way; from the writing, to the art, to just how great a character Kamala Khan is – one of the most relatable characters in comics today, with the exception of the whole polymorphic powers factor. Diversity is massively important in comics today and should always be encouraged, but it has to be done respectfully and cannot just be diversity for diversity’s sake. G. Willow Wilson is a true pro particularly in this area.

I have always been aware of trade collections, although they weren’t nearly as prevalent when I started reading as they are today. For me, it is just another way of buying the series and I own plenty of them (love me some omnibuses when I can afford them). I totally get the appeal of waiting for the trade and some of my favourite graphic novels or ongoing series are done in instalments – Asterix, Arkham Asylum, Scott Pilgrim etc – and not everyone has the patience to ready a story monthly. But through a combination of growing up on cartoons that frequently ended on cliff-hangers and my early Marvel reading, single issues have to be my preferred format for comics. Not only does it give me an excuse to go to the comic shop every week but it adds longevity to story arcs and helps build levels of suspense between chapters. Plus there’s just something nostalgic about holding a 22 page folded assortment of paper stapled together with no fancy spine.

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Jenn

I read a lot of comics as a kid in the 90s. My mum used to buy them for my brother and me to shut us up on long car journeys. Or generally just to shut us up. I was a proud member of the Beano fan club (I still have the hairy Gnasher badge), and my absolute hero was April O’Neil, who was a lot more badass in the Turtles comics than in the later cartoons. I don’t remember ever reading anything in sequence, but vividly remember a few superhero single-issue comics scattered on my bedroom floor. I loved Peanuts, and was the proud owner of a vast and much-coveted Tintin collection; comics and plastic figures and stationary I kept on a special shelf.

Somewhere along the line, I just sort of stopped reading comics until later, in my early 20s, a guy I worked with gave me the first trade volume of Brian K. Vaughn’s Y: The Last Man. And I was pretty much hooked again. I can’t say superheroes were really my thing, although I’m now reading more female superhero stuff. I was/am obsessed with Love & Rockets (Maggie and Hopey = swoon), with Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For, with Ghost World and Jason Lutes and Adrian Tomine, and with anything even slightly queer.

In terms of formats, I suppose I mostly read trade paperbacks. I do own about half a shelf’s worth of single issues, the stuff I really love. Gosh keep new issues of Bitch Planet for me as and when they come, because I can never keep track of their release. Or maybe I’m not quite dedicated enough. I’d love to spend every Wednesday night in Soho making the rounds of comic shops and picking up new releases, whatever looks interesting or accessible, but it’s unrealistic with my busy social calendar (just joking. Sometimes I just can’t be bothered).

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Post by Heather

Hear more from the marketing team at our new comics Twitter

Read more about Turnaround’s graphic novels here

Read more about diversity in Turnaround titles here

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