Is Fandom Actually Tackling the Diversity Issue?

Paige Halsey Warren of Busty Girl Comics
Paige Halsey Warren of Busty Girl Comics
Liz Ohanesian

Paige Halsey Warren spent nearly a year writing and drawing about breasts. The cartoonist, who recently relocated from Massachusetts to Burbank, is the creator of Busty Girl Comics, a series of incisive anecdotes on life with an ample bosom. Divided into categories like "Busty Girl Problems" and "Busty Girl Perks," the cartoons originally ran in 2012 for 300 days, plus two weeks of guest comics, and are now available in book form. Saturday afternoon, Warren was at Long Beach Comic & Horror Con with copies of the books at her table.

"It started on a whim," she says of Busty Girl Comics, "because I was frustrated at my boobs and just wanted to vent it." But Warren's gripes resonated with a lot of readers. She notes that the comic peaked with about 250,000 readers coming to the site every day. Busty Girl Comics also appeared on Buzzfeed twice and was featured on the Today show. Since the comic ended, she's been working on a new one called Ahtspace, about artists living in Massachusetts.

When she was working on Busty Girl Comics, Warren considered the diversity of her characters. Diversity was something she discussed earlier in the day at a panel called "Wonder Women in Comics." When we met at her booth, Warren reiterated how important it was that she incorporate characters of various ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds. She even took gender into consideration, noting that there are busty individuals who don't identify as female. "I wanted to make sure that I represented my audience as effectively as possible and as accurately as possible," she says. "A lot of my fans really, really appreciate that."

MD Marie, author of The Saints of Winter Valley
MD Marie, author of The Saints of Winter Valley
Liz Ohanesian

MD Marie, author of The Saints of Winter Valley

Various iterations of "women and entertainment" or "women in entertainment" are popular topics on the convention circuit. Why are there so few women at the top levels of the comic book world? Why are female characters, across media, so less well-rounded than male counterparts? Where are the ladies and how are they being treated? Whether your interest is comics, TV or film, these are questions to consider carefully. However, they are only part of the problem.

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Earlier in the day, I had attended a panel called "Beyond Cliches -- Creating Awesome Female Characters for Comics, Film & Video Games." It was an interesting discussion that touched on the struggles that writers have when trying to sell female-centric animated TV series. The conversation also went into shows that are doing it right. In that regard, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic was cited a few times. (One of the panelists, Charlotte Fullerton, penned episodes for MLP.)

But the panel was lacking in some areas. One of the audience members pointed this out at the end of the session, noting that the panelists, who were male and female, were all Caucasian. The audience member, essentially, made the point that issues of race have to be included in the discussion. He had a point, but, unfortunately, the comment didn't prompt the lengthy discussion that it deserves.

 

Comic book writer Giulie Speziani
Comic book writer Giulie Speziani
Liz Ohanesian

At conventions, frequently, the panels on inclusiveness in media are often separated. At LBCHC, there were two talks on representation of women. There was one panel called "I Am Mixed," that was actually a reading of the book of the same name by author Garcelle Beauvais. After reviewing the schedule a few times, it appeared that there were no other panels that discussed race. There was one panel on LGBTQ issues in comics listed for Sunday's event. Indeed, these are things that need to be discussed together, extensively and repeatedly, if the creators and fans really want to see industry-wide change.

Inside the exhibit hall, though, the shift towards more inclusive storytelling was happening. Warren is part of that. So is Giulie Speziani, who was at the convention with her books One Night on Earth, a "micro-anthology" set in various cities, and Golden Age, a story of a young girl in Italy after World War II with superhero ambitions. She says that her own background, Hispanic, has helped her look at the diversity of her characters. "TV and pop culture isn't always geared towards other minorities," she says.

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Meanwhile, Long Beach-based author MD Marie is self-publishing The Saints of Winter Valley, an action saga set in a future version of the U.S. marked by some huge problems. Her central characters are female and multi-ethnic. "I wanted to have everybody included, but I didn't want to make it a point," she says.

Earlier this month, Marie took her book to Comikaze and recalls that the people who stopped by her booth took notice of the ethnic diversity of her characters. "Not only do you need a female character that you want to look up to and follow and emulate, but you also want to see someone that you want to identify with either culturally or from your race," she says.

See also: Alyssa Milano Talks About Her Upcoming Comic Book on Social Media and Hacktivism

Marie, who is African-American, says that diversity in her work is "hugely important," particularly in the pop culture landscape of the U.S., where female heroes are frequently caucasian. "We're here too," she says. "We're also Americans and also proud of the country that we were born in or that we live in and we want to be represented also."

Follow Liz Ohanesian on Twitter and Facebook. Also follow @LAWeeklyArts on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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