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January 15, 2014

A Couple Of Quick Extra Notes About Image Expo

I promised someone that I would revisit the topic of last week's Image Expo as a window into comics' diversity issues. I wish I hadn't made that promise because I'm not sure I have anything of value left to say. Additionally, I think there's a warping effect that comes with talking about something -- even the most important issues or, as it happily turns out, the most traffic-friendly issues -- at the exclusion. The array of topics I engaged here is far more representative of that event as a whole than this post or similar ones. But hey, a promise is a promise.

This is about a photo, and the reality behind the photo. The photo in question is some version of this final stage shot, which underlined in visual form a perception of Image as a place where white men in their approximate Don Draper prime go to make comics. I think those discussions are good, but I think there's some distortion in the form of splash-back that is unfortunate. So there are some things you can do to remind yourself that it's probably not as dire as the initial tweets and those whose analysis -- for whatever reason -- fails to get much deeper than a tweet would you have believe. In addition to the always very you-notice-she's-there Kelly Sue DeConnick, I'm told Leila Del Duca and Paul Azaceta were on hand; it's also my understanding that Marian Churchland cancelled on the Expo for a personal matter. If you look at this photo that was circulated since, you see the much more diverse Image employees and publishing team from I believe that same event. That's an area over which the company has more direct control. You can also read creators that represent diverse backgrounds talking about their experience working Image on threads like these.

Reality is complicated.

I think everyone would agree with Allison Baker this was an unfortunate PR moment. Comics always goes both ways on this kind of thing. When something like this happens -- when I screw up here on CR -- on the one hand there's this element where you just sort of refuse to admit that screw-ups happen in part because there's this unkindness where we don't allow people to admit screw-ups happen. One of the advantages of working in a small industry full of mostly smart, nice people -- it ain't the money -- is that we should more quickly process these shortcomings in light of what we know and then move onto the next thing. Instead there's this weird mechanism where we say this, but then we dwell on the screw-up while the person that feels accused curls into ball and screams no-no-no-no-no and then we kind of get as much juice out of whatever is beneficial to us or works into the issue we hold most important. A lot of writing about issues lately seems to be "a-ha" writing, in that context is rarely considered or is asserted to be untrustworthy in light of the foregrounded circumstance. That seems horribly self-serving most of the time, and could stop. I always hope to avoid the push and pull of blame and soapbox by concentrating on the fact that on some of these issues there is so much work to do that we could literally get better by accident by leaning in a specific direction -- this is one -- but that gets to be a dodge, too, a way to kind of spread out the hurt that frequently means nothing gets done.

I would also disagree with Allison a bit in that there's a point at which I'm not sure you can do a whole lot more about what the reality is on the ground, and while you may recognize there's a strategic disadvantage and you may not want to emphasize it, I don't think the harm of perception through PR goof-up always approaches the severity of an actual problem. I come from a PR background, too, but it's a PR and marketing background, which may mean I more easily see things like the expression of a public profile as part of a larger, systemic whole. I think the relationship between a publisher or a creative community and its participants is different than a buy/vote relationship in a substantial way that limits the use of surface appearances as a pivot for change. Others may certainly disagree.

So I assume that Image will give more thought to the public appearance aspects in future shows -- the first two e-mails I got about the stage photo were complaints that everyone looked schlubby! -- and will re-examine their ability to accept and process work for potential publication from a diverse array of creators, in pursuit of a similarly diverse readership. It's good to have these discussions, but it's even better to get to work on the problems. Hopefully I will re-examine aspects of this site's coverage to make sure I'm doing what I can to engage the diversity that exists in comics already, can follow Joseph Hughes' lead in engaging the abominable lack of diversity in color among creators at Marvel and DC while finding a few stories of my own if they're to be found, and as much as I have a public role I will hope to no longer participate in, say, convention panels that assert representation without being representative. Or at least question the heck out of them. (My memory is I haven't been on a blogging-in-comics panel since 2008 with a non-white person.) Recognizing a problem and our potential role in that problem is the first step towards making progress and being a part of that progress. That's very exciting. Someone should take a picture.
posted 1:55 am PST | Permalink

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