The un­likely new he­roes of comics

PC comics In­die artists lead the way as comics en­ter a new era of in­clu­siv­ity, re­ports Gar­rick Web­ster

ImagineFX - - Editor’s Letter -

How in­die comics are lead­ing the way for he­roes of all shapes and forms to be rep­re­sented.

I wanted my son to be able to see char­ac­ters like him­self do­ing amaz­ing things

The over­weight teenager who’s bul­lied and teased, but shrugs it off with a laugh. The dis­abled re­porter who re­mains dig­ni­fied, even when a prom­i­nent politi­cian mocks him. The trans­gen­der in­di­vid­ual, hu­mil­i­ated by not be­ing al­lowed a toi­let. Or the Down’s syn­drome child with a heart de­fect, who fights for life through mul­ti­ple open-heart surg­eries be­fore the age of one. They’re all he­roes – ab­so­lutely – but you’re un­likely to read their sto­ries in comics.

Yes, there are blind and wheelchair­bound he­roes. There are gay su­per­heroes too, here and there. And the out­siders – or­phans, mu­tants or anti-he­roes – are well rep­re­sented. Main­stream comics are be­com­ing more di­verse, but for some cre­ators it’s not com­ing quickly enough. So they’re do­ing it them­selves via in­die pub­li­ca­tions that are both stun­ning and in­spir­ing.

Me­taphase is a great ex­am­ple. It was writ­ten by comic fa­natic Chip Reece, whose son Ol­lie has Down’s syn­drome (DS), and fea­tures a hero based on Chip’s young boy.

dream­ing big

“The comic idea came mostly from my want­ing to even­tu­ally share my love of comics with Ol­lie, but then dis­cov­er­ing that there were no char­ac­ters with Down’s syn­drome in the sto­ries. I wanted my son to be able to see char­ac­ters like him­self do­ing amaz­ing things, so he could dream just as big as I did as a kid.” With a script for a 10-page teaser, Chip got artist Kelly Wil­liams on board (see In­dus­try In­sight, far right) and even­tu­ally Peter Simeti at Al­terna Comics agreed to pub­lish it, with some fund­ing com­ing via a Kick­starter cam­paign. Now any­one can buy it on Ama­zon.

Dan White is an­other dad who saw the gap in what main­stream comics were of­fer­ing. He de­vel­oped Depart­ment of Abil­ity (DoA) be­cause he couldn’t find any wheel­chair-us­ing he­roes that his daugh­ter Emily could re­late to. Like Ol­lie, she’s now the hero of a comic.

The UK-based char­i­ties Scope and Strong­bones sup­port DoA, en­abling Dan to write and draw it full time, while

at the same time be­ing a sort of in­clu­siv­ity evan­ge­list. He shows the book to peo­ple all the time, tak­ing feed­back, and is in­spired by Al Dav­i­son, a comic artist who suf­fers from spina bi­fida like Emily.

“My skills have gone from fairly static and ap­pre­hen­sive in the ideas stage, to think­ing ‘just go for it’ in the fi­nal page – dis­abil­ity very much in your face,” says Dan. “Al Dav­i­son’s work, for in­stance on The Spi­ral Cage, has taught me that ev­ery page can fea­ture a dif­fer­ent style of pan­els and im­agery with­out los­ing the hook and power of the story.”

It isn’t just par­ents with dis­abled chil­dren who are push­ing the agenda. The in­die pub­lisher After­shock has big am­bi­tions for Al­ters, a new se­ries

If there’s not a comic book out there yet that’s do­ing what you want to see, then start cre­at­ing your­self

fea­tur­ing Char­lie, who is tran­si­tion­ing to be­come Chalice, and at the same time be­com­ing an Al­ter – a pow­er­ful hero to pro­tect hu­man­ity.

be­yond a trans­gen­der story

Ital­ian artist Leila Leiz has been draw­ing the comic, which deals with sub­jects far be­yond trans­gen­der is­sues. “We’re hop­ing to do sto­ries about home­less­ness, men­tal and phys­i­cal health, peo­ple deal­ing with dif­fi­cul­ties in life such as job loss or mis­treat­ment by so­ci­ety,” she says.

An in­clu­sive team and a huge amount of re­search helps with the book’s bril­liant ex­e­cu­tion. Leila con­tin­ues: “The en­tire cre­ative team is made up of dif­fer­ent gen­ders and gen­der iden­ti­ties. Our colourist, for ex­am­ple, is a trans woman. Each of the scripts is read by at least five trans peo­ple, just to en­sure we’re on the right path. But the less we make this about trans­gen­der rights and the more we make it about a char­ac­ter who hap­pens to be trans, the more ef­fec­tive our story will be.”

The Pride is a well-es­tab­lished in­die comic cre­ated in Wales. It be­gan eight years ago and aims to rep­re­sent LGBTQ+ he­roes as real, three­d­i­men­sional char­ac­ters rather than stereo­types. Its writer is Joe Glass, who is tired of see­ing queer char­ac­ters

in­tro­duced through a big com­ing-out story, be­fore fad­ing into the background. Joe’s noted that many gay char­ac­ters are white men. There are few black ones, and bi­sex­u­als of­ten turn out to be vil­lains.

“My run on the art­work has a sim­ple style, but it doesn’t mean that the re­al­world is­sues ad­dressed in the comic have to be,” says Gavin Mitchell, one of the lead artists on The Pride. “Diver­sity was, and still is, an im­por­tant part of the ros­ter of he­roes and The Pride is con­stantly ex­pand­ing to in­clude as many as it can. It’s a book that’s meant for every­one, so hope­fully the art re­flects that.”

siz­ing it up

Over the gen­er­a­tions, over­weight char­ac­ters in comics have tended to be vic­tims, bad­dies or providers of comic re­lief. Not Faith, a hero who’s been around for 25 years in Valiant’s book Harbinger, but has only re­cently got her own se­ries. Orig­i­nally drawn by Jim Shooter, to­day Mon­treal artist Mar­guerite Sau­vage is on pen­cils and Faith re­ceived nom­i­na­tions for three in­dus­try awards last year. Mar­guerite’s ren­di­tion of the char­ac­ter is in­tel­li­gent, con­fi­dent and beau­ti­ful.

“She talks be­fore fight­ing, she be­lieves in re­demp­tion in­stead of re­venge, and she’s pos­i­tive and gen­er­ous,” ex­plains Mar­guerite. “That’s what I want to ex­press through my draw­ing. Her body size is a part of this mes­sage of progress and tol­er­ance. We chal­lenge con­ven­tions and prej­u­dice by show­ing a good ex­am­ple, like Faith would do.”

Main­stream comics are cer­tainly chang­ing, but as is of­ten the case the in­die pub­lish­ers and self-pub­lish­ers are spark­ing the real cre­ativ­ity when it comes to un­likely he­roes. Gavin’s suc­cinct ad­vice chimes with what all the cre­ators we spoke to told us: “If there’s not a book out there yet that’s do­ing what you want to see, then start cre­at­ing your­self,” he says.

“Comics are for every­one and can be cre­ated by any­one.”

The cre­ators of The Pride wanted more re­al­is­tic LGBTQ+ he­roes. In Al­ters, trans­gen­der is­sues are woven into the sto­ry­line.

Peo­ple with Down’s syn­drome are told they can’t do things. Me­taphase ad­dresses the prej­u­dice.

Ol­lie has Down’s syn­drome, but finds a way to be­come a su­per­hero.

The won­der­ful Depart­ment of Abil­ity has given artist and writer Dan White his big break into comics.

The Depart­ment of Abil­ity’s char­ac­ters are as dif­fer­ent and di­verse as pos­si­ble. The Pride’s script doesn’t shy away from the hurt­ful lan­guage aimed at the LGBTQ+ com­mu­nity. In Al­ters, Char­lie be­come Chalice, awak­en­ing pow­ers that could save hu­man­ity.

Plus-size su­per­hero Faith is con­fi­dent and solves prob­lems. No as­pect of the sto­ry­line is based on her size.

Artist Gavin Mitchell went for a clas­sic Sil­ver Age look for The Pride.

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