By David Michael Newstead.
With the upcoming release of Marvel’s Black Panther, I sought out the most avid comic book reader I know to discuss action, adventure, and diversity on the pages of pop culture’s most important industry. And while her identity has been kept secret, she is undoubtedly on the side of truth and justice.
David Newstead: So, did you always like comic books?
The Amazing Amy #1: I didn’t. In fact, when I was really young I went through a phase where I didn’t like reading at all. Because I started reading very young, my parents assumed passion for reading would follow. I read the books required in for my grade school classes, but wasn’t interested in expanding past that. My interest in reading was sparked and nurtured by my interest in comic books.
David Newstead: Do you remember the first comic books you bought? What was that experience like?
The Amazing Amy #1: My very first comic book was an Archie comic. I know many comic readers don’t consider it a true comic, but it’s in the name, so hold off on scoffing! The first superhero comic series I really fell in love with was Volume 2 of the Amazing Spider-Man. I identified a lot with Spider-Man and Peter Parker. He was just a kid like me; most of the problems he encountered were of his own making; and, he was a nerd who got to prove his bullies wrong! I still have a special place in my heart for Spider-Man. I even confess to liking all the film versions. Okay, not Spider-Man 3. I have some standards.
David Newstead: What are some of your favorite titles and characters right now?
The Amazing Amy #1: I’m gearing up for Black Panther, so I’m rereading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Black Panther stories and Roxane Gay’s Women of Wakanda, which were both sadly cancelled. I also really love the Saga series by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples.
David Newstead: Did you always feel welcomed in comic book stores or in the comic book community?
The Amazing Amy #1: I think there’s a general mistrust of women’s interest in comics. I’ve certainly experienced gatekeeping in comics and sci-fi fandom, where guys I’ve known have doubted my love for comics. When I somehow prove my fandom to them, there’s this gross line that I would hear – “Well, you really like comics. Other girls just fake it.” I don’t personally understand what faking an appreciation for comics would look like, why someone would do that, or why those guys care, but the mindset sadly persists. I do think the attitude towards women comic readers has improved in recent years, but I do not think that attitude has extended towards people of color or LGBTQ comic readers.
David Newstead: If I remember correctly, you frequent Fantom Comics in Washington DC, which seems to really lead the way in being welcoming and inclusive. What do you like about Fantom Comics? And what distinguishes them from other comic book stores in your experience?
The Amazing Amy #1: I do like Fantom Comics. I think they excel at giving personalized recommendations and they have a lot of really fun events. They’ve introduced me to some of my favorite comics including Saga. I will admit that I do get most of my comics from the DC Public Library though. If I didn’t, my reading and comic book reading habit wouldn’t be financially sustainable!
David Newstead: To kind of build off of your point about diversity in readership, I’m curious about your view on this. Should existing characters be adapted to reflect greater diversity and inclusion like Iron Man becoming Iron Heart? Or should we create brand new characters entirely?
The Amazing Amy #1: Both! Before Tom Holland was cast in the newest Spider-Man film franchise, I remember discussion about whether the film should center Peter Parker or Miles Morales. The main interest that I saw on the internet around choosing Miles Morales was so that Spider-Man could be played by a black actor in the film. But guess what, Peter Parker can be black! Obviously, a white guy was chosen for the reboot of Spider-Man, just like he was for the other two film series in the last couple decades. We should keep in mind though that it is possible for future reboots. And diversity is coming through in some other ways: open confirmation that Diana Prince is bisexual, diverse casting for secondary comic characters like in CW’s the Flash and Spider-Man: Homecoming. The cancellation of World of Wakanda after only two issues was very disappointing, and it doesn’t indicate that Marvel is committed to diversity in its creators or characters. Hopefully the success of on-screen formats like Black Panther and CW’s Black Lightning (with a black lesbian superhero!) contribute to more inclusion in the comics industry.
David Newstead: I guess I didn’t think about it much, but Marvel’s Nick Fury (portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson) was recast from a white guy with an eyepatch to a black guy with an eyepatch and no one seemed to care. That said, diversity in comic books typically attracts attention from people who have a problem with diversity in general. For example, last year one Marvel executive caused a controversy by blaming the company’s declining sales on their increasingly diverse line-up of heroes. Any thoughts on that sentiment?
The Amazing Amy #1: I think there is less concern for secondary characters being recast as a person of color. But, in both cases I mention above, there was a backlash from some fans. I think the difference we’re seeing is a reaction because a character is the hero’s love interest, as is the case for Iris West and MJ.
“Caused a controversy” is one way to put it. A corner (albeit small) of the internet practically exploded. I almost don’t want to address it because it’s such a ridiculous argument. But, sure, I’ll engage. I think people have lost interest in comics in the last several years, in part, because they didn’t feel welcomed or included in the comics world. I also think you need to give new characters, new authors, and new stories some time to breathe. People need time to discover and fall in love with characters and their worlds. One benefit of expanding the pool of voices in comic creation and on the page is that it brings new audiences, but it is a slow process. Change happens at a snail’s pace for DC and Marvel, so if you can’t wait indie comics have much more diversity!
David Newstead: The stereotype of comic book characters (and comic book fans for that matter) is that they are basically all white and male. That’s started to change for the better and I’m curious what you think the significance of these changes are for American culture as a whole?
The Amazing Amy #1: That stereotype exists around so much of pop culture and I think it has been harmful. Straight white male fandom can sometimes lead to gatekeeping and the growing awareness that the fandom doesn’t all think/look the same way is leading to great strides in pop culture. Whenever the stereotype gets particularly frustrating, I remember that the first sci-fi novel was written by a woman. Thanks, Mary Shelley!
David Newstead: So, why do comic books matter to you?
The Amazing Amy #1: Comic books helped me fall in love with books in general. I’m now a voracious reader, and comics opened my eyes to how reading could bring worlds to life and give me new perspectives. Who doesn’t want to imagine themselves as a member of the Dora Milaje or as Kal-El? Comics let you do that.
David Newstead: Final question… Are you going to see Black Panther on Friday? And if you could select the next superhero blockbuster, what would you pick?
The Amazing Amy #1: Of course I’m going to see Black Panther! And my choice would be—Ms. Marvel. There’s nothing quite as fun as a teen superhero.
In our next thrilling issue, the Amazing Amy battles against the diabolical villainy of the world’s most evil organization – The Patriarchy!