Despite the pushback we’ve seen to the introduction of new female, LGBT, or racially diverse characters—which Janelle and Karl have spoken to quite eloquently—I think we are at a point in comic book history where there is unprecedented openness to diversity. And we have the fans to thank for that. We’ve talked a lot about top-down inclusivity from the publishing side, but really, this conversation is being driven by fans. This all goes back to that brave young mom in the Batgirl costume who got up in a crowded hall at SDCC and asked why there weren’t any women sitting on the DC Comics panel. She was booed and belittled. But she started a firestorm. This conversation did not exist when I started out as a 19-year-old intern for one of the very first digital comic-book companies.
I have frankly been blown away by the amount of fan support the new Ms. Marvel has gotten. When Sana Amanat and Steve Wacker of Marvel called me up and said, ‘We want to create a new teenage Muslim superheroine from scratch and put her on her own book,’ my first thought was, ‘Are they nuts? Did I hear correctly?’ I would never in a million years have pitched that book myself, because I value my sanity. There was a time when I couldn’t put pen to paper without being accused of stealth jihad or perpetuating the Muslim socialist Illuminati attack on America or whatever. This just seemed like the trifecta of death: new character (doesn’t sell!), female (doesn’t sell!) and Muslim (hire an intern to open all the hate mail!).
This isn’t simply about putting minority writers on minority books. We don’t want to create a literary ghetto in which black writers are only allowed to write black characters and women writers are put on ‘girl books.’ This is about bringing more people into the broader conversation. There’s no reason a gay writer can’t write a straight Superman or a woman can’t write a classic Thor book that die-hard fanboys would love. There is a certain danger in thinking about diversity in its own little box, as something that is somehow separate from ‘normal’ comic books and comics creators.
I am beyond thrilled at the success of Ms. Marvel, but it’s meant that a lot of the phone calls I get these days begin with ‘We have a Muslim character we’d like you to take a crack at.’ Which is great, but, you know, I do other stuff too. Ninety percent of the comic books I’ve written in the past had little or nothing to do with Islam. Of the two books I’ve written that got Eisner noms—Air and Mystic—one was about a white girl, a talking snake, and Amelia Earhart, and the other was about two orphans on an alien planet who go to magic school. There is a huge range of stories waiting to be told by an equally incredible range of people. Differences of experience and identity are bridges that can be crossed. The end goal is greater empathy and a more articulate reflection of human experience. That is something that everyone—everyone—will benefit from.