At the Diversity in Comics Conference, one of the speakers said she read her first comic at 22, yet knew she was bisexual at 6.
The National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals hosted the conference to explore how a changing nation affected the representation of minorities in the comic book industry.
The three speakers – Devin Grayson, a bisexual and female free-lance writer; Joseph Illidge, an African-American writer; and Phil Jimenez, a gay comic book writer and artist – headed the discussion.
Grayson said her love of comic books started while watching the animated series of “Batman” after work with her then-girlfriend.
“I came home from work one day and (my girlfriend) had the show on,” Grayson said. “All I knew about Batman was that Adam West used to interrupt my watching of “The Brady Bunch” when I was a kid. It took maybe four minutes and I was helplessly hooked.”
Soon after watching “Batman,” she looked up DC Comics in the phone book and called them to get more information on “Batman.” She was put through to Dennis O’Neil, one of the editors at the time. She asked if she could learn about comics, and O’Neil, impressed with her boldness, obliged.
Illidge had similar reactions and aspirations to “X-Men” comics.
“As a kid I thought, ‘Wow! ‘X-Men’ are cool!’” Illidge said. “They have sex on mountains, they betray each other and they fight rich bad people. ‘X-Men’ was responding to me in a way that was real. The whole issue of the discrimination of mutants would later resonate for me as a metaphor for racism and discrimination in the industry.”
Jimenez also had strong views about discrimination in the evolving comic book industry.
“I speak about sex and gender discrimination because of major marriage events in D.C. and Marvel Comics,” Jimenez said. “Prominent male characters were quickly married off to other male characters, resulting in neutered male characters. The white male leads were the superheros who married minorities. This cemented my views of homophobia being an offshoot of misogyny.”
The speakers viewed the comic book industry to be fueled by creative writers and artists, regardless of race, age, sex or gender. Illidge said this has not always been the case.
“The longevity of the characters we love come from caring and imaginative writers,” Illidge said. “Once you choke the creativity, there is an absence of heart.”