photo credit: Michelle Ayr

 

By: Michelle Ayr

 

According to Statista’s 2013 survey, 60 percent of Americans began reading comics before the age of ten, giving them access to a world in which anything is possible and inspiration can be quickly found. Children, through comics, are more likely to realize they are not alone in their struggles. And they can see connections between themselves and the courageous individuals who in comics make almost everything seem possible: The Superheroes.

On Thursday, there was a celebration of the diversity that exists in the comic world. The event took place at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), which featured “Diversity Comic Con” as a theme. It embraced the idea that diversity in the realm of comics means that more and more of the children of today, who otherwise might feel alienated, can gain the advantages that so many American children as accessed in the past.

The exhibitions showcased superheroes and their creators. Marvel once displayed a diversity imbalance, showcasing mostly white straight male characters. Since then, comics have presented characters that are divergent enough to appeal to the hearts of groups previously ignored. There are now Puerto Rican, Arab, LGBTQ+, African American, and female superheroes, showing grace and courage in events and stories of our new era.

Jerome Walford, an FIT instructor and founder of Forward Comix, said that for much of his life, he felt that he did not have a place to call his own. The small-press publisher, Forward Comix, has been in business for about six years, and currently has two projects it is working on. Nowhere Man is a superhero who drives Walford to continue writing. “It’s essentially a graphic novel that follows a young detective in New York City, and is the first superhero of his time, making him question what he is ‘supposed’ to do or if he belongs,” said Walford. So far, a lot of the “buzz” the publisher has received has been because of the short stories called Gwan, which in many ways mirror Walford’s other stories. The collection received an Independent Publisher Book Award in 2017. It pulled together dozens of writers and artists from 15 different countries who crafted stories of immigrants and their experiences.

“For me,” said Walford, “the medium of comics is a great way to tell stories by both word and visuals, to speak on the experience an immigrant may have in a way that is very unique to many of the occurrences that ‘Americans’ have today.” Walford added, “It’s a great way to connect with other people.”

Regine L. Sawyer is the owner, writer, and creator of Lockett Down Productions. After publishing science fiction books, Sawyer became the coordinator and founder of the Women in Comics Collective International, hosting events, ranging from panel discussions to art shows and workshops. Since establishing her own Comic Con Convention in New York City, Sawyer realized much of her inspiration for her comics came from her own life. “I love science fiction, and I love horror stories, and I feel that shows through my work,” said the 37-year-old. The video-game fan said much of her inspiration came from those she worked with. “Seeing how hard they work in the industry, where they’re interested in going, their helpfulness to others, and the way they mentor others becomes my drive for every new story,” said Sawyer.

Kristen Gudsnuk developed a character for those of us who have felt that they’ve never belonged to any social circle. The 31-year-old writer and artist for Hench Girl, Making Friends, and Modern Fantasy gets her inspiration from the incidents she’s had in her real life, specifically those of her middle and high school years. “I like to focus on women in some sort of moral predicament that many young girls and women are able to relate to,” said Gudsnuk, mentioning that Making Friends is about a girl who does not have any companions. The girl uses magic to create the “perfect best friend” and along the way make herself more popular. Gudsnuk said it is all a rewriting of her own seventh grade experiences. “I want young girls and boys to understand they don’t have to try to fit in or mold themselves to anyone’s liking,” said Gudsnuk, adding, “Everyone gets lonely and in the moment it may seem impossible to handle, but I want them to know they are not alone. It gets better.”