Why Diversity in the Comic Book World Matters To Me
Latravious Calloway is a self-taught artist and writer with a passion for graphic novels and anime. In this article, he talks about how a driving force behind his graphic novel, Evian Rising, was to feature underrepresented heroes of the comic book world: women of color.
Representation of successful women of color in mainstream literature; leading female characters in science fiction; cultural minority protagonists in graphic novels. These are all market gaps that are part of a larger diversity issue in mainstream media. I noticed these gaps, and I couldn’t help but think: what effect does an ongoing lack of representation have on readers?
I am a strong believer that if you feel there are overlooked people and narratives in literature, you should create those stories yourself! In comics in particular, women of color are more likely to play the role of teammates or sidekicks, rather than a leader — and it’s rare for them to feature in their own comic series. This is why I recently published Evian Rising: a graphic novel with a strong, female protagonist of color on a quest to avenge her adopted father’s people.
Female characters of color are often painted with a standard set of clichés — such as having abrasive attitudes for no reason. So for me, it was important that my main character, Evian, deviate from this default mode and be a dynamic, complex character in her own right. I wanted her power to come from her voice, and I wanted that power to fuel her role in bringing stability to the chaotic universe depicted in my novel. The other female characters also have attributes often reserved for male characters in action stories: leadership, intelligence, influence, rank, etc.
Diversity in literature is important to me as a parent
Growing up, I noticed missing perspectives in my father’s childhood comics. Apart from Black Panther, Storm, and Luke Cage, none of the comics featured a person of color as the leader or central character — in other words, a hero that looked like me.
Now, as a parent, it’s important that my daughters have access to strong characters of color to look up to as role models. I know how a lack of diversity can hinder the ambitions and aspirations of the underrepresented while they are still young and impressionable. I don’t want my daughters to grow up under the heavy burden of low self-esteem: I want them to see that excellence can look like them, too!
Even something as seemingly small as a similar hairstyle can reaffirm the way people see themselves — and encourage them to value their uniqueness. Creating Evian was my own way of passing on these lessons to my daughters. After all, who are they more likely to listen to — a comic book hero, or their dad? I think we all know the answer to that.
A novel can be a very powerful medium: it gives you the opportunity to shape a reader’s perspective while their guard is down. People are more receptive to nontraditional messages when you package it as “science fiction” or “fantasy,” giving authors the chance to bypass cultural filters and prejudices. For me, it was a no-brainer to use graphic novels as a way to achieve a larger representation of diverse heroes.
In addition, I believed it would be especially powerful to have a female protagonist of color in a graphic novel due to its visual nature. It can be hard to conceptualize something you haven’t seen or experienced. When you are looking at the plethora of graphic novels dominated by a cultural majority, it subconsciously programs who you view as a “true hero.”
Because this was such an important project to me, I knew I needed to make sure the vehicle for Evian and all that she represents was given the greatest amount of care possible. And that’s why I decided to hire a professional proofreader for my graphic novel.
Working with an editor
It didn’t take long working with Chersti Nieveen to see that she is an authority on polishing manuscripts. After I sent her my manuscript, I realized I didn’t know the English language the way I thought I did. Ha! Seeing all her notes and markup reaffirmed to me the absolute importance of quality editing. Chersti’s feedback made abundantly clear the parts of my writing that required further work, and every question I had for her was answered in no more than one business day.
Furthermore, Chersti had an extremely competitive quote and provided a detailed contract that clearly defined the scope of the project. I was able to put my mind to rest while working with Chersti, and to feel secure that the themes of my graphic novel would shine through without errors or typos blocking the way. Chersti overwhelmingly exceeded my expectations and I will be using her again for my second book. It was truly a pleasure.
Create content that reflects your own diversity
There are indie authors of color out there closing some of the content diversity gaps. So if you’re having trouble seeing your own identity reflected in literature, I would encourage you to support these creators.
Or why not take a shot at creating that content yourself? There’s no one better to paint the world through your eyes than yourself. Connecting with people who are searching for new and relatable content is so fulfilling, and to be able to offer them something you made with your own hands is out of this world. But it’s not easy to create something new: you have to be willing to stand up for what you write and have the passion to keep going from beginning to end.
Whether you’re writing a graphic novel about a female warrior goddess with melanin, based on the love of your life — or about another kind of character you feel is missing from what you see on bookshelves — create the content that YOU want, and that represents you.
Evian Rising is available on Amazon Kindle.
Please share your thoughts, experiences, or any questions for Latravious Calloway in the comments below!