On race, gender, and characters, comic and otherwise.

Note: Someday soon I’ll put up a companion piece to this one about Rachel being blind. It’ll be very similar in content, but will cover the year after publishing Digital Divide where I went from, “Hey, I’ve got a book out” to “Hey, there’s a need for representation of persons with disabilities in science fiction and Rachel is blind so I’m doing something good!” to “Um… Rachel can still see so I’m going to put this banner down and quietly back away before I get myself into trouble.” I will definitely be exploring a comparison between Rachel and her brain implant, and deaf persons and cochlear implants, in an upcoming book.


I’ve got the plot for the comic planned out, but I do a lot of last-minute tinkering with scripts. The strip for October 2 was supposed to be quite different, with Hope offering Mike to Lincoln as a possible therapist.

Hope's body language in the first panel matches the current strip, not the original dialogue. CRAISENS! CRAISENS! CRAISENS!
Hope’s body language in the first panel matches the current strip, not this rough script. CRAISENS! CRAISENS! CRAISENS!

I backed away at the last minute. I’m glad I did: I’m trying to get through the entire story without mentioning the characters’ preferences in sex partners. (I was also trying to do this with race, but I think I blew that in one of the earliest strips.) I’ll explain why, but I’ll ask you to do a little light reading before we get to that:

“Pete and Pete was all white people”

Don’t be fooled by the first couple of questions. Once you get past the normal Ask:Response section, the interview goes batshit. You can almost pinpoint the exact second when the interviewer realizes that this was no longer a fluff piece, and the pleasant stroll down Memory Lane has careened into Racism Road.

Yes, diversity matters. Yes, representation matters. No, we don’t have to hang spotlights off of every single difference to show that these matter. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a Jedi more than anything else in the entire world. I wanted the lightsaber and the mindpowers and the… the everything! But I couldn’t, because girls weren’t Jedi. They weren’t anything, really.

Probably the only time I'll ever reference "Family Guy"
Probably the only time I’ll ever reference “Family Guy”

If the Star Wars expanded universe had existed back when I was a kid-if I had seen just one female Jedi way off to the side!-the games I played with my friends would have been different. The stories I wrote in my head would have been different. When you’re a very young child, you don’t realize you’ve got options. You learn from example and context. Role models can be something as stupidly simple as a background character. The fact that they exist can open entire worlds within a kid’s head.

So I don’t talk about race or preferences in sex partners in the comic. They exist. Hell, they exist in the main characters: Mako is Black, Rachel is Chinese-American, Mike and Rachel are gay, Josh is so straight the Kinsey scale needed to be pushed into negative numbers, and Pat’s bisexual. (I’ve got a side story in the works that addresses this, where Pat wasn’t entirely comfortable with this aspect of himself until the collective kicked in, and then came the mental rush of everybody doing everything with everybody else. Sharing a hivemind shatters a lot of mental walls.) But they exist in the background, to inform the characters’ choices and actions. They don’t take the spotlight from the actual story.

That Pete and Pete article? It’s lovely. I mean that. It’s a wonderful example of why it’s critical for creators to use characters that don’t conform to a standard template of traits. And yes, there is the threat of tokenism if a single person uses a wheelchair, or if a single person is Black or female within an entire cast of White males. But I think a lot of young girls would have played different games on the playground if they had seen one female Jedi.

Now, if Yoda had been female…


Published by KBSpangler

A freelance editor who writes novels, comics, and repairs a disaster of a house in her spare time: www.kbspangler.com

7 thoughts on “On race, gender, and characters, comic and otherwise.

  1. Actually, was it ever specified explicitly that Yoda was *male* ? The other characters may have used male pronouns, but they also were portrayed as speaking English, and no other members of Yoda’s species were known, and…

    *shrug* It’s a possibility.

    (if this post draws furious frothing fans who’re hellbent on emphasizing that NO IT ***WASN’T*** A POSSIBILITY, YODA WAS MORE MALE THAN A MILLION BILLION PENISES, then I sincerely apologize. As for to whom I apologize, and for what… you can decide for yourself.)

  2. Fwiw , I think handicap-ism is a matter of degree and situational , so the concerms expressed may be a bit over-wrought . Being short ,bald , ugly , female , non-white , spectacle wearing , surgically augmented , are all things that happen in society , and may not be perfect fits in a given situation.

    But it isn’t how we start the race , but how we finish it………
    As it is , your characters are presented as fiat accomplii, an ideal thats sometimes difficult to emulate.

    Carry on

  3. I was a crippled kid in the 50’s, “mainstreamed” in school (which means they didn’t have to spend any extra money on me); didn’t know any other disabled people until I met a blind girl IN COLLEGE and certainly didn’t see anybody like me on television. I had hoped progress was being made. That interview is going to give me nightmares. Thanks a heap.

    Now you, you get it right. We’re all just folks here, and we don’t all look the same, and some of us have parts that don’t function at 100%, and we carry on.

    So when does the next book come out?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s