‘Lighten Up’ is Ronald Wimberly’s Must-Read Commentary on Race In Comics
Today, The Nib released a beautiful and evocative comic by cartoonist Ronald Wimberly about race in comics. Wimberly tells the story of how a Marvel editor asked him to change the skin color of a character who had been historically Mexican and African-American. The editor wanted the character's skin tone to be lighter, and in Wimberly's piece he discusses why this is so problematic.
White privilege is absolutely a real thing, and the wide-ranging implications of this editor's request probably never occurred to her. Being an editor at a place like Marvel or DC means putting up with a punishing monthly schedule and many cooks in the same kitchen. Asking an artist to make a color change is pretty routine --- and to many editors, this note would seem like a minor request. As Wimberly makes clear in his comic, however, the request has many problems.
Not the least of these problems is the fact that there are so few characters of color in super hero comics that it doesn't make sense to make a character less racially diverse. And when you're also asking an artist who is a person of color to make that change, you are, purposefully or not, adding commentary about race to the editor-artist relationship.
One of the most powerful parts of Wimberly's piece is this statement:
It's not a game of pin the tail on the racist, it's simply a matter of social literacy. In this case, being aware of how "race" as an idea is ridiculous but still informs how we behave. In art, this is very important. Art is where associations are made. Art is where we form the narratives of our identity.
This week seems like a good time to remind comics that we can be better. Representation is important and decision-makers at comics publishers need to be aware of that. Go read Wimberly's comic.