Comic Book Publishers Struggle To Attract New Generation Of Readers
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
If you're one of the millions of people who will watch the new "Avengers" movie this weekend, you'll see a cast that's largely white and male. But go to a comic book store later this month, and you'll find brand-new "Avengers" characters. And with the possible exception of Iron Man, no white guys among them. Reporter Rafael Johns of Youth Radio has been looking into the comic book industry's efforts to diversify.
RAFAEL JOHNS, BYLINE: Nine-year-old Gray Chasin and his 13-year-old sister, Zoa are sorting through comics at their home in Park Slope, Brooklyn. They're looking for examples of comic books that get it wrong.
ZOA: Grey, can you pass me that "Power Girl"?
GRAY: "Power Girl"? Oh, "Power Girl's" in "Kingdom Come." Here you go.
ZOA: Oh, my God. Who is this character?
JOHNS: They're looking at a comic from the late '90s with a drawing of a woman with a tiny waist and enormous breasts.
ZOA: It's like women are expected to look like that. And I just feel like that's, like, extremely sexist and rude.
JOHNS: I know where she's coming from. I'm queer and black and a big nerd, and I've always liked comic books. But it's been hard to find characters who look and act like me who aren't offensive stereotypes or, worse - boring. Which has a lot to do with why I often look at comic books, but rarely spend the money to buy them. Not good news for this guy.
DAN DIDIO: My name is Dan DiDio, and I'm co-publisher of DC Entertainment.
JOHNS: From the mid-to-late 2000s, comic books' largely white male cast of characters had attracted largely white male fans - older ones. And because of it, readership and profits flat-lined for more than half a decade.
DIDIO: We realized that our characters were created 40, 50, 60, 70 years ago. And the world has changed, and we've got to change our characters along with them and diversify our cast, our voice and really be able to connect with as many of our readers as possible.
JOHNS: DiDio says DC is trying to move beyond the model of a one-leotard-fits-all crowd-pleaser like Superman. In July, the company will launch 25 new titles more diverse in gender, race and sexuality and designed to target specific demographics. They're also revamping existing characters.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BATMAN")
BURT WARD: (As Dick Grayson) Holy apparition.
YVONNE CRAIG: (As Barbara Gordon) No, Boy Wonder, I'm Batgirl.
JOHNS: With Batgirl, DC updated a character who's been around since the early '60s. But today, instead of riding a purple motorcycle with frilly lace, Batgirl is getting her Ph.D. She lives in Burnside, a hip borough in Gotham - think Brooklyn - and she's surrounded by a diverse group of friends, including one who's transgender. Oh, and she is selling better than she has in years.
PAULA RODRIGUEZ: Let's see what we have. There you go. All new "X-Men" 38.
JOHNS: At Dr. Comics and Mr. Games in Oakland, Calif., store manager Paula Rodriguez says the new, more diverse comic books are changing who's coming to the store.
RODRIGUEZ: Parents, they're now bringing their daughters into us to get their weekly comic with Daddy. Which is the coolest thing to see is, like, Dad's coming in and getting a "Spiderman," and he's like, oh yeah, and I need a "My Little Pony." And I'm like, what did you need? And he says, oh, a "My Little Pony." I'm like uh-huh (laughter).
JOHNS: Rodriguez says the boys' locker room feel of the comic book world is finally changing. When she was a kid, she says comic book stores had little to offer young women except "Archie." Now, over at Marvel Comics, a female character has proven herself worthy of possessing the power of Thor. And Kamala Kahn, who's female and Muslim, is one of the most talked-about characters in comics today.
This is "Teen Titans," and it's about teenage superheroes.
My new favorite character, Bunker in the "Teen Titans" comic book, is flamboyantly gay and Latino. And it's important for me to see brown characters who aren't muggers and who don't speak in slang. Being able to follow a character who's both brown and gay keeps me interested and invested in a comic book. And it's also what makes me willing to actually invest in one.
Thank you so much.
For NPR News, I'm Rafael Johns.
(SOUNDBITE OF CASH REGISTER DRAWER SHUTTING)
SIEGEL: That story was produced by Youth Radio. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The full names of the children featured in this story are Gray Sansom-Chasin and Zoa Chasin.]
Correction May 6, 2015
The full names of the children featured in this story are Gray Sansom-Chasin and Zoa Chasin.