AAPI Creators SDCC 2021: On Representation, Diversity, And Writing Across Cultures
San Diego Comic Con (SDCC), arguably one of the biggest conventions for comic books, is going virtual once again this year with Comic-Con @ Home. The history of Comic Con is a colorful one, involving a comics hustler, a part-time pornographer, and a bunch of teens, but it’s grown into a pop culture phenomenon that attracts people from around the world. The event was also virtual last year, but organizers are hoping to bring back the con in person next year. While attendees won’t be able to walk around and enjoy the cosplayers and attend live panels, SDCC has put together a full program schedule, with virtual events happening from Wednesday, July 21 through Sunday, July 25. I was able to listen in to the AAPI Creators SDCC 2021 panel this past Friday, which was both enlightening and entertaining.
The panel was titled “The Original Comics Pioneers!” and included Jeremy Holt (Made in Korea), Pornsak Pichetshote (The Good Asian, Infidel), and Ram V (Blue in Green, Grafity’s Wall). It was moderated by Vince Alvendia (Dark Agents Book One: Violet and the Trial of Trauma, Super-Abled Comics). They covered a wide range of topics including representation and writing across cultures, bringing back a white, male character as a person of color and/or different gender, and what inspires them.
I Sound Like A Broken Record But REPRESENTATION AND DIVERSITY ARE SO IMPORTANT
Image via Marvel Comics
A big topic for the panelists and moderator was representation and diversity in comics (no surprise there). All three panelists cited their own backgrounds and personal connections as inspiration for their work. Holt, who is a transracial adoptee and identifies as non-binary, said that these experiences informed the story for Made in Korea. When asked if he feels pressured to do good by the Asian community AND the LGBTQ community, he said:
“It’s an active thing (to put Asian and LGBTQ content out). When I came out in 2017, I looked back at all the work I was producing and realized I was writng these white male savior stories and it’s taken a lot of therapy to unpack why I was doing that. I was raised by white people and raised to not see color, which I think is a disservice to anyone who is PoC. I realized I’m in this unique position to write about something more authentic and something that’s just different. There are so many more interesting threads (when you take out the whiteness and add color).”
V talked about how his works have a strong musical presence and how music can be tied specifically to certain cultural facets that are still relatable. In Grafity’s Wall, V incorporated Indian rap and he drew parallels to American rap. Even if Indian rap isn’t in English, he said:
“The feeling of angst, and the feeling of ‘I’m having to struggle’…that commonality really ties in everything. Part of the reason for exploring this is Grafity’s Wall was because I felt like all the representations of Mumbai and the stories we tell about these places have been told by people looking in from the outside. There is more there.”
Pichetshote’s Infidel is about a Muslim-American woman who is haunted by entities that feed off xenophobia. With the Muslim ban that was enacted during Trump’s administration and the continued racial profiling of Muslim communities, Infidel is an important addition to diversifying comics and graphic novel lists. Speaking of writing cross-culturally, Pichetshote touched on the fact that he’s writing about a Pakistani-American woman when he himself is not. He said:
“The conversation that many people haven’t had is that I’m writing about another Asian American. There are a lot of touchpoints, such as in terms of the family dynamics. There is overlap (with my Thai background), so I’ve definitely been able to draw from these common experiences that we both have. Then from there, it was all about research. I talked to my Muslim-American friends to see how certain aspects of the character shifted from my worldview as a Thai-American man.”
Alvendia also brought up an interesting point, saying that many people still don’t think of Pakistan and India as Asian countries. That’s not to say that Pichetshote didn’t need to do research because he’s Asian; he still does. But putting more content featuring characters from other Asian countries could potentially encourage them to start writing.
The Panelists On Reimagining Well-Known Characters
Image via Disney Plus
Another big topic? Reimagining well-known white characters. Whether it’s a Black Captain America or having female versions of superheroes (She-Hulk, for example), there will always be those people who claim that these versions shouldn’t exist or “don’t count.” The AAPI creators discussion asked whether it makes more sense for creatives to work on developing new characters that can better represent these different diverse experiences. The general consensus was that characters can 100% be reimagined. V said:
“The artist drawing them hasn’t drawn them a different sex or , but they’re fundamentally changed if two different people are writing it,” he states. “So my question is why can’t that expand to the way they look? Because the way you are on the inside is one facet, and the way you look is also an important facet of those characters. There is absolutely no reason why a character can’t be portrayed a different way, a different sex cultural heritage — as long as you write it well.”
Holt made a good point by bringing up using (insert color here) face; basically just making a white character a certain race, but not considering the nuances that come with being a person of color. He said:
“If you haven’t lived that experience you really do need to do your research. You can’t just swap in a (character of color) to make your story more interesting. That’s a cop-out and it’s taking up space from people who haven’t been given that space to begin with.”
Similar to what Pichetshote did with Infidel, all the panelists stressed the importance of actually talking and learning from the people whose experiences you’re trying to write about. If you don’t, Pichetshote said you’ll be at the mercy of the internet. He said:
“Writers can write whatever they want, but they have to realize they live in an ecosystem where they will be written back to, where the voices they’re writing about will respond and they have to be able to live with the consequences of that response.”
Watch the AAPI creators SDCC 2021 panel below:
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Featured image via screengrab
Keilin Huang is a freelance writer that likes the Oxford comma, reading from her neverending pile of books from the library, and Reeses peanut butter cups. She thanks her Dad for introducing her to his Superman comics and probably majored in Journalism because of Lois Lane.