If you haven’t noticed the arts are going through a mini revolution recently, the generic stream of characters that have been churned out for so long is making a dramatic shift and a fast one. This hit comics in the past few years in a big way, as both Marvel and DC decided to get onboard with the diversity train. Whether this was because of outside (or inside) pressures or if this was something the company as a whole wanted to change (the proximity of their joint brand wide efforts makes this unlikely however), whatever the reason you can see its results today. Diversity here meant changing up many of the Caucasian, male, heterosexual characters for, well, anything but that. This came as a shock to many older readers who undoubtedly fit into that category, but also to others who believe this wasn’t executed in a smart way. There are good and bad ways to try and diversify, though you may think (and many at the studios clearly thought too) that inclusion alone is good enough, but this isn’t the case, see for yourself.
One way to make things weird is to slip in token characters, as in having one of each possible race for the sake of it as if ticking some sort of geographical checklist. This kind of clumsy inclusion can be seen a lot in kids TV shows of the 90s and often feels far from genuine. If there is a reason behind this even spread of characters, then fair enough but more often than not it seems like creators are simply trying to reach a quota. One of the worse things about having a single ethnic character or a single non-binary character is that their most obvious character trait is that they are different, this undermines the whole process in the first place.
Swap and Change
Something that definitely occurred in comics was an insatiable need to swap out main characters for more diverse ones. Almost overnight it seemed that leads like Thor and Captain America were being chopped and changed for alternatives, meanwhile DC was busy ‘Batgirling’ comics in a desperate need to attract young female readers. The problem here is that is that not only does this move look desperate, but it also upsets the pre-existing fans who had been along for the ride the whole time.
Authentic Character Growth
Would you like the replacement of your favourite TV show character if it happened between episodes for seemingly no reason? A much better way to make this happen is by introducing these characters steadily and giving readers a chance to get to know them. By creating likeable new characters with rich stories of their own readers won’t find big changes so jarring. What we don’t want to see is stereotypes on the page, gay characters constantly flamboyant and black kids only conversing in street slang. Instead designing interesting and unconventional stories for a diverse crowd will help along the way, this is something that the smaller studios have been doing from the start. Although the big two have their work cut out for them when it comes to phasing out characters with such huge legacies, some of the world’s best writers can do better than ‘turn her gay’ and ‘insert Asian character here’.