Thanks in part to high-profile adaptations in movies, TV, and video games, comics have emerged as one of most exciting and influential media of this still-young century. But how well have comic books and comic strips been doing when it comes to depicting women of color? That’s the question at the heart of an interview at Blavity with artist and writer Deborah Whaley, whose most recent book is called Black Women In Sequence: Re-inking Comics, Graphic Novels, And Anime. The news, fortunately, is not all grim. Though modern comics are still largely dominated by white males, especially on the convention circuit, Whaley says that “a lot of black women artists that started working in the independent realm [are] gaining visibility and are now working for larger enterprises.” The inequality still exists, she says, but the gap is narrowing. Even more encouraging, according to Whaley, is that “there is a shift now to a broader spectrum of images, including skin tones, hair textures and styles, and narratives and characters that do not fit within binaries of meaning or identification.”
In the course of her interview, Whaley discusses the often troubled history of black women in comics. She cites Eartha Kitt’s portrayal of Catwoman on the 1960s Batman TV show as an early inspiration but also acknowledges the marginalizing of such pioneering black female comics as The Butterfly and Vixen. She also laments the fact that Barbara Brandon-Croft’s comic strip, Where I’m Coming From, did not have the popularity or impact of The Boondocks. A comic strip like Jim Lawrence’s Friday Foster, centering around a black female photographer, was “an exception in some ways,” but Whaley says that the 1975 film adaptation of the comic with Pam Grier “leaned toward black exotica.” Happily, as she looks toward the future, Whaley envisions “a black female revolution in the sequential art world” led by a bold new generation of artists who have something to say and a place to say it.