Robbie’s Comic Corner: People deserve to be seen in comics

By Robert Johnson Jr.
Arts & Features Editor

Comic books are a beautiful art form – this shouldn’t be a controversial statement. 

Unfortunately, it is – comics and graphic novels are still being discounted by the pop cultural world. 

This past week in particular was a big one for graphic novels at Framingham State, a phenomenon that can be attributed to the Swiacki Children’s Literature Festival [see pages 1 and 12].

Additionally, a few nights back, I attended the initiation ceremony – or at least, a portion of it – for the Alpha Upsilon Alpha Honor Society, specifically an initiation ceremony that pertained to their Alpha Pi Chapter. 

Alpha Upsilon Alpha is the Honor Society of the International Literacy Association, in case you were wondering, exactly, who these people are. It’s OK – I only learned of them recently.

Normally, I wouldn’t be one to attend these Honor Society ceremonies, given that I usually associate these groups with Greek life-inspired names with the frat parties colleges are known for, but this one was a unique case.

At this ceremony, I listened to a talk, “Finding Space in the Curriculum for Graphic Novels: Sequential, Verbal, and Visual Thinking,” by one Laura Jiménez – a lecturer and department chair for Language & Literacy Education at Boston University/Wheelock College – and I was just interested in everything she had to say.

The talk dealt with the use of graphic novels in the classroom setting, and the various studies over the years that show how text-only reading fares against its graphic novel counterpart, with a bevy of positive results returning for the latter.

However, what caught my attention the most was not said during the talk – it was something that Jiménez said to me after it. 

As we talked about how much we loved America Chavez as a character in “Young Avengers” and in her solo series, and the recent developments of Barney’s character in “Lumberjanes,” she told me something that happened three years ago that blew my mind.

“Listen, I was 49 years old before I found representation I could call my own in America [Chavez]. That’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Jiménez.

Now, Jiménez and I could relate on several levels – we both recently got into the comic book/graphic novel as an art form, which I’ve been reading for about six years, and she for three; we’re both members of the LGBTQ+ community; and we’re both Latinx.

We also struggled in finding ourselves in the medium.

Comic books and graphic novels have had a history that can be described as a very white, very male, dominated medium. By chance, if you think of Spider-Man, you usually think of the Peter Parker incarnations of the character – the quintessential adult male who also happens to be white and living in New York City.

Thankfully, I jumped back into comics during the time of the Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie run of “Young Avengers,” which has a ton of representation under its belt, but other comic readers were not as fortunate, or as lucky, to get into the medium at a good time.

Coming into comics at a “good time” is not good enough, I’m afraid. There needs to be representation in comics all the time.

Sure, new writers, new artists, and new intellectual properties are always cropping up, sporting diverse creative teams, but comics are still very white and very male, and it’s very discouraging to those on the outside looking in – those who are searching the medium to find themselves. 

Lots of work has been done, yes, and there’s no way I can deny that, but more still needs to be done in the comics world. 

There’s a reason why this column has such a focus on marginalized individuals, as well as comics and graphic novels outside the realm of your stereotypical, superhero comic – people want to be seen and people deserve to be seen in the media.

If anything, it’ll make the industry more like the real