Marvel’s Hip Hop Covers are NOT Cultural Appropriation

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Sam Wilson, Captain America #1 (Artwork by Mahmud Asrar) / Long. Live. A$AP. by A$AP Rocky

Earlier this week Marvel announced that part of it’s relaunch of the All-New All-Different Marvel universe would include variant covers based on Hip Hop album covers. The covers looked great. Most people I saw where very excited about the covers and really looked forward to trying to get some. I really liked the Ant-Man “Ready to Shrink” one.

Photo Credit: Marvel.com

But then things took a predictable turn. Marvel Editor Tom Brevoort was answering questions on his Formspring and someone asked this and he responded:

brevoort1

Now, I will be the first to say that even if I understood where Brevoort was coming from, his initial response wasn't very wise. I went back and looked at some of his other Formspring question/answers and I do get why he responded that way. Bottom Line: He gets a lot of white nerds complaining about the new diverse characters Marvel has coming out. One of them even asked when Marvel was going to have a strongly Christian Heterosexual character.  Apparently Daredevil/Matt Murdock doesn't exist. As someone who gets fed up with stupid questions from trolls, I can totally understand how one could read the original question and just be fed up and go “What does one have to do with the other?” Because honestly, it’s not an either-or situation.  But that doesn't mean it was wrong for people to hold him accountable to follow up and explain.  Thankfully, he did:

Brevoort2

That should have cleared up anything right there. The "what does one have to do with the other?" is about turning this into an "either-or" is situation. So that should be the end of it right?

Wrong.

You goddamn right I own this cover. It's amazing

You goddamn right I own this cover. It's amazing

What followed was a small vocal minority claiming Marvel doesn’t care about diversity. That the Hip Hop covers were “cultural appropriation”. I even saw one person claim that Marvel stole the idea from them…even though doing parody or homage drawings based on Hip Hop album covers has always been a thing...for decades. Hell, several years ago I did a Photoshop for a frat brother’s comedy album that spoofed 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Trying cover.  Come on people. Stop it. This is probably some of the laziest critiquing I’ve ever seen. These are harmless variant covers that are reaching out and resonating with not just white readers but also black readers as well. How many black people saw those covers and thought “That’s dope, maybe I should check those out”?  Considering how diverse the character line up is for these books, isn’t that a great thing? Used to be when Marvel would do something like this years ago, they’d be promoting books that were surface level diverse and that’s it. Storm (or some other black character) would be a background character and that’s it. Or they would do some obvious gimmick like the marriage of Storm and Black Panther (Let’s have the two Africans marry). But in 2015, that’s not what’s happening here. I’m reading a lot of these books and non-white or non-male characters are taking major roles. How in the world is that “appropriation” and not just good marketing to the demographic that matches your characters?

Look at how beautiful this artwork is and tell me you don't want to buy this book immediately

Look at how beautiful this artwork is and tell me you don't want to buy this book immediately. (Infinity Gauntlet #1 Secret Wars Tie-In)

Also can we stop immediately moving the goal posts once we reach a milestone? Can we take a moment to enjoy a victory? I grew up reading Marvel where the choices for black heroes were slim. Storm, Luke Cage, Bishop and Black Panther were the biggest names and given the most attention. Outside of that the pickings were slim. Not saying there weren’t others (War Machine, Falcon, Monica Rambeau, etc.) but they never got top billing. And even the ones that were (Storm, Luke Cage, etc) still felt like they were afterthoughts compared to some other characters. That's the reason I was skeptical when Marvel first announced they were killing off Ultimate Peter Parker and replacing him with a Black/Latino kid named Miles Morales back in 2011. I thought for sure it would be yet another temporary gimmick like so many before it. Four years later, I’m so happy to have been wrong. Miles Morales is an amazing test case for bringing us a more diverse Marvel. Not only did he stay THE Ultimate Spider-Man but the character is so popular he’s one of the only characters from the Ulitmate universe to make the cut and survive Secret Wars. He’ll be THE main Spider-Man come this Fall. And he won’t be alone. Sam Wilson will be back as Captain America, Thor will still be [redacted],Kamala Khan will be back as Ms. Marvel, Monica Rambeau will join Black Panther and others in Ultimates and there’s many more that STILL need to be announced. Sure, I want more diversity in the writing room and more diverse artists, but getting a diverse line up of characters was the #1 most important thing for many of us who read comics. Picking up a book that has Kamala Khan on the cover is inspiring for all of us. That’s what draws a lot of us in. When I saw that Rae Sremmurd cover for All New Captain America with Sam Wilson, I went out to buy it immediately. Then I read it and the book was great. I bought the Secret Wars tie-in Infinity Gauntlet solely off of seeing the beautiful artwork depicting the main characters: A black family. Not only was the artwork great but so was the writing. I didn't look up who wrote and drew the book until after I finished issue #2. Why? Because the most important thing to me was seeing and reading quality blackness.

The artwork actually gets WORSE as you read this issue

The artwork actually gets WORSE as you read this issue. (Storm #3)

And that's the most important part here. If the book is good, I honestly don’t care who is writing or drawing it. Yes, I believe Marvel needs to give more opportunities to diverse writers, however I think it’s just as important that in a white male dominated field, white males learn how to write and draw people of color better. Their whiteness isn’t an excuse for drawing black characters to look like monkeys (Look at the artwork in Issue #3 of Storm). It’s not an excuse for having a strong black character like Storm always needing a man she’s had a relationship with pop up in every issue of her solo books. I know it’s not an excuse because I’ve read books written and drawn by white men who treat black characters excellently. Rick Remender wrote Misty Knight into a few issues of All New Captain America and she was written better in those few issues than Storm has been written in her own book for 11 issues. The ethnicity of the writer and artist isn’t an excuse for shitty quality. Even if a book is given to a person of color to write or draw, eventually the characters in those books will be written and draw at some point by a white male. Mighty Avengers, Thor, All New Captain America, hell even the spotlight Hickman put on T’Challa and Wakanda in his Avengers/New Avengers run have all been great. Brian Michael Bendis created Miles Morales and helped propelled that character to the point that folks want to see him in a movie. To make this point larger than Marvel, Brian K Vaughn has written Saga and Y the Last Man and the women in his book are written so well. Does that take away the fact that we need more women writers? Absolutely not. But I’m also going to give props to those writers and artists who are talented enough to not be one trick ponies and only be able to draw and write whiteness.

No one is saying this is the end of the conversation. No one. Truthfully, its really just the beginning of the conversation and we’re finally starting to have it. But that doesn’t meant the conversation has to be contentious. Honestly, most of us just want to be nerds. We want to read, watch and consume our favorite forms of medium and be excited about them. I grew up reading comic books and loving them even though there were so few characters that looked like me. Now I’m back to reading comic books and every where I turn there’s a popular character that I can relate to. It’s nerd heaven to me.

Another great book you should be reading

Another great book you should be reading. (Mighty Avengers vol 2)

I do not believe in the term “outrage culture”. It’s too broad of a term and it’s most often used to shout down those trying to shed light on a legit issue. What I’m saying is that there are levels to this shit. Some things might not seem like a big deal because we’ve allowed them to go on for so long they seem normal. We NEED folks out there bringing attention to these things. The Joker variant cover for Batgirl was deemed “outrage culture” but there was validity to the issue there. The cover was wrong and even the artist himself admitted that. The ridiculous Spider-Woman cover from a while back was also a valid issue and showed the double standard in overly sexualizing female characters.  I also think Marvel dropped the ball HARD with Storm’s solo book. It was a disgrace to have the #1 black female character in Marvel with a book so terribly written and drawn. Storm’s book was flat out offensive. Even movie-wise while I love what Marvel Studios is doing and the plan they are laying out, I’m still aware of the fact that they are not perfect. I’m still a little unsure of how to feel about this Tilda Swinton casting as the Ancient One in Dr. Strange. I get that Marvel is trying to balance between diversity and not casting stereotypes but an Asian woman being cast in that role probably would have been the best choice. It also goes without saying that Marvel does need to do more to bring on more diverse artists and writers. I eagerly await to see who they are tapping as writers and artists for the rest of their fall line up (remember, we don’t have all the books yet). I’m also anxiously awaiting the announcement of who will direct and write the Black Panther movie. We’re all hoping they go with a person of color. That’s just a fact that no one will argue against. However, none of these things take away from the giant leaps forward we’ve seen being made in the medium we all love. Many of us see something that was not clear before and that’s an actual path to sustainable diversity. Yes,that gets me excited and happy.

Yup. This will be bought this fall.

Yup. This will be bought this fall.

These Hip Hop covers aren’t “Cultural Appropriation”. They’re just really dope covers that can draw people to a fall line up full of diverse characters. If Marvel was doing these covers and then treating these diverse characters like crap, I’d be the first one in line talking about how much of a gimmick and terrible decision this is. But that’s not the case. I’m reading a lot of these books and I love the care that they’re taking with these characters. You can actually tell these characters matter to them and I love it. It would be something different if Marvel was releasing these Hip Hop Covers and then releasing work the quality of Storm (again, what a horrendous book). But Storm was an outlier. Honestly, it was really the only book I couldn’t get into. Marvel is actually catering to minorities. Doesn’t mean they’re 100% there yet. It doesn’t take away from what DC is doing with Milestone 2.0 (I’m looking forward to this as well). It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t demand more diverse creators. However, to make a leap from what great books we’re getting now to claim they don’t care and this is cultural appropriation is just ridiculous and absurd. Fighting for diversity is needed and appreciated. But refusing to take a moment to enjoy the fruits of those labors seems pretty depressing.

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Charles (Kriss)

3 comments

  1. Avatar
    Cortney A. 22 July, 2015 at 14:38 Reply

    Great article and I totally agree. We should never stop fighting for equal representation but we also shouldn’t focus so much on the fighting that we ignore the things being offered that we were fighting for in the first place. I’m thrilled the character Blue Marvel is FINALLY getting some time in the spotlight.

  2. Avatar
    Darrell Taylor 27 July, 2015 at 14:06 Reply

    What I find most offensive is the overreaction to people for asking a valid question. No one attacked Marvel for doing the covers. But they did ask a valid question about the lack of hiring for black creators. And if you don’t care about the issue that is fine but what is the need to jump on the people that do care about the issue. As long as both sides are respectful of each other why can’t there be real dialogue? This attitude from some to marginalize anyone who has an opposing view is a problem I see too much of online.

    • Avatar
      Kriss 27 July, 2015 at 22:02 Reply

      I haven’t seen anyone who likes the covers and also claims Marvel shouldn’t hire more diverse creators. I think we’re all in agreement that needs to happen. But I also think it’s wrong to think this Marvel is the same Marvel of even a few years ago.

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