Even in a time when some of the biggest comic book heroes have been redrawn as people of color, those behind the scenes are still mainly white. Yes, Spiderman is now Afro-Latino and Thor is a woman, but who’s drawing them? At least one estimate shows that it’s an overwhelming number of white males. The funny pages and editorial cartoons at the major dailies don’t fair much better, either, leading to accusations of tokenism, appropriation, and work that simply doesn’t reflect its audience any longer. Just look at the widely panned, excessively sexualized Spider-Woman cover—this, despite research that shows that nearly half of comic book consumers today are female.
It’s not like there are no people of color drawing comics and cartoons. The internet is filled with them. In fact, when MariNaomi sat down to write an article about creating characters of another race than your own, she realized there was so much talent out there that an article wouldn’t do the topic justice enough. And so the Cartoonists of Color database was born: made up nearly 1,000 entries, the archive even features sections for non-male and LGBTQ cartoonists of color. Whether you’re looking to hire someone, find other artists like yourself, or simply want to discover some good art, the lists might be a good place to start. To find out more about them, The Creators Project spoke to MariNaomi:
The Creators Project: How many cartoonists are on each of your lists?
MariNomi: In Cartoonists of Color, there are presently 943 total people listed (125 in the LGBTQ section, and 293 in the non-male section). In Queer Cartoonists, there are 432 people listed. Since I was traveling last weekend, I wasn’t able to do my normal update, so I think there are maybe ten more people to add to each list.
When did you start the project?
In 2014, when I was doing research for an article, I started my own personal list. It quickly turned into this project once I realized the need. There was very little information out there about this subject! It was published on Midnight Breakfast. BuzzFeed also picked it up shortly after.
How much time do you put into it?
Between me and my husband, we probably spent about 100 hours collecting data and getting the website up and running. Those first months were a blur! Now that we have a system in place, it takes two to three hours for each update, depending on how many additions there are, and depending on how much editing each addition needs. Each creator spotlight takes anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour and a half. On the rare occasion I find myself with free time, I research creators and attempt to fill in some of the blanks. But it’s an endless chore. There are so many, and a lot of that info is constantly changing, which is why I depend so heavily on creators and their fans to help fill in the blanks. The way I see it, it's not really my list, it belongs to the community.
Are there stats on people of color, LGBT, and women in the industry?
The only group I’m aware of who keeps track of comics statistics are the Ladydrawers, and I believe they mainly focus on gender disparity.
Is there a general lack of access for these artists?
That’s a complicated question! It depends, but I’d have to say that overall, the answer is yes. Marginalized people have a long history of being told their voices are irrelevant, of being encouraged to tell stories from a more white-washed perspective. It’s exciting to see that changing, and I hope the change isn’t temporary. I personally am curious to read as many perspectives as possible, to broaden my horizons as a reader and as a human.
So you hear the question, "What people of color cartoonists?" a lot?
I’ve heard this so much over the years that’s it’s just rote. “There aren’t any black people in comics.” “You have to write for men, because women don’t read comics.” The people who say that shit aren’t doing their homework. Apparently we're doing their homework for them.
Have people come to you saying your list helped them hire or get hired?
Yes! I’ve heard from creators who’ve gotten paying gigs, artists who got picked up by galleries, lots of teachers and librarians, convention folk who use the lists to find panelists, bookstore owners who use them to find comics to stock in their stores… The work of maintaining these websites is pretty boring—I’d much rather be drawing comics—so it’s really this feedback that keeps me going.
Wouldn't they be much more useful with more complete image fields?
Absolutely! That’s why I hope that more people utilize that feature. It’s a work in progress.
How do you find the artists featured?
Most of the names in Cartoonists of Color are crowdsourced.
For Queer Cartoonists, initially I got a bunch of names out of the LGBTQ anthologies on my bookshelf. Then I invited queer cartoonists to enter their own information if they wanted to be included. I didn’t want to accidentally out anyone, so I’ve been more careful with this one. On a couple occasions I’ve questioned whether some entries were valid, and inquired with the cartoonists themselves. Each time turned out to be legit, but you can never be too careful!
For Cartoonists of Color, I started out with a list of maybe a dozen names that I compiled off the top of my head. After turning to the internet for research, I ended up with a paltry 30 or so names, and that’s when I turned to Facebook and Twitter. Suddenly there was a deluge, most of whom I researched and recorded into a spreadsheet. Since I created the online submission forms, I’ve gotten 380 entries in CoC and 278 entries in QC.
Is there any standard for skills of the artists featured on the list?
Nope. But when I do creator spotlights on Twitter and Facebook, I feature work that I think is exceptional (and yes, that is entirely subjective to my specific tastes). I have a huge backlog of people I want to spotlight, but I just haven’t found the time.
Click here to visit the Cartoonists of Color database.