During this year’s San Diego Comic Con, Marvel Comics announced that it will be taking a major step towards diversifying its field of creators. For the very first time in the publisher’s history, they have hired a black woman to their writing staff: author, essayist, and professor, Roxane Gay.
What’s even better, Gay will be joining the creative team of a brand new series, expanding on the wildly popular Black Panther, currently headed up by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This new series, co-written by Gay and Coates, will be titled Black Panther: World of Wakanda, and will further explore the characters and relationships of the main Black Panther storyline.
This announcement is both an exciting step forward and a distressing reminder of how far we still have to go in our struggle for diversity, not just in comics, but in the creative teams who bring our fictional worlds to life. Diverse perspectives behind the scenes allow for enriching stories, characters, and perspectives on the page.
But in order for those perspectives to rise to the top of the pull list, comic book publishers have to first hire those writers, and while PoC writers can be found from the Big Two to the smallest of indie publishing houses, what’s missing are the women. Marvel Comics isn’t the only one that’s fallen way behind the curve. DC Comics only has two black female writers in their more than 70 year history of publishing, and though indie houses are more likely to publish the kinds of progressive stories you’re likely to find from underrepresented demographics, days of scouring lists of creative teams turned up a disheartening few black women who are really getting their chance to bring their voices to the larger audiences offered by these companies. And this doesn’t even touch on the dearth of asian, latina, middle eastern, and other women of color writing comics.
Those voices are out there though, and I’ve collected a few of them here. From new takes on iconic characters, to original stories of political activism and post-apocalyptic futures, these women are changing the face of comics one panel at a time.
Roxanne Gay may be the first black woman to write for Marvel Comics, but Yona Harvey is the second. She’ll be joining Gay on World of Wakanda, co-writing a 10-page backup story for the premiere issue. That story will focus on Zenzi, who incited a riot in the first issue of Black Panther.
This will be Harvey’s first foray into comics. Much like her fellow writers in the world of Black Panther her previous credits tended more toward the literary, in this case, as an award-winning poet.
One of the most formidable women (of any race) in DC Comics will soon be written by Vita Ayala, a member of the first group of graduates from DC’s Writers Workshop. Ayala will be penning backup stories starring none other than Amanda Waller, the tough-as-nails government agent who assembles the Suicide Squad, in two issues of Suicide Squad Most Wanted: El Diablo and Amanda Waller later this year.
Ayala also has an original series, Our Work Fills the Pews, publishing this fall from Black Mask Studios. The story follows a gay black man in a future America where those who are different are locked away in internment camps.
Nilah Magruder is probably best known for her work on the web comic MFK, a popular tale of reluctant adventure, with absolutely incredible artwork. The post-apocalyptic world featuring gorgeous landscapes and a vast array of colorful characters actually won the first ever Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity in 2015.
But as of October of this year, she’ll also be adding her name to the ranks of Marvel comics. Magruder will be lending her talents to September, a story in A Year of Marvels: The Unbeatable #1, teaming up two of Marvel’s furriest heroes, Tippy-Toe and Rocket Raccoon, in an effort to save Central Park.
We’re used the reimaginings of the tale of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but Micheline Hess brings her own spin to the classic storybook in her all ages comic from Rosarium Publishing. Malice in Ovenland follows Lily Brown, a young girl from Queens, as she discovers a world of adventure hidden inside her oven.
Hess says she was inspired to write this fantasy-adventure story for young audiences because as a kid she almost never saw this kind of comic with characters she could relate to.
Juliana "Jewels" Smith
An educator and community organizer, Juliana “Jewels” Smith decided to try teaching students about race, class, and community activism outside the classroom and inside the pages of comic books. The result was the series (H)afrocentric, an ongoing story about a group of young people of color working within their community to fight against gentrification.
Smith says she created the comic to challenge readers about the “presumptions around race, class, gender and sexuality through character dialogue.”
Web comics and self publishing can be hit or miss, but they’re also one of the best places to find new and diverse talent. Mildred Louis’ Agents of the Realm is definitely a hit. She’s been publishing the series twice a week for a few years now and just released the first physical collection thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign.
Agents of the Realm combines elements from a handful of genres, most recognizably the “magical girl” fantasy style of series like Sailor Moon, but with Louis’ own unique twist. The cast of characters offers a team of kick ass young women with diverse backgrounds and appearances.
Another web comic creator, Taneka Stotts is the writer behind Full Circle, a story about a world full of magic and adventure, and where a surprising number of the cast have wings. It’s a rare ensemble story that includes a group of characters with unique and engaging personalities, alongside a similarly unique and engaging story.
When not writing her web comic, Stotts is also working to amplify the voices of other minority groups in the comics world. She’s the editor/co-editor of two different anthologies: Beyond, which aims to tell queer stories set in sci-fi/fantasy universes, and the brand new anthology, Elements, focusing on creators of color.
Hopefully with more people like Stotts a list like this will continue to grow. Until then, let us know if there's anyone we missed. Who are some of your favorite women of color writing comics today? Share some creators in the comments below!