Ethnic characters in comics

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Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby Elvenboyslut » July 8th, 2014, 5:44 pm

If you don't associate with people of the culture/ethnicity that you're trying to represent, you're going to screw yourself over. At the end of the day, any prejudices (no matter how non-malicious or supposedly positive) are going to shine through the characters you write and how you represent them. Which is fine, but be ready to deal with that.

The only way to "just write people" is to know people, but remember that you will never actually understand what it's like to be a person of that culture that deals with a world that isn't that culture.

I don't particularly like the "just write people" suggestion either, because "people" often defaults to ideas of normalcy, which erases the identities of the people you're trying to write. If you're going to just default them to whatever your cultural experience is and write them with no difference based on that identity and experience, there is no point in making them that ethnicity/culture in the first place.
[edit: This is coming from a black, first gen american, bisexual guy. It would be impossible to represent my as a person with all my complexities if you remove the social effects and experiences those things come with.]
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Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby NobleKatana » July 8th, 2014, 10:04 pm

I think your asking the wrong question here about this subject. While race is a very touchy subject in any medium and stereotyping happens a lot in stories there is an easy way handle writing a character of any race or religion. A character's race/religion should not define their character.

Now that doesn't mean that their race/religion shouldn't be a part of the character's identity, it means it can't be the only thing. A 3 dimensional character has more traits other than their skin color. When you write a character that is African, Asian, etc, write them as you would any other character.

A good example of an ethnic character written as any other is Falcon from Captain America: The Winter Solder. Although Falcon is black, he does not say or act like a black sterotype would in say a Micheal Bay movie, rather he acts like any other person would.

Take a look at Extra Credits Race in Game video, while this maybe for games it applies to all medium.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mbOSB7EQpM
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Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby mitchellbravo » July 9th, 2014, 10:16 am

NobleKatana wrote:A good example of an ethnic character written as any other is Falcon from Captain America: The Winter Solder. Although Falcon is black, he does not say or act like a black sterotype would in say a Micheal Bay movie, rather he acts like any other person would.


The issue with this, which is what I think elvenboyslut was getting at in the post before yours, "[acting] like any other person would" creates this idea of some sort of default "normal" that usually winds up being a template of a person who has never dealt with issues that someone of that race/gender/sexuality would deal with in their life. It's like this idea of a raceless cellophane person who just happens to be whatever color skin, and while that seems laudable and progressive, it can often seem inauthentic.

I get what you're saying, though, and you're not wrong. I just wanted to point out that the key is (and I think you were making this point too) there is a happy medium to be found between "offensive racist stereotype/token character" and "cellophane person, skintone chosen at random from the Crayola box, whose appearance has had no effect on the way they've been seen by society." It's just difficult (for anybody, but specifically for people who haven't gone through that type of discrimination/treatment) to find where that happy medium is.
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Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby stkbayfield » July 9th, 2014, 11:33 am

The most important thing to do with writing outside of your experience is to research your subject, check some other fiction that successfully pulled off what you're aiming for and most of all, remember context. When I write Asia Ellis from my comic, I am not writing a woman of Indian ethnicity. I'm writing a young woman whose circumstances raised her. I always need to know how a person turned up as they did before I can understand what they will do next.

I ask myself right at the start. Where was she raised? Was it in India or was it in America? Were her parents born in India? Were one of her parents from Pakistan? Was their marriage arranged? Did they try to Americanize or preserve their culture? Were they strict parents or lax? Did they raise her in Hindu culture? Did she reject her parents values or accept them?

All these factors make a character.

Just taking the concept of an Indian woman and building from the views that I picked up from one too many Bollywood movie would be a disservice to the people I have met in my life. I take classmates, coworkers and friends that I have known in my life and apply my knowledge of how culture affects personality and build from that.

Asia is probably a poor example because she was raised by an adoptive parent (after 6-7 years of [SPOILERS]). But the fact holds true. Every person has a story. Every person's story defines them. Talking to real people and reading about lives from the backgrounds you wish to represent is the best way to get context clues. Much like Inception, never steal from real life. Only borrow bits and pieces. You never want to insult a friend by reading their life in your web comic, regardless of tone and sincerity.

TL;DR: People are people. Write from their backgrounds. People from different cultures act they way they do because of their raising. Read up on the circumstances of where they came from, and if they come from the same city as the rest of the cast, find out about what kind of household they were raised in (and remember that kids are not their parents). Reality is the best teacher.
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Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby Elvenboyslut » July 9th, 2014, 7:55 pm

NobleKatana wrote:I think your asking the wrong question here about this subject. While race is a very touchy subject in any medium and stereotyping happens a lot in stories there is an easy way handle writing a character of any race or religion. A character's race/religion should not define their character.

Now that doesn't mean that their race/religion shouldn't be a part of the character's identity, it means it can't be the only thing. A 3 dimensional character has more traits other than their skin color. When you write a character that is African, Asian, etc, write them as you would any other character.

A good example of an ethnic character written as any other is Falcon from Captain America: The Winter Solder. Although Falcon is black, he does not say or act like a black sterotype would in say a Micheal Bay movie, rather he acts like any other person would.

Take a look at Extra Credits Race in Game video, while this maybe for games it applies to all medium.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mbOSB7EQpM
Colorblind is just as problematic as stereotyping.

Context, as stkbayfield said, is extremely important. Upbringing alone isn't enough though. The bubble a young person's personality exists in doesn't hold once they leave the nest. That is truly what will shape them as an adult.

With the example of Falcon, look at the situation in the movie and who he was interacting with. Was it his life long friends? His family? People that know him deeper than professionally? No.

The only way to write "real people" is to be aware of their real reality and write from their perspective instead of your own. Always remember that any minority (and that doesn't mean in number, but in power balance) will be seen as an "other" and treated as such, even by the most well meaning person of the majority who thinks "you speak so well" is a compliment.

Situational self erasure is a survival tactic of minorities looking to be quietly and peacefully successful in a majority's society that "others" and fears us for that otherness. (Look up the term "model minority" if you're interested in learning more). "Normal acting" is more often than not an artificiality that we construct to be accepted professionally and as intellectually "worthy". You often see people drop the mask when they're in an informal environment that values, rather than demonizes what's normal and natural for us. Like our names or our hair in it's natural state. http://www.thefrisky.com/2014-07-09/the-soapbox-ciaras-inelegant-new-hairstyle-and-the-politics-of-black-hair/

Being taught by life that you have to play this game to survive is a HUGE factor that will affect minority characters and shape how they see your world and interact in it. It doesn't matter if they're of a fantasy culture or a real world one.

As a side note, defaulting the majority as normal is a symptom of pervasive supremacist attitudes. Even if you completely disagree with them, they're so ingrained in society, that you accept and reiterate them yourself without noticing. The best way to start to overcome this is to stop seeing ethnicity and culture as an "other". We ALL belong to ethnicities and cultures, even if your own is so normalized by society that you that you think it's the default.
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Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby Elvenboyslut » July 9th, 2014, 8:00 pm

mitchellbravo wrote:
NobleKatana wrote:A good example of an ethnic character written as any other is Falcon from Captain America: The Winter Solder. Although Falcon is black, he does not say or act like a black sterotype would in say a Micheal Bay movie, rather he acts like any other person would.


The issue with this, which is what I think elvenboyslut was getting at in the post before yours, "[acting] like any other person would" creates this idea of some sort of default "normal" that usually winds up being a template of a person who has never dealt with issues that someone of that race/gender/sexuality would deal with in their life. It's like this idea of a raceless cellophane person who just happens to be whatever color skin, and while that seems laudable and progressive, it can often seem inauthentic.

I get what you're saying, though, and you're not wrong. I just wanted to point out that the key is (and I think you were making this point too) there is a happy medium to be found between "offensive racist stereotype/token character" and "cellophane person, skintone chosen at random from the Crayola box, whose appearance has had no effect on the way they've been seen by society." It's just difficult (for anybody, but specifically for people who haven't gone through that type of discrimination/treatment) to find where that happy medium is.
The sad fact is that every minority character is tokenized by default when they exist in a setting where they are the only representation of that minority. This isn't the case with the majority (in the case of america, read: white) because they are considered the default normal. The only thing you can do is be sensitive and aware to how society works for characters and readers in both groups.
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Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby mitchellbravo » July 9th, 2014, 8:29 pm

Elvenboyslut wrote:
As a side note, defaulting the majority as normal is a symptom of pervasive supremacist attitudes. Even if you completely disagree with them, they're so ingrained in society, that you accept and reiterate them yourself without noticing. The best way to start to overcome this is to stop seeing ethnicity and culture as an "other". We ALL belong to ethnicities and cultures, even if your own is so normalized by society that you that you think it's the default.


This is the point I was trying to make in my post, but you worded it much, much better.
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Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby RavynneNevyrmore » September 25th, 2014, 8:48 pm

As a fellow white, privileged, relatively middle class girl, I'd say don't underestimate your own lack of privilege. You are female. You have experienced that "otherism." Draw on the experiences that have "othered" you as a female, and extrapolate to imagine how similar experiences might "otherize" your characters based on their race. At the same time, treat your minority characters as you would want a male author to treat female characters.
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Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby xX-DragonFairy-Xx » September 26th, 2014, 10:53 pm

Ah oh my gosh I know it's been a long time but these have been some really great responses. I'm glad I still have a ways to go before all these characters show up in my comic, and y'all have all given me a lot to think about. I don't think there is one right way to go about this, and I feel context is a huge thing, which could address the whole, "Do you reverse stereotypes, ignore them, use them, what is 'normal' ect"

I certainly think if you use characters that live on THIS earth, in whatever time, CERTAINLY need to have that historical context. And then characters from a fictional world, or an alien world, should have that context specific environment have an effect on their attitudes, that actually in my mind, could be completely different from any attitudes here.

I don't think stuff like stereotypes should be lampshaded, that is something that annoys me actually, in most media. I think the greatest example of well written ethnic characters I've seen recently is the Pizza family in Steven universe. The Grandmother and father speak with an accent due to them being from Ghana, as well as having a more african names, while the children who grew up in the american town, beach city, and so speak like americans, an have american names. They have a history, and it shows in the characters. It's not stereotypical for someone who grew up somewhere else to have a different kind of name or manner of speaking, it adds to the characters. I dunno, I felt it was important to mention. A friend of mine, who's pretty adamant about the subject is just in love with those characters.

Let's see, as I've given more thought to the characters I'm trying to write, I think I'm most worried about misrepresenting others beliefs. I think that's whats been most touchy for me as of late. Like, so I have a character who's Muslim, and then one who's Jewish, and I just feel like I don't know enough about those religions. I'm terrified I'm going to get something wrong, especially for the boy who's Muslim, because I was thinking of having his religion be a big part of his character arc, but I just don't know a way to go about researching it, or even focusing too much on it and then restricting what I can do with the character. I mean, these are real peoples beliefs, and religion is a lifelong thing. I don't know if I could ever REALLY understand anything about it. and on top of that, he's from modern Afghanistan. Or at least I was hoping to write him that way. But thats another really sensitive, touchy, horrible, subject. I don't want to misrepresent any information, and I feel so in the dark about it all. It's something I really wanna do, but it's just terrifying thinking about going about it all.

And then I have two characters who are Native American Twins, and I run into a whole other problem with them. There are toooons of tribes, who all have different traditions and beliefs. I can't find many traditional stories from them, and even then I start to second guess how credible any sources I can find would be. I have yet to really decide which tribe I would want them to be a part of, and then when I do decide it would really affect their characters as a whole.

I don't think I'm so worried about stereotyping, since I'm mostly writing to achieve that the characters be children, pretty innocent of most of this stereotype stuff to begin with. And I think I can do a good job balancing culture with context. It just not knowing enough of the facts that gets to me, really.
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Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby Arren » October 6th, 2014, 8:28 pm

Other cultures are great source of inspiration, you just have to do some research and learn about things you draw. If your intention isn't drawing something to spread racism and hate the there's no problem. I have many characters inspired by other cultures. I draw them because I want to show world where many cultures mix together.
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Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby aquakitty101 » October 6th, 2014, 11:59 pm

How about middle class characters who don't act cultural.
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Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby kyupol » October 24th, 2014, 9:06 pm

xX-DragonFairy-Xx wrote:I dunno where to post this, but I figured here is just as good a place as any.

So I've been trying to write for some characters that are of various ethnic and religious groups, but I've been a little bit anxious about writing them at all due to my being a white, privileged middle class girl. I just don't feel qualified, I suppose.

I've been seeing other webcomics and comics getting a lot of criticism for having characters that people say represent a racist stereotype, and before I had read those comments I hadn't considered them a stereotype. Which kind of worries me, especially if I'm considering writing characters outside my own ethnic and religious group.

So, I guess my question is, how far does a character have to go to be considered representing a racist or stereotypical view? I don't really know how to go about asking this, but I thought I'd put it out there.


Just let the political correctness out the other ear, friend.

People get so offended by everything it's ridiculous. All political correctness does is stifle free speech and create a society of fakes and phonies.

That's more annoying, actually. I prefer bluntness over fake ness. Let your yes be yes and your no be no... :)
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Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby cornelius7 » June 22nd, 2016, 12:51 pm

mikemacdee wrote:I'd probably take the same route that I tell people to take when writing the "other gender."

Just write people. Make everything else an afterthought.

But do immerse yourself in other cultures anyway. Read about Black and Latino history. Read about the Stonewall Riots. Read about Asian and American-Indian actors versus Hollywood. Read about your own cultural heritage and see the kind of shit IT deals with (like people assuming they're all privileged).

zacksims123 wrote:it's all about your morals in my opinion.
do you think this is racist?
then it's probably not.


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"Eh, it's fine. Print it."


THANKYOU. This is perfect. Being "ethnic" myself, I personally feel like even thinking about it in terms of "adding diversity" or writing in a different ethnic background other than your own starts to wade into risky waters. You have to ask yourself why you would want to do that in the first place. If its a case where there is a person in your life that you are designing a character after that has really inspired you, or an artist or actor that you think is BEAUTIFUL and you want to model a character after, than by all means, go after it! If youve actually RESEARCHED a religion or culture that has inspired you and that you have spent actual time learning, studying, and believing in it to a certain degree yourself (I say this only because I think the best authors have the ability to place themselves truly in the foreign ideologies of their character) then and only then are you qualified to write about that ethnic/cultural experience. If you are doing this only so you dont have a cast of just white people, you probably have the wrong idea already. It wouldnt hurt for there to be one more all white cast lmao its waaaaaaaaaaaaaayy to late for that. You could leave it up to the people of the background you hope to portray to write and draw their own experiences into their stories/art. Also, You shouldnt seek to DIVERSIFY anything. You should seek to NORMALIZE it, I like to say. Because it shouldnt be a special thing that a cast of characters reflect the normal world. So write your characters first, their ideologies as well and think about their skin color LAST.
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Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby Indagold » August 19th, 2017, 6:35 pm

If you feel being white makes you anxious and afraid to write a character that is different from you I think that's a problem you need to address in terms of what politics has done to influence you to think of yourself in that way and assuming privilege is something that's your fault and not the fault of people who actually are racist who perpetrate these problems in the first place. It's just another word thrown around you have no control over, it shouldn't influence how you think lol

Writing people who are different from you is just a mixture of research and understanding that ethnicity isn't what makes a person human, it's being human that does.
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Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby Darksh1ne » August 28th, 2017, 4:00 am

due to my being a white, privileged middle class girl


Please.... don't ever say those words again. Leave the horrible SJW/PC nonsense behind and enjoy life at its fullest. You can't please everyone, so don't even try to achieve a goal like this. Better simply do what you like and find your own audience.
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