Marvel Comic Artist Draws Criticism for Oversexualized, Whitewashed Teen Hero
Comic book fans rejoiced this summer when Marvel announced the Invincible Iron Man series, whose main character is a 15-year-old Black female genius named Riri Williams. The excitement surrounding the new series pointed to it being an answer to the lack of diversity in the comic cook world. However, all that glitters is not gold.
On Wednesday, Oct. 19, the first look at the covers drawn by artist J. Scott Campbell for the first edition of Invincible Iron Man went viral.
The newest version of Riri Williams is significantly lighter in skin color. Many were vocal about how colorism in Western society dictates that Black characters should be — and more often than not are — lighter skinned or racially ambiguous when in starring roles.
The #teensthatlookliketeens hashtag makes me so happy !!! There’s no excuse to sexualise (and whiten) Riri, she’s perfect as is!
— Kuragehime (@tiredartfriend) October 20, 2016
Critics also felt that she was oversexualized for a minor, which is a sexist norm for female characters in comic books, a racialized sexist norm for Black women, and inappropriate due to her age. Additionally, her overly sexy appearance does nothing to portray one of her best qualities, and the main point of the comic: Riri Williams is a genius.
The artist, J. Scott Campbell, did not take these criticisms well — however valid and however rooted in historical and societal context.
— J. Scott Campbell (@JScottCampbell) October 19, 2016
@JScottCampbell To a young dark skinned black girl who may struggle to accept the color of her skin it is THAT different.
— flower child. (@jnicole_94) October 19, 2016
Many Twitter pages, among them @MizCarmenVixen and @BlackGirlNerds led the charge in trying to help Campbell understand the criticism, and spread the words that it is possible to not sexualize children. Though it mostly fell on deaf ears in regard to Campbell and his blind following, a hashtag to help illuminate the issues was born from this: #TeensThatLookLikeTeens.
The creator of the hashtag, Tee “Vixen” Franklin, whose Twitter handle is @MizCarmenVixen, told Atlanta Black Star, “I created the tag to show that their are creators who know how to draw teens [without] oversexualizing them.”
Franklin made it very clear that this is in no way limited to body type. She continued, saying that she wanted to prove that illustrators and artists can draw teens “without making them appear older in the face. If they just so happen to have curves and are well developed, it doesn’t mean sexualize them. They’re still kids.”
@itsbricox so creators used the tag and posted their works of art showing that they have comic characters that look like teens…
— #MHAnthology (@MizCaramelVixen) October 21, 2016
And thus, a hashtag was born.
You do realize these are valid critiques from both fans and critics right? This deserves your attention. https://t.co/TzYZcfJZnx
— Black Girl Nerds (@BlackGirlNerds) October 19, 2016
But even these valid critiques and positions did not sway J. Scott Campbell.
Worth checking out #TeensThatLookLikeTeens for non-sexualized, realistic comic book images of teens of various gender & ethnic identities.
— MR Daniel (@mrdaniel_then) October 19, 2016
The hashtag was a rallying cry for artists across Twitter, challenging them to display their creations, as well as draw age-appropriate teens who were not (and should not be) oversexualized, or as the hashtag says, teens that look like teens. The artists showed pictures of teens they had drawn to prove it was not difficult to do.
— Pum-Jenn Spice Latte (@princess_jem4) October 19, 2016
Other artists displayed their own renderings of Riri as well as other Black girls who are heroes in 2016.
— jordan renee (@JordanSaidSo) October 19, 2016
— anthonyharris (@anthonyharris) October 19, 2016
Many of the tweets importantly pointed out that white female teens are not sexualized in the same way that their Black counterparts are.
Y’all know why #TeensThatLookLikeTeens is full of great examples of *non-Black* teens looking like teens, right? I’ll wait.
— Joamette Kills (@JoametteGil) October 20, 2016
— awful haunting (@audreyhawkins) October 19, 2016
— MEGASHEEN (@TheMEGASHEEN) October 19, 2016
One Twitter user adequately summed up the easy answer to the issues of whitewashing and oversexualizing of Black characters:
— KW?NZ? ?S?JYEF? (@kwanzer) October 19, 2016
As of Friday, October 21, Marvel has pulled the cover for Invincible Iron Man.