We love comic books here at GTHQ and jump at the opportunity to share how this medium is creating diversity and inclusiveness in a world where it is being demanded more than ever. Whether it is TV, film, or online content, there are many brands and companies who recognize the power in marketing to a wide audience, rather than pushing a narrow status quo.
In the comic world, we are seeing diversity happen with the big names as well as with smaller, up-and-coming brands looking to bring fresh perspectives, story lines and characters into an industry that has been heavily male-dominated for a long time.
We’ve seen Spiderwoman portrayed as a crime-fighting pregnant single mom, female Thor battling breast cancer, and popular titles like Iron Man and Kick-Ass get a gender re-boot. Comic book companies such as Nigerian Vortex Inc, and Los Angeles-based Emet Comics which is run by an all-female team and focuses on female-driven stories, are forcing the major companies to reach a bigger audience by creating narratives that appeal to more than just one particular demographic.
In their quest to see all their lines of business diversifying and heeding the call of fans worldwide, Marvel recently announced it has teamed up with ABC News to release a new digital series called Madaya Mom, which details real-life accounts of a mother living in the war-torn Syrian city of Madaya.
As Mic.com reported, the series was inspired by a series of blog posts written by a woman who chose to remain anonymous for safety reasons, published on ABC back in January called “Syria Starving: A Family’s Fight for Survival.”
The opening line for the comic book comes directly, verbatim, from one of the blog posts.
“Today, our one meal was rice and bean soup … our bodies are no longer used to eating,” the real-life mother told ABC journalists she corresponded with.
This comic, which has become a clever way to raise awareness about the plight of Syrians in lesser known cities, are available to read for free on the ABC News website. Madaya is under siege by Syrian government forces and their allies in Lebanon’s Shiite Islamist Hezbollah.
“This is the true story of one mother and her family who have been trapped inside the Syrian town of Madaya for more than a year. Madaya Mom is fighting off starvation, unsanitary living conditions and violent threats as she and her children are caught between warring factions in the country’s civil war,” says a description of the story.
There are also resources for teachers and background information about Madaya for those who want to use the comic story as a way to launch discussions about the current war. In an interview with PRI.org, ABC News producer Rym Momtaz explained how many comic books tell the story of fictional heroes, but women like the mom in this story deserve to be help us as heroes also.
“When we first started thinking about doing this project I told her that Marvel was interested in doing this, and she couldn’t believe that the people behind ‘Spiderman’ knew who she was, were interested in her story. Marvel comics are all built around heroes and superheroes, and in a way she is. She’s an extraordinary person,” she said.
The mom is a warrior for her kids, who see their school being bombed and some of their classmates and teachers injured as a result. These kinds of events are traumatic for kids, which makes the mother’s role all the more heroic.
“She spent hours trying to comfort them, but was really at a loss as to how she was supposed to do that, because, it’s not like she could tell them, ‘Don’t worry this is going to stop. We know when the war is going to end,’. She’s trying to be the mother that every child in that position needs at that moment, while at the same time feeling extremely helpless,” Rym explained about the stories the mother would write about in her blog posts.
The idea of showcasing ordinary people as heroes and role models to look up to is very important, because it can be a creative way to bring to light issues that perhaps we don’t have the capacity to understand on a personal level.
Another company looking to do the same is South African comic series Ordinary Superheroes, run by writers Ziphozakhe Hlobo and Lena Posch and illustrator Nicole Leonards. The recently showcased their series at the Lagos Comic Con and unlike many of the other comic book companies featuring the usual bout of fictional heroes, this group wants to change the way Africans think of the concept of a superhero by elevating the stories of ordinary people.
We want to create stories about people at the margins who we don’t think of as heroes. These are people we typically overlook and ignore—it could be someone who cleans the street,” Ziphozakhe told Quartz.com.
She added that there is a need to do this because African people do not necessarily associate heroism with themselves, and her organization aims to change that.
“We want to change the perception of who we consider to be a role model or a hero. As black children, we always looked up to people who don’t look like us. I want kids to see themselves in these stories and feel like Africans are good enough to be superheroes,” she said.
The first book in the series is called Khazimla’s Adventures and its main characters is Monde Sitole, inspired by the real life story of a young adventurer from a small South African township who is on a quest to climb the world’s 7 highest mountains. The next book will center around a real life black woman as an Ordinary Superhero, as they plan to release a new story every six months.
They hope to expand their brand into workshops and and other events that inspire kids to get creative and write their own stories about the heroes in their lives. Perhaps that will enable them to start looking at themselves and fellow community members as heroic and important.
Eventually they plan to take Ordinary Superheroes global and use is as a way to open up discussions about breaking down prejudices and misconceptions about people who are different to us, in the same way Madaya Mom can potentially break through the extreme news coverage about conflict zones which don’t have the ability to foster empathy on an individual level. The notion of the “other” becomes a monolith that we learn to fear and therefore exclude, rather than understand and find common ground with.