During a press-only panel at C2E2 Thursday on DC's new Dark Matter titles, DC co-publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio and the "DC Artists Master Class" responded to a question about the motivation for including an expanded cast of people of color, women, and minorities in Dark Matter, with DiDio calling the process "organic," and Lee saying there was "no mandate" for the diversity of the cast.
The topic of diversity was an obvious hot-button issue thanks to recent comments by Marvel Senior VP of Sales David Gabriel that have been interpreted by some as calling into question the success of Marvel's recent "diversity wave," with the conversation dominating the panel once subject was broached in the initial audience question.
Dark Nights: Metal artist Greg Capullo was the first to speak, relating the idea to the old Marvel mandate of "the world outside your window."
“Growing up, when I was drawing a crowd scene, I was just filling crowd scenes with white people. Why? Cause I’m a white person and I know how to draw white people," Capullo explained. "But you walk down the street in Manhattan, and you see everybody there, so as I matured, you notice the world is all of this."
"Now, as an artist, I try to include all the things I see," he continued. "It doesn’t make sense not to include everybody – that’s reality...It’s just makes common sense...You wonder why it wasn’t that way in comics forever.”
“We want to take that energy of everyone that’s participating and make sure it's reflective of today's world," DiDio added. "What's important is, we have to capture today's world, today's society, and make it relatable. Not just make the characters relatable...But make the world relatable. Then you have a basis for the fantasy to work. Then when we want to expand the fantasy and bring you into the world, you go right along with it cause you're already relating to the people taking you through the adventure. I think that's the win, and it's exciting."
Capullo also spoke about representation, explaining that, as a kid, the idea of others wanting to see themselves reflected in comic books didn't occur to him - but when confronted with the concept, it clicked with him because of his love of professional wrestling.
"Bruno Sammartino was the World Heavyweight Champion when I was growing up, and he's a fellow Italiano," he explained. "That was a big thing for me - it was like a pride thing, because he was like a superhero, you know?"
"In that regard, I think it's a cool thing, because then you have that moment where they get that, that's their Bruno Sammartino. They can relate to that - that's one of us."
John Romita, Jr., artist of the upcoming Dark Matter title The Silencer, took the conversation in a different direction, talking about the impetus to create all new characters for Dark Matter.
"There's a cynical side to this, to your point," said Romita. "Why are you creating these characters just to add more diversity when everyone knows you're doing that?"
"If somebody had taken the Punisher, and made him female instead of who he is now - Frank Castle is now Francine Castle - that would piss me off. We've got two choices - well, three, but we're not doing any transgenders just yet. I just don't think of this as diversity, I think of it as just a new character. I think it's great to have a new character. I just don't look at is a diversity thing, because there have been great female characters and great characters of color through the decades."
"We've gotta stay one step ahead, and we've gotta be creating new stuff," said DiDio. "Somewhere along the lines we got scared, and we stopped creating new ideas. We just worried about servicing the same existing audience. We have to be more fearless in what we do - but rather than taking risks with existing characters and upsetting people, let's create new stuff and bring new people in."
"One of the reasons it doesn't work is when you take a character that everyone's known for a long time, and because we want to create that diversity, you say 'I'm just gonna change this'," Romita added. "That's force-fitting, it's retrofitting, and it never works comfortably. The idea is to create new characters...to be judged on their own merit."
Romita also spoke about the focus on artists in Dark Matter, responding directly to Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso's recent assertion that it's hard to sell and promote artists, saying "Marvel doesn't hire high-priced artists anymore. They hire high-priced writers instead, and they figure they can just fill in the artist later."
"And I take exception to that. We have written these books. We have helped create the story. We manifested the idea," Romita continued, saying he believes it is the partnership of artists and writers that makes for great comic books.
"We started this idea long before that quote was said, by the way," DiDio jokingly clarified about the artist-focused Dark Matter branding.