We feel you, Sameer. Our hearts might pound a little too, if we were in your shoes… 🙂
So, y’all were very cool about answering the question I asked in my notes on the last page. Before I get into what I saw and what the decision is going to be on this, I just want to say how proud I am of all of you.
I know I’ve said this before, but pretty much every other webcomic creator I’ve talked to thinks I’m nuts for reading our Comments Section. And when I tell them I look actually look forward to reading your Comments, they are especially shocked. I know full well that on many other sites, the topic I raised would have set off massive flame wars. But not here. You were thoughtful, respectful, compassionate and just the all-around wonderful folks I know you to be, every time.
I wasn’t at all surprised by your thoughtful response, but I still feel so proud and grateful to have you as the readers of our work. It really is an honor. Thank you for that.
I’m giving my full thinking about this below, in detail, just for folks who might care. But the TL;DR version is that, after carefully reading all your responses, I’ve decided not to change what we’ve been doing with the coloring for the last 5+ years.
This has been a great discussion and, as people’s views on this evolve, we might revisit this issue again in some future comic. But I need to trust you, my readers of color on this. And you’re basically telling me the same thing as a group as what y’all have told me informally one-on-one when I’ve brought this up at conventions, etc. in the past: that specifically coloring the palms and soles of dark-skinned characters lighter in our comic is not something most of you have been wanting or even would want, and might actually hurt more than it helps.
So, how did I come to this decision?
OK – I had asked for just people of color to respond, and ideally, just wanted to keep it to actual readers of this comic (instead of strangers on the Internet.) There were, of course, some folks who identified as white who chose to chime in regardless. (With clearly good intentions, as has been pointed out by other commenters.) They don’t get a vote on this, and I’m not going to get into what they said, other than to note one thing: the majority of white folks, like me, thought making this change would be a grand idea.
And this is why it’s so important to actually talk to (meaning, listen to) the actual folks you want to represent in your stories before making your choices.
So, let’s get into what I saw.
As of the time of this writing (4:00 P.M. PST on 8/8/17), there were 38 folks who commented on this who either said specifically they were a POC or, in three cases, had an Avatar with a photograph of a POC. Counting Clinton O. who helped launch this discussion on Page 12, that’s 39 POC folks who weighed in on this.
For a randomized, statistical trial, that’s obviously not the hugest sample size. But the truth is, I didn’t want a random sample of the population of the U.S.. I wanted to hear from folks who clearly like the kind of comics I’m trying to make, and who also have strong enough feelings about this issue to take the time to comment on it. For this Comments Section, 39 unique POC respondents is a great response and, considering how detailed the replies were, I feel it absolutely gives me the information I need. (Thank y’all again for that.)
Out of the 39 folks, 5 seemed unambiguously in favor of the change. This includes Clinton O. as well as Hervé S. who was the person who originally approached me with this concern and who chose to participate in this discussion directly. (Hi, Hervé!) From reading Hervé’s comment, I think you can see why I found their argument in favor of this change so compelling.
And out of the folks who wanted this change, it’s jihani who I feel gives the best case scenario about the potential upside of making this change:
I’m not personally offended by the darker palms, I really like the lighter more realistic ones. As a POC I’ve had to suspend belief about a lot of ways we are depicted. But this gives me a good feeling I can’t describe. I’ve never seen palms that represent my own or my family or friends. It’s a welcoming image as well so that may play a part in this feeling. Kudos to Vero it looks great!
The whole reason I decided to start telling stories was because I never got to see people like me as heroes, so those words speak directly to my heart.
Out of the original 39 folks, there were 4 more who said they liked the idea, but would also be fine if I didn’t make the change. Commenter De’y gives a good example of this.
This is the first time I’m commenting but I’ve been reading for some time now. I think the colour change is cool but I would also be ok with it staying the same. The colour change is a better representation. Oh, I’m black btw.
I’d classify these comments as “the change is not necessary, but it would be nice” and I think we should still count them in the “yes” pile.
So out of 39 POC readers, that’s 9 who are clearly in favor of me making the change.
1 person said they didn’t know how to answer. So we’ll consider that a neutral response.
There were another 7 POC readers who basically said they didn’t care either way. George D. put it most succinctly:
black guy here, i really don’t care honestly.
And finally, there were 17 POC readers who explicitly told me I should not make the change. Some just told me straight out “no.” Others gave more detailed reasons. fujoshifanatic—a reader and commenter who has been with us since the beginning of The Young Protectors— gave a clear illustration of the worst case scenario of making this change:
As a Black person who has enjoyed this comic for many years, I would not welcome this change… If you want to see a representation of the lighter palms on darker skinned people, just look for the cartoons from the early twentieth century, where we were portrayed as coons, savages, mammies and Uncle Toms. And frankly, that would be all I would be reminded of if this change were made, and I would NOT appreciate it. I say leave well enough alone; I am not looking for that much realism in my comics, and certainly not regarding an attribute that was specifically used to other POC in another, more racist time.
I really appreciate you making the effort to ask for our input Alex, but I have to side with those who advised you against it; that second version you showed almost triggered me, especially with all the shit I’ve been through after the election. I hope I am not being over sensitive about this, but I really don’t think it would improve the quality of the comic, and it would serve more as an unwelcome distraction for me. :-/
There were some folks who really connected with fujoshifanatic’s words, and there was another reader who felt fujoshifanatic “shouldn’t” feel that way. But this isn’t a question of how “should” someone feel about the change—what I needed to know was how it would actually make someone feel. And if I make a reader feel like that—particularly a reader who knows our work so well and what we’re trying to do—that’s a big deal.
So, with 17 POC readers specifically telling me not to do it, and 7 more who felt they saw no reason for us to make the change, that’s 24 out of the 39 who are letting me know I shouldn’t make the change.
(Just for the record, there were also some POC folks on Patreon who responded to the post there. Out of the 5 who commented, 1 felt I should make the change, and 4 felt I shouldn’t. Obviously, they absolutely count as “real” readers of the comic, but since I can’t link to their comments, I’m keeping their responses separate. 🙂 )
Finally, there were 5 folks who either wanted me to look for a compromise or who felt we should engage in a process of testing different palm color shades to see if one would be more palatable to the folks who didn’t want the change.
Of course, if we did decide to color characters’ palms with a different skin tone, there would be some trial and error in getting the look right, including trying subtler shades. And, as someone who believes strongly in compromise, it’s tempting to want to come up with an answer that somehow addresses the concern without upsetting anyone.
But as I see it, good storytelling is about making bold choices and then taking responsibility for those choices. If you try to speak softly in the hopes that you might be able to please everyone, that will usually mean you wind up saying nothing at all. At least, nothing people can be sure of. Either this choice is the right one to make for the majority of our readers (and future readers), or it isn’t. And, as you can see above, the overall answer we got is pretty clear.
Interspersed with the yes’s and no’s, there were a number of folks who brought up a number of practical concerns. A good number of folks here and on Patreon wondered where we would draw the line, pointing out that fingernails should also be colored differently. And then how about lips? Also an area with different tone values. Do we spend extra time on those?
And if we’re going to make the change to dark skinned people, shouldn’t we also make the change to everyone else? For example, as a very pale white guy, the skin on my palms is actually darker than the rest of my skin (yes, I have rosy palms, make of that what you will.) Shouldn’t Kyle and Mitch get their own coloring, perhaps something more reddish? And how about Spooky and Commander—both POC—shouldn’t they get unique coloring of their palms as well? And if we don’t make that choice, what is that saying?
As I said on the previous page, this isn’t a photo-realistic style, but it’s not flat coloring, either—you can’t just slap on a single color and move on. Rendering color with naturalistic shading takes time. It adds up. Do we ask Vero to spend extra time on everyone’s palms? And nail beds? And lips? Is it worth it if it means she won’t have time for some of the other nice details she’s been giving us? (Or if it delays the posting of our pages?)
Also, there are over 500+ pages of The Young Protectors—do we go back and recolor every page that shows someone’s palm or bare foot? Would spending our money and time on that be worth not doing other things?
Alternatively, would it be weird/jarring to suddenly start doing it just for future comics, to change the look of characters y’all have grown to love?
These are some of the practical concerns that readers brought up here and on Patreon. And they are legitimate concerns. This is an independent comic with limited resources—saying yes to one thing, often means saying no to something else.
I deliberately didn’t mention such concerns on the last page, because I honestly wanted to know what our readers of color would want, regardless of the costs. And the truth is, if the sense I got was that this would make a significant positive difference in the lives of most of my POC readers, then I’d find a way to make it work, practicalities be damned.
So what do I think is the right choice?
But, reading over all your thoughtful and detailed replies, that’s not the impression I got. Most of you either told me not to do it, or that it wouldn’t matter to you if I did. Even among those who did like the idea of the change, almost half let me know they’d be fine if I kept things as they are.
There are clearly at least some readers for whom this change would make a significant positive difference. And I find their arguments in favor of making the change very compelling. Hopefully, if nothing else, this discussion gave them a chance to share their views, which might wind up changing people’s thinking about this in the future. (Or, now hearing what the rest of you had to say, perhaps it’s even helped to inform their own original views on this topic.)
But y’all gave me the answer I needed. We’ll keep on doing what we’ve been doing all along.
Thank you for an outstandingly thoughtful dialogue. I am grateful to you all for taking the time, for educating me, and for yet again showing me that we have the best readers in comics. Period.
You really are all superheroes. 🙂
So! Looks like Kyle might be open to giving a nice boy a try! What could this lead to? Hugging? Kissing? No-holds-barred dog training?
There are now only two pages left to the “Engaging the Enemy” arc of The Young Protectors! Tune in this Saturday to find out the answer to these and other exciting questions!
Hope to see you there! 😀