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We Need Diverse Kids Comics!

A BookConline recap on the Graphic Novel Committee’s panel

On May 30 & 31 the book world experienced another foray into the virtual conference with BookConline. Along with BookExpo, sessions were broadcast on their respective Facebook pages. The Children’s Book Council’s Graphic Novel Committee sponsored the We Need Diverse Kids Comics panel, a discussion about upcoming books featuring diverse characters. 

Roxane Gay and Tracy Lynne Oliver discussed their experiences in translating their story, The Sacrifice of Darkness, into a graphic novel. Gay explained how she wanted to “tell a magical realism-like story about black people where race was not necessarily the primary issue in the story.” Gay shared that she enjoyed how this comic gave real estate to scenes that weren’t necessarily expanded on in the short story. “Part of what makes graphic novels and comics so great is that collaboration [between the writers and artists] and seeing how someone reinterprets your creativity.” Oliver agreed, saying that as her first graphic novel, she found the task of translating the short story to be “challenging and easy and fun because I’m really a visual writer.” She also wanted to make sure that the heart of each chapter hit as hard as it would in the visual realm. 

Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright, the writer and artist of Twins respectively, discussed their experience in how they adapted their story into a comic. Johnson drew on his own experience of being a twin as his inspiration for this book, and he felt that “there’s been a lot of talk about diversity and inclusion in books and seeing these beautiful black girls come to life in this comic was a powerful thing.” Wright explained that she found this story to be very representative of her experiences growing up, and she didn’t see that much when she was younger. She recalled a memory where a teacher applauded her for the real representation of middle school friend groups and she was both honored and saddened when thanked for creating a cast of people of color. “This was a book that celebrates and actually finally allows black and brown kids to be the stars.” Johnson further elaborated on how the twin characters were proud of their culture, which is what he intended in this book. “I think a story can be about their being black and culture without the pain that comes with [the struggles] that an African American has gone through”. Wright also expressed her moments of joy in creating this graphic novel and that the characters and their family felt very real to her. She found it natural and comfortable to write. “The family and friend groups felt really real. That’s where I was finding joy. I like to create my own joy.”

As the writer and artist of Flamer, Mike Curato put his own experiences with sexual identity on display. Curato’s book has much to do with self identity “whether that involves sexual identity and race, whether that involves dealing with friends and bullies.” Curato also spoke about the unfiltered way he wrote his graphic novel. “How I see it is: why should I limit my sharing when others would not limit their hatred towards me? This whole story has been, to me, what I can do to dismantle my little part of the system that holds me down by dismantling my own shame.” Ultimately, Curato wanted to share that kids should be taught how to be loved and how to be a loving person. 

You can view all sessions from BookConline on their Facebook page, separated by day. Readers can find the We Need Diverse Kids Comics panel with Roxane Gay, Tracy Lynn Oliver, Shannon Wright, Varian Johnson, and Mike Curato on Day 1 of the conference, between the 42:00 and 1:25:00 minute marks. 

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