The comic book world has made great strides when it comes to diversity and representation in recent years. Titles like Bitch Planet and Ms. Marvel, heavily featuring women of color, are flying off the shelves. Iron Man is becoming a black girl, and Spider-Man is now an Afro-Latino guy. However, Marvel has no black female writers, and mainstream comics is still an overwhelmingly white, male world.
Jazmin Truesdale is one of many women who are frustrated by this, which is why she started AZA Entertainment, a comics company that “will develop a new generation of heroes for TV, Film, Comics, and Games that will be inclusive of everyone no matter the age, gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation.”
“I was becoming disillusioned by the direction in which women were being portrayed in comics,” Truesdale told the Daily Dot. “They seemed to be playing into stereotypes and on top of that I didn't really see many that looked like me or my friends.”
Last year, AZA Comics published its first digital illustrated novel, The Keepers: Origins, a space opera featuring six female characters of different backgrounds. There’s a girl with shapeshifting powers from Mumbai, a super genius from Bogota, and their leader, Kala, a black woman from Charleston.
Truesdale says she originally tried pitching her comics universe to major comics publishers, but was told “it wouldn't sell because the leader of my all-girl super team was Black with dreadlocks.” However, after launching AZA Comics, she’s found that character (the aforementioned Kala) has become one of the most popular characters.
It's even inspired readers to pitch their ideas to Truesdale. She's been taking suggestions from fans as to what sorts of characters they want to see, creating an Afro-Latina character as well as making two female characters a couple.
The art for AZA Comics is done by Remero Colston, and the characters, while ethnically diverse, all have the body type of your typical DC heroine—teeny waist, perky breasts, and bordering on unrealistic. Combined with tight and revealing outfits, they become almost indistinguishable from the overly-sexualized female characters from mainstream comics women have been complaining about for years.
Truesdale points out that there are differences, though. “Fenna is thicker than the rest of the girls and Adanna is a bit more muscular because she has super strength.” And it’s unlikely you’d see a female character in overalls in a mainstream comic. Addressing that concern within the comics themselves, Truesdale says that the characters will “deal with body-shaming” in various storylines.
Truesdale plans to release a kids book and the 2nd book in the main series in the fall, and says she is also working on a video game featuring the characters. It’s important work, and the world cannot have too many characters of diverse races and backgrounds. But all these efforts to diversify comics bring up the importance of, well, diverseness of diversity. It’s not just about diversity of sex or race, but body type, abilities, gender representation, and so much more. It’s a problem no one company can solve, but AZA is working harder than many.