Earlier this month, Marvel Comics announced a series of variant covers that put a superhero twist on the art of iconic rap albums like De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising, Dr. Dre’sThe Chronic, and 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’. On its face, this was another love letter in the long relationship between hip-hop and comics; from Jean Grae to Ghostface Killah (who also goes by Tony Stark), rappers have taken on superhero identities, and Last Emperor’s 1997 song “Secret Wars, Pt. 1″ details a battle royale between Marvel heroes and rappers. However, it touched off a controversy about whether it’s been more of a one-sided love affair—and whether mainstream comics has done enough to bring minority creators themselves into the fold.
Like virtually every other form of entertainment, the world of comic books has been increasingly grappling with issues of diversity especially over the last several years as social media and Internet platforms have amplified the voices of minority creators and critics. And in many ways, there’s been a sea change. “Diversity of every sort—racial diversity, gender diversity, acknowledging minority sexualities—is experiencing an explosion of recognition and representation in comics,” says C. Spike Trotman, creator of the long-running webcomic Templar, Arizona.