NYCC 2014: Helvetika Bold – A Super Woman with a Message for Good

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On Friday afternoon, I was standing in line for “Women of Color in Comics: Race, Gender and the Comic Book Medium.” It was one of my most anticipated panel of the convention, and clearly, I wasn’t alone in that opinion as the line stretched on in front and behind me. Next to me in line, however, was a superhero Helvetika Bold, an activist who gained her superpowers after an underground printing press exploded with her inside. With her new-found abilities, she can transform lies and fear into uniting truths and universal principles. Unexpectedly, my meeting with this incredible lady became one of my highlights of the entire convention. Check out her origin story comic book for free here, and read on for highlights from our conversation.

What exactly is the story with this character of Helvetika Bold?

Oh, I’m not just a character!

You’re more than a character?

I’m more than a character! Aren’t you more than a person?

Well, sure!

Well there you go! I’m Helvetika Bold. You could say that I am the illuminator of truth, I’m the challenger of the status quo, I cut through all the lies and the fear that the media uses to manipulate and divide us. I just speak plain truth to the power, and that’s usually what unites us, when you talk to hearts and minds and values that we share and the problems that we face, and I try to do it with style too!

So you’re handing out these books…

My origin story.

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Yes, your origin story. And you’re coming here today for the panel.

Yes, the “Women of Color” panel.

What are you hoping to hear from the panel today? What kind of conversation would you like to see going on?

Well, I’m always hoping for truth and something that speaks about justice and equality and voice. Those are some of the values that we share, not just as Americans but I think are global values, right? And when we connect based on those values to talk about our problems, then we can collectively determine what the solutions are and then take action. So what I’m hoping is that this panel actually does go through all four of those steps, not just talk about our values and the problems that we have. One of the main problems is that there isn’t enough representation of people of color and especially women of color, and when you look at all the isms, they start to add up. We can talk about women in pop culture, we can talk about people of color, but when you combine the two, then usually the problems are multiplied. So once again, once we go back to the shared values of how we’re all special, we’re all superheroes deep down, and as women of color with the challenges that we face in the world, sometimes that can lead to even more extraordinary powers about the way that we see and move around in the world. I’m hoping at this panel that we discuss that and then come up with a real plan of action to create something amazing between now and the next comic con.

Have you been able to attend any of the other panels on diversity so far at the convention? I was at the #WeNeedDiverse panel yesterday, and they were discussing the notion as far as gatekeepers, that the problem is so systematic and that these gatekeepers aren’t pushing for products by people of color and women. There aren’t as many female creators or people of color that are creators currently. From your mindset, do you think it is an overall problem? What is something solid that people can do, as a consumer, to push for more diversity?

Well, first of all, I think one of the main problems is that people are consumers and not citizens and people first. And when you listen to the dominant mindset, of course you’re gonna have a very small view of the world and what it could and should be. So the main advice I had is either challenge the system directly or create a whole other one. It’s time for that kind of change in the world, and that systematic…the way that the whole system has its gatekeepers, and it’s not just obviously in the comic book world. It’s in every form of society and media and forms of social-political justice! I think it’s also, it’s another form of racial profiling. It’s benign because there aren’t necessarily bullets flying, but to say that your story is not interesting and to say that there is no one who is interested in who you are and what you have to say or your own worldview is another form of devaluing someone’s humanity! So for that reason, and by the way to go back to your original question, I haven’t attended any of the other panels because I had some issues I had to work on. One of the main issues that is vexing me is what is going on in Ferguson, and so I feel like they are all connected, the issue of racial profiling. The most obvious way of manifesting is through police brutality and violence, but like I said, the more benign forms are denying people’s representation and their stories in media. So that’s why we’re just going guerrilla, and we’re not looking for a major distributor. We’re relying on the people because at the end of the day, it’s the people that make things happen.

This isn’t a question, but I would recommend highly that you check out, have you heard of Noelle Stevenson? She’s actually here at NYCC, she’s on a couple of panels this weekend, but she’s part of a comic book series called Lumberjanes. It’s an entirely female comic.

Lumberjanes? Instead of lumberjacks, nice!

She actually does a lot of online work to bypass the gatekeepers. Nimona, one of her other comics, was online, so she is definitely someone I would recommend checking out. She is fantastic. At the New York TimesOut and GeekOUT panel yesterday, she said, “We just kind of did whatever we wanted. We didn’t even know if anyone would necessarily be looking at this, so we made what we wanted to, and people came!”

Exactly!

With Lumberjanes, every time I go to Midtown Comics in New York, it’s sold out of the first few issues!

Wow!

Every time! Last time, they told me to just order it from their website because they sell out every time they stock it.

Wow! And I’ll tell you something else, I know someone who wrote an incredibly brilliant graphic novel that touched on so many of the social-political issues that are vexing us in society today, and the gatekeepers, even though it got amazing reviews, even though it completely sold out, they refused to do another printing of it. Now, without going into much details, and that’s not even a person of color who created this comic book, so it just to me raises the question of, is it not just representation of people or is it the content that’s being censored to prevent these kind of conversations and connections between people? If there is that much of a demand for this comic book that it sells out that quickly, why aren’t they printing more? Why aren’t they distributing more? Why aren’t they buying more, and why is it not being taken seriously? You know, Hollywood kept saying for years and years that audiences aren’t interested in seeing black films, but look at Tyler Perry’s movies!

Exactly!

Look at Lee Daniels! And you can’t say that it’s an anomaly anymore.

There was that whole thing last year about how there were three movies with people of color prominently in it, and someone said, “Is this the Christmas of black movies?” It’s like wow, three! How many movies with white people come out on a weekly basis?

Or how about just a good quality female lead, regardless of what color she is? And she’s seen as a full person? So I just want to also make it clear that as Helvetika Bold, and some people would say that I’m sort of like a love child between Pam Grier and Noam Chomsky, but I’m fighting for justice for anyone, anywhere and everywhere, you know? I want to see more movies with people with red hair and freckles and green eyes in a wheelchair! They probably have great stories!

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I really wish you could have been at the TimesOut and GeekOUT panel last night. It was amazing! Someone on the panel said that when a gay person writes a gay comic, it is political. When a straight person writes a gay comic, it is progressive.

Mmm, that’s a really good point! But the personal is political!

Yeah, it is, absolutely.

But at the same time, anytime someone who is not mainstream society’s generic representation, it’s always considered political. It just confirms, obviously, that people are thirsty for something different.

Helvetika Bold can be found online at HelvetikaBold.net and on Twitter @HelvetikaBold. Her origin story was written by Gan Golan and Betsy Richards with artwork by Gal Galon, inks by Terry Beatty, and colors by Lee Loughridge.

Oct
23
2014
Rachel Kolb • Staff Writer

I love movies, writing, and breaking into song in public. You can follow me on Twitter @rachelekolb or check out more of my work at http://rachelekolb.wordpress.com.

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