Now more than ever, fandom is a rich melting pot of creeds and cultures. The geek community has brought together a wide array of wild characters with varying interests, and that diversity has bled over into the very properties these fans obsess over. Even ten years ago, it was a pipe dream for most fanboys to share the same comic shop with one fangirl, let alone many. Northstar has been “the gay one” in Alpha Flight for years, but did we ever expect that we’d see him wed another man in the pages of Uncanny X-Men? I don’t think even Martin Luther King, Jr. could’ve dreamed that one day, little black boys and little black girls would be able to read about an African Batman. Despite the leaps and bounds made in comics and fandom beyond, things still aren’t perfect.
Easily one of the biggest beefs running throughout the comics internet today is the lack of representation of strong, female role models, on the page or behind it, and the use if female characters as fap material or refrigerator fodder. Running concurrently with the treatment (or lack thereof) of women is the marginalization of minority characters, emboldened when DC cancelled their New 52 titles featuring non-white lead characters, and others left to rot on the sidelines of the various multi-verses. And let’s not get too far into the charges of “publicity stunt” in regards to Marvel’s gay wedding, while the Big Two still don’t do much else to represent the LGBT community. But y’know what? All of those demographics are at the very least, represented, in fandom, and any young kid growing up looking for a role model that speaks to them is bound to find one.
Except for one group.
Growing up a chubby white (sure, privileged) kid in the suburbs, I was into nerdy things from a very young age. I had my idols, whether it was the best Ninja Turtle (Donatello), my favorite X-Man (Beast), or even the greatest villain in the history of fiction (The Joker). But I was never really able to find someone who represented me. I was drawn to the brutes and the hulks (or Hulks), and while I didn’t really consider myself a big, dumb animal, it was the easiest character archetype for me to identify with. I guess I didn’t really expect for a hero character in cartoons, comics and movies to be a Weight Watchers dropout, and it surely didn’t affect my enjoyment of the stuff I really did love.
On the flip-side, there were plenty of fatty Caucasoids to be had for role models if you aspired for a career of violent crime or supervillainy. The Penguin was always a squatty punchline, even as one of Batman’s top rogues. What about the absolutely revolting Violator clown and child-killer Billy Kinkaid from Spawn? Kingpin ruled the New York underworld with a heavy hand in a gigantic chair, and he wasn’t even really fat under that Big & Tall suit. Total poseur. Preacher‘s Allfather D’aronique is a glutton for both power and pie, using an ivory wand with two fingers to force himself to vomit down the front of his robes, making enough room to gorge on his 4th, 5th, and 12th meal. And then there’s The Blob. Not only is his codename inspired by his plus-sized waist line, but Fred Dukes’ mutant power depended entirely on how much of a fatty-boombalatty he was. ”The Blob lost his powers on M-Day and was left a mess of empty skin, mocking the dreams of every fat man longing to be thin,” said professional fat white male and PoP! Founder, Lee Rodriguez. What kind of example does this set for little sausage-fingered fanboys?
But what about all of the great comedic characters who harbored “a little bit of a weight problem”? They’re just that, comedic. The Homer Simpsons, the Eric Cartmans, the Peter Griffins, and the Tommy Boys, they’re all just shuckin’ and jivin’ for a laugh. Stuff them full of donuts, hit them with a blunt object, let them release some bodily gasses, and finish it off with a catchphrase, and you’ve got the fat-white-male minstrel dance of modern entertainment. Even in his group of adventuring friends, Chunk was the laughing stock of The Goonies, bullied within an inch of his Hawaiian-shirted life, and left to rot in the Fratelli’s dungeon. If any other demographic was as roundly pigeon-holed as dumb and lazy, the internet would collapse under its own weight.
There was ONE glimmer of hope in the eyes of many of us boys browsing the husky section. Kevin Smith broke into the fandom with Clerks, chock full of Star Wars dialogue and smart humor. His character of Silent Bob became an overweight icon, and despite being the butt of partner Jay‘s jokes, he was the true brains behind that operation, and always found a way to be poignant towards the tail end of every View Askewniverse film. As the years passed, not only did Smith fail to realize his potential as the fatboy-done-good, but Silent Bob turned into nothing but a dim-witted, stoner second banana. After lazily throwing in the towel on his filmmaking career, Smith is now more likely to be remembered for being too fat to fly on Southwest Airlines.
The most appropriate role model for all of the little Butterballs our there is also one of the most infuriating, and it’s Boulder, member of the Marvel’s Avengers Initiative, and renamed, what else, Butterball, by drill sargeant Taskmaster. Boulder’s super-power is his invulnerability, which protected him from harm in battle, but also didn’t provide him with any offense. Boulder could run all day, and never break a sweat. He could diet, and he wouldn’t lose an inch off of his waist. His invulnerability seemed like a blessing when fellow recruit Sunstreak (unable to come into contact with others because of heat-generating powers) took a shine to him, but became every man’s nightmare when the very same invulnerability rendered him flacid. We finally get a chunky white superhero, and he’s a complete waste of skin with a limp dick!? THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS.
I don’t believe others are wrong for wanting more characters that represent them. However, I’ve been fat, white, and male for 31 years now, and until now, I’ve never realized that I’ve never had a strong role model who also looked like me, and I’ve done alright. Traditionally, isn’t the stereotype that most comic and genre fans are just that….fat, white, and male? Isn’t there a character on The Simpsons based on that exact concept? I mean, some of us can’t even fit in the amusement park rides based on our favorite properties. What can we cosplay at conventions without putting the word “Fat” in front of it? What about the wealth of comic creators and industry big-wigs who never skip a meal? Why can’t they introduce and cultivate characters with a little more meat on their bones? Maybe it’s because people won’t buy a fat character? We all have to look at our own bulges and bloats in the mirror every morning, why would we want that as part of our fiction, as well?
The argument could be made that overweight and obese characters should not be idolized, especially considering the adult and childhood obesity epidemic in the United States and worldwide. Point taken, but I wouldn’t suggest that these characters promote eating disorders or low metabolism, but instead, show that there is diversity outside of just gender, race, and sexual orientation. I was born this way, and I’ve fought with weight issues my entire life. Should I bust my ass in the gym and eat healthy so I can identify more with Batman? No, I should diet and exercise so I can live a longer life. In the meantime, why can’t the heavyweights of fandom and all the other little porkers have characters that represent us?
Filed Under: Op/Ed