These New Warriors Designs Says A Lot About The Lack Of Cultural Understanding In Common Character Design Methods
(Writer's note: I use they/them pronouns for the people creatively involved because I'm not familiar with them and I don't know their pronouns)
There was a time I'd look at the character designs for Daniel Kibblesmith's run on New Warriors and immediately tear into them for the classic reasons that make being an artist nearly unbearable on the internet. I know somewhere there's an artist that is particularly proud of these designs simply because they accomplished something many artists have not: legitimate association with the Marvel brand. They should be proud.
The issues that I see with these designs lay at the feet of Kibblesmith and I'm sympathetic to their position as well. Being a writer is not easy, and comic book fans can be very brutal. We're in the untamed wilds when it comes to queer inclusion. A lot of people are trying new things and that should be encouraged. But when things go wrong (and there is definitely a few things wrong with these designs) I think it'd be best to look at those things and see how we can improve as creators.
I can't ignore the elephant in the room that is Snowflake and Safespace. I'm willing to give Kibblesmith the benefit of the doubt; that they earnestly believe that name choice would lead to a positive effect. (the alternative would make them a person with an agenda outside of better representation of marginalized people.)
Some of this design is limited by the artist some of it limited by the instructions given to the artist. I can see what was trying to be accomplished here: Two characters that mirror and complement one another". On some levels, I do believe these designs to be successful. To be real even the most iconic of comic book designs are kind of...weird. So I'm not going to say something like "These designs are terrible!!" That would be underestimating the ability of a lot of different artists. They could absolutely work if the narrative gives the audience a strong enough reason behind the decisions. That said, there are a few things I'd like to address in hopes that if there are changes made in the future artists and writers can avoid the kind of response that...(I can't believe I'm writing this...) Snowflake and Safeplace have gotten. The first thing I want to say is if you are going to create queer characters (especially dark-skinned characters) don't half step. Do some research and like talk to people in different age groups not just your target audience. Ask yourself what you are really trying to accomplish and is this the absolute only way to complete your narrative?
Secondly, it's a pretty big deal to have non-binary characters on a platform as recognizable as Marvel. Not too long ago and even still today trans people like myself are mocked for showing any amount of pride in who we are publically and these designs feel like fuel for bigotry more than they do a subversion of it. There's a big misconception about gender and non-binary people, that we have to perform androgyny to be taken seriously. The "Snowflake" design not only makes it seem as if to be non-binary one must be androgynous, but the characters are also supposed to be twins. I bring that up because, in one of the promo pieces, Snowflake and Safespace are caressing one another as if lovers. That plays into a whole barrel worth of tropes that queer people have been fighting against adamantly.
I can't be 100% sure if these characters are supposed to be Black but assuming that they are, their designs are completely devoid of Black culture; both phenotypically and aesthetically. This type of copypasta approach to creating Black characters is exactly the kind of thing I was trying to help artists and writers avoid when I created "How to Draw Black People". Feminity and Masculinity are as much of a spectrum as gender itself is. Kibblesmith is using gender and race as if they have no real-world correlation to culture and daily life. When I said earlier that there is something wrong with these designs this is what I meant. Snowflake and Safespace do not represent an impression that is familiar to Trans people, to Black people or pop culture. Instead, these designs unironically give the impression of what a person with limited experience might think Black/trans people look like.
Lastly, these characters are if nothing else, a completely wasted opportunity for Marvel to develop a readership with young queer kids, a demographic that is being dominated by independent artists mostly of queer identity. With the popularity of gender non-conformity and more and more non-binary people emerging, Marvel is sticking to it's roots of exploitation that date back to the days of "(Black) Power Man". It's not impossible for cis people or non-Black to create culturally respectful and authentic designs based on trans/Black people. Creative teams just have to start taking educating themselves on gender a lot more seriously.
And yes I am going to use this to shamelessly plug my book and not because I think "HTDBP" would have helped in this situation but to point out that the resources are out there for writers and artists to educate themselves on things like gender, stereotypes, transphobia etc. We have an excellent opportunity to be at home right now and read and reflect so I hope that people do just that.
What I am saying is, I hope that these designs were not intended to convey the things that they are conveying. Kibblesmith's New Warriors can obviously improve on these designs and if I had to guess they likely will. But the main takeaway is this: Do better. There are a lot of trans people like myself that go out of our way to educate people on our experiences and I know Kibblesmith identifies as queer but that doesn't absolve them of scrutiny or responsibility when using the identity of trans people as a marketing tool.
Comics will not survive as a medium if artists do not evolve beyond using stereotypes as narrative tools.