One of the biggest stories at New York Comic Con involved a confrontation between Rromani activist Vicente Rodriguez and comics writer Peter David at an LGBTQ X-men panel. You can read Beat reporter Elana Levin’s initial report here; David’s first response here; and Levin’s follow-up interview with Rodriguez here.
While he had doubled down on his anti-Rromani stance in several statements, after NYCC, David issued an apology following reflection and more information. It read in part:
So now that the dust of the convention has settled, I’ve had a good deal of time to assess my behavior regarding the Romani and my conduct during the convention. I’ve read many of the links that were sent my way and really thought about what I witnessed two decades ago back in Bucharest. And I’ve been assessing my actions during the panel that lead to all this.
After all that, I have to conclude that I’m ashamed of myself.
I want you to understand: when the Romani rep tried to shift the focus of the panel from gays and lesbians to the Romani, suddenly I was twenty years younger and the trauma of what I saw and what I was told slammed back through me. What screamed through my mind was, “Why should I give a damn about the Romani considering that the Bucharest Romani are crippling their children?” And I unleashed that anger upon the questioner, for no reason. None. There is no excuse.
But the more I’ve read, the more convinced I’ve become that what I saw was indeed examples, not of children crippled by parents, but children suffering from a genetic disorder. The pictures are simply too identical. I cannot come to any other reasonable conclusion.
There much more to the statement which you should read in full but it concludes:
Of course, I could apologize to the gentleman who I attacked. Which I did. Over the course of two days. Over Thursday and Friday I spent a LOT of time at my artist alley table talking with him, hearing him out, discussing how I could improve the portrayal of Romani in the pages of the comics that I write. But after all that, he then insisted I arrange a meeting with editorial at Marvel. I told him that that was beyond my power to do. I guess what it comes down to is, when you’ve done everything you can to make it up to someone you’ve wronged and they demand the impossible, then you just have to shrug and know that you’ve done your best.
Just as I’m sure that this apology will likewise not be enough for some people. But you do what you can.
So for what it’s worth, I will continue to treat Romani characters with respect, just as I have for twenty years with Quicksilver, and I again apologize to any Romani who I have offended because of my rash actions. And I also want to thank all the family, fans and friends of mine who have stepped in to defend me, knowing that I am no racist, but simply someone who feels passionately about things and sometimes opens his mouth when it would be better to keep it shut.
David’s remorse at some of his more disturbing statements (that Roma parents crippled their children to increase their begging take) will come as a relief to those who were shocked by them. But, really, this is just the beginning. I expect that before Thursday most of us had the luxury of not thinking about Rromani representation in comics at all. Now, it’s something that everyone should take heed of.
RomaPop, the organization Rodriguez recently formed to throw a spotlight on Romas in comics, has issued a statement in response to David that also acts as a declaration of future goals for the group. Before you read it, you may also want to read a past piece by Rodriguez where he talks about the history of Rromani oppression and how the portrayal of Roma characters such as Magneto and Quicksilver helped him.
One effective way to engage young people on these topics is to reveal the surprising number of Roma references in American pop culture. Since I was a child, I have been passionate about comic books, many of which contain major characters of Romani origin. These characters, created from the 1940s through the 1960s—often by Jewish comic book writers, many of whom were persecuted themselves—played a huge role in my self-acceptance as a Roma person.
Just my own personal observation here: while the culture wars of comics may seem like a mere annoyance to those who don’t have to engage in them, the heart of the matter really is the importance of representation on self-esteem. Superheroes are larger than life and aspirational characters – not in that we think we can someday bend metal with our minds or run faster than sound, but as heroes we can identify with and look to as examples of equality and opportunity. It sounds didactic, but when its well done it’s just good literature that enriches us all. And its important to talk about.
The new RomaPop statement calls for actions – for Marvel to denounce David’s statements and ReedPOP to look into the panel as a violation of their anti-harassment policies. RomaPop also wants a panel at next year’s New York Comic Con…and should it come to pass (which I hope it will ) I expect it will be a very informative panel.
Here’s the RomaPop statement in its entirety.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.