In a response to growing demands for diverse content as well as frustration over the lack of visibility for comics creators of color, cartoonist MariNaomi decided to take action. In 2014 she launched the Cartoonists of Color database and the Queer Cartoonists database, an online resource that lists a total of 1,294 cartoonists of color and about 944 queer cartoonists.
Both databases are labors of love that are largely run and maintained by MariNaomi. An author, graphic novel artist, public speaker and community activist, MariNaomi is the author of the graphic memoir Turning Japanese, the Eisner Award-nominated short story collection Dragon’s Breath, as well as Losing the Girl and Gravity’s Pull, the first two books in a young adult graphic novel trilogy from Lerner Books. When she’s not creating new graphic works, she’s cohost with Myriam Gurba of the podcast ASkBiGrlz, an advice podcast focused on the bisexual and bi-racial point of views of the show's two cohosts.
The two databases were launched with the goals of achieving “visibility, inspiration and community building,” she said. Both sites provide a resource for comics creators, publishers, editors, librarians, academics, journalists and event managers; anyone looking to discover new creators. Largely created and funded by MariNaomi, both databases are free for artists to join and free for anyone to use. Cartoonists can submit their contact info to the database to be listed.
MariNaomi (who is half-Japanese) said that the need for the databases occurred to her after she noticed an article that spotlighted “20 female cartoonists who draw themselves naked.” Although delighted that the article focused on women making comics, MariNaomi was dismayed that the story included only white women cartoonists.
“I was sick and tired of feeling invisible; tired of not seeing diverse representation and of hearing that there weren’t diverse creators out there, which I suspected was bullshit” she said. “It inspired me to start telling stories about race, which was something that I had avoided since I was told that my story wasn’t universal enough a few years back.”
She created the online story “An Illustrated Guide to Writing About People of Color, ” to address the issue. But searching for other creators of color was a big disappointment—all she could find was “an article about five black guys who draw superhero comics”—so she turned to social media and compiled a list of about 100 diverse creators.
“Then it hit me: I had a list and if I didn’t do it, no one else would,” she said. So she launched the Cartoonists of Color database first, with listings that included creator’s names, ethnicity, location, birthdate and the genres they work in as well as a website link and contact info. Next came the Queer Cartoonists listing.
The databases grew and before too long, MariNaomi was “deluged by people with very time-consuming ideas to improve the database.” Then along came Cameron Decker, who MariNaomi described as “a white male cis-gendered programmer who had no vested interest in this other than that he wanted more diverse comics to read.” Decker redesigned both databases and worked with MariNaomi to improve the site.
In 2018, Hiveworks, an online platform for webcomics and graphic novel publisher, stepped forward to host both databases on its servers for a least a year. The site continues to be funded out of pocket by MariNaomi, who has also established a Patreon subscription account, which allows patrons to pay the databases an regular stipend to support its work. Decker gets occasional payment for his work, while MariNaomi handles the updates, which inevitably go on hold when she’s on deadline for her own works.
The impact of both databases has been felt by both comics creators and the people who want to hire them. Hope Nicolson, publisher of indie comics publisher Bedside Press, and editor of The Secret Loves of Geeks (Dark Horse), a comics anthology about sexual and gender diversity, praised the sites. “Mari’s database was incredibly useful to be able to look through a wide array of portfolios at once, to see whose style I wanted to publish,” Nicholson said. “MariNaomi’s databases are essential and every comic publisher should be kicking her some cash for all her hard work.”
Indeed, the indie comics community has rallied around the two databases. Joamette Gill, publisher of Power & Magic Press, called the sites “invaluable” citing their importance to the publisher's latest anthology, Heartwood: Non-binary Tales of Sylvan Fantasy. Jeff Yang, the editor behind the Secret Identities Universe, a series of comics anthologies featuring Asian and Asian American comics creators, said the databases were indispensable. “It really is the case that inclusion isn't about a dearth of talent but a dearth of awareness — the work being done by creators of color and LGBTQ+ creators really should put them at the forefront of the comics profession,” Yang said.
“Simply bringing these individuals together is a tremendous service, for the creators and for those who want to work on projects that represent a full spectrum of diverse voices.”