I did not end up going to the EU Books panel. I did stop by the Star Wars Books booth and talk to Editor-in-Chief Shelly Shapiro about diversity in EU for a good ten minutes or so, though. She said they were trying--which is why they include aliens-- but that they are "so PC" they cannot describe races in Star Wars.
(I didn't really want to be rude and call her on that, since white characters are described with white features time and time again--I could easily pull 20 examples out of my ass-- but I was pretty disappointed in that answer.)
I acknowledged the difficulty of portraying minorities in writing ("so and so's almond eyes and hot chocolate skin"), and Shapiro talked about how when you read Star Wars you are supposed to imagine diverse characters when you are reading.
"Just because the character is not described that way doesn't mean they are not, for example, Asian," she said. And then about how the reader can choose to imagine a diverse Star Wars galaxy when they're reading crowd scenes (putting the onus for diversity on the reader, really.)
I did point out that even if the race is not described it IS depicted in the covers and in the artwork where almost everyone is white. (I mean, Mirta Gev and Dur Gejjen are presumed by us to be brown, but it's not like they get on covers.) I noted the Crosscurrent (ambiguous ethnicity Jaden Korr) versus Riptide (ph hai thar white dude!) covers. Shapiro said she wasn't a big fan of the Crosscurrent cover. I said I was glad to see a woman repping on the Choices of One cover but she said she didn't like that cover either and acknowledged that Mara's head looks pasted on. (I was being charitable, the cover does look hideous!)
She said she would bring my concerns about diversity to the art director, which I hope does happen!
I guess the difference is that the representation of characters of color is more abstract than the representation of white characters. The existence of important white characters (plus one black Lando) is confirmed in the EU books time and time again. But in order to have people of color in the stories it seemed like the takeaway was you're reliant on the audience to believe the world of Star Wars is full of humans that come in all shades and colors--it's just never confirmed that they are also doing cool things, too. This bothers me because it puts the onus on readers to imagine a diverse world. The creators should share this responsibility because they are shaping what we imagine.
Shapiro said she could relate because growing up she had brown hair and it bugged her that all the Barbies were blonde, too. I said it bothered me as well. I didn't really have the heart to point out that at least brunette white girls have Padme and Leia in Star Wars. I thanked her for Saetele Shan and Kerra Holt--even though both characters were created by other Star Wars franchise licensees (Bioware and Dark Horse), and not her-- and went on my way.
Meeting up with Star Wars: Invasion writer Tom Taylor was refreshing! He was there promoting his new comic book, The Deep, out of Gestalt, an independent comics publisher from Australia. Even though Gestalt is a smaller press (or perhaps because of it, who knows) Taylor was able to successfully advocate (and received much support) for creating this comic that features a multiethnic "The Incredibles" like family, the Nektons. Taylor told me he really wanted to prioritize a family with a black dad and an Asian mom. It's one of the first comics I've seen to feature "Blasian" kids. (Strongly recommend you all pick up a copy.)
I spoke with Taylor about Star Wars and diversity and it was really interesting to get his perspective. He definitely seems to think that mainstream comics should be more diverse. We both voiced our disappointment that the new DC reboot doesn't have enough women writers despite all the great ones out there (a big lightening rod at ComicCon.) We also spoke for a while about Star Wars Invasion and the next book (Book 3.) Book 3 will have more of Finn's new master, Dray (finally a new black character for the New Jedi Order). I expressed my dismay that in the 19 books of NJO they introduced a bunch of new Jedi Knights but none of them were people of color--such a missed opportunity--and that I hoped to see more people of color in upcoming Invasion books.
One thing that Taylor said that was really interesting was that his initial concept was for the Galfridian family (the main characters of the comic book) to be black. Clearly this did not happen. (I didn't really want to press why not...but wow.) We both agreed it would have been awesome to have a Black ruling family (eg: black princess!) in Star Wars.
We also talked about Kaye Galfridian and how the character has gotten a really negative reception on the TheForce.Net forums. I told him that I didn't have a problem with Kaye and found her more interesting than her brother. I explained that the boards are largely white and male dominated and in that it shouldn't be his own resource for fan feedback since a lot of women and people of color, minorities, etc. would be turned off by the atmosphere on these boards (last month a fan vomited over the diversity thread insisting gay people were unnatural) Having been on these forums for over 12 years with a formal account for 9 years, I shared that I've noticed that fans hold female characters and authors to higher standards than male characters and authors, which may explain some of the antipathy towards Kaye. (Bria Tharen is a Mary Sue but Corran Horn is not? And pretty much every female author has gotten chased off these boards except for Jan Ostrander.)
We talked about how in a way, Invasion is more about Kaye's story than Finn's. Finn's story is there to connect readers to the NJO books and classic characters like Luke, it's the traditional new Jedi character in Star Wars story. Kaye's story is something new, something we haven't really seen in Star Wars or in the NJO, and really a different perspective to that series. In a way, Kaye and Finn parallel Luke and Leia in that Leia is more of a leader and in the thick of things and Finn is more Jedi but also more lost and naive. Especially given she has been groomed for leadership all her life, Kaye's leadership skills aren't that unrealistic in the context of a universe where 18 year olds are Senators representing entire planets and 14 year old queens are elected by popular vote.
He did seem really bummed out that Kaye does not get a lot of support (which I have noticed, even though her story is of equal page time and importance to Finn's, Finn usually gets the back blurbs and is more the face of the book) so if you like Kaye and you're on TFN or elsewhere make it known!
So there's that.