Earlier today, we reported on NYCC coverage of the LGBT X-Men panel that saw writer Peter David apparently make some disparaging remarks about Romani people, made all-the-more dismaying by the fact that they took place at a panel talking about diversity:
A reader on Twitter pointed out that this story has appeared before, on Peter David's "But I Digress" column in Comics Buyer's Guide:
We looked, and sure enough, here it is, reprinted on David's Blog in 2010 from the 1993 column, in the post titled Romania Travelogue Part 3, in which David traveled to Romania for the filming of movies Trancers IV & V:
MAY 19–I'm spiraling downward, from people with hopeless dreams to people with no dreams.
We have moved to our first location shooting, and there are no chairs anywhere for the cast. I commandeer a driver to take me to a department store, where we can buy some folding chairs.
Outside the department store, I spot a beggar. Not a "homeless person" or an "indigent" or any name that takes the sting out of it. A beggar. At first I don't comprehend what I'm seeing. The old man is wearing his shirt open, and appears to have a flesh-colored snake around his shoulder, moving and twitching spasmodically. My guide is not getting too close. I stay back, pull out my camera and zoom in so that I can understand what I'm viewing.
Most of his right arm is gone. The bare flesh is flapping around like a bony kite stuck on a tree.
I'm on autopilot. I snap his picture, feeling unclean, and go over and put 500 lei in his box to try and wash myself.
We go into the department store, take the escalator to the third floor. As we pass the second, I can't believe what I see.
A child, a girl, somewhere between five and eight years old, is following her mother, calling after her. Her skin is dark. She might have been beautiful, if given a chance.
She is on her knees. Walking on her knees.
Her legs don't bend back. They are bent forward, at the knees.
Her body is teetering at about an 80 degree angle, like a Gumby or a collapsing marionette. She half-pulls, half-shuffles along, sliding on her calves.
My guide sees what I've spotted. His face is impassive.
"What the hell is wrong with her?" I whisper. Grasping at the only explanation I can, I say, "Chernobyl?"
"Gypsies," he replies.
I don't understand, and tell him so.
"You see a lot of gypsy children like that," he explains. "When they're a few months old, sometimes their parents break their knees or their elbows, or put out an eye. They figure it will help them make more money when they beg."
We are looking at chairs, but I'm picturing a child who looks like my eight-year-old daughter, walking on reversed knees, calves scraping along the floor making sounds like sandpaper. We are buying the chairs, but I'm picturing a baby who looks like the smiling one waiting for me at home, howling as a mallet or a sledge hammer or maybe a jagged rock shatters her joints.
We get the chairs, and go out a different exit. There's another gypsy child, begging. A boy. His legs go the wrong way. I'm in a Stephen King novel and can't close it. I take his picture from behind, unable to face him.
I buy a case of Coke for the cast, get back into the van, and almost break down.
I return to the set but am unable to remain. I can't get into filming make believe. A number of off-duty cast members are going into town. I go with them.
We see no more Roger Corman-esque children. But there is one boy, begging, who is being yanked to his feet by his father, yelling at the boy and clearly prepared to cuff him because however much money he might have taken in to that point, it obviously wasn't enough.
Clabe Hartley, who portrays our main villain, is watching. Clabe has a stone-cold dangerous stare. Clearly he's considering whether or not to make a move. Clabe's in terrific shape, versed in various fighting techniques; he could take the guy apart. The problem is that Clabe would wind up in jail, and the child would wind up in traction or on a slab when his father got through taking out his humiliation on the boy.
I'm not sure whether the father is aware Clabe is observing him. Perhaps he is, because abruptly he settles for yanking the boy to his feet and dragging him away. Clabe paces him for half a block, moving like a panther, still weighing options, before slowing and turning away.
There's nothing he can do.
Nothing anyone can do.
The boy was walking properly, and had two eyes and two ears.
I find myself wondering whether he still will meet all those conditions tomorrow.
Thoughts of concerts and practical jokes and nice dinners and the magic of movies are a million miles away. I wish I were a million miles away as well.
God, get me the hell out of here.
It's a heartbreaking story, the details of which were almost certainly colored by prejudice against Romani people from the guide in the first place, but it shouldn't be used as either a representation of Romani people in general, or as an excuse to dismiss criticisms of their depiction in comics. That should go without saying, of course.
UPDATE: This story was updated to reflect the fact that David's 2010 blogpost was a reprint from his CBG column in 1993.
UPDATE: Elana Levin has posted a more detailed account of the LGBT X-Men panel incident on The Beat, corroborating the report in the tweet at the top.