Back in black.

First off, kudos to the wonderful Loren of One Diverse Comic Book Nation for sharing Brad Mackay’s article on the dearth of black heroes within mainstream comics. I don’t know if I agree with the sentiment that there is a dearth of black heroes, but there is a great deal of information contained in the article that may make those involved with the comics industry as readers and as employees think a bit differently about how minority characters are portrayed and presented to the public.

“Somehow, in this medium people are so out of touch with popular culture that they don’t understand that black culture is popular culture.”

Reginald Hudlin

The preceding quote from the article struck a chord with me. Why are people in this medium out of touch with popular culture? Is it because minorities in general and black people in particular have been almost overwhelmingly shut out when it comes to creating mainstream comic culture? I’ve never had a problem finding stories about black heroes. There are many black heroes in supporting roles in countless comics. However, I’ve had a difficult time finding black creators with steady gigs at…anywhere, actually. Marvel is the only established comics company I know of that has black writers on staff. Top Shelf is the only established company I know of that has a black editor on staff. Three black staff members out of dozens of comic companies? That’s embarrassing.

Black individuals are allowed (and encouraged) to spend money on comics, we’re allowed to appear in the comics. However, we’re not allowed to help direct the culture of comics. We’re seen, but not heard. Moreover, when we’re seen in the pages, it is usually in a supporting role. When stories are created by individuals who were not raised to see black people as leaders and heroes in order to sell comics to an audience that also was not raised to see black people as leaders and heroes, a good supporting role is the best you’re likely to get.

The problem is that selling to the same old sheltered set of readers isn’t working. That audience is dwindling rapidly. They’re growing older. The children they’ve sired? They think of a black man when someone says Green Lantern. Entertainment mediums such as television, video games, and movies have taken the content produced in comics and have altered it to make it palatable to an audience demanding diversity and equality. I can turn on my television and occasionally see a cartoon where a black man is a powerful entity in his own right and can lead a team to victory. However, when I open the pages of a comic that same black man is merely a supporting character to a white hero.

Why is that so? It occurs because the comic industry caters for the most part to an audience that is lost in time. This audience does not mind new characters and might even enjoy seeing a few different faces, but those characters must never be more powerful than the white heroes they know and love, and must never rob those characters of the spotlight.

That audience is shrinking, and comic companies are beginning to covet the larger audience spending billions in disposable income on video games and DVDs. And so you see the absolute hilarity of comic companies attempting to sell to a new, diverse audience using the same old tactics and the same old roster of artists, writers, editors, and publicists geared towards selling comics to that dwindling sect of fans desiring the comfort of stagnation. And then you see the absolute bewilderment from employees of those companies when they are bombarded by complaints from that diverse audience—because they’ve presented work that is considered to be at best out of touch or at the very worst sexist and racist. They are stunned that readers haven’t warmed to a heroine with a costume as tiny as a bikini. They are surprised to find that their new book starring a minority character has low sales. After all, they put an ad in Wizard magazine.

However, this is not a rant stating that middle-aged white men can’t write, draw, or publicize wonderful stories starring minority heroes who are treated with dignity and respect. They can and they do. For the ones that do, diversity is a part of their daily lives—either through the individuals they interact with or the research they do. Is it what keeps them from being out of touch.

I honestly feel that the best approach to gaining new readers is to have a workforce that reflects the type of audience a company is attempting to reach. Another wonderful approach is to have a workforce that is willing to interact with the type of audience a company is attempting to reach. A third solid approach is to have a workforce that is willing to do extensive research on the type of audience a company is attempting to reach.

Yes, I know I’m on the outside looking in, but given the output produced and/or the way it is being marketed, I’m fairly convinced that the majority of comic companies in the US and overseas aren’t concerned with any of the preceding approaches. And when they come across an employee that is, it is generally due to luck rather than actively searching for one. So, how does a company that is terrified by the idea of changing its status quo reach out to an audience that longs for something different? Well, that’s a post for another day.


Dear Comics,

It’s not you. It’s me. I still love you, you know? Yeah, we fight almost all the time, but you know I’m down for you, right? I’d slap the taste out of a dude’s mouth in a heartbeat should he try to look down his nose at you. I believe in what you’re trying to do here. I always have. I always will. You’ve got plans, and I want those plans to come through for you. You deserve that spotlight. You can do things that nobody else can do. I just wish you believed in yourself as much as I believe in you. You always seem so surprised by the success. Even now, when it’s happening all the time. I never questioned it. You shine.

You remember when we first met? You were chillin’ in the basement after my cousin had stepped out on you? I remember that you were too much for me to handle at first. Too violent. Too extra. My cousin always liked that wild stuff, but I couldn’t deal with it. But then you toned it down. You showed me a different side of you. Man, when we first got together? It was like I couldn’t get enough. I wanted you around me all the time. I even dreamed about you. You had me so open. I think I would have done anything you asked me to back then. But all you asked of me was time and loyalty. And I had more than enough to give.

And then came the fights. I don’t think you even realize how much you used to insult me. You still insult me. You were forever trying to put me and my girls down and it just—it wore on me. And when you apologized, it seemed like you didn’t really care, like you were only doing it because you didn’t want other people to look at you funny. And I felt so foolish. I still feel foolish now.

Do you know how many times your old girls rolled up on me and told me to leave you? Every show I followed you to, I’d get at least one. And your boys would always drag me away, tell me to pay her no mind. She was just bitter. Angry. She wasn’t down for the cause like I was. And it’s true. But the cause doesn’t need me.

I’ve seen the way you look at others, you know. And surprisingly there’s no jealousy. There’s only relief. And joy. Because those other girls? They look good. And they’re strong. And they’ll fight for you. They’ll fight for your dreams. And they’ll win.

And I’ll still fight for you too. It won’t be as much as I used to, but I will. But now it’s time to find someone that will fight for me. And that’s not you. See, I’ve given you my time, my heart, my mind, my money, my blood, my sweat, and my tears. And what have you given me? A whole lot of stories and a whole lot of aggravation. And that’s just not enough.

And I’m not blaming you. Lord knows, I didn’t have to stick around as long as I did. But I’m glad I did. Because I learned a lot from you. I don’t think you’ve learned anything from me though! You’re arrogant and stubborn as always. But you have learned it on your own. And that’s just as good.

I’ll be around for a little while. I still need to pack up my stuff and find someone who can do all of the things for you that I used to. It shouldn’t take long. And you don’t really need me anyway. Trust me, you won’t even notice that I’m gone.

So…I guess this is it. And yes, I still reserve the right to call you on your shit. And no, I won’t be giving up any of the friends I met through you. And yes, we’ll still see each other around. And no, I won’t be following you to shows to tell other girls not to get involved with you. C’mon, do you really think I would do that?

Anyway, I’ll see you Wednesday. And make sure you have my pull list ready. How come you’re always freakin’ late?

Love,

Cheryl Lynn


Catch up.

I have entirely too many ideas rattling around in my head right now, so this post will probably come out a bit jumbled. Bear with me, folks.

The Ormes Society. Named after Miss Jackie, of course. I thought it might be a good idea to have a message board or a web portal dedicated to black women creating comics. I was ecstatic to receive a few e-mails about my initial search for black female comic creators from people who wanted to add names to my list. Unfortunately, I hit a bit of a brick wall when I attempted to discover recent information on some of the names given.

That’s when I came up with the idea of the Ormes Society. Black women are out there creating, but unlike our peers, we have the tendency to create in a vacuum. And while other creators use message boards and activist organizations to wisely network and receive emotional support, we post our thoughts and creations on individual websites and then wonder why various activist organizations don’t reflect our viewpoints or interests. How can I be irritated when sites devoted to black creators are dominated by men and books with superhero themes (and on occasion, “hot” black model threads) if I never add my own contributions? How can I be irked by the fact that none of the members of the sites devoted to women in comics commented on the dearth of brown-skinned girls as characters in the MINX line if I never registered on those boards to make a post about that topic in the first place?

The Ormes Society would be a bit of a stepping stone or gateway. It’d be a place where black female comic creators and fans could (1) find each other, (2) share our creations, (3) talk about topics that are important to us, and (4) gain the courage needed to bring those thoughts and creations to the larger comic audience. It would also be a place for editors, fans, and fellow creators to find us and share their thoughts about our work and about topics that pertain to black women in comics (both in the pages and behind the scenes).

There’s no generation of older black women in comics still living to dole out advice and help us along the path to success. But with a little work we could at least have each other as company on the journey. Good idea? Bad idea? Unnecessary idea? E-mail me with your thoughts!


A tip for artists.

An overwhelming majority of the shirts that are made for women do not have separate compartments for each individual breast. Also, an overwhelming majority of the pants that are made for women do not have separate compartments for each individual cheek. Tight clothing will hug a woman’s curves, but it will not coat them. Find photos of women in one-piece bathing suits, fitness clothing, and competition dancewear to use as artistic references when drawing female superheroes. And that’s one to grow on!


Warning.

I can see that I am going to have to make the comics.

And you see, I don’t want to make the comics. Making the comics is hard work. I don’t want to have to struggle with chasing down artists who have disappeared into the ether. I don’t want to have to wander through message board after message board begging someone to work with me. I don’t want to deal with hours of research and proofreading. I don’t want to go back to eating ramen noodles, putting quarters in jars, and not having enough money to eat at Chez Applebees.

But the comics need to be made. Why? Because black and Latino girls are reading—a lot. They’re piling onto trains and buses with colorful little paperbacks tucked into their pockets. And these colorful little paperbacks are full of garbage—pandering, materialistic, gangster bullshit. They contain tall tales where women are lucky to find a man who isn’t too abusive and treats her akin to a high-priced call girl; stories where girls don’t save the day by fighting the bad guys, they survive another day by fucking them.

Does anyone care that these girls are reading garbage? Does anyone care that these girls are spending their lunch money on victim-instruction manuals? Of course not. No one is concerned about what is read by Keisha or Jazmine when everyone is focused on fighting over which company will provide the most entertainment geared exclusively to Jane and Sue. What will they buy? Supergirl? Spiderman Loves Mary Jane? Runaways? The Plain Janes? Or perhaps one of the hundreds of manga volumes I must climb over to get anything done?

It’s not that those books aren’t lovely. I’ve enjoyed more than my fair share of them. But those creative teams slaving away at their desks and those marketing teams taking meetings in their glass towers have a certain vision of the girl who is going to save the day and of the girl who is going to buy the book about the girl saving the day. Neither one of those girls is going to be wearing Apple Bottoms jeans, Reebok sneakers, and nameplate earrings. And they damn sure aren’t going to have names like Jazmine and Keisha. Because no one gives a damn about Jazmine and Keisha.

But me. And approximately five other people. And only four of them are creating comics. And only one of them is currently creating comics that Jazmine and Keisha can pick up and see characters they inspire (and can be inspired by). Make that two. Because now I see that I have to make the comics, comics where Jazmine and Keisha are more than just the perpetual support team for some other ingenue or superhero with less melanin or a Y-chromosome.

You see, I was doing the next best thing—complaining. And I thought that my complaints would inspire someone else to make the comics. Because there are a ton of people out there with infinitely more talent and monetary resources than I possess, people who already have an established reputation and a publishing house that adores them. I don’t. However, they don’t care. I do. And they are clueless about how to reach these girls. I’m not.

Crap.


That time of year!

In honor of Black History Month, I thought I’d make a list of all of the fabulous Black women writers, artists, and editors who are working at Marvel, MAX, DC, MINX, CMX, Vertigo, Wildstorm, Image, Dark Horse, Oni Press, Fantagraphics, First Second, Avatar, SLG, Devil’s Due, Drawn & Quarterly, Tokyopop, VIZ, and Del Rey.

This post was inspired by my discovery that once again the Black Panel at NYCC would have absolutely no female speakers. And so I wracked my brain to think of a black woman working in comics who would make for a wonderful addition to the panel. I could only come up with three. Two of them are listed above. The third would be C. Spike Trotman, the creator of the self-published comic Templar, Arizona. Those are the only three black women I know of working in the field of comics…and that has to be wrong, right?

Also, there are no women of color on the panels dedicated to women in comics. Are they being overlooked or do they simply not exist? At this point, I’m beginning to think it’s the latter.


Spark mad ism.

Racism in the comics industry? I’m out to attack it like a rabid pit bull. Homophobia in comics? I’ve got a rake and some piping hot coals at the ready. Religious persecution in comics? I’ve got my Docs laced up to stamp it out. Sexism in comics? There’s sexism in comics?

I can identify sexism in comics about as well as a man with cataracts can identify a needle in a haystack. Yes, it’s easy for me to locate it when I come across something that is blatantly unfair or offensive to women, but I am often blind to subtle forms of sexism. How can I easily spot other forms of subtle bigotry and yet be so blind to sexist incidents in comics? I just don’t see it. And that’s where the problem lies. As my fellow fans protest what they see as offensive images, I’m often left scratching my head. However, I’m more than willing to give my fellow fans the benefit of the doubt. And so I carefully pour over images and reread stories, searching desperately to find what they find. And yet I come up empty. I can’t help but feel frustrated.

BatgirlBatgirl. Others have looked at this image and equated it with sexism. All I see are terrible proportions. After all, it’s rather ridiculous to draw a girl who is supposed to be a slim and silent weapon with bulbous breasts, beefy arms and a clunky utility belt. The character appears to be much too bulky for the type of slim, athletic build she is supposed to have. Still, unlike many others, I don’t have any other problems with this image. How often have we seen a male hero beaten and bloodied only to rise again ready to fight? It’s a common image in comics. It shows a character’s tenacity. Why is the outcome so different when the character depicted is female? Is there something I’ve overlooked? Many have also taken offense to Batgirl’s costume, which leaves me a bit bewildered. I find a female character that is actually covered in cloth from head to toe to be a refreshing change. And in a life or death battle with Shiva, tattered clothing is to be expected. Still, Batgirl is no Caitlin Fairchild.

I do have my own complaints though. The fact that the character is illiterate makes no sense to me. Who wants a fighter that cannot accurately process information? And to have a character that is slowly learning to become a hero and a well-adjusted human being suddenly jump on the villain bandwagon is confusing as well. And yet my concerns are very minor ones. Could it be that I am so pleased to have a character that is a member of a racial minority that I am blind to the blatant sexism before me? Why am I not seeing what so many others are?

Storm. Some have stated that the removal of Storm from the X-Books and the addition of the character to Black Panther are sexist tactics on the part of Marvel and writer Reginald Hudlin. I have to admit that I don’t understand how one could come to that conclusion. After all, many male characters have received the same treatment. Popular characters are often added to the supporting cast of a book featuring a character that is not as popular in an attempt to bolster sales and recognition. And I do not see how the removal of Storm from the pages of X-Men has diminished the character. Storm seems to be as popular as ever and the character is still actively pursing Xavier’s dream of improving human-mutant relations. As for Storm conceding to Panther in regards to political affairs…shouldn’t she? After all, he is the ruler of the nation. She is merely his spouse and advisor. And should a major event regarding mutant activism arise, I’m sure the roles would be reversed. Panther would remain in the background. Of course, we would still see the event from his point of view because he is the star of the book.

Perhaps that is what has others up in arms? That Storm is no longer part of an ensemble cast in the X-Books but is a supporting character in Black Panther? But should that matter when the character is still prominently featured in a number of high-profile Marvel comics? How could readers cry sexism when the character has been given more of a spotlight than ever before?

Is there something that other fans are seeing that I cannot? I have to admit that American comic book fans have morphed into a gigantic singular image of the boy who cried wolf to me. For years I have witnessed large groups of fans rake every black writer who has appeared on the scene over the coals, accusing each and every one of them of a wide variety of -isms and inferior craftsmanship. So when fans began to express their concerns about Hudlin in regards to Storm, I quickly dismissed them. After all, similar words were used to discredit McDuffie and Priest, who are now almost uniformly praised by fans. Why should I believe their first impressions of Hudlin to be free from the tinge of racism? Why should things be any different now?

Though could it be that years of enduring racism from fans in the comic industry have made me incapable of objectively critiquing black writers? Or is the boy simply crying wolf when there are none present once more? Could the answer lie somewhere in between?

Selective sight. So, why do I not feel the need to “rally to the cause” where sexism in comics is concerned? Why do I not put in a tenth of the effort into battling sexism in the comics industry as I do into battling bigotry against ethnic, racial, sexual, and religious minorities? After all, I am a woman. Why don’t I care as much? Perhaps it is because my race once prevented me from having to endure the same problems that women who do not share my racial background have battled. And because I did not have to endure those problems, it became hard for me to see why they were problems.

And so I laughed hysterically when female comic fans complained about artists continually depicting heroines in a sexual manner. Oh no! Men are drawing women as sexy! It was hard to take seriously because I never had to endure it. After all, the heroines being hailed as sex objects didn’t share any of my features. And after years of various forms of media telling me my skin, hair, and eyes made me undesirable, I certainly didn’t have much sympathy for those who complained about artists continually drawing heroines who shared their features as sexually alluring objects. If anything, they needed to simmer down and be thankful someone found their features desirable. They were lucky to even have characters who shared their features as heroines to begin with! I sure as hell didn’t.

Of course, my views changed as the characters changed. And I began to get more than a little uncomfortable with female characters battling in strips of cloth and high heels when the women stuffed into those outfits shared my hairstyle and skin color. Suddenly, it wasn’t as funny anymore. But I chalked it up to being a minor problem. There were much bigger fish to fry. And fewer people willing to fry them.

Though my views have changed, that clearly doesn’t mean my vision is now 20/20. I’m like a person who has sat in the shade for hours and finally decided to flip a light switch. I can recognize the basic shapes, but I’m still a bit fuzzy when it comes to all the details and nuances. But hey, at least I’m not sitting in the dark anymore. Or even worse, sitting in a brightly lit room with my hands tightly cupped over my eyes.


Where do we go from here?

Last post on the subject for a while, I promise. However, I just thought of something. Mangaka weren’t aware of how much these racist images were hurting people because no one let them know. If you care, and if you want to see a change, contact your publishers. Blog. Discuss. Speak up. Ask questions. Some of you have started doing exactly that—and now they do know. And all we can do is wait and see what they do with that information. However, ignorance can no longer be an excuse.


On second thought…

Today I received an e-mail from a reader about my blog post on Eyeshield 21. I appreciate the fact that he sent the e-mail because it really made me think about the right an artist should have to creative freedom. I’m not going to post his private comments to me, but I will post a portion of my response.

Intent to harm. Do I think the artist of Eyeshield 21 maliciously intended to reinforce negative stereotypes about black people and attempt to cause them harm? I don’t believe that is the case. However, does it matter what the intentions of the artist are if the results are the same? Even if I don’t intend to step on an individual’s foot, the pain that I might cause that person by accidentally stepping on him is still very real. Though the artist may not have intended to offend, the image still hurt me just as much as the old hateful propaganda against black people the art work was derived from.

African operations. If Viz plans to sell manga containing racist depictions of black people to black people, then I hope they will at least be honest with consumers so that individuals can make educated decisions about the books they purchase. No one wants to plunk down their hard-earned money for a book only to discover images that depict them as beasts and clowns beneath the cover. Perhaps a solution would be to place warnings on the back covers of certain books explaining to consumers that derogatory images of black people are included within the manga. Then people who aren’t disturbed by racist images of black people can continue to enjoy the work in its original unedited format and those who would be upset by it don’t have to suffer the pain of seeing it. I think this is a good solution since censorship or forcing an artist to edit his work doesn’t sit well with me the more I contemplate it.


Sambo, I am?

Since my post addressed to mangaka has been linked to, I thought I’d go into a bit more depth so I don’t come across as an irrational ranting entity! The racist image that I included in my original post? I plucked that image from volume seven of the manga Eyeshield 21. Eyeshield 21 is published in English for English-speaking countries by VIZ Media. The image I posted is from the English language version of the manga that is easily obtainable here in the United States. Volume seven of the series had a publishing date of April 4, 2006.

How many people were aware that this book contained a racist image that is humiliating to black people and still allowed this book to arrive upon American shores unedited? How many people saw that image, shrugged their shoulders, and thought that the feelings of black people were not worth the time and effort it would take to edit or remove the panel? How many people thought that the offensive image wasn’t worth calling attention to because they have bitterly accepted the idea that the Japanese have embraced racist images that are humiliating to black people and will never relinquish their desire for blackface and depictions of Sambo?

I have to admit that I was one of those people. After all, this certainly isn’t the first time I’ve come across racist images in manga. I simply shrugged my shoulders and believed that there was nothing I could do. If Japanese people wanted to embrace hateful images of black people then I had no right to stop them. What right do I have to direct the flow of another person’s culture? And how could I be upset when they had no idea of the history and hate behind those images? I wasn’t even angered by it. I was simply disappointed.

But now I’m angry, because the hate is now being shipped back to my shores to be immersed in my culture after black Americans have spent hundreds of years trying to shake it like a bad virus. And here it is again in a mutated form being packaged to our children so the world can tell them once again how ugly and insignificant it thinks they are.

“John Easum has been appointed President/Gérant of VME and will oversee all of VIZ Media’s European, Middle Eastern and African operations from Paris.”

This is where it gets frightening. African operations. Does VIZ actually have plans to sell books containing these images in African countries? I can understand them not taking African Americans into account when we only make up 12 percent of the American population, but do they really plan to distribute books containing these images to an entire continent filled with black people?

I know I come across as so very irate in this post, but I’m honestly just frustrated and lost. Where do I turn? Many of my peers have happily turned to manga after being upset by what they’ve endured from companies focused on superheroes. But all I see is are two very unappealing options. Sexist images or racist ones.


Market watch.

After starting and stopping at least a dozen times, I finally settled down and read Mask Market in one sitting. And I have to say that I was disappointed. I wasn’t disappointed in Vachss, because he is a phenomenal writer, but I was unhappy with the actions of the characters in the book. I know that readers certainly do not deserve a happy ending. Art imitates life and life is not happy or neat or fair. Still, that fact doesn’t keep me from wanting the bad guys punished and the good guys rewarded. That’s just the way I am. And in Mask Market, that didn’t happen.

I know that if these characters existed in the real world, none of them would be “good” people. Hardly any of the characters in the Burke series are citizens. They are all criminals in one way or another. However, some of them adhere to a strict code of honor. They have a family that they care and provide for. They only hurt those that would hurt others. And with the exception of dipping into their wallets when needed, citizens are left alone. And because I admire those traits, I consider the characters that have them good. And the characters that don’t? Horrific.

So, I was upset when Beryl Preston was rewarded with freedom and an exorbitant amount of cash at the end of the novel. Preston was a character with no redeeming traits. She had no honor. She had no compassion. And she preyed upon both criminals and citizens alike. She was a sociopath. I hated her.

If Vachss bet that Preston’s history of abuse would soften the reader’s attitude toward her, then it was a gamble he should not have taken. I have never accepted a history of abuse as an excuse to abuse others. And the fact that Burke seemed to accept it by granting Preston safety at the end of the novel—to quite possibly repeat the sins of the monster claiming to be her mother—left a bitter taste in my mouth. Burke was played. He let guilt guide him. And Burke should be much wiser than that.


Dear Mangaka,

Eyeshield 21If you actually expect people who are not white or Asian to purchase your books, this needs to stop. Now. Seriously, the fact that I even need to type this is mind-boggling.

I’d rather be invisible than be depicted in this way. Go back to ignoring us.


Dark eyes.

Boy, I sure hope Crying Freeman improves, because when the only Black female character with a major role (or any role) in a manga series spends her first appearance being brutally raped and left naked in a filthy sewer to eat rats so she doesn’t starve to death, it kind of makes me want to kick everybody gushing about how manga is this fabulous new frontier for women right in the butt.

I suggest you all write thank you letters to Gail Simone and Lea Hernandez, because they have saved a great many of you from being kicked in the butt today. Also, how sad is it that this was the only inoffensive black female character with a major role in a manga series that I could find? A couple of years ago, this wouldn’t have been an issue, but there are a lot of American creators and companies involved with manga now who are trying to sell books to American audiences. You people can really do better. Unless you plan on committing the sins of the superhero all over again in a new genre. And I have some nice platforms in my closet ready to go to work if you do.


Swag, the sequel.

It’s time to talk about comics again, folks.

I picked up the rest of Palmiotti and Linsner’s Claws series featuring Wolverine and the Black Cat. Love it. Love it. Words cannot describe how much I love it. I love it so much that I went out and bought it since Marvel doesn’t send the office review copies of its books. Linsner is a fabulous artist who totally brings a sexy playfulness to every page he draws and Palmiotti does a wonderful job of mixing action and humor. And hopefully, I did not butcher the spelling of either man’s name in this paragraph, because I am entirely too lazy to go and look either one up.

Also wonderful is Marguerite Abouet’s and Clement Oubrerie’s Aya from Drawn & Quarterly. Aya tells the story of a teenage girl and her two friends as they attempt to assert their independence and enjoy life in the working class neighborhood of Yopougon in 1978. I adore this book because it shows a side of Africa that Americans are rarely—no, make that never—allowed to see. Romantic, prosperous, humorous, light-hearted, hopeful, idealistic. How often do we get to see an African protagonist or community with those qualities? Hell, how often do we get to see an African protagonist or community at all?

It also reminds me just how universal these coming-of-age stories and young romantic tales are. I was pleased to see how Aya’s childhood and family life seemed to closely mirror my own. However, I was clearly born to a different culture and generation than the lead character.

Though Aya would feel at right at home on a bookshelf next to independent graphic novels such as Love & Rockets, it should also feel right at home on a shelf next to several manga titles geared towards young girls as well. However, the pessimist in me believes this book will never be placed there. Why? Because while young Americans have no problem accepting books containing a liberal dose of mainstream American and Japanese culture and images, what is black and what is African is still held up as an unwanted other in those circles. It is an ugly truth, but it is a truth nonetheless. So while the tales are so very similar, brown skin seems to make them all too different in the eyes of readers.

Though maybe, just maybe, the comics community will prove me wrong this time. And I will be all too pleased to be as wrong as can be.


A marvelous idea.

Normally I don’t post comments I’ve posted on other sites in my journal, but I’m going to make an exception with this post because I find the topic quite interesting.

The topic? The mixed media crossover between CBS’s Guiding Light and Marvel Comics. On the November 1 episode of the daytime soap opera Guiding Light, actress Beth Ehlers plays Harley Davidson Cooper, a woman who is given special powers due to a freak accident. Cooper is a major character in the Guiding Light cast. Marvel has produced an eight-page story featuring Marvel characters and Guiding Light characters to celebrate the event, and the story will appear in the issues of several Marvel comics.

Soap operas have had wacky stories like this before. Many soap operas are known for having “fantasy moments” where they stick their characters in a completely different setting with new stories. They’ve had characters travel back in time to the Old West and visit futuristic underground cities. This is the first time I’ve heard of a superhero story though.

I think it’s a great way to reach a new audience. Unfortunately, companies need to have something to sell to that audience once they have their attention or else it’s pretty much a waste of time. What does Marvel have right now to offer the stay-at-home mother who wants to forget about the pile of laundry and her screaming kid, or the homesick college student who wants something comforting and familiar, or the tired working woman who wants to zone out with a romantic fantasy before the night shift starts? How about the female viewer who wants a damn good romantic story and a heroine to root for? Marvel has some amazing books, but for the most part, those amazing books feature power fantasies for men and boys. And the books that don’t are for a much younger audience than the one watching soap operas. Does Marvel even have a romance comic geared towards grown women? Why not? What about an action comic that stars a woman and features a heavy dose of romance? If I worked at Marvel, I would have had something lined up to sell to these women. Maybe a Dakota North series or something with Friday Foster. Hell, even Daughters of the Dragon or She-Hulk could have been slightly retooled to fit.

But something tells me the women who watch soap operas will be reading manga romances and books like 12 Reasons Why I Love Her long before women interested in soaps will ever really be courted by Marvel and DC (not counting CMX/Vertigo/Milestone). Manga and independent comic companies already have the daughters and little sisters hooked, and they don’t have to change their product all that much to snag the mothers and older sisters too. Nor do they even have to change the place where they’ve set up shop. After all, women are in the manga/graphic novel section all the time. Someone has to go in and drag those kids and teens out of Borders.

Still, I think it was a good idea that will get the women watching soaps to think about superheroes. And once they do a little research, they’ll see that Marvel has some fabulous superhero books that are geared towards their husbands, boyfriends, younger siblings, and kids. And while they’re buying comics for all those other people, maybe they’ll drift a step or two over and buy some indie and manga books for themselves.

Also, many of the old cast members from B- and C-level nerdbait shows like Mutant X often go on to star as heartthrobs in soaps. Those actors can be wonderful marketing tools if used correctly. Someone should look into that.