This bitch right here.

I’m losing my softness.

Unfortunately, not physically! Anyone who I’ve roped into a hug can attest to that. But the inner core of who I am—quiet, demure—has been changing. The world isn’t a safe one for soft black women.

America prefers its black women angry, aggressive, and entertaining. And if a woman is not all three, mainstream American culture will do its level best to provoke and ridicule her until the desired result manifests. And then sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

For hardness and aggression in black women is beloved, so long as no ire is pointed in the particular audience’s direction. Black men look on in amusement as black women clap back at white feminists who dismiss their contributions and curtail their advancement. And those same white women will dry their eyes days later and clap for joy as those same black women hold black men accountable for sexist behavior that denies black women agency. Watching Mammy read someone for filth is fun as long as one is safely tucked within her enveloping skirt—blameless, cherished, protected, and deferred to.

The world of DeConnick’s and De Landro’s Bitch Planet is an exaggeration of our own, where women are told that they must fit within extremely rigid boundaries or face severe punishment. But in our world, and I suspect in DeConnick’s and De Landro’s as well, race impacts those boundaries. And what is demanded of one group of women is often frowned upon in another. Bitch Planet examines the need to be compliant—to be docile, to be demure. But what of those for whom being demure is deemed noncompliant? For black women, softness and stereotypical femininity is unexpected—and seems to elicit vicious anger and displeasure in others. When we are labeled as that which is desirable, that which is to be cherished, that which is to be protected, a pushback—cloaked in the lie that black women are inherently unacceptable, brusque, masculine, animalistic—is immediately enacted.

A black woman who is soft, carefree, hyperfeminine, reserved, and demure is radically noncompliant.

It is interesting to note how acceptability plays out according to the two most notable members of Bitch Planet’s ensemble—Kamau Kogo and Penny Rolle.

Kamau is a fighter. She is tough, smart, athletic and more than willing to put herself on the line to protect weaker individuals around her. She adheres to the importance of the truth even in the face of punishment. One would think that feistiness, the refusal to back down, is what results in her incarceration and engenders mistreatment. No. The powers that be see her—those traits—as potential entertainment. And yet in a white woman in that same world an inkling of those traits results in expulsion and death. But Kamau? Well, we are not even certain Kamau is a prisoner and not the lone volunteer mentioned by guards in issue one.

Though the last of Penny Rolle’s crimes is “wanton obesity,” her weight only seems to be an issue when she refuses to accept ridicule or hate herself for it, when she refuses to “prioritize how others see” her. The mockery of women of size has been a longstanding source of amusement in the States. It seems to bring joy to the men of Bitch Planet as well. We see from the jovial (and bigoted) conversations of men Penny has served in the past. Her weight draws derision and laughter from white men, but her presence as a caretaker is accepted and her body considered a joke or a delight reserved for a group of men referred to as skins.

“Skins. They like ’em big like that. It’s in their animal nature—big asses, big lips.”

It is when Penny finally lashes out, refuses to accept her role as a state-sponsored servant and source of amusement, that the law comes down upon her. As a black woman it is not her weight, but her rejection of her weight as wrong that is inexcusable.

The Fathers will love you as long as you hate yourself.


DC vs. Marvel: The Pre-Game Show.

“I have said—repeatedly, to anyone who will listen—that given the similarities found in both lines, Marvel and DC should release separate but simultaneous ‘Crisis’ events that dovetail into a Marvel vs. DC crossover, the climax of which would launch a short-term Amalgam universe, which would then fold as the DC and Marvel universes are rebooted—just in time to coincide with Avengers and JLA blockbusters in movie theaters. If one’s golden goose is dying, it’s best to feed it with as much grain as possible so those last eggs are glorious.”Cheryl Lynn Eaton

I still firmly believe that DC and Marvel should join forces for a month-long Amalgam event. Both companies should put out a line of one-shots featuring Amalgam characters as well as two four-issue event series to be shipped weekly during the month of April 2016—bridging the gap between Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War in movie theaters. (It’d also be wise to release two movie tie-in one-shots and two related trades to occupy newcomers for a month while die-hards enjoyed the Amalgam event.)

However, April 2016 is over a year from now and both Marvel and DC appear to be in the midst of renovating at this very moment. Instead of quickly launching from one event to the next, or dragging out Secret Wars and Convergence well past their sell-by dates, perhaps it would be best for DC and Marvel to reorder their houses after Secret Wars and Convergence have wrapped. Then, after firmly establishing the new DC and Marvel universes, a new threat—one that would launch our favorite heroes into Marvel vs. DC—could be introduced.

Post-Convergence Conversations: A quick look at DC’s upcoming titles has me pretty pleased. I’ve often argued that DC was devoid of diversity—race, gender, sexuality, and genre—genre being the most notable issue. While I’ve always believed genre diversity could be best introduced by giving each “house” (Super, Bat, Wonder-Marvel, Aqua, Green, Flash, Power, Teen) its own point of view and style, DC has mixed things up even further by trying for different styles within a particular house. I think it’s a tactic that will work.

Genre diversity aside, I’m elated at the inclusion of minority creators who will be bringing in points of view we haven’t seen in the mainstream for quite a while. More please! And on a personal note I’m glad to see that some of my favorite creators are still in the mix or have snuck in the back door—Connor, Simone, Walker, Corson, Randolph, Cloonan.

Still, all is not completely well. There are still a couple of opportunities that DC has yet to take advantage of and Vertigo is far from healthy—a point I have stressed for a very long while.

First and foremost, I’d bring characters such as John Constantine and Swamp Thing back to Vertigo along with darker Wildstorm characters such as Deathblow and Black Betty. Package them as their own universe—an imprint within an imprint—Vertigo: Heights. The imprint would lean heavy on action and horror, leaving the sci-fi and standard superheroes for the main DC universe. The imprint would also woo “big name” creators such as Ennis and Snyder as well as give creators on the cusp of gaining notoriety a chance to finally solidify their reputation. Vertigo cannot win back its old glory from Image with creator-owned work. That ship has sailed. Even if Vertigo changed its deal to match Image’s, the winds of change have already shifted. What Vertigo can do is champion the beloved characters in its stable while providing creators with something they cannot get elsewhere—financial stability and the attention that comes with working with established IPs. It would be best if Vertigo: Heights stressed characters that could easily be launched as a cable TV projects down the line. The line should be kept rather small too. No more than six titles at a time. I think a strong line-up would be as follows:

  • Constantine: The Hellblazer
  • Section Eight (seeding possibilities of a Hitman cable series)
  • Deathblow (in the vein of Punisher: Max)
  • Lilith (a companion series to Lucifer)

Two slots would remain for miniseries taking place with the Heights universe, such as Swamp Thing, Desire, or Papa Midnight. DC crippled Vertigo in the post-Berger era by pulling characters from Vertigo. And it damaged those characters by altering them to fit within the DC universe. Why? These are not network-friendly characters. They are and will always be HBO, not NBC. Sell them that way.

As for the DC Universe, it seems as though DC is about to correct course and right the ship. But there are still a few ways in which DC could be more competitive with Marvel. Building Power Girl into a brand that complements Harley Quinn and competes with Captain Marvel should be a major objective. And she should be a brand in her own right—not one that cribs from the origin of DC’s most popular Kryptonian. I would roll Harley Quinn/Power Girl directly into a Power Girls ongoing series featuring Karen and Tanya—pairing Amanda Conner with Dani Dixon while keeping Stephane Roux along for the ride. A sales win all around—a beloved creator and character (Captain Marvel), a nod to authenticity and diversity (Ms. Marvel), cross-generational conflict (Icon), and female friendships (Birds of Prey).

Building Vixen should be DC’s next objective. DC has already made inroads with the animated Vixen shorts that will debut soon. But that simply establishes a place for Vixen in the DC television universe. What about comics?

Looking at sales of Storm and Black Widow, I do not believe a Vixen series would sell well should one be launched in the near future. However, I do think placing Vixen in the leadership position of a Justice League International team that borrowed heavily in style from Warren Ellis’ Stormwatch run would do wonders. In fact, perhaps JLI should be repackaged as a revamped Stormwatch. A team featuring Vixen, Fire, Jack Hawksmoor, The Ray, Solstice, and others—given orders by a hardnosed, UN-funded Jackson King—would stand as a tightly controlled bureaucratic counterpart to the Justice League. Special attention should be given to Vixen, but also The Ray (given the dismal number of Asian superheroes to be found in the mainstream). I’d probably go and switch his residence from America to the Philippines too to keep the team from being too American heavy and provide Pacific Islanders with representation. Using the team book as a way to build background stories and establish supporting characters and situations for future television and film projects is crucial.

Anything else? Yes! DC’s “teen scene” needs a major restructuring to lure back fans. The creators on deck are excellent, but another way to show that an overhaul has occurred is through renumbering, costume redesigns, and a change in team lineup. There should be a clearer division between young adults (Grayson, Cyborg, Raven, Starfire, Batgirl, Arsenal) and teens. Also, more interaction between the young adults is key given that there is a Titans show on deck and Cyborg will be appearing in movies soon. And even though the characters are appearing in solo books, building them together as a brand is still helpful. Branding the young adults as Outsiders and the teens as Titans would help in reorganizing. Finally, I think repackaging Shazam as Captain Wonder or Captain Thunder and pulling the character slightly under Wonder Woman’s wing isn’t a bad idea. And having a couple of miniseries ready for readers before a movie is released might be a good idea too.

Next up? Marvel musings.


Next up? Next IP?

It’s the year of announcements—Wonder Woman, Black Panther, Daredevil, etc. The floodgates have opened and every Kal, Bruce, and Logan has been plastered across our small and silver screens. C- and D-list white male characters (S’up, Gambit?) and even A-list male characters of color and white female characters (T’Challa? Carol? Very nice to see you!) have crossed the four-colored threshold into the third dimension. Is that scraping we may hear at the bottom of the barrel?

Not hardly. Hollywood has yet to fully exploit the superhero genre. Yes, we are well into our second decade and there are still stories to tell. Much like the reviled rom-com, the superhero is not going anywhere. Critics may cry that the movies are of no substance, but the films make very large numbers of people with considerable sums of money feel very good. And for that reason, much like your annual meet-cute vehicle for the ingénue of the moment, they will be around for a long time.

Yet much like the public tires of particular ingénues after a period of time, it will tire of particular brands as well. And still Marvel and DC approach the public the way a dealer approaches an addict—or, quite frankly, the way publishers currently approach comic-shop retailers—pushing more of the same product to the same people at a faster rate with no thought of changing markets or the condition of their consumers.

No, the public will not tire of superheroes, but if you saturate the market with one particular brand, one set of characters, it will grow weary of hearing stories about them. The tales of Marvel and DC characters are our modern myths; they will stand the test of time as did Zeus and Paul Bunyan. But how often does the public wish to hear the origin story of the Greek gods in 2014? The public does not even want to see the origin story of Jesus on-screen more than once a decade let alone Spider-Man’s!

To bring in an example from our modern era, how many James Bond tales can entice the public each year? Even one a year would be too much. Has the public tired of action thrillers? No. But it does have a set tolerance for James Bond. And when that level has been reached, it is time for John Wick.

If you flood the market the public will tire of you faster—and you will have to wait that much longer for the public to once again embrace you. Though the current slate of announcements has elated Marvel and DC fans, some of the upcoming superhero movies will be flops—more than likely those helmed by Sony and Fox, studios so desperate to hold onto a superhero franchise that they will churn out a subpar product to maintain it. I have a sneaking suspicion Inhumans will do poorly as well; it is a weaker rehash of the X-Men’s tale—a tale that has already lost its way by having no members of any ostracized groups involved in the telling of a story about a group of people contributing to a world that hates and fears them. The lack of voices from those the world currently, quite honestly, hates and fears has removed the teeth from the X-Men (and will from the Inhumans). Hopefully Marvel can fix this issue before the franchises are due for a major launch/relaunch by either including those voices or changing the basic premise of the two franchises. Both options are easy fixes.

If Marvel and DC wish to consistently remain in the spotlight and stay in the public’s good graces simultaneously they will have to bring more to the table than just superheroes. And they will have to let some of their superhero IPs lie fallow for a period of time. Luckily, they have quite a few IPs in other genres that are ripe for exploitation—characters that are currently languishing in limbo. Which ones? Well, that’s a topic for another blog post.


NYCC here.

NYCC was surprisingly short on groundbreaking announcements this year—which I find to be a shame. While SDCC has clearly been overtaken by Hollywood (announcements regarding film and television projects in the science-fiction and fantasy realm are often reserved for the event), NYCC had been able to increase in size (and importance) while remaining largely about publishing. It’s where major series were once publicized, new companies and imprints were revealed, and contracts with celebrity creators were made known. This year, however, presented little to the public beyond an event logo or two and the revelation of a few new minor titles. NYCC’s loss of exclusive announcements removes what made the convention unique. It is now a grand spectacle and a boon for networking opportunities—phenomenal for professionals, but fans who are not locals have no need to attend. NYCC, like all major conventions, will only grow larger or stabilize, but the nearby hotels that once benefitted from gouging throngs of attendees may find only a limited number of professionals occupying rooms as fans simply get in their cars—be they automobile or subway—and go home. For me, NYCC (along with SDCC, ECCC, and DragonCon) has been scratched off the list of conventions to attend, but I’d advise any fan from Manhattan or Brooklyn to buy tickets for 2015 as soon as possible.

That said, NYCC did have a revelation or two. Let’s take a look!

Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple

Many fans will wonder why Dawson did not go for a meatier role such as Elektra, Misty Knight, or Kirsten McDuffie. Honestly, given Marvel’s propensity for making certain that all of its heroines of color pass Hollywood’s paper bag test, I’m relieved that Dawson is not playing Knight. However, while the role of Claire Temple is not a substantial role in Matt Murdock’s life; it is an enormous role in the life of Luke Cage and Goliath. Temple was the first love of both Cage and Goliath, and was a major component of two long-running love triangles in Marvel comics (Cage-Temple-Foster and Temple-Cage-Young). By selecting the role of Claire Temple, Dawson can now be inserted in four Marvel television shows (Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Jessica Jones) and one Marvel motion picture (Ant-Man). Wise choice. Dawson may not be playing a superheroine, but Claire Temple is a role that guarantees her a great deal of screen time and dramatic material. Get money, Rosario.

The Battle for Independents

There are a few independent comic companies nipping at Image’s heels by producing comics that are similar in tone to the work put out by Image. What these companies fail to recognize is that you cannot topple a thriving organization by imitating it. Image was able to best Vertigo by excelling where Vertigo had grown weak. It provides a home base for popular “counter-culture” creators who feel constrained by Marvel and DC and wish to broaden their creative horizons and perhaps cement a financial future by working on properties that they themselves own. Yes, this can be done at other companies or via self-publishing, but Image has name recognition and conjures up notions of literary celebrity and alt-glamour. Point blank, if you are a white male in your late twenties to early forties who occasionally eschews the mainstream and has an established fan following? You need to be at Image. And if you are not at Image? It is likely because another company foolishly thinks it can become Image by throwing substantial amounts of money in the direction of you and your peers. No. Image has a brand, a clear voice, and a steadfast determination to not repeat the mistakes of its forerunner. One can survive feeding from their leftovers, but one cannot thrive or build a brand of one’s own.

What an independent company (or alternative imprint such as Vertigo or Icon) needs to flourish is a unique voice that serves a specific mission or caters to a specific audience. And if said company cannot create one? Cribbing one from a company that clearly does not have its ducks in a row works just as well. Yet fledgling companies continue to crib from Image, which is neatly aligned from beak to tail.

Some, however, have moved in a new direction. BOOM! has created a welcoming space for female creators that has yet to be replicated elsewhere (though other companies should note that said creators could likely be wooed away with adequate monetary compensation). Dynamite and Zenescope have embraced and improved the bad girl trope popular in the nineties, and serve an audience that has drifted from companies no longer as focused on providing “cheeky” fantasy material. Moreover, Dynamite (along with IDW) has wisely picked up popular licenses that fall outside the superhero realm, and will benefit from the boost nostalgia provides without having to compete with the behemoth that is the “big two.” And finally, Archie Comics continues to aim for the irreverent to capitalize on past success. In order to make headway in these times a company must ask three important questions: whose stories aren’t being told? What popular genres are not being properly explored by the comics medium? Which companies have dissatisfied creators?

Ladies First

The rise in the number of female creators and female characters was considerable—and quite frankly, necessary. Not only did talented mainstream staples like Gail Simone and Kelly Sue DeConnick announce new projects to compliment their work at Marvel and DC, but Marvel and DC also relied on established methods of finding and developing talent to bring in female creators from other arenas, double the workload of existing female talent, and increase the number of titles starring female characters. While I’m a bit wary of the ability of the characters selected to find an audience (I would have asked the creative teams on Silk and “Spider-Gwen” to lend their talents to Spider-Girl and Jubilee), the fact that Marvel and DC are willing to work to recapture the success of Ms. Marvel and Batgirl is encouraging.

Yet the inroads made by Marvel and DC are miniscule compared to the presence of women in the world of self-publishing and small press. I was elated to see the immense line for Regine Sawyer’s Women of Color in Comics panel and women were also well-represented in Prism’s Women in Queer Comics.

Back to the Future

I am curious to see what the future holds for NYCC. As large as the convention is, the event still seems to center around comics—in marked contrast to SDCC. Will this change when Marvel is the only large publisher located in the Northeast? After all, it will be much easier for a convention like WonderCon to assume the mantle of the largest comic convention about comics given its location. Moreover, should DragonCon take great care in cultivating its comics track and unite with Atlanta’s SCAD division, it could possibly lure exhibitors away from NYCC. It provides legions of fans, promising new talent, celebrities, and tourist traps at a cheaper price point than New York City. Then again, the DragonCon showrunners do not know how to successfully embed the culture of Atlanta within geek realms in the same way that Reed is able to infuse geek markets with the flavor of New York City. Missed opportunities for one and a blessing for the other.

Next year, as I did this year, I will happily watch the events of NYCC unfold from the comforts of an easy chair—scrolling through interesting links on a tablet. May 2015 be even more successful than the last!


Dark Arches.

Archie Comics, in the past nearly consistent in presenting its leading brands as wholesome fare featuring small-town America, has branched out into horror with titles such as Afterlife with Archie and the new Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Heading in a different direction with the Dark Circle imprint, the company has also thrown itself headlong into the realm of the superhero and the world of pulp comics.

While Sabrina’s move from a humor title to one of horror is simply a twisted look at a theme already embedded in the character’s history—the supernatural—Afterlife with Archie stripped away the main premise of Archie—a suburban coming of age story (though one admittedly frozen in the penultimate stage)—to focus on zombies. While the title is a critical and commercial success, what if Archie Comics took a dark look at what Archie is actually about—small-town American life?

My suggestion? Black Betty, a title that takes the premise in Archie and presents a warped reflection of it. Riverdale has always been the idealized suburbia we dream about—close-knit, supportive, tolerant, wholesome, and diverse. Springvale would be the small town at its worst, a thin veneer of respectability cloaking corruption and intolerance—tawdry secrets kept behind closed doors. While character names and basic attributes should be kept the same, the art should be severely different from the traditional friendly and open DeCarlo style. It should serve as a clear indication that what is being presented is a Riverdale that is not quite right. Perhaps a style reminiscent of one of the newspaper masters such as Jorge Longarón would be ideal—a style that conjures up nostalgia for the soapy strips of yesteryear.

Black Betty is not my only suggestion! Just as Archie, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Josie and the Pussycats serve as a steadfast trinity for the publisher, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Black Betty, and Pussycats! could act temporarily as its dark triad. While Black Betty examines small-town secrets, Pussycats! could illustrate how the scandalous world of celebrity can quickly poison one seeking stardom. Dreamgirls meets Less Than Zero.

Each series should be capped at 6 to 12 issues—long enough to create a splash, tell an interesting story, and be bound into 1 or 2 trades, but short enough to avoid interfering with the main brand. I think it would be a great way for Archie Comics to shake off the shackles of its kids’ publisher status and show that it is willing to try new things.


An immodest proposal.

I am honestly wary about putting forth this idea due to recent current events! The harassment of critic Anita Sarkeesian and the theft and release of stolen pictures from notable actresses and singers shows an undercurrent of misogyny and immaturity in geek circles that does not allow for whimsical and balanced depictions of sexuality. Frankly, the anger of mainstream audiences towards women and the lack of female artists at mainstream comic companies might make the idea I am about to put forth impossible. But I will share nevertheless!

It is evident, even with the recent furor over Milo Manara’s variant cover for Spider-Woman, fans of all genders and sexualities enjoy well-rendered pin-up art. The success of a wide variety of artists—Touko Laaksonen, Matt Baker, Olivia De Berardinis, and even Manara himself provides evidence of that. It is often not the existence of pin-up art that angers critics, but that companies use pin-up art to objectify one group in particular—women—singling said group out and removing its agency.

I had joked to friends that while Marvel is in the hot seat over its Spider-Woman gaffe DC should plan a lingerie-variant month. Kidding aside, the idea has merit—and DC is the one company possessing the iconic characters necessary to make it successful. However, said success is nestled within a public-relations minefield. The only way to maneuver that minefield safely is to make sure that the project as a whole celebrates equality, healthy depictions of sexuality, and consent. Male and female characters should be used as subjects; lighthearted scenes should be encouraged. For example:

  • A variant cover for Superman could show Superman in boxer briefs hanging his costume on a clothesline behind the Kent farm. He winks mirthfully at the reader.
  • A variant cover for Harley Quinn could show Harley in her underwear looking over her shoulder at the reader. Her skin is white save for a small patch of peach skin on her back. A gloved hand—meant to be the reader’s—is poised in the air, about to paint the last portion.
  • A variant cover for Batgirl could depict a scene from a pajama party. A group of young women have hogtied an intruder and are blithely explaining recent events to an amused Batgirl while they eat ice cream.
  • A variant cover for Grayson could depict a shot of Dick Grayson from behind as he approaches a seated woman in a business suit. The woman gazes at him seductively. 50 Shades of Grayson, perhaps?

The point is that the project should aim for a wider variety of readers—readers with varying interests and from various backgrounds. It can be done and it can be successful should DC take great care in hiring artists with open-minded views regarding sexuality and a firm belief in equality. But, no pun intended, can DC rise to the challenge?


Too black, two strong.

Tim Hanley’s “Gendercrunching” articles are always of interest to me because while the perception of the impact women and people of color have upon the “mainstream” comics industry can be molded via marketing, numbers do not lie. This month, Hanley has added his yearly statistics regarding creators of color to his monthly presentation on gender. The results are far from surprising.

Race and Gender Statistics

Though for the most part they are not working at the “big two,” black people are working in comics and in related entertainment industries such as animation and prose publishing. It is important to reiterate because the reaction to the periodical release of the miniscule number of black creators working at DC and Marvel (1.4 percent) compared to the percentage of Americans who are black people (12.6 percent) is often anger followed by a rattling off of potential black creators to be hired and various methods DC and Marvel can use to find black talent.

DC and Marvel are well aware of methods such as hiring individuals from independent comic companies, inviting self-publishers to pitch, pairing established writers from other genres with comic writers in order to acquaint them with the comics industry, reconnecting with creators who have left the industry, and providing artists with back-up stories in order to gauge their ability. DC and Marvel routinely use these methods to bring creators who are not black into their companies. DC and Marvel are aware of the methods used to increase one’s talent pool. DC and Marvel are aware of black creators. The dearth of black pencillers, inkers, writers, colorists, and editors at DC and Marvel have nothing to do with a lack of available talent or an inability to communicate with said talent.

What is frustrating for black fans of Marvel and DC is the unfulfilled desire to read about their favorite black characters and hear black voices within the same work. And those fans will never be happy until they expunge that desire. DC and Marvel have little interest in hiring black talent. And until fans disturbed by that basic truth accept that fact, the lack of black voices will eventually poison the enjoyment of mainstream black characters. Trust me—I speak from experience.

Black readers can have it all—popular black characters and talented black voices—if only they are willing to commit to the simple task of buying two quality books instead of one. Of course, one can save money and forego mainstream books entirely, but I do realize that for some fans pastiches are just not enough. And for only a few bucks extra they can enjoy a great book featuring the “real thing” (though we should examine which characters are deemed “real” and why).

I will admit it is bizarre that mainstream heroes are not voiced by black people, that DC and Marvel routinely explore concepts such as government corruption and institutional inequality sans any input from African Americans, but we are not experiencing the silencing of the past where black people were denied means of distribution. Kickstarter, Patreon, and independent companies are available and black comic creators can be found there. Quality work can be found there. Instead of bemoaning the paths that are not available, let us celebrate (and widen) the paths that are.


To market, to market!

If your product makes a segment of your audience feel inherently less than another group, you’re doing it wrong—be it creating or selling. This applies to comics, to movies, to television, and to literature—any form of entertainment.

How can my statement be true? Gendered marketing has proven effective in the past, no? And there is direct evidence that marketing a product to young men while snubbing young women has led to a segment of women consuming the product nevertheless. In addition, it has allowed for those companies to create a “girls’” version of their product, essentially crowding the women who felt ostracized—due to being deemed inferior consumers of the “regular” product—into a new lucrative market, a pink ghetto. If this method has worked so successfully in the past, why should it not continue to do so in the future?

Why? Because this type of marketing—essentially insulting a segment of potential consumers—only works in a society where inequality has already taken root. To reiterate, telling your consumers that they are inferior will only make them want your product (in order to prove their worth) if they truly questioned their self-worth to begin with. With a rise in parity and self-esteem old marketing methods are slipping into obsolescence as certain companies find their products no longer sell as well.

What does this mean for traditionally “geek” markets that catered to white men such as comics and video games? For companies that did not choose to produce material or advertising couched in inequality? Nothing at all. They will continue to cater to a shrinking, but fiercely loyal and dependable audience. There is nothing wrong with a company narrowing its focus. However, to narrow focus by insulting those who fall outside the intended market endangers a company’s health. It will result in a vocal groundswell of women and people of color who will push back against the products and marketing tactics they have been insulted by.

Those who are only able to enjoy products that glorify racism and misogyny will grow furious as companies scramble to placate the growing number of female consumers and consumers of color unwilling to accept such packaged hatred. In fact, their fury has already been felt in the harassment of notable female creators and critics. However, their fury is no match for the sheer number of women who have entered—and are continuing to enter—the market.

Screw you! You social-justice warriors won’t take my pin-up art and shooters from me! Sugar, for the love of God, sit down. No one is trying to. Women and people of color enjoy them just as much as you do. I’d assemble a keyboard army with the quickness should Empowered be pulled from shelves and I love the Grand Theft Auto series more than any reasonable person should. (However, let’s be honest, Houser and Humphries are incapable of writing an interesting and well-rounded female character.)

What female fans and fans of color want is parity. Luckily, parity is created via addition—new products, new characters, new creators, new markets, new points of view—not subtraction. Let us be clear, the only thing being removed is bigotry. And that is something no man who considers himself a human should believe is worth fighting for.


Multiversity–or Elseworlds.

I’d stepped into the DC universe with Grant Morrison’s Multiversity, mistakenly believing the series was DC’s current line-wide event. It is not.

It should be.

DC’s current cross-series saga is Futures End.  I don’t plan to pick up the weekly series nor will I be selecting any of the tie-in books for September. My knowledge of DC comes from movies, television shows, and video games—leaving me ill-equipped to launch head first into a time-travelling yarn. If I know little about the New 52’s past and I am not emotionally invested in its present, why should I care about the quality of its future? I will stick with the Multiversity bookends and select any additional books in the Multiversity series that I find interesting.

Readers like me, who pop in to enjoy the latest Grant Morrison vehicle and pop back out when it has concluded must be frustrating to companies such as DC. Fans loyal to creators become increasingly disloyal to companies and characters. As their favorite artist or writer skips from company to company, readers realize that each company has its own version of whatever trope they may hold dear. I can read about Spider-Man or Static or Ryan Choi. Batgirl or Ms. Marvel. Storm or Starfire or Vixen. The character does not matter. It makes no difference.

What does matter? Two things: the first is the creative team and the second is the concept. That’s it. For companies to corral readers such as myself is a matter of tossing a multitude of projects before the public eye and waiting to see which projects resonate with the largest number of readers. It requires something that DC has drawn back from in the past—a commitment to diversity.

I do not mean racial and religious diversity, nor gender and sexuality. What is required is a variety of tones and of genres, which is in direct conflict with DC’s previous mode of operation—to pattern as many books as possible after its most successful series. But if a reader has one quality book with the character, creative team, and tone she craves, she will have no interest in purchasing fifty-one facsimiles.

This brings us back to my idea of a line-wide Multiversity event. Each existing New 52 series would have a “done in one” story taking place on a different Earth. New titles would debut as one-shots—for example, The Authority: Earth 45. It would give DC one month to safely explore myriad concepts and creative teams from outside the existing talent pool and see what the populace finds appealing. The following month, DC’s editorial staff would analyze sales figures and reader response to identify which books were deemed a success and incorporate the successful creator-concept pairs into existing series.

It is very difficult to launch a new series and correct course when it is evident that readers are not interested. A Multiversity event would greatly reduce the risk involved in experimentation; it would essentially be a stealthy line-wide reboot. Liked what you read? Well, we’ll find a way to give it to you every month! Hated what you read? Well, we’ll never check back in with that Earth again!

Unlike Marvel’s readers, DC’s readers are familiar with and even fond of the notion of a large number of worlds due to the current Multiverse concept and DC’s defunct Elseworlds imprint. An event embedded in the idea would not be foreign or appalling to its audience. And I firmly believe it’s something DC should try.

The fate of the universe is at stake.


Oh, what a web!

If a company markets one product to two diametrically opposed groups within the same arena, said company should expect a spectacle as those two groups angrily vie for the sole attention of the company and dominion over the product. The spectacle will be a boon to the company as those not even interested in the product will flock to the spectacle to witness the clashing of the two groups—promotion via chaos. It is a deeply exploitative form of marketing that I find distasteful, and it is a form that Marvel has recently used with greater frequency, causing me to shy away from its products.

The rapid growth of the number of women involved in geek circles has sent various entertainment industries that once catered wholly to men scrambling to find material to sell to a new and untapped market. In comics, Marvel has wisely made space in its roster for empowering and entertaining works featuring female characters that are helmed by female creators. Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel are notable examples. However, two books and two female creators are not enough to service the growing number of female readers. Demand has clearly outstripped supply.

One way Marvel has countered is by upping the number of books featuring female leads. The upcoming Spider-Woman was announced at Marvel’s Women of Marvel panel at the well-attended San Diego Comic-Con (the panel amusingly stated by Melissa Molina of Comic Book Resources to have dispelled stereotypes). It was here that Marvel marketed to its first group—men and women frustrated with poorly conceived, sexist, and sexualized material that objectifies solely women.

spider-woman-1-coverAnd it was here, in the cover created by erotic artist Milo Manara and in the choice of the notorious Greg Land as series penciller, Marvel marketed to its second group—men craving sexualized images of women to objectify—a group that is in direct opposition to the men and women who were in attendance at the panel. It is a group that is frustrated due to the belief that they are being stripped of the ability to enjoy erotic art featuring Marvel characters as an increasing number of female characters are used to create empowering works for women. These two groups were bound to clash—and clash they did in several notable places, which drew the attention of the mainstream media. And with the attention of the mainstream media Marvel got exactly what it set out to obtain when it first championed Spider-Woman to female audiences and then hired the industry’s most infamous “cheesecake” artist and its most talented erotic artist for the project. And it only had to gaslight its female readers, a group already battling sexism and harassment in an industry that is hostile to them to do so.


Multiversity.

This is for writer David Uzumeri. The rest of you may ignore. You will not—for curiosity gets the best of us—so come on in.

Uzumeri has launched a series of annotations dissecting the work of beloved “comics god” Grant Morrison, examining the freshly released The Multiversity #1 from DC comics. I had planned to skip the series, assuming the work would only be of interest to historians of DC’s lore, but Uzumeri’s annotations have made the work enticing. Of course, the work of Morrison and Reis helps considerably in luring one in.

Upon reading the work it is more than evident that Multiversity is akin to a well-written children’s cartoon, providing entertainment not only for delighted youth, but also slipping in tidbits of information for experienced adults chained to the television, enslaved by the whims of their children. Multiversity is a fun read for kids excited by flashy costumes and earth-shattering confrontations. The work also provides a wealth of references to dated DC comics, delighting older fans of Crises past. But even more exciting than that is that Morrison has deftly inserted critiques of the comics industry in its entirety into the series—and that is extremely attractive to entertainment analysts more thrilled by sales charts and editorial changes than title launches.

And so here we are—me, in particular.

The Multiversity, page 10My interest lies in the title’s villains—the Gentry—introduced on page 8 and seen here on pages 10 and 12. Gentry is a loaded word to give to any antagonist in times when American people of color, black people in particular, have raised concerns about the gentrification of their urban neighborhoods by middle- and upper-class upwardly mobile white people. Children simply see a dastardly group usurping a world that does not belong to them. Those interested in the history of comics and the history of America see something more.

The Gentry is representative of the worst of the comics industry. Lord Broken, a demonic house loaded with eyes and composed of haphazardly stacked stories, can clearly stand for a distorted Marvel, “the House of Ideas.” Note that artist Ivan Reis has chosen for each story to be thinner and less stable than the last, perhaps a nod to Marvel’s continued mining and refining of the work of Stan and Jack, producing weaker results with each incarnation—broken visions. Intellectron, a bat-like figure with one eye, is clearly the worst of DC—a single vision dependent on references to Batman—dark and myopic.

The Multiversity, page 12Note that this warped symbol of a company criticized for its lack of staff diversity—a company wholly dependent on a rich, white businessman, striving to tie all books in service to his—demands that two young black heroes, American and Aboriginal, give up their dreams to become like the Gentry. Instead of bringing their unique dreams—and what is a dream if not a story?—to the table, they are to cast them aside and assimilate in order to belong. For one who has critiqued the comics industry for scrambling to include black characters while shunning black creators, the panel is poignant. The worst of the comics industry wants black images but not black stories. The dearth of black writers today provides evidence of that. The scene is also a nod to the comics industry of yesteryear, which effectively chased out black creators like Orrin Evans and frequently used anti-black caricatures such as Ebony White to draw interest and delight white children with misshapen imps while reinforcing the idea that black people are decidedly different and inferior.

I do not believe the other Gentry members are direct correlations to companies, though Hellmachine could perhaps be a quick nod to a distorted Dark Horse—Hellboy becoming the sole engine that keeps the company afloat. Dame Merciless is no one company but indeed a symbol of the entire industry’s depiction of women—barely cloaked and deformed beyond belief. She is shown as a zombie—a puppet—voiced by the Gentry with none of her own, her life force robbed from her. Note that Nix Uotan appears in a similar zombie-like form once he has succumbed. Perhaps Dame Merciless was once a hale woman who had also given up her dreams, her stories, to be a part of the Gentry—an emblem of a comics industry where women are seen as monstrous aberrations—the “opposite of everything natural”—but not heard.

But all is not lost! This is comics, folks, where the good guys eventually win and there’s an assembly of heroes from “the rainbow of worlds” to battle the Gentry back from whence they came. If the Gentry is the worst of comics, the collection of heroes that have come together is its best. Multiversity is clearly a love ballad or ode created by Morrison and Reis to celebrate the industry. What the team appears to adore is diversity of race, gender, religion, body type, and sexuality; the inclusion of humor and child-like discovery; and the pioneering spirit of independent creators. There is also a deep love for the history of comics and the inspiring tropes created at Marvel and DC that we all hold dear. It is interesting to note that while comics history is represented in the Gentry and in the team of heroes gathered, the best of comics allows for the inclusion of one’s own personal history; the worst of comics demands that what makes you you be stripped away.

The battle of the multiverse will be a battle of multiple realities—multiple verses, multiple visions—fighting against one lone vision that has surrounded itself in facsimiles to provide an illusion of growth or change. And via annotations we can add our own realities as well.

Join in.


First come.

I’m a long-term subscriber to Essence magazine. I’ve had a hard time finding a magazine that “speaks” to me, instead cobbling together features from various periodicals in an attempt to read articles that engage all of my interests. And so, I also occasionally peek at Esquire, The Atlantic, and Glamour—three additional appealing publications.

I’d state that Essence, however, is a requirement for African American women seeking information on beauty and fashion. Its tagline is appropriately, “Where Black Women Come First.” For other “women’s interest” magazines not only do not cater to a black woman’s needs, but are often blatantly harmful to black women in their use of brown skin and black cultures as a backdrop to highlight white beauty. And so, I’ve had to reject entertainment that purports to be for everyone, but in reality excludes or is dismissive of those who are black.

It is the reason why so many eyes are rightfully rolled when an uneducated person awash in anti-blackness decries the lack of a White Entertainment Television. One, there are dozens of stations that claim to provide universal entertainment, but in actuality serve the needs of white Americans solely or white Americans first. Two, Black Entertainment Television is not owned by black people—and exists to serve black entertainers to mainstream audiences. Black people have not owned BET since 2001 and are no longer the curators and censors who determine which black voices are deemed worthy of being heard and which black people are worthy of being seen. If you are angry at the existence of BET, I suggest you take the matter up with Philippe Dauman or Sumner Redstone. Black people have no control over the issue nor are their desires of any importance. The B in BET stands for who is providing the entertainment, not who is being entertained.

Even Essence is hamstrung by a tagline that claims to provide for all black women. In actuality, articles that do not deal with beauty and fashion are heavily geared towards a black female audience that is American, Christian, and straight. And that is exactly what happens when a form of entertainment claims to be for all—privileged groups are given preferential treatment. Attention is not equally allotted to all groups unless voices demand to be heard.

In the “Natural Hair” movement—created and nurtured by black women who face institutionalized discrimination due to the texture of their hair—there is currently a discussion over whether the white women with curly hair who have brusquely demanded inclusion in the movement should be embraced. To reiterate, members of a group that instigated the institutionalized bigotry against black women with coarse hair textures, denying them inclusion in countless arenas, now wishes to be part of the movement established by black women as a coping mechanism to deal with their bigotry. Why? Because that coping mechanism has developed into a community that is profitable and popular and is now deemed to be of worth. The refrain seems familiar.

The white women who demand inclusion in the Natural Hair movement know full well that due to white supremacy they will be given preferential treatment over black women within the movement—making the community wholly useless to black women as a coping mechanism. They know this and do not care. They will take from black women under the guise of inclusion, snatching what black women were able to scrape together and build on the outskirts they’ve been restricted to for centuries.

For privileged groups, the idea that there could be one small item on the board—a board they primarily rule—that is not under their control, that is not designated for them first and foremost, infuriates them. And their response is to (1) demand inclusion, (2) usurp attention, (3) dominate, and (4) destroy as if a small, petulant child.

And yet, it is possible for one to be privileged in one way and stripped of representation in another. In other arenas, the comic character Wonder Woman has developed over the years into a powerful feminist icon and a deservedly beloved power fantasy for young white women and girls. Each and every child deserves to have a character that champions the idea that he or she is deserving of power and autonomy! Each and every child deserves to have a story where he or she is served first. Due to decades of notoriety, Wonder Woman is sought out above lesser known female characters such as Black Widow and Captain Marvel (great characters in their own right) as a national symbol of female power—a testament to the fact that a woman can be equally as strong and savvy as her male counterparts. Such a symbol is needed both in the wider world and most certainly in the mainstream comics industry, where white men primarily give voice to most characters and where the desires of white men are served first over white women, even when the characters being written for are white female characters.

“I think she’s a beautiful, strong character. Really, from where I come from, and we’ve talked about this a lot, we want to make sure it’s a book that treats [Wonder Woman] as a human being first and foremost, but is also respectful of the fact that she represents something more. We want her to be a strong—I don’t want to say feminist, but a strong character. Beautiful, but strong.”

David Finch

I believe I understand what Finch, slated as the new artist for Wonder Woman, is attempting to say. He wants a Wonder Woman that is relatable, less of a symbol and more of a sympathetic character. But what Finch does not seem to understand is that when one strips feminism from Wonder Woman, one strips the power fantasy from the character. One makes the statement that yet in one more place the desires of female readers will not come first. Wonder Woman cannot be a feminist woman for women and young girls; it is more important for her to be a “human being” for all. The focus is on inclusion. Unfortunately, inclusion in an entertainment industry riddled with sexism is simply code for preferential treatment for men. A Wonder Woman that is not feminist is simply another sex symbol for male readers—in a landscape that is littered with them.

However, there is more than one Finch on the new creative team of Wonder Woman and I believe writer Meredith Finch understands the responsibility she has earned and the audience she is writing for. Meredith, as a woman, likely will not balk at the idea of putting women first—not in all things, but yes, in this one thing.

“Being able to take on that quintessential female superhero who represents so much for myself and for millions of people out there—especially at a time where comics are coming more into the mainstream—I feel like it’s really special, and that’s really where I’m coming from when I’m writing this. I want to always keep who she is and what I believe her core is central to what I’m doing.”

Meredith Finch

I cannot stress how important it is to have women writing about women for women—to have female authors in the mainstream who are willing to put women first. And yes, we need that for all oppressed groups on a national stage until the time comes that inclusion honestly means for all. I only hope that one day the mainstream will have black authors that are able to do the same for black people.

It is not discrimination, or “reverse racism,” or a claim that those who are not black cannot write black characters—no more than placing a female audience first in one book is evidence of sexism or the oppression of men. It is the honest admission that all Americans are taught anti-blackness by consuming a biased culture that denigrates black people, and only African Americans are forced to unlearn it in order to become emotionally whole (and some, sadly, do not). Those who are not black can simply continue to embrace anti-blackness if they wish to (though, thankfully, some do not) and are often rewarded for doing so due to how lucrative the exploitation of black people is in American society. Americans are taught to put the desires and needs of black people dead last at all times, even when creating material that feigns to be for and about black people. A black power fantasy that does not put black audiences first is not a black power fantasy; it is a story about black people for mainstream audiences—a mainstream where black people are perpetually held in last place.

To dismiss the demand for power fantasies for ostracized groups, to silence their voices, to angrily crush their desires for a miniscule region where they are allowed to come first is to hoard Band-Aids while those around one suffer from festering, open wounds. Yes, such dressings are insufficient—our culture is gravely injured—but to deny even that in a fit of selfish greed is incomprehensible.


Black and bled.

The “Blood on the Tracks: Where Are the New Black Comics Writers?” thread at Bleeding Cool, uniquely disturbing and depressing, hits all of the major beats: allusions to black inferiority as the reason for the absence of black writers (“I’d rather have quality writers,” “Perhaps there weren’t any black writers good enough”); demands for one to prove the comics industry has been impacted by institutionalized racism (“Name me one instance where a black writer has been blackballed,” “Numbers don’t mean anything,” “That’s anecdotal”); off-topic demands for African Americans to explain elements of American culture the poster finds distasteful (“Why do you call yourself African Americans? You’re the descendants of slaves!” “Why aren’t you fighting the lack of white people in rap music? Isn’t that racism?”); the admonishment of black writers for not continuing to try to find work at companies where they’ve historically had a radically limited presence; the declaration that there are no black writers available; and finally, claims that black people simply aren’t interested in the storytelling medium that is sequential art.

The mainstream comics community (consumers, creators, editors, and management) does not wish to see its status quo change—and I no longer see a reason to incite ire by forcing my way into a community to question why it will not. It is exhausting and pointless for me to do so. Nor do I see any reason for talented writers who share my race to wait by doors that will not open when there are crowdfunding sites and smaller independent companies available that are amenable to them. A black writer no longer has to leave the comics industry to find work. A consumer can develop her own discussion group upon finding herself unwelcome in the mainstream comics community—or she can join one of the existing comics communities not only hospitable to women, but dominated by them. Kickstarter has provided the opportunity for talented black women to share their stories and Twitter and Tumblr allow us all the opportunity to talk about it.

The mainstream comics community has not changed for black writers. But there are welcoming communities that have flourished around it—communities with editors that invite black writers to pitch, with sales representatives that promote the work of all their creators equally, and with enthusiastic fans who wish to hear stories from a wide variety of cultural viewpoints. (Hi! I am one of those fans!) To dismiss these arenas—arenas where talented black writers are sought after, appreciated, and are currently working—due to the lack of a recognizable logo is madness.

I do not wish to silence anyone fighting for major comic companies to consider black writers for employment. But I believe it is vital for black writers to know that there places outside the mainstream where they are wanted and would not be alone.


Not all men.

“The interesting thing I’ve noticed about these dudes from (1) listening to the #yesallwomen discussion and (2) being a ‘geek’ is that they’d be just as furious if women developed their own communities and completely ignored them. They don’t want to drive women out of ‘their’ spaces. They want silent women there to yell at and poke.” Cheryl Lynn Eaton

I’m not a professional in an entertainment field nor am I a noteworthy critic. My status allows me the blissful opportunity to avoid interacting with the bigots found on countless social media outlets. I feel guilty because I see women who have remained in those fields—women who I admire deeply—forced to endure the daily hateful invectives of individuals who clearly despise them. They are despised because they are women in a position of authority where they are able to influence the existing narrative. For men who feel socially impotent, the idea that one they’ve deemed to be a lesser being could earn a position greater than their own is infuriating. They wish for those in positions of power in their community to look and sound like them. As long as that status quo remains intact, their worth remains affirmed.

At first I believed these men just wanted to be left alone—that they had built a community where they were no longer socially ostracized and did not want anyone to intrude upon it. As a black woman, I certainly understand the need for a “safe space” and had no problem leaving them be. My written work is limited to my personal website. The Ormes Society has shifted its focus from mainstream black characters to devote more attention to black women working in the webcomic and indie circuit. My Twitter account is private. I am now what these men have angrily demanded—a woman who has no interest in interacting with them nor is all that concerned with changing the content they enjoy.

And yet I’ve received hate mail regarding content published on my personal website. Men have requested to follow me on Twitter for the sole purpose of arguing with me. They enter threads dedicated to women in comics to accuse women of being lesser talents set to poison the industry. I’ve come to realize that these men do not want women to “go away.” They want women to stay and silently accept their abuse. Their self-worth as men is entirely dependent upon telling women and people of color that they are lesser beings. And if women and minorities are not present to be told this these men are then forced to examine themselves and be judged upon their own merit. For the men who have been found lacking and have retreated to these communities due to being shunned by the mainstream this notion is terrifying.

I’ve no solution for these men. Their hateful behavior is going to continue to result in women choosing my path and ceasing to interact with them or storming angrily into their communities to dismantle them. No individual will willingly endure abuse when there are other options available.


It’s funny ’cause it’s true.

I’ve been thinking a bit about physical comedy lately. I adore the accidental nature of it—the element of surprise, the spontaneity. Pranks and pratfalls are the easiest way to get a rise out of me—laughter should I be a witness and fury should I be a victim. Don’t try to prank me. It will not end well.

But what is the funniest moment of the prank or pratfall? My answer would depend on the medium used to tell the story—prose, a comic strip, or live action and animation. With live action and animation, the most humorous moment is the moment of surprise, the instant where a deviation from how the victim believed things would occur takes place. The sucker punch. The pie in the eye. The dishes crashing to the floor. I believe that when creating a comic (“chopping” the action into static images) the most hilarious moment of the action changes, occurring when the reader’s anticipation of the victim’s surprise is at its height. As readers, we quickly fill in the blanks, creating an image in our mind’s eye before our actual eyes can gaze upon the panel containing the action’s climax. And so the panel of the victim “talking junk”—blissfully unaware that the shadow of his attacker has fallen upon him—becomes funnier than the attack. In some instances depicting the final action is not even necessary; a cut away from the action to a different scene altogether allows the reader to participate as a storyteller, the climax limited only by his or her imagination.

Comedy, folks!