Prince Rogers Nelson.

“Prince was the one who was supposed to live forever. Rick was gone, Michael was gone, but Prince kept the torch burning. So much of our pain and our joy and our history is expressed through music. So Prince isn’t just Prince. He’s a generation. He’s an era of blackness. He’s funk. He’s 80s. And him being gone along with Rick and Michael is just–I can’t even explain. It hurts.”Cheryl Lynn Eaton

Prince passed today.

PrinceSocial media is difficult when someone so famous who has touched your life concludes theirs. As the feed refreshes and each new person discovers what has happened you mourn anew. Each new tweet, new journal entry, new article reminds you of the void left by their absence. And the healing cannot begin until the same unpleasant discovery is visited upon the very last man and he begins to grieve.

I suppose I’m hastening that grief with my own comments. I had to speak for the same reason I had to step away. The pain is just too much and words are still not enough to express how I much I appreciate this man and his music. How much I regret never having the chance to tell him so by screaming out his name in the midst of a throng of fans.

He is gone. And we are still here.

I am angry, because he was taken from us far too soon. I am embarrassed, for I am still blessed with life without an iota of his gifts. He still had so much to give us. A selfish thing to say—but also true.

We are being robbed of our elders before they grow old.


On second sight.

Any rapper interested in shining a spotlight on his or her lyrical ability and skill with wordplay should be writing new lyrics to accompany the recently released Yeezus instrumentals. Immediately. However, I’d avoid outright attacks on Kanye’s ability or output. It makes one appear bitter and the flaws in Yeezus are already glaring to critic and fan alike. I’d also avoid penning the standard sixteen bars of crack rap as well. No, what is needed is something akin to Yasiin Bey’s “Niggaz in Poorest“—a work that explores street-level issues from a position as an ambassador or survivor rather than predator. It is a position that allows one to lampoon out-of-touch mainstream darlings who champion luxury and excess to the point where they are consumed or enslaved by their beloved commodities. It also cements one in a position above those who would exploit those still chained to the streets that birthed them in order to obtain small scraps of credibility to please critics on the hunt for a little ‘hood realism to titillate and tantalize.

ETA: Well, that was fast. And needed.


And ‘Ye shall know the truth.

“If Kanye’s new album is, as I’m suspecting, a letter to the different facets of black America, I’m going to have to give up the Internet.”Cheryl Lynn Eaton

Sadly, I could not have been more wrong. I listened to Yeezus tonight and I am disappointed. I feel as if “New Slaves” was the ultimate bait and switch. Given one of the biggest platforms a black man could possibly be afforded, during a time when black men and boys people desperately need someone to celebrate them loudly and publicly on a grand scale to counteract the warped negative projections found in the media, need someone to address the life-threatening inequities they currently face (that America wishes desperately to bury), Kanye used it mainly to recite a love letter to himself, and solely himself—a self-serving album (of which we already have several from his peers).

West has what few have been given—the power to change our culture with his actions. So for him to return to a superficial world of MDMA, groupies, and high-end luxuries after a conscious “one-off” is frustrating. The beats, melancholy and haunting and sparse, are beautiful. However, the lyrics, championing a spoiled boy-king’s heartbreak and resulting misogynistically-tinged tantrums, are audible self-absorption at a time when the problems we currently face are so much greater than this one man.

I suppose this is the eternal push-and-pull for popular artists belonging to a group that has been so fervently oppressed and silenced. Once one has broken through the barriers and has received a highly visible canvas upon which to create, does one owe it to the group to try to speak for/to all? Is it unfair to ask the artist to integrate a larger societal message into his personal work?

Disappointed though I may be, Kanye doesn’t owe me—us—anything. His lyrics are and should be his own. I suppose it is our responsibility to seek new artists and build new platforms if the message we seek cannot be found in the music he creates.


Rebelle.

Rihanna

I will make this short, but sweet. Should Rihanna ever allow a surgeon to carve into her face, to raise the slope of her nose and narrow the bridge between her wide, sparkling eyes, she would cease to be unique. For unlike the many pop princesses who have preceded her, women who have unfortunately thinned their features to secure public acceptance, Rihanna’s beauty is subversive. Cloaked in the light skin that is erroneously heralded as superior in many cultures, Rihanna’s decidedly wide African features are allowed to project boldly from the covers of fashion magazines, to be emblazoned upon billboards, to slip across our television screens, to be uniformly heralded as what they are and would sadly not be considered should they be found upon a woman of a darker hue—beautiful.

Like water eroding stone, each appearance, each reinforcement of her desirability is a slow and steady wearing away of the narrow and racist standards of beauty that have maintained a chokehold upon North and South America for centuries. Like a bombshell girl of the forties, Rihanna is a symbol of warfare, though cultural rather than conventional. Undoubtedly beautiful and black, she is unapologetic and joyful regarding both.


Dear black producers,

We need a remake of The Wiz immediately.

Please start making calls.

Love, Cheryl Lynn


A Rozay by any other name…

I like William Leonard Roberts, the real man behind the public persona of the rapper Rick Ross. I like him for what I imagine him to be—an individual of working-class roots, thrust into a realm of wealth and excess, desperately attempting to remain competitive with men of poverty in regards to bravado, and men of wealth in regards to indications of abundance. I project a great deal of myself onto Roberts I suppose. I too feel caught between worlds of greater than and less than, and feel as if I am a fraud in both. There is a double consciousness at work, not of race but of class. And unlike the eventual smooth transition that occurs with race (as Dave Chappelle joked, every black person possesses the ability to speak “street vernacular” and “job interview”), transitioning between various socioeconomic groups is uncomfortable. Awkward. It does not help that to be working class is to be in transition. One is either slipping into poverty or climbing one’s way into the middle class. One’s children will most likely not share one’s economic status as adults.

It is interesting that Roberts was able to propel himself into the realm of the wealthy by assuming the invented persona of a once poverty-stricken man now loaded with ill-gotten gains. Ross is nothing more than a series of masks for Roberts to don. Roberts is not a criminal who escaped from an impoverished ghetto, but a former blue-collar correctional officer. He is not an elegant criminal mastermind who delights in high-end luxuries, but an average man still elated by a trip to the strip club and a well-seasoned bucket of wings.

I would say that William Leonard Roberts is a fraud, but you cannot fool one already aware of the game. Like a submissive that has paid for abuse, America both fears and adores the stereotype of black men Ross presents. It abhors it, and yet demands it for titillation, luring men outside the lines within the narrow box it has provided.

Ross is the monster in the fun house—an empty threat, a thrill. So, when I heard his lyrics in “U.O.E.N.O.,” I simply shook my head. Was I supposed to feel threatened? Disrespected? How could I be disrespected by a joke? I should clarify that Ross’ lyrics are not the joke, but Ross himself.

In hindsight, I realize the issue. There are those for whom Ross is not a mask, but a reality—women for whom Ross is not an empty threat, but a real one; young men for whom Ross is not a punch line, but a compatriot. For the sake of those women and men, Ross’ lyrics must be publicly denounced and Ross himself must be punished.

Yet, I cannot help but think of Roberts. How bewildered and heartsick he must be that his mask was rejected! At first tested by “the streets,” his persona successfully weathered the firestorm of the public announcement of his former employment. It is now being tested by “the suburbs”—middle and upper-class women with socioeconomic clout. I do believe Ross will weather this storm as well, but not without a reduction of the perimeter of his permitted area—something I honestly feel should occur. Point blank, Roberts, once again attempting to shoehorn drug use and criminal activity into his lyrics for “street cred,” clearly crossed the line.

I wish we could do away with the stereotypes Roberts embraces entirely, but America seems intent on maintaining their existence. Perhaps the best we can do for the moment is to emphasize that these are merely roles; we have to choice to assume them—or not.


I want this, comic artists. Really.

With RZA now at Black Mask, I’ve been thinking about my old idea for a graphic novel/anthology where artists draw comics utilizing lyrics as scripts. My idea? It’s fabulous. Just saying. And while I always knew which songs I wanted drawn, I had never attached them to specific artists. Let’s rectify that, shall we?

“Children’s Story” by Slick Rick and Adam Warren
“Shakey Dog” by Ghostface Killah and Chris Brunner
“The Sweetest Thing” by Lauryn Hill and Afua Richardson
“On the Run/Murder” by Royce da 5’9″ and Ron Wimberly
“Break You Off” by The Roots and Terry Dodson

Feel free to add your own to the wish list! Get on this, comics industry!


Samples.

“Honestly, when it comes to comics and nostalgia, I want more Public Enemy than Puffy. Meaning, you should take the old stuff and mix it into some weird ish that is only vaguely familiar.”Cheryl Lynn Eaton

The comics industry is awash in nostalgia and has been for decades. And though the word nostalgia has become distasteful to many, it is not the existence of nostalgic work that is a problem. The ubiquitous nature of it is.

We need our rituals and our well-worn tales. They provide comfort, instruct children as to how to make their way in society, and honor those who have come before. In comics, many creators choose to pay homage to the elders they admire through mimicry and the utilization of classic characters. Wonderful stories in many genres have been created via this method. The stories are akin to “party joints,” songs where a rapper raps over an existing beat ripped from an older song. Puffy (Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, Diddy, Sean Combs) was notorious for this. The result is fun and fanciful, but it brings absolutely nothing new to the table. The creative effort involved in such a project is negligible. These works are needed to pay tribute—to enact a ritual—but if they are all that a society produces? Said society is no longer moving forward artistically. It has become stagnant.

The comics industry has become so bound by its nostalgia that it has nearly ground to a halt. Rigid adherence to what has come before is only useful and enjoyable in small doses. The majority of the artistic works produced must be innovative. What is created throughout the ages must change as our society changes. Like a closed commune, the comic industry primarily watches society change from afar and makes no changes within.

After I made the comments posted above on Twitter, Brandon Graham asked me what comics I would consider “Public Enemy comics.” I wanted to say Prophet, but I am completely ignorant of the Extreme universe prior to the recent relaunch. However, having read enough Conan, I can safely say that Prophet could be placed within that category.

At the time of the group’s debut, Public Enemy’s sound was completely novel. It was nothing like what had come before. What was fantastic about the music produced was that it lovingly paid tribute to the founders of modern black music and yet honored the new community it was creating for simultaneously. And one does not have to actually sample older works to achieve this. Frank Ocean inspires vague remembrances of the Dramatics and Prince, but his work is wholly his own.

I wish to see this method adopted by comics. I want to see love letters written to Kirby and the world that we live in now. To survive as an industry? Comics must embrace the past and the present at once.


Backing black.

In the wake of the largest New York Comic Con to date, there have been important discussions taking place concerning the representation of women and minorities in comics. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will admit that I submitted an application to the NYCC showrunners to host a panel showcasing black creators in comics. The panel was rejected. Though I was initially frustrated by the rejection of the panel, I was truly happy to learn of the existence of a Hip-Hop and Comics: Cultures Combining panel featuring creators Ron Wimberly and Eric Orr.

Yet, I am still frustrated. Black youth culture gave birth to hip-hop, but black people are merely one facet of hip-hop as hip-hop is simply one facet of what is black. And one lone panel tangentially focused upon race/ethnicity designed to showcase black creators seems woefully inadequate. Diversity is about the inclusion of all—in all spaces.

Yet, do we really need a Women in Comics panel? Blacks in Comics? Gays in Comics? What is desperately needed is a panel featuring key comic creators and editors discussing the topic of sexism in comics. Panels focusing on how racism impacts the comic community’s output and how homophobia shapes the treatment of comic icons should be standard. Imagine a panel dedicated to a frank discussion on racism featuring Hama, Priest, Bendis, Simone, and Stephenson. Honestly, I think that’d be the only panel to convince me to lift my current ban on attending conventions.


Troubled waters.

Frank Ocean publicly addressed his sexuality recently, with the same deftness, eloquence, and gentleness that is evident in the manner he approaches his music. I was elated at his announcement and at the warm reception he received. I was glad to see that another young man had the strength of character and the purity of spirit to share his true self with the world and to show that queer men of color have been a part of our community and have contributed immensely to our culture. However, I was also pleased for more selfish reasons. I had hoped that if the straight and straight-identified men of hip-hop could openly love and embrace the black men who resided in their hearts and their minds and their beds, that perhaps they could embrace the black women who inhabited those same regions as well. My hopes have been dashed, for I realize that the hatred of black women is so profitable and pervasive and has such a tenacious hold on mainstream hip-hop that the men of power and/or influence in hip-hop would likely extinguish the culture entirely before relinquishing it.

And yet, strangely, due it its current ubiquitousness, hatred of black women is not a tenet of hip-hop, is not necessary for hip-hop to thrive, nor was it present at its birth. Though the arena was dominated by men, women were given a clear voice in the genre via ladies such as Roxanne Shanté. Hip-hop in its earliest days was an even field where men and women of color could have an open dialogue—one that was teasing and playful. The words of black women were considered and sought for inclusion. Black women were not depicted as a monolith and had multiple roles available to them—sister, wife, and lover; trophy, thief, and soldier; adversary and confidant. No, not all of these roles were beneficial. However, there was diversity and choice. That choice is long gone, quietly usurped during the late nineties and aughts with the onset of the commercialization of gangsta rap and its permeation of hip-hop.

The misogyny directed towards black women in gangsta rap was a curious thing rooted directly in America’s racist history. There are black men everywhere, in numerous countries, counties, and cities. And in all you could find black men who struggle against deprivation and violence. And yet it is in America where the hatred, debasement, and ridicule of black women in particular were originally forged in song for relief and release. And America, which has culture as its chief export, packages this hatred and ships it, spreading the cancer that is our unique brand of racism to all regions of Gaia’s womb—from Compton to Krakow to Conakry.

Vast, multinational empires have been built, powered by the engine of a small number of young black boys coming of age sans the guidance, education, and environment required to become men. Lacking a father, uncle, grandfather, guardian, or mentor of worth to define what masculinity is, it is easy to fall prey to the binary doctrine of what is male being classified as that which is decidedly not “female”—not nurturing, not dependable, not emotional, not loving. To secure one’s masculinity one must reject these ideals; one must degrade them and the source from which they are purported to originate—black women.

A handful of young black teens, cobbling together their masculinity in the absence of positive male figures, wandering like nomads through an environment utterly saturated with virulent anti-black racism, gave birth to gangsta rap. What else could have manifest? The music was angry, composed by men who had every right to be furious regarding their treatment by society. And the music depicted black women as worthless receptacles, (1) due to the erroneous binary doctrines discussed earlier that required the rejection of intimacy, (2) due to centuries of American-cultivated propaganda depicting black women as hypersexualized beasts of burden, and (3) due to America’s careful instruction that to be of worth, one must stand over another—preferably the descendants of slaves. These men—stripped of political, social, and economic power—had only one group left to subjugate: the women who shared their status.

The music, callous as the lyrics could be, was embraced for many reasons: the messages rode on beats and melodies many African Americans enjoyed during childhood; the music provided a coping mechanism for black and Latino youth experiencing economic devastation and/or enduring social indignities that stemmed from racism; and it provided white teens of the middle and upper classes with an outlet to defy authority.

It was the final example to which music executives took notice. White children brought money. Money bolstered the longevity of gangsta rap and allowed the subgenre to dominate and warp all others. (Amusingly, it mimics the dominance of the superhero in comics. Perhaps that is why the two blend so effortlessly.) The elements of gangsta rap that mainstream white audiences found so titillating—the violence, the sexual exploitation of women, the criminal activity, the illusion of invincibility—was shoehorned into countless acts, whether the genuine result of the artist’s history or not.

As a black woman, it is disturbing to watch white men and women be given agency in the world we gave birth to with black men, to see these black men develop camaraderie—jovial basking in racist misogyny—with them while we are pigeonholed in the role of a subservient clown or whore. We’ve been reduced to less than three-fifths of a human—merely an ass and six bags of someone else’s hair—our faces not even deemed worthy of a camera’s lens or a “featured” role in a video. And when we speak up, when we dare to criticize the treatment we receive? We are ostracized as traitors, labeled “haters,” and demonized for attempting to diminish a rapper’s success, success often driven by our tears and our humiliation. The bodies of black women have been used as fuel. And no maudlin, mediocre sixteen bars about mothers and daughters each decade will mollify that. You need more people.

The commonality shared by black women and queer men of color is that hip-hop has demanded our silence during our disrespect. It is almost Athenian in its outlook. So when Frank Ocean broke that silence and was not punished for it, I was intrigued. And then I realized the key difference in the role of queer men and straight black women in hip-hop. Negative depictions of queer men do not move units. Queer men are erroneously believed not to be able to move units at all. They are forced to be invisible as well as silent. Black women are to be seen—preferably stripped—and not heard.

Mustering only a minor fraction of the courage shown by Frank Ocean, I’m speaking up and speaking out. I’m seeking better music for my rotation. I’m demanding respect from those who demand my money. Will it improve hip-hop? Probably not.

But it will improve me.


You played yourself.

This started off as a flurry of locked Twitter tweets. It is now warping itself into a blog post due to the urging insistence of David Brothers. And as we all know, Comic Industry Rule #4080 is that the words of David Brothers must be obeyed. Comic Industry Rule #1 is that comic companies are shady. And so here we are.

The title, apt and rapped, owes its life to De La, of course, from a song that has long been one of my favorites. DC has indeed played itself, and we’ve all watched—some of us in horror and some of us in amusement—as the company rode an initial wave of success brought about by its superhero relaunch only to crash upon the shores of a horrid public relations catastrophe with Before Watchmen. With each negative statement publicly made via blog posts, interviews, and news reports, DC is in grave danger of losing the reins of this publicity behemoth, something no company wants to have happen. When you lose control of the marketing, you lose control of your money.

I’m not going to discuss the ethical implications of Alan Moore’s treatment (or Chris Roberson’s, for that matter) here. A much better job of that has been done elsewhere. Besides, my tweets were mercenary in tone and were focused on the only thing of importance to DC: How can we get people to stop badmouthing us in the press and embrace the Before Watchmen project?

The solution is found in something near and dear to many of us—rap music.

In the earlier days of the nineties and aughts, when rap could equal commercial success but still had legitimate ties to black urban youth culture, record executives who wanted to sell their new rapper to lucrative middle and upper class white audiences still had to have the “streets cosign.” In other words, poor black kids made stars, rich white kids gave them money so they could shine.

Before Watchmen is that star. The indie comics community—both reader and creator? “The streets.” And the rest of us? Bored white kids with pockets chock full of money. DC’s first mistake was thinking it could sell directly to the masses and ignore rumblings from the indie circuit. Jamal Henricks standing out in front of Marcy Projects in 1995 damn sure didn’t want some suit trying to sell him soulless suburban rap. And he and his crew could end a career with one bad comment. Ask Kwame. Likewise, Brendan the English professor who reads The Comics Reporter and uses Watchmen for his class on ethics in literature doesn’t want to hear a slick Before Watchmen sales pitch. The trust fund kids who play poor in Williamsburg and dig the indie comics scene don’t want to hear from company men in Green Lantern t-shirts and baseball caps. And the men and women who are the working poor that make up the indie comics scene certainly don’t want to hear from Lee (who, though a nice man, has a terrible reputation for being a sell-out), Didio (who bleeds and breathes commercialism), and JMS (who, whether deservedly or not, currently has a reputation for being a rich blowhard dismissive of creators’ rights).

That’s a serious problem, because those groups I just listed? That’s DC’s free Before Watchmen street team. You think the retailer who tweets about Scarlet Witch’s tits is going to sell Before Watchmen to college bookstores and libraries? You think the fanboy cosplaying as Nightwing is going to push Before Watchmen projects at Barnes & Noble? No. And the people who would? Right now DC’s free street team thinks the worst of DC and the Before Watchmen project—an assembly of scabs, leeches, and cornball sell-outs. This attitude must be rectified. But how?

First and foremost is to announce a creator-owned imprint—big names, big press, and contracts that are deemed fair and acceptable by the industry. DC needs to be seen as creator-friendly. I commented earlier regarding the subject:

“What’s needed is a ‘keep creators happy’ imprint. Are you a big name? Have you produced a commercial success for us? Let us do the same for you. Terrible Company Man POV: Look, we swiped you from Image and let you beef your name up with DC characters, why should we hand you back? Main goal: Keep that DC logo on all books that draw eyes. Some will make a ton of money, some will make a little. It’s all publicity. Most articles about the Walking Dead TV show have an Image mention tucked away. Tying your company name to a success is always good.”

Cheryl Lynn Eaton

Next up is to quietly pull incendiary hucksters from the table. This is a Watchmen project, not Teen Titans. Move creators with good reputations like Conner and Azzarello to the forefront. Focus on Jae Lee instead of Jim. Think quirky instead of commercial. Biggie never danced in a shiny suit.

Finally, damage control for the Roberson situation is required. Of course, the best approach would have been to let Roberson leave when he had announced he would leave instead of pulling him from a project.

“So, you slip in a co-writer with Roberson. Someone young and eager that Roberson can shape and show the ropes. And you treat that kid nicely. When Roberson bounces, you have a baby Roberson in place that has swiped some of Roberson’s shine and his small fan following. As talented? Maybe not since she’ll be younger and less skilled. But she’ll only get better. And yes, you get a woman in there to keep fans from bitching about the co-writer deal. ‘Oh, we thought you wanted more women in comics.'”

Cheryl Lynn Eaton

Of course, DC went for the worst possible PR move and yanked Roberson instead, but they can improve upon the situation by assigning a female writer of YA fantasy novels to the Fairest title.

Long story short, I’m very interested to see if DC manages to turn things around. Right now the company is walking a tense tightrope between Drake and Yung Berg and Image is eyeing chains hungrily. We’ll see.


What you can do is check your distribution.

So, I have quick question regarding the sale and marketing of digital comics. Has any publisher attempted to package a digital download of a comic with an MP3, game, or other digital content?


A Rosa buys any other name brand.

I don’t have a favorite video vixen, but if I did? It would be Rosa Acosta. Hands down. Wealthy dudes (and rich lesbians), there is nothing better than a sensible dime. Why would you want someone spending your money on frivolousness? We are in a recession. And who cares about shoes? If Will Demps walked in here right now, do you think I would give a damn about what he had on his feet? Maino is a moron with the mentality of a bird. And that’s a way bigger turn-off.

Actually, after thinking about it for a bit, I believe I’m in the wrong here, folks. Maino’s actions made me think he was soft and feminine. However, shouldn’t we be a bit more relaxed about gender roles in 2010? If I don’t want someone judging my love of “masculine” things like comics and video games, I shouldn’t judge Maino’s “feminine” interest in heels. Let’s just be people, huh?

I still don’t like frivolous spending though.


Rest peacefully, B.I.G.

It was all a dream!
I used to read Wizard magazine.
J. Scott Campbell had the hottest book with Gen 13.
Marc Silvestri on my wall.
Every Saturday get my stash from the shop across the mall.

I let my pen drop ’til the ink stopped.
Built my own universe listenin’ to “Planet Rock.”
Way back, when there wasn’t many black writers, jack.
Just James on the rack.
‘Member Milestone, dude? Xombi, Icon.
You never thought that those dudes would make it that long.
Now they in the limelight. TV pays right.
Comics they made get bound up in fresh trades.

Four color! Back reading books under covers.
Remember when I used to cop X-Men from brothers.
Peace to Jack, Joe, Jerry S., and Stan Lee.
Without your dreams theirs would not be.
Kick back, relax, ’cause you’ve all done good.
Check the stores, same heroes have stood
since childhood.

And if you don’t know? Now you know.


I want this, comic artists.

I want a graphic novel made up entirely of illustrated stories of rap and song lyrics. Specifically:

Thanks in advance!