Dreamfall: The Longest Journey.

It is well known that I am a fan of the Grand Theft Auto series of games and a fan of The Sims 2. What isn’t as well known is my absolute adoration of The Longest Journey and Dreamfall. Because of this adoration, I feel like a bit of a dope that I wasn’t aware of the successful Kickstarter launched to fund Dreamfall Chapters, the third and final installment in the series. Actually, I’m glad I wasn’t aware, because I would have seriously considered dropping a stack to have an NPC designed to look like me. Those are some compelling Kickstarter rewards!

The crew at Red Thread is immensely talented and every red cent that the group has amassed is certainly deserved. For fun, I’ve added a short interview that developer Ragnar Tørnquist kindly agreed to back during the launch of The Longest Journey. It’s an interesting look back at a time when the industry wasn’t as open to protagonists and genres that defied a narrowly defined norm. You’ll find the Q & A after the jump!

Continue reading Dreamfall: The Longest Journey.


One blood.

“You’ve never heard about West Indians being cheap?”

The question had been leveled at me by my mother’s longtime friend, who was clearly amused and surprised by my ignorance. Her tone, teasing and with a musical lilt, was devoid of an iota of maliciousness.

“No! I’ve never heard that before!” I was now fascinated, as if I had come across an old family secret that I’d now been deemed mature enough to handle.

My mother’s friend called out to her, eager to acquire an additional testimonial. “You ever hear about West Indians being cheap?”

My mother didn’t even bother to look up from the laundry she sorted to field such a simple question. “Oh, yeah! The cheapest, honey!”

The matter was settled. “You know your husband is of West Indian descent, right?” I pointed to my father, whose family had come from St. Vincent and Haiti to find a better life here in America. I feigned disdain, but my motives were clear. My father is notoriously and hilariously cheap.

“Well…” My mother’s voice trailed off. A pregnant pause held in the air for a brief moment, and then, like rainfall after a snap of lightning, the jokes flowed like water—torrential, ceaseless.

For so many who see black people as a monolith, who cannot even comprehend the possibility of multiple black cultures, the above anecdote likely comes as a surprise. Yet in my mother’s house that day, filled solely with black people, there was a wealth of diversity borne from countless unique cultures, and a gentle familiar ribbing that is allowed due to shared racial experiences. I am American; African and Caribbean blacks are my cousins—sometimes literally. I tease my family and my family teases me, but I will love and stand with them. Always.

Had a non-black person been in my mother’s house that day and dared comment on West Indian penny-pinching, or African arrogance, or American idleness, he would have been verbally eviscerated for not knowing his place as an outsider who has happened to be made privy to “family” in-jokes—jokes that none of us truly believe or take seriously. I have been in the midst of a group of Filipino, Korean, and Chinese individuals teasing each other regarding which Asian ethnicity is the most racist and possesses the worst accent. I have been made privy to intentionally silly conversations regarding whether Puerto Rican or Dominican men are better lovers. And I’m sure somewhere an Irishman, an Englishman, and a Scot are jovially arguing about some trait that—as a black person and an American—is not for me to comment upon, no matter how many Europeans I call friends. I may be a beloved visitor, but I am not family. Oh, you want my opinion? Nah, I’m good. I’m simply honored that you feel relaxed enough in my company to speak freely and will enjoy the camaraderie. I have enough common sense and respect for those present to refrain from commenting, no matter who is willing to “cosign” for me.

“So, how come white people can’t say nigger and black people say it all the time?”

All the time? All of them? I won’t even address that part. But the answer is for the reasons stated above. The phrase often removed from the query is “without being considered a racist.” Please note that if you have typed some version of this question your disrespect and ignorance is completely exhausting and you are a blight upon every message board in existence. You cannot be jailed for saying nigger. You cannot be killed for saying itnot without rightfully severe legal repercussions for your murderer. You may lose a friend, a job, or a romantic partner—but you don’t have a right to those things. It’s “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” buddy. You can’t complain simply because you don’t have the common sense to pursue it efficiently. Perhaps next time you should try not being a bigot.

I don’t use the word nigger. I find it distasteful. But should I have a change of heart tomorrow and make the slur every fourth word I utter, I would not be considered a racist. I am black. My status is not one of an outsider. Due to shared racial experiences, I am “family.”

The problem is that many non-blacks, including all who have asked the question in question, refuse to accept an outsider status. The idea of being an outsider, even in a role that is respected and cherished (for example, Eminem or Teena Marie), makes them irate. How dare black people—these lesser people—deny us anything? How dare they have something to which we are not provided access? These people feel that not one shred of respect or privacy should be afforded to black people. Non-blacks who demand use of the word nigger sans negative social consequence feel that black Americans should be stripped of all elements of their culture for the consumption of others. For them, to be black is to be a constant performer—a jester for amusement. Black cultures are merely products to try on. Twerk team! S’up, nigga? Shade! Every ounce of every black culture should be splayed open to sample. They demand black people acquiesce dominion over any portion of any black culture should a person who is not black desire it.

And therein lies the issue. For in this age of globalization, it is a wonderful thing to share one’s culture with others. How fabulous is it that I can hear hip-hop from Romania, eat pad thai, and wear chancletas? S’great. But I know that when I immerse myself in a culture that is not my own, I act as a visitor or an ambassador. I do not get to assume ownership of that culture, and if the denizens of that region feel there are cultural rites I should not have access to? That’s fine. Would I love to dance in an Indian headdress? Omigaaawd, who wouldn’t? But this would offend many Native people. And so it is not appropriate for me to do so. I accept that. And for the record, I have Native ancestors and I still know there are lines I should not cross. Though I am “blood,” I am not “family.”

In other words, your black friends are not a valid excuse for your use of the word nigger. You are making them look corny, spineless, and anxious for approval. Stop embarrassing them. Stahp.

Unlike a weeaboo or an anglophile, who comes across as desperate yet deferential, non-blacks who use the word nigger (or nigga) assume a disrespectful and dismissive position of dominance over black American culture. It is akin to walking unannounced into a stranger’s living room and putting your muddy feet upon their coffee table. “Well, they have their feet on the coffee table,” you cry. “Why can’t I do the same?” The answer is simple.

You aren’t family and it’s not your house.


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.


Image is everything.

The title of this post is a bit of a misnomer since I plan to touch upon comic companies directly competing with Image, but good headlines are hard to come by! I’ve been thinking a bit about my previous posts concerning the fate of Vertigo (of which there were many). I had come to the conclusion that Image would usurp Vertigo’s grip on the publication of cutting-edge titles from superstar creators and talent on the cusp of notoriety. Looking at Image’s line-up, I can certainly say that I was right. I had also assumed that Vertigo would then conquer IDW’s domain, bringing quality cult classics from other arenas to the world of comics. My belief was that IDW would simply roll over, unable to compete with DC’s monetary resources. Those predictions were wrong. IDW has in fact strengthened its position: securing work from creators Jeff Parker, Steve Niles, and Duane Swierczynski; luring away former DC editor Sarah Gaydos (who can boast of her work on Vertigo’s Django Unchained); and expanding its list of titles. Clearly realizing that there is strength in numbers, Dark Horse and Dynamite have entered into a partnership. While the partnership concerns only digital works, there are still many more months of announcements and a long stretch of convention season still ahead of us.

Where does this leave Vertigo? Stripped of its power and glory—seemingly embedded in its former executive editor, Karen Berger—it must begin once more as a fledgling imprint, laying the groundwork necessary to rebuild its talent pool and brand. At first glance, it seems to be doing a superb job, publishing work such as Prince of Cats and Django Unchained. Though the works listed are of a higher quality than the fare once found on UPN and the WB, I can’t help but recall how the struggling stations bolstered their ratings by reaching out to talent of color—and wonder if DC has attempted the same with projects from writers such as Mat Johnson and Ronald Wimberly (as well as the earlier acquisition of Milestone’s characters). That Prince of Cats does not boast an i in its upper left-hand-corner should honestly be of great embarrassment to Image. That Mat Johnson has made Vertigo his home in the four-color realm should be unsettling as well. Why is Image unable to “seal the deal” with creators such as these?

But will Vertigo possess the ability to do so much longer given the absence of Berger and her protégés?

“I wrote a scene where Juliet is smoking weed with her homegirls in the bathroom. I started thinking about NY in the late ’70s and ’80s, [so] I put that in there. Karen liked it. Karen was real supportive. It was important to me that Karen dug the characters. I broke down the whole book.

“I guess here’s where things got difficult. I got lost in the bureaucracy. They switched editors twice on ‘PoC,’ and in the end, I lost that game of musical chairs, and badly. I had to nag to get things looked at and approved. Because I wanted certain control over things like color and design, the process was held up further. The fact that I’m a bit mercurial didn’t help.”Ronald Wimberly

The empire has clearly fallen, and I think this remaining dominion of Vertigo will be conquered by organizations such as Dark Horse, Oni, Top Shelf, Drawn & Quarterly, and—of course—Kickstarter. As for Vertigo, I wonder if it will simply become an imprint for quirky off-brand works featuring existing DC properties.

I (and many others) have jokingly referred to Image as the new Vertigo, but can Image become the new DC?

“Image will increasingly shift from creator-owned to in-house properties. These ‘in-house’ properties may themselves be partially creator-owned, but the focus will be far more on developing their own brands (in the style of ‘The Walking Dead’) than launching those of independent entities. Of course, a big part of this has to do with TV/movie options, etc.”Valerie D’Orazio

A shift in Image from creator-owned to in-house properties? Sounds ludicrous, no? For those paying attention to interviews with Stephenson, it shouldn’t seem too farfetched.

“One of the things we’ve been working on this year, with our What’s Next campaign is to focus more attention on continuing series, through both ads and retail posters, because it is important for people to be aware of those books. We’re also working on a variety of retail incentives to make it as easier for retailers to support a title at literally any point in its run, whether it’s on issue one or 100.”Eric Stephenson

I don’t think Image will ever abandon its focus on creator-owned properties, but I think there will be greater emphasis placed on promoting books featuring characters owned by the Image partners. After all, charity begins at home.

Can Image become the new DC? DC is an engine that runs on the fuel of its beloved icons; Image is a young company and possesses no icons. However, with twenty years beneath its belt, Image can certainly use nostalgia to its advantage. Just as it was successfully achieved with the Extreme titles, Image can reinvigorate interest by (1) relaunching earlier works with new visions by popular creators and (2) providing longstanding Image titles with consistent material by their original creators, cosmetic revisions for struggling works, and new “jumping on” points for all.

In regards to diversity, DC simply takes a consumer’s approach, using its vast resources in an attempt to acquire what it has difficultly cultivating in house—popular characters of color and a diverse writing staff. Image appears content to be pursued by talent, which generally results in homogeneity in regards to race and gender. Earlier, I was discussing with a friend how I felt that talented black writers mainly tended to eschew the mainstream, convinced in the belief they are not welcome. Now, it seems there is even an avoidance of smaller companies, with Kickstarter reaping the benefits—leaving slim pickings for actual publishing companies.

“No one likes to say this out loud, but for the most part, the submissions publishers receive are not very good. By and large, the art is so bad that even the proudest parent in the world wouldn’t put it on the fridge if their kid brought it home from school. There are endless pitches that are either re-hashed versions of stories that have already been told, or even worse, completely incoherent. Most of the time, looking through the submissions pile is pretty depressing.”
Eric Stephenson

If a racially diverse selection of writers is a goal—and to be honest, it seemingly isn’t a goal for the industry, nor a concern outside of Black History Month—both DC and Image will have to select representatives who can act as talent scouts and impress upon the populace that diversity is a concern. Image will need to woo established writers of color (Liu, Bernardin, etc.) from other comic companies and arenas; DC—hit with a wave of bad press that has made many established writers wary—may have to settle for grooming novice writers with potential.

“Don’t know if [Milestone] would fit at Image. They’re kind of about that solo pioneer spirit. And imprints revolve around one creator’s properties.”
—Cheryl Lynn Eaton

The above quote is one from a debate I had on Twitter on whether Image could succeed with an imprint akin to Milestone where DC had clearly failed. Though Image excels at world-building across multiple titles (as most comic companies excel), those worlds clearly spring from one writer’s creative vision—generally, one lone white guy (Kirkman, Silvestri, etc.). What was so wonderful about Milestone was that men and women from a large variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds came together to create quality comics featuring a world that was equally as diverse. Image cannot provide that. DC cannot provide that. I cannot think of one company that possesses the diversity, the level of talent, and the financial stability required to recreate such an operation. All three are required for it to work.

All in all, I’m interested to see how things unfold—for Vertigo, for Image, and for the industry as a whole. Even Milestone, which celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year, may have surprises in store.


A Flash in the pan.

I got my Earth One: Wonder Woman! But I’ve already discussed that. Today, I’m here asking for a mile out of the inch that was given. I want more. Specifically, I want Earth One: Flash, Earth One: Green Lantern, and Earth One: Justice League. And then? I would like the Earth One universe to rest on its laurels and allow for innovative ideas concerning wholly new characters.

For Earth One: Flash? We’d be examining the life of one Walter West—endearingly referred to as Junior. Desperate to fulfill both the Park family’s desire for another doctor to add to the fold and the West family’s desire to have yet another West as a member of the police force, the affable Walter—the son of Wally and Linda West—works as a medical examiner for Central City’s police department. Walter’s grandfather, Jay, has recently retired from his position as police commissioner. Walter’s uncle, Barry, still holds a position as captain. Wally, Walter’s father, died as a hero in the line of duty. Walter worries that he will be forever trapped in his father’s shadow, unable to live up to the idyllic example Wally provided.

Walter possesses all of the wisdom of the Park and West clans and none of the grace. His mind is forever two steps ahead while his body is a half-step behind—until a freak accident while out in the field leads to a discovery that alters Walter’s life permanently.

I chose to retool the West family to allow for both nostalgia and novelty. Earth One would have its first biracial superhero and a brand new character but also tie heavily into existing characters and themes explored in Flash issues. I believe that all of the Earth One volumes should serve as a bridge, connecting the history of past tales to our modern culture. Stories bend and shape to fit who we have become as a people.

Next up? We’ll discuss Earth One: Green Lantern and how I like my Green Lantern like I like myself—black with a handful of green.


Let off some steam, Bennett.

DC is rightfully lambasted for what the company gets wrong in regards to representation. However, diversity initiatives launched by the company to correct existing problems are often ignored by fandom.

The above is a perfect example of DC getting it right. Outside of the realm of self-publishing, the comics industry’s writing pool is overwhelmingly homogenous—white, American, and male. I’ve often stated that the best way to diversify the talent pool is to hire writers from outside the field of comics and allow said writers to hone their skills by (1) pairing them up with established professional comics writers on ongoing titles or (2) allowing novice writers to create short back-up stories in existing popular works. And though disgruntled reactionary fans would like to accuse Marguerite Bennett of simply being a quota hire, she is an individual with the talent and determination necessary to improve DC’s status quo. In addition, many white male writers launched their careers in comics in the exact same manner as she (sans the added stress of bigots combing through their credentials with a fine-toothed comb). Luckily, for Bennett—and for DC, for that matter—gender was of no importance to Snyder in picking his protégés. And, equally as important, Snyder’s profession as a teacher allows him access to a diverse (and novel) selection of writers in regards to race, religion, and gender—something his peers cannot take advantage of given the industry’s overwhelmingly white and male pool of writers and apprentices. In Snyder, DC has a tutor, recruitment center, and diversity outreach program in one—and is clearly taking advantage of that fact.

David Brothers, who beat me to the punch, discussed Bennett’s recent hire, networking, and the dearth of writers of color in the comics industry. David suggested, and I agree, that the lack of writers of color in the comics industry may be linked to the lack of creators of color in the social circles of those in a position to hire new creators. Networking in any creative industry is key. Without the ability to network, aspiring writers are relegated to talent contests, cold pitches at conventions, and unsolicited submissions. As indicated in Nancy DiTomaso’s piece for the New York Times, opportunities for success are frighteningly slim.

“Help is not given to just anyone, nor is it available from everyone. Inequality reproduces itself because help is typically reserved for people who are ‘like me’ … Because we still live largely segregated lives, such networking fosters categorical inequality.”Nancy DiTomaso

I am lucky in that my social network is absurdly diverse. There are many I adore who are “like me,” yet there are clear differences in race, gender, nationality, and age. There are cultural bonds upon which friendships have been formed that bridge all differences. Still, diverse social and professional networks sans the power to employ individuals are useless in changing an industry’s landscape. The industry will change only when those in a position of power to generate change feel the need to expand their existing networks, or younger individuals with diverse networks assume positions of power. Waiting for the industry to “age out” of its racial and gender inequality is frustrating, but given the mainstream’s disdain for other outreach methods and its current industry monopoly, I don’t see change occurring any other way.

Finally, I apologize for the title of this blog post. Actually, no. No, I don’t. It is glorious.


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.


Why does Jessica Nigri think thinly-veiled nigger jokes are funny?

Not only does she have “Nigri Please,” a play on the phrase “Nigger, please” as the title of her F.A.Q. webpage, she has a Nigri Please banner above her booth at Emerald City Comicon this year. Not only is this callous, inconsiderate, and hateful behavior, it made for an unpleasant convention experience for me as a black woman—a convention I spent three weeks of my salary to attend. I flew all the way to Seattle expecting a pleasant vacation to be disrespected by this woman’s racism.

This is the kind of microaggresive and distressing behavior fans of color have to put up with from white fans—and now professionals. And it is why so many of us distance ourselves as consumers.


ETA: I received the following message in my mailbox after the above post.

hate mail

My initial reaction was simply cynical laughter rather than the anger and discomfort that arose when I saw Ms. Nigri’s banner. On the Internet, racism is expected. Those too timid to delight in the disrespect and denigration of black people in public will generally jump at the chance when anonymity is offered. In the wake of the controversies surrounding Paula Deen and several contestants on Big Brother, so many individuals who aren’t black have strangely questioned why they cannot say the word nigger—as if they have somehow been banned from doing so. They have not. Their real questions are as follows: why can’t I say nigger without large numbers of black people recoiling from me in disgust? Why can’t I publicly use racial slurs against minority groups without my coworkers and employers distancing themselves from me immediately? Why can’t I treat black people as if they are not worthy of respect as human beings and suffer no social consequences for it?

For all their cries of free speech these people cannot grasp that others exert that same right—that their actions will provoke reactions in others. Some simply cannot comprehend that the term nigger is a sign of disrespect—as are all racial slurs. To ask why one cannot say nigger is to have a childish fit at the fact that a black person might dare be offended by a word that was created and is still used by those who are not black to insult black people. Slurs are invectives that extend far beyond a personal attack to target an entire racial group.

As for me, I was not expecting to encounter racism (unintentional though it likely was in hindsight) when I attended the convention. I suffered for my naivety. When one is not prepared for it, the damage done can be severe. My solution is to speak out against racism in fandom when I encounter it—calmly, clearly, and without anger—then remove myself from the arenas where it is perpetuated. Doing so allows me to stand firm in my beliefs without infringing upon the freedoms of others or subjecting myself to abuse.


Crossing the streams.

I’ve been thinking about my previous post concerning Eric Stephenson’s recent interview. If one has read any of my older posts regarding the comics industry and diversity, I know it must sound as if I’ve contradicted myself. I often state that writers can express themselves creatively and reach others even while eschewing the mainstream. I believe that. But, for me, there is the black individual and the black collective. There is the impulse to create and the need for a community to be heard and to provide for itself.

The comics industry is closed to me. I understand that now and I accept this fact because it has absolutely no impact on my ability to either create new works or share those works with others. Any individual with working vocal cords or access to a library can create and distribute a story. Yes, the scale is certainly limited and there is no monetary compensation, but the need to create and to share one’s creation with another can easily be fulfilled. WordPress journals are free; a vanity press will allow for one’s book to be published. For me, this is enough.

However, the mainstream comics community is also closed to professional black writers. An entire racial group has been shut out, their stories barred from the one arena that garners the most money and the most attention. I do not understand this and refuse to accept it. Black men and women with decades of experience as writers, fame and fan followings, and widely distributed works have been denied access. Unlike their peers, they are not sought to provide pitches nor are they considered for work unless there is a rare book featuring a black lead (and more often than not, white men are chosen to write those books as well).

I cannot accept this because I have the need to see black people and hear their voices when I consume mainstream entertainment. No, I do not expect black people to helm every project or star in every vehicle, but I do expect them to have a clearly heard voice in every creative industry.  The comics industry as it currently stands is unable to meet those expectations. It is for this reason that I am no longer a consumer. I’ve simply walked away from the mainstream. For the industry, this abandonment is no great loss. Eight dollars less a month certainly will not cause any major comic company to crumble. Being one reader short will not result in a book being cancelled.

However, I am not the only one to walk away. Many black men and women who once created comics have been lured away by film, television, animation, books, and magazines—industries where their contributions are desired. The impact is glaring. An entire component of American culture has been severed from the industry. Given America’s obsession with its black subculture and the comic industry’s mad scramble to create projects that will appeal to an increasingly diverse audience, this seems blatantly stupid.

For the most part, I attempt to remain quiet. (Really, I do!) These are topics that should be addressed by men and women working in the industry, not outsiders, but their overwhelming silence often causes me to blurt out impatiently.

I promise to try to do better. Instead of using this blog to focus on what and how mainstream comic companies must change, I’ll use this blog to champion the creators I enjoy. A little positivity never hurt anyone!


‘Em an’ N.

Can we have a moratorium on the n-word? No, I am not referring to the word nigger. I am actually referring to the phrase the n-word. I despise it. If one finds the word nigger distasteful—and honestly, I loathe using the word—one can simply use the plainest phrase available to identify exactly what word you are referring to: a racial slur used to denigrate black people.

If one considers oneself a journalist, a writer, an adult, one should not infantilize words, especially words as loaded and cruel as ethnic and racial slurs. There is a history in our selected speech that should be confronted and addressed. In addition, in selecting only a racial slur regarding black people to tiptoe around with a wink, a nod, and a childish phrase—there is no w-word, k-word, c-word, s-word—it is clear that the user feels as though black people are simply too childish, too sensitive, too volatile to hear the word nigger in any context. Trust me. That is not the case. We have laid the foundation of this country beneath the word nigger. We have raised black children and white beneath the word nigger. We have heard it used repeatedly in stores, in back alleys, in police stations, and in boardrooms; in e-mails, in music, and from the mouths of every ethnic group that has ventured to America and wished to assert its status in this country via the disrespect of the descendants of its first laborers. We’ve endured.

The phrase the n-word is not used to spare the feelings of black people; it is used to mock. Were it not, the simple phrase racial slur would be used—just as it is when addressing slurs that denigrate countless other groups. Yet the world is incensed that black people would dare rise above our station and question the language of others. The juvenile phrase the n-word is used to put us back in our place. It is akin to spelling out terms in front of children to avoid conversation. Grown folks are talkin’, boy.

But my people are nothing if not inventive, so we cobble together phrases to mock what is used to mock us. And continue to boldly question your language while doing it.

As I said, we endure.


Cycles.

“RE: The Stephenson interview. The Image method is meaningless when it comes to creators of color, so I wish that Eric Stephenson wouldn’t push it as the method of finding talent. All of the creators he named as new finds were white. I don’t see Jimmie Robinson being offered a slew of Marvel and DC books. (Note: it’d be nice!) The only way new writers of color can break in comics and receive regular mainstream work is if they’ve achieved success in another arena. And Image is not searching for creators of color in other arenas to lure them to Image. That is what DC and Marvel have been doing. I could not care less how we get new writers of color. If we need to steal famous people from other mediums, that’s great! But that whole ‘rising through the ranks of Image’? Son, that doesn’t work for you if you are black. Can we just be honest about that? The Image grooming process works fabulously for white people though. Still, it’s not gonna get me a Hudlin or Liu.”

—Cheryl Lynn Eaton

My comments on Twitter, shown above, grew out of a discussion of Heidi MacDonald’s interview with Image’s publisher, Eric Stephenson. It also grew out of the acknowledgment of the dearth of black writers in mainstream comics and the lack of upwards mobility for black writers within the comics industry. For talented white men with aspirations of working in mainstream comics or gaining widespread notoriety, the “Image to Big Two” cycle awaits: embark upon your career with an Image miniseries; get offered work on mid-tier Marvel or DC comics; develop a cult following; get offered work on a major Marvel or DC ongoing series; develop a need to branch out creatively and own one’s own intellectual property; return to Image with huge fanfare; bounce back and forth between corporate and creator-owned work until mainstream fans grow tired of your industry dominance and Marvel or DC will no longer offer projects.

This route is sealed for black writers. Jimmie Robinson has not been tapped for a Marvel miniseries. Enrique Carrion isn’t registering on DC’s radar. I’m baffled as to why. Marvel and DC rifle through Image as a kid skips through a candy store, gobbling up all the jellybeans save the black ones. (To be fair, black jellybeans are awful, but black writers—like all writers—run the gamut when it comes to talent.)

DC and Marvel do occasionally notice the need for diversity within the talent pool and actively seek out writers of color. However, instead of seeking these men and women at Image, they scout for popular writers in other arenas—film, animation, television, video games, music, prose. It seems the only way a black writer can garner mainstream success in comics is if he or she has already achieved mainstream success outside of it.

I don’t know why the route to mainstream success for black writers has become so narrow, warped, and difficult to navigate. All I know is that there thankfully is a route and I want to see black writers with the fame and talent needed to manage the journey traveling it. I want black people to have a voice in comics that is able to be heard by mainstream audiences. We are not a niche. We are not a tiny subculture to be denied larger access. We deserve to tell our stores, not in a quiet corner, but in front of a microphone.

Yes, black writers can thrive outside the mainstream, just as a musician can earn a living foregoing radio play and an actor can make a living never appearing in a major motion picture or national television show. However, when an entire group composed of multiple ethnicities is denied access to the mainstream? The industry is woefully incomplete. Imagine if one could only hear black musical acts via college radio stations. Imagine if Lucy Liu’s available roles were limited solely to those in plays. Imagine if the four women writers currently at Marvel and DC had their books cancelled, were not offered new projects, and fandom said not one word regarding their disappearance. (Note: the latter actually happened in regards to black writers.)

What do I want? I want exactly what I’ve been getting in drips and drabs, successful black writers from other arenas being offered work. However, I want this occurring in much greater abundance and at mainstream Marvel and DC (as well as at smaller imprints and independent comic companies). I also want something I haven’t been getting as well—talented black writers with years of industry experience (Priest, Burrell, Benardin, Trotman, etc.) being tapped to write series.

It’s 2013. Let’s make some changes.


Vertigo a go-go!

The writing is on the wall in regards to Vertigo. Thankfully, the message written is a positive one. With the promotion of Shelly Bond to executive editor, it appears evident that DC plans to pursue the same avant-garde material it had been known for publishing during the reign of Karen Berger. However, with the promotion of Hank Kanalz—known for his work at Wildstorm, an imprint that dealt heavily with movie and film tie-ins—it is also clear that creating commercial successes is also a key factor. Vertigo will likely become a R&D farm for cult classics, creating comics that in time will mature into a strong backlist of graphic novels to be cherished for decades. The strength of the Vertigo brand will hopefully also improve DC’s reputation in regards to creative freedom. In layman’s terms, Vertigo will be expected to create an army of Watchmen and a legion of Snyders to hold down the fort.

In the future, how can Vertigo cater to demands for commercial success while continuing to create quality material that veers off the beaten path? Perhaps a Frankenstein’s monster of an imprint is in order, merging parts of Vertigo, Wildstorm, and Milestone to create a new imprint that usurps the dominion of all three.

Like Wildstorm, Vertigo should aggressively pursue cult classics in film, television, and video games in order to create tie-in works. It is important to seek works that have made an impact in American culture: the Grand Theft Auto series; Django Unchained, etc. However, I think it is important that the imprint bring something new to the table in order to create a lasting desire for its graphic novels. New stories must be told. For example, the adaptation of Django Unchained was a fabulous idea, but it is odd to me that no editor at Vertigo made an attempt to also produce a graphic novel featuring all-new material set in the Django universe. Imagine an anthology featuring Priest, Hama, Vachss, Hudlin, Miller, etc. With the inclusion of an introduction by Tarantino its status as a backlist tent pole would likely be a given. Why was an editor not assigned the task of sweet-talking Tarantino in order to bring such a work to fruition?

The list of creators I compiled featured individuals from a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds. It is an arena in which Vertigo can take its cue from Milestone. Not limited to the narrow selection of mainly white male creators adored by mainstream fans, Vertigo can—like Milestone—reach out to underrepresented groups in the industry and provide them with a voice. Milestone was always labeled as a black imprint providing black books to black readers. While there is nothing wrong with said goal, it is not what Milestone was about. Milestone was multi-ethnic in all forms: creators, characters, and consumer base. Vertigo should be as well. Vertigo should be an imprint that reaches out to groups that mainstream DC has been unable to grasp. Imagine a miniseries penned by Junot Diaz and drawn by Ming Doyle, or a Scandal one-shot written by Shonda Rhimes and drawn by Amanda Conner. I’ve listed popular writers from other fields because I feel that it is the best way to add diversity to the talent pool while maintaining or improving the quality of work submitted. Look at Marvel’s success with Marjorie Liu. Vertigo must replicate it.

Finally, Vertigo must maintain the status quo in regards to the creative freedom offered to its talent. It must find a way to wrest its title back from Image as a place where an artist is provided free rein to share his vision. Perhaps it can also become an arena where a creator is able to maintain some semblance of control over her creation; this will be important if the imprint wishes to foster good will and lure creators away from independent companies.


Labels.

“Cheryl Lynn, you will have your first and last dollar.” My mother says it with blend of mirth, surprise, and exasperation—as if she cannot believe she produced a child who behaves in such a practical manner, a child who would dare complain that she had to spend twenty-four dollars on a purse due to the old one falling apart at the seams. My mother possesses a walk-in closet full of purses. Not one could be purchased for twenty-four dollars. The glint of a gold circle surrounding a bold M and K—the lack of one separating my leather satchel from her assortment—costs a great deal more.

Yet, my mother is a child of poverty; I am a child of the working-class struggle. She needs her talismans, her high-end upmarket logos, to make her feel as if she is of worth. I was taught to fear them, to believe that obtaining them would bring about financial ruin. I’ve jokingly told many friends that I’m glad I grew up working class instead of rich, middle class, or poor because it has made me so paranoid about money that I’ll never purchase designer labels. Black working-class kids are raised to believe that one wrong move will have you back in the ghetto where your parents came from. Working-class kids are raised on fear.

I have friends who grew up (and are still) wealthy. Michael Kors bag? “Oh, I’ll take this.” They do not even remain engaged during commercial transactions. Their attention drifts elsewhere as items are rung up. They do not look at price tags. In contrast, those who are middle class always look at the tag, but yet price does not seem to be a deterrent. There is an initial flinch, but the purchase is still made. “It’s a lot, but we’ll find a way.” Middle-class kids are taught to hope for the best. Rich kids are taught to expect it.

For poor kids there is no hope. Yet, purchases are still made. What’s the point of saving? You can’t fall any further and you’ll never have that deluxe apartment in the sky, so might as well cop those sneakers, right? And so children of the ghetto will stand in line for an exclusive—and expensive—pair of Nikes. Women will gather every last dime for a pair of Louboutins—and yet may not even possess enough knowledge to properly pronounce Christian’s last name. I have had to correct my mother multiple times on the correct pronunciation of Movado. She owns one of their signature watches; I do not. For those marked by poverty, logos and labels are masks. They are an attempt to pass as a member of the “elite,” to appear “respectable.” But for those who are black and brown, the respect, though deserved, does not come. Red bottoms are not glass slippers.

“I like nice things. And I’ve worked hard!” My mother has indeed worked hard. And everyone likes nice things. But when I asked my mother if she would still purchase luxury items if no one else knew she owned them, she appeared shocked for a moment and then laughed. “No! What’s the point in that?”

There is no point in either the purchase or the announcement of it. Her purchases are tickets to an arena where she will never be accepted because of her race. We are told time and time again how blackness “devalues” a brand, of executives who blanched when informed that their product had become popular amongst racial and ethnic minorities. We are to be felt (i.e., provide money and labor), but not seen. Black and brown children of poverty are told that they are nothing without a proper label. Once they have sacrificed everything to obtain said label? They are told the label is worthless due to too many of them having it. To add insult to injury, what black and brown children of poverty do produce for themselves on a massively limited budget is then co-opted by the artistic elite to provide to rich whites seeking something novel. Flesh is co-opted. A Native headdress for a music video; blackamoor earrings for an art gallery opening—brown bodies become white accessories.

There is a need—for all of us—to closely examine the purchases we make and why we make them, to examine what—or who—is allowed to become a commodity, and to reflect on how the logos we wear intersect with the culture that labels us. Not one of us is immune. Even as I boast about my practicality, I can still admit to feeling subpar when shopping with friends. Just last weekend, a date to go shopping for vintage items went horribly wrong when I discovered that rich people go boutiques, not thrift stores. And as I looked at used designer bags that were beyond my budget, I felt less than those around me—not enough to give up my dream of home ownership for a collection of Birkin bags, but small nonetheless. And I have no solution as to how to stop it. But perhaps in coming together to discuss the intersection of fashion, class, and race we can—literally—loosen the ties that bind us through the recognition of them.


Got to give the people what they want.

“As a female fan I’m wary about talking about Amazing Spider-Man #700. It feels like the plot was designed for the purpose of baiting fangirls for publicity. So, yes, the scene with MJ and Doctor Octopus was distasteful, but manipulating female fans is as well. Marvel saw the attention received when the same damn plot unfolded with the Chameleon just a few months back. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. However, this time Marvel knows better—and, hopefully, so do the fans. Doctor Octopus will never sleep with MJ, but there will be several close calls. The end. I hate the fact that something righteous—irritation with the way the industry deals with gender—has been twisted into ‘cheap heat.’ Marvel’s stance: get them focused on something inconsequential that can benefit us instead of actually addressing gender inequality.”

—Cheryl Lynn Eaton

I broke my own rule on Twitter. I think what frustrates me even more is that, as an editor, I would have certainly supported the story and allowed it to be pushed through. Why? The press would be phenomenal and the fans, though temporarily irate, would happily flock back in droves to see the return of the real Peter Parker as he steps in just in time to save MJ from the clutches of his nemesis (or, depending on the writer’s choice, aids in the redemption of Doctor Octopus). Fiction allows for the suspension of belief. Serial drama generates a deep emotional investment. A combination of the two makes for ease in audience manipulation. And books must be sold.

I’m a woman. I’m an editor. I’m a fan. A woman needs to know that her concerns have been heard and that she is respected. An editor craves that perfect, popular tale. A fan desires the ultimate tease and release. I hope that at the culmination of this story everyone will be able to walk away happy. However, I’m not certain that will happen. Marvel, skilled at teasing fans and stirring up their emotions, often takes far too long to follow through (or in some cases, simply refuses to). People will only entertain a tease for so long before they walk away flustered and befuddled.

Anyway, just my “smart mark” comments on the matter! However, one last thing, MJ saving the day by rescuing Peter and facilitating another body switch would certainly be a happy ending warmly received by all fans. Hopefully it won’t be one that comes too late.

I swear there were no puns in the preceding paragraph—not one.