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.

Payned reactions.

Max Payne 3Lord knows, you can love a work and yet find it immensely problematic. Though I enjoyed Max Payne 3, Rockstar’s latest release in the Max Payne franchise, I have to admit that concerning matters of race, I find the work unsettling. A white hero slaughters endless waves of black and Latino men, his only allies a fair-weather friend who is on the take and a cop who is too cowardly to effect any change in a society he admits is riddled with corruption. He asks Max to act in his stead, essentially begging a white man to do his work for him.

As I said, problematic.

Of course, we do not expect Raul Passos to save the day in a game titled Max Payne 3. However, I think the work provides a classic example of a larger problem in video games and in geek culture in general where race is concerned. For the most part, men and women of color are sidekicks, not heroes. And yet in regards to villainy? That is the moment when it seems all too easy to include us in droves—as zombies, as faceless military grunts, as gang members, as savages.

Balance is needed. I am reluctant to set aside Max Payne 3 as an example of the problem when Rockstar Games has done such a credible job in the past of bringing racial balance to its selection of heroes—Luis Lopez, Carl “C. J.” Johnson, Huang Lee. Though, to be fair, I have just listed a selection of criminals, criminals placed in a positive light, but criminals nonetheless.

Other companies, such as Ubisoft and Valve, have followed Rockstar’s lead and should be commended. However, I generally identify Rockstar as a trailblazer in regards to race due to their selection of lead characters that cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be identified or classified as white. For even when protagonists of color are presented to fandom, skin colors are lightened and features are often “softened” to ease race past more bigoted consumers. Yet the problem does not merely reside with the maker of the game but with the player as well. I clearly remember fan requests for “white” player skins in order to cloak the blackness that racist players apparently felt was too offensive or jarring to endure while playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

And yet I see no demands for brown or tan skins for Max Payne.

Perhaps the “shock and awe” method enacted by Rockstar is the best method to push change? “Here’s our lead. He’s black. Deal with it.” Of course, making said change is a lot easier when done from the safe cocoon of a lucrative franchise. It’s something to think about—not only in blogs, but in boardrooms as well.

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.

Hope and change.

The San Diego Comic Convention has come and gone. Many have taken the time in the days following the convention to reflect on the current state of the industry and ponder what the future holds. I was thrilled by some accounts and disheartened by others, but I still see a future for the industry that is strong and sustainable, and one where women and people of color play a part in it.

No, I am not sacrificing realism for optimism. I am aware of Marvel’s “leaking” of hints of a Black Panther movie that shows no signs of coming to fruition—leaks that conveniently occurred after fan grumbling over the marketing of minority characters (a choice example being the debut of sneakers paying tribute to Marvel’s famed Nazi villain the Red Skull and Z-list X-Man Chamber, while characters such as Luke Cage, Shang Chi, and White Tiger are denied any type of product placement). I am aware of claims from Marvel representatives who discuss the difficulty of translating Wakanda to film, and yet indicated no difficulty in bringing Asgard to the silver screen. Yet I am also aware that these representatives do the best they can, wading through red tape and battling bigoted executives, to make even minor changes in how we tell stories and shape worlds. Tied hands can only do so much. White lies are given so that consumers do not bear the brunt of the brutal racism these men and women encounter in the boardroom.

Luckily, there are a slew of individuals with hands no longer bound. And we are at a point where the industry is at its most fluid. The line between creator and consumer has blurred—no longer visible. At Davis’ Black Panel a woman lamented a lack of characters reflecting her life and world. Just as Davis indicated, she has the power to change that. She can write. She can sponsor projects that intrigue her via Kickstarter. She can search for existing books that are simply waiting for her eyes to light upon them. We can have the comics that tell our stories. No, they may not come brandished with a recognizable logo on the cover, but why is a logo so important? Logos can no longer buy the security of a built-in audience; a list of recently cancelled titles provides evidence of that. And while the backing of a major company can help in regards to marketing and access to consumers, there are alternatives available to self-publishers.

At the last convention I attended, the New York Comic Convention, I was thrilled by the diversity I found. There were individuals of all backgrounds creating comics, bringing their unique perspectives to the medium. And the collection of consumers was equally diverse. Rich Johnston indicated in his post-convention review that this has carried over to San Diego’s festivities, and I certainly do not doubt his account. However, I keenly remember at NYCC that the diversity I found behind the table was located away from the main exhibitions in areas such as Artist Alley. Moreover, the credits in mainstream comics recently produced have shown no indication of change. If larger publishers are hiring black individuals in greater numbers, those men and women certainly are not determining who Black Panther shall battle next month, who Spider-Man shall kiss, or whether Luke Cage will lead his team to victory. We are not hired to shape worlds. Should a black writer at a mainstream publisher be found—one that is not currently on a book hurtling towards cancellation—I will gladly withdraw my statement.

In the past this would have concerned me greatly. Today, mainstream publishers no longer provide benefits unavailable elsewhere. The number of exclusive contracts has dwindled. There is no health insurance to enjoy. Creative freedom has given way to editorial edicts. So why not hone one’s skill via self-publishing through Kickstarter or use a smaller, alternative publisher to build one’s name?

I am aware of the importance of mainstream visibility—for men and women of all backgrounds to be seen as heroes and have their stories told. But given the success of individuals such as Tyler Perry and Shonda Rhimes, I have to wonder if established channels are the route to achieving said visibility—especially when we are clearly not considered part of the establishment. No matter what the medium, there are other options available waiting to be chosen.


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.

For everyone, by everyone.

Marking your own territory via the creation of a comic company is a scary venture in the world of publishing. In order to be successful, you must have one of two things: a “deep bench” filled with popular creators or a unique vision that separates you from the competition. Two weeks from now at the San Diego Comic Convention, we will witness the triumphant return of a familiar face in Valiant and the new debut of an African American-owned comic company in Lion Forge.

I am hoping for the success of both companies. The existence of the two publishers is key in diversifying the small professional pool in the comics industry. As I’ve said many times before, the comic characters of today and of our recent past are the myths of our future. They are the myths of today. Therefore, it is important that these myths accurately represent a plethora of people and cultures and are not limited to the skewed viewpoint that arises when only one group is granted the liberty of creating worlds (or just as vital, veto power over which worlds are granted longevity).

It is not about shoving a segment of characters of one particular shade onto a flat canvas and hoping for their acceptance. It is about depicting a rainbow of hues from multiple viewpoints. We have clearly surpassed the first hurdle, providing a colorful cast of characters with ease thanks to a long list of dedicated creators. At one point it seemed as though the second hurdle was far behind us, crossed during the creation of Milestone and Image. However, the diversity of talent discovered at all companies seemed to languish as titles slipped from print and creators vanished into the ether. During “lean” times, those who are less established in the industry—and often women and minorities are found in higher numbers in said category—tend to “fall through the cracks.” While there is no active attempt to curtail women and minority creators and deny them input, the result is still the same.

Luckily, we seem to be witnessing a creator renaissance at the moment. We are enjoying a focus on the creator as well as the character. This is likely due to the success of creator-owned properties such as The Walking Dead and Kick-Ass. In addition, comics overall are getting more press now that movies such as Marvel’s Avengers have shoved the superhero back into the spotlight. The chance is there to reach a wider audience than ever before. And what better way to reach said audience than to reflect it?

Raiding the fridge.

Ah, poor Ron Rosenberg, executive producer of the upcoming and latest game in the Tomb Raider franchise. His words have been dissected, examined, and strewn across the blogosphere. And I, like many others, slide in hand, have decided to take my turn at the microscope.

“When people play Lara, they don’t really project themselves into the character.”

Ron Rosenberg

The problem with Rosenburg’s statement is that Rosenburg refers to people when he actually means men. Women, such as myself, who have played multiple games in the Tomb Raider franchise can and do identify with the lead character—even when the similarities are as minor as being the same gender as the heroine. To believe otherwise is to underestimate the audience, something that has been done frequently and consistently in the gaming industry. This underestimation results in a staleness that stems from the refusal of many companies to explore new worlds, new cultures, and new stories. However, there are a handful of companies willing to buck the trend. These companies are often rewarded for their risks with success—Rockstar (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas) and Valve (Left 4 Dead) being two that spring to mind. Though grumbling initially occurred, and the grumbling was quite vocal and widespread, fans did welcome protagonists such as CJ and Louis. Still, let us set aside the slight moral growth of fandom for a moment and assume that though men can accept a protagonist of a different race and “project themselves into” that character (which men of color have been doing since the development of video games), playing as a character of a different gender simply obliterates said projection. What if we accept what Rosenberg says as true?

“They’re more like ‘I want to protect her.’ … When you see her have to face these challenges, you start to root for her in a way that you might not root for a male character.”

Ron Rosenberg

That you? Once again, male. And yet, men are not the only purchasers of video games. Men are not the only purchasers of action adventures. I have purchased and played multiple games featuring a fearless and headstrong Lara Croft. I’ve enjoyed that incarnation of the character. Others, female and male, have as well. However, the desires of these individuals are not as important as the need to cater to the chauvinism of a certain subset of men who cannot fathom the idea of a woman, even a pixelated one, as a heroic and powerful lead. And I truly believe kowtowing to the sexist urge to “protect the little lady” will make for a slightly less enjoyable game.

Had I wanted to protect Niko Bellic, a character I adored but did not identify with—and yet still had no problem “projecting myself into”—I would have simply refused to begin the story provided by the developer. I would have taken the character on an endless array of bowling excursions and shopping trips. I would have played Grand Theft Auto IV as I play The Sims 2. Luckily, I do not play action adventure games to protect the protagonist with whom I have allied myself. I play them (1) to be privy to a great story and (2) to amass as much power for the protagonist as possible. I am a calculating strategist and a voyeur, not a caretaker. And I do not think I am alone in being that type of gamer.

“[W]e’re sort of building her up and just when she gets confident, we break her down again.”

Ron Rosenberg

I want to delve further into the goal of amassing power. Not only do action adventures provide gamers with a great story, they also provide a form of escapism—a power fantasy to mitigate the stress and tedium of everyday life. I play games because within them, vicariously through the characters I play, I can accomplish things I will never have the chance to even attempt in my lifetime. I can explore alien planets, ram the driver who cut me off on the freeway, and brazenly breeze through shoot-outs with ease. I can be immensely powerful.

“Lara Croft will suffer. Her best friend will be kidnapped. She’ll get taken prisoner by island scavengers. And then, Rosenberg says, those scavengers will try to rape her.”

Jason Schreier

It has often been said that rape is about power, not sex. It is the removal of one’s power and agency through a sexual act. Ergo, it is the last act to which the lead character of a power fantasy should fall victim. And this rule is closely followed—when the character is male.

It is interesting to note that in Grand Theft Auto IV, one learns about two horrific rapes by playing side missions. The lead character, Niko Bellic, admits that he has kept the news of his aunt being brutally raped and murdered from his cousin. Later, a supporting character, Packie, admits that he and his brothers were molested by his father as young children. However, Niko is adamant that he has not been raped during his stint in prison and snidely makes a comment concerning the difference between European prisons and their American counterparts. In a later sequel to the popular game, lead character Luis Lopez, also an ex-con, clearly indicates that he was not raped in prison and was able to fend off all attacks. We do not want to see the protagonist, our vessel for the adventure, as weak or vulnerable. The protagonist acts; he is not acted upon. Why should this outlook change due to a change in gender? Does such a simple switch make the vessel unsuitable?

If so, perhaps the problem is with the player, not the game.

How can I explain myself?

I wrote the following posts many moons ago and revisiting them it is easy to see that the primary emotions driving each are anger and disappointment. And though I still commit the cardinal sin of refusing to organize or edit my blog entries, I have become more adept at restraining my emotions via the written word. So it is not without a bit of amusement that I reread my former manifestos. How sarcastic! How indignant! I was ready to say goodbye to the comics community then, but I clearly did not. For though I, as a black person and as a woman, felt neglected, ridiculed, manipulated, I knew—wholeheartedly—that black women deserved a seat at the table. I knew that black women deserved to be seen and heard as they actually are sans parodies, sans whitewashing, sans strawmen for authors with axes to grind. And I was determined to be the most belligerent and obstinate of thorns until that happened. And if it didn’t happen? Well, I would walk away, burning and salting everything behind me.

In my posts I painted the comics community as an abusive suitor, taking funds, time, love, and providing only insults and neglect in return. And to be fair, I was not that far from the mark. Within the panels we were relegated to bystanders, and should we have by some sheer luck gained the admiration of the audience, our blackness was stripped from us to make us more palatable to white men or our femininity was taken to make us less threatening to female fandom. Behind the scenes we were occasionally seen but never heard, finishing pages for more prominent artists, eking out a modest living via card sets and pinups. I was irate that black creators had more agency in the 1940s via Negro newspapers and that black women were better represented artistically in the 1970s. With each decade that progressed we regressed, and something had to be done about it.

And something was done about it. We spoke, we posted, we wrote, we drew. And by we, I do not just mean the we of my sisters—though that contribution was vital—I mean the we of the entire comics community.

Things changed. In short time the abusive suitor became an attentive one. Varied depictions of black women flourished. Established black creators gained more notoriety and new creators arrived on the scene. Yes, it is far from perfect, Marvel employs no black writers and DC has only Selwyn Hinds to call its own, but things are improving considerably. It can be seen with each new Kickstarter, new creator, and new character.

Like a good lover, the community now gives and takes. It is no longer the wayward suitor of my previous posts. But sadly, I am no longer the woman who once wrote it. A community merits what it provides. When it provided derision and scorn, it received the same in kind from many via scathing blog posts and the occasional boycott. And now that it woos with a plethora of depictions, a platform, and employment? It is only fair that affections are returned via purchases, donations, contributions, and consideration. It is only right. And it is with shame and sadness that I admit that I do not have the funds, the time, or the skill to be one of the women this community demands and deserves.

In the days when the subset of black women in the comics community was miniscule, it was easy to corral each recurring character and creator in order to present them to potential audiences. A small number of purchases, a handful of emails, and one or two perusals of comic news sites was all that was necessary to amass the material required to post. Today, our depictions have developed far beyond what my wallet can contain and I alone can catalogue. I do not complain. This is a blessing. But it is a blessing that has highlighted my inadequacies. As I neglected the community to attend to personal matters, emails piled up. Comics sat on racks unpurchased. Posts to showcase fabulous creators and characters languished in queue—a matter that will be attended to very shortly. I became what I had once admonished, an inattentive lover, a harridan highlighting only faults. My suitor has outgrown me—and it is glorious to see. He has become worldly and eloquent, popular and prosperous. And worthy of one who can honor him, contribute to his success, and support him in his time of need. And so, with the most potent bittersweetness and the fiercest of pride—I let him go.

Make me want to light a cigarette.

SilhouetteThis image was published on the Kotaku website yesterday. The image used, the place the image was displayed, and the date that the image was released combine to tell me three interesting things about the Before Watchmen marketing strategy. One, DC is selling directly to specialty retailers who focus specifically on pamphlets over graphic novels. Two, in regards to the Before Watchmen project, DC has embraced the mainstream superhero fan and has temporarily abandoned the highbrow reader of alternative graphic novels. Three, DC is fighting fire with fire—using one manufactured outrage to quell another more organic one.

I am surprised, but only mildly. DC is willing to jettison Before Watchmen’s long-term monetary success as a critical darling and teaching tool to amass as much cash as possible from fans of monthly superhero comics in the short term. And why not? This project has been shunned by the “comics elite,” who are more concerned regarding the rights of creators than they are about examining the histories of the characters invented by said creators. Their support and free marketing resource cannot be counted on. If they are able to be “won over” at a later date? Fine. However, there is no point in pouring time and money into marketing to a group that is not open to one’s project.

Who does that leave? It leaves a particular type of comic fan—one who wants his Avengers movie and his Captain America comic every month and just wishes everyone would keep quiet about Kirby’s poor treatment and stop interrupting the pipeline flow. He declares this repeatedly on popular geek sites such as Kotaku. (It is interesting to note that the image appears on a site devoted to video games, as if DC desired an opportunity to reach the “geek” audience while at the same time avoiding naysayers who frequent sites focused upon comics. It is an understandable move.) He loves Rorschach’s violent, quirky nature and the adult themes of Watchmen, even though he felt the book was dull at times. He downloaded a copy from a torrent site to read before he saw the movie.

There are many of these fans, they have a great deal of money to spend, and a plethora of Before Watchmen projects featuring popular creators will no doubt draw their attention and dollars. Of vital importance? They do not consider the rights of creators to be more significant than their right to be entertained. However, to sell to these individuals you must sell to their supplier first, hence, the appearance of this image months before the Before Watchmen line will be available in specialty shops. A “buzz” must be created in the mainstream comic community very early on so that retailers will notice said “buzz” and order accordingly. A marketing man worth his salt will do his best to encourage that “buzz” from the date his project’s appears in Previews until its appearance on store shelves. A poor one will simply breathe a sigh of relief once he has saddled retailers with the merchandise, the work now becoming theirs to sell.

But how is a “buzz” created? There are three options. The first is a media blitz—a complete saturation of the market with ads. This is a horrifically annoying method and can easily backfire if potential customers feel their leisure time has been intruded upon. The second option is to simply stand on the merits of your work and let good word of mouth carry you to success. Unfortunately, this can and does result in many quality books receiving poor sales. Depending on eager fans is not enough. Your fans must be enthusiastic and influential in order to bring more potential customers to the table. Finally, controversy—either real or manufactured—can keep one’s material in the public eye without the annoyance that accompanies blanket advertising. Many companies try a little bit of everything.

The image of a battered and bruised Silhouette is pretty controversial, especially in an industry that is currently quite sensitive and very vocal in regards to depictions of violent acts against women and minorities—perhaps vocal enough to supplant one cause with another. Releasing the cover has certainly sparked a discussion. And that discussion has been carried here as well! Yes, in blogging about it I’ve willingly made myself a cog in the machine, but I can’t help it. I find this marketing stuff fascinating. Ah, me! There’s always the next post, I suppose.

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.

Wonderful. Terrific. Fine.

With the introduction of Helena Wayne and Karen Starr as Huntress and Power Girl, DC Entertainment has given fans what they have clamored for in a way that some readers are still a bit unsure about. However, the world’s finest are here, with a gender and sex change to keep things fresh and new.

Of course, I was always a bit irked by the original incarnation. An assembly of the “world’s finest” without the inclusion of Wonder Woman feels incomplete and exclusionary. Wonder Woman has always been both there but not there, her gender often keeping her separate and regarded as an afterthought by many male readers. And that’s sad. It’s not a dynamic duo—that would be Batman and Robin—it’s a trinity. And I always get a little ping of delight when the comics reflect that.

I think what is most interesting about the arrival of Huntress and Power Girl is the possibility that not only does it provide a warped reflection of the world’s finest that most fans are used to, it also provides a warped reflection of DC’s most well-known and lopsided triangle due to Karen’s connection with Mr. Terrific.

Like Diana, Mr. Terrific is both there and not there. His connection to Earth Two is merely tangential—as is Diana’s connection to the world that Clark and Bruce were raised in. An attempt has been made to place him in a romantic relationship with Karen—as Diana has often been foisted on Bruce or Clark. And hilariously, that romance has been largely ignored as fans rush to embrace the romantic subtext between Helena and Karen—subtext that is also evident between Bruce and Clark and has long been cherished by fans.

And of course, there is the elephant in the room. As Diana’s gender makes her seem of lesser importance due to the casual sexism of some readers, Mr. Terrific’s race will likely result in the same due to the casual racism found amongst comics fans. I will be amused to see if the excuses match up.

BHM: What can brown do for you?

I’ll make this one short and sweet. Originality is not achieved through color. Applying a pallet swap to someone else’s story does not qualify as a “new spin.” It’s a cheap trick, a shortcut to reach a previously untapped resource—minority audiences.

It’s not uncommon to want to pay homage to the stories that precede us, to revisit the myths that we will hand down to our children and grandchildren. An alien falls to earth. A vigilante haunts the streets. A patriot fights for justice. We repeat these stories like ballads in old watering holes, each incarnation shifting slightly to fit our culture and our desires.

But how that slight shift matters! And that shift must be more than just a variation in shade. Point blank? If you make the decision to create a black character pastiche, you best make that decision mean something. It should alter the nature of the work. We don’t need a black Superman. We have Superman. To make audiences sit up and take notice, to truly examine the theme of the alien beneath the lens of race?

You establish an Icon.

BHM: God bless the child.

As much as I love Idie, she isn’t ours. Luke isn’t ours. David isn’t ours. T’challa isn’t ours. Miles. Isn’t. Ours. Yes, they look like the men, women, and children in our lives, at our tables, and on our minds—and that is important—but they do not carry our voice. There are no black writers working on mainstream comics at DC. There are no black writers at Marvel at all. In the DC universe and in the Marvel universe, black people are voiceless. It is what it is.

I wish I could say I was concerned. At one point, I was very concerned. However, over time that apprehension has dwindled like sales of the books from the companies in question. Black people are voiceless at two companies that struggle to sell a hundred thousand copies of a single comic to a potential audience of billions. Black people are voiceless at two companies currently being admonished in the press for stifling their creative staff, submitting production and editorial to poor working conditions, and utilizing underhanded practices to swindle individuals out of their creations or proper compensation. DC and Marvel are no longer happy, hale and hearty IP farms where a man or woman could spend a lifetime spinning stories about established characters while earning a check that could provide for the family and benefits to keep that same family healthy and whole. Those days are over—and were only enjoyed by a select few to begin with. When white voices are being silenced, can we truly expect black voices to be heard? When white writers are losing exclusive contracts that once provided them with much needed safety nets, can we really expect those same contracts to be offered to black peers?

The pie is gone. It has been gone since the late ‘90s, continually consumed and regurgitated by the same small handful, and there is nothing left to get a piece of. You are not going to George Jefferson off Stan, Jerry, Joe, and Jack, my friends, hence the title of this blog post.

Tabu referred to Image as a black writer’s last refuge. I’d alter that statement to include Kickstarter, other self-publishing methods, and independent publishers in general. However, the gist of the message is the same—“Have one’s own.”

I certainly don’t advise turning down paid work from DC or Marvel, but one cannot put faith in either company. When they call concerning that rare miniseries featuring a tepidly-received black character, get in, do one’s work, and get out. And don’t expect them to call again soon, no matter having provided them with one’s best work. A black writer is a rare necessity at DC and Marvel—especially now that established white writers are only too happy to take on projects featuring black characters. Green is an important color that can make a third-tier black sidekick seem quite interesting to those who once looked for whiter pastures.

The entertainment industry is an exceptional industry where one is able to own the company where one produces. Man is the farm and factory. The assembly line is composed of a writer’s fingers; his products, miniaturized worlds, are shipped to all four corners of the globe to be quickly devoured by eager audiences.

A writer can work on decorating delicacies from someone else’s assembly line—i.e., contract work—and there’s no need to feel an ounce of shame in doing so. It’s an honest (and fun) job. But without steady work and benefits—and black writers are not being provided these things—what is the point? To finally tell that Luke Cage story? Oh, sugar. I love Luke, but I’d rather be in for a World of Hurt if that’s all Marvel has to offer.

Aside from looking over one’s shoulder to peer down at the foundation of Kirby Inc., there’s nothing being presented at Marvel and DC that is unique to either organization. And the man who laid the foundation? I think he would have preferred to see a few more crates from one-man farms.

Isaiah is ours. Aya is ours. Miranda is ours—from the root to the fruit. These characters bear our features, carry our voices, entertain us, and—most importantly—provide for our welfare spiritually and financially. And I can think of nothing more delicious than that.

BHM: Hairs to you.

Straight, curly, relaxed, or natural—it really shouldn’t matter how you wear your hair. And yet it does. Simply put, when one particular type of hair (kinky, or tightly coiled) is repeatedly demonized in the media, those who alter their appearance to mask that type are going to be scrutinized. Does she hate herself? Is she trying to pass as something that she is not?

For those happy and well-adjusted black women who have long since come to terms with negative media portrayals and still choose to wear relaxers or press their hair, these questions are infuriating. Can’t one simply desire a different look? After all, it is rare to encounter a white woman who has lightened her hair subsequently accused of despising her ethnic background. It’s just hair. I still press my hair occasionally, and any poor soul who had the audacity to question me about it would need at least a full day of mental recuperation from the verbal assault that would ensue.

Over in Marvel’s Wolverine and the X-Men, resident ingénue Idie Okonkwo has changed her hairstyle from a large, black afro to an equally cute straight, brown pixie cut. Normally, for a well-adjusted black teen who loved herself, such a change would not draw any attention. Nor should it. However, Idie is not normal. She is broken and emotionally scarred. She has been shown to loathe her mutancy, an aspect of herself that is demonized in the media and in the parochial area where she grew up. If she has been shown to listen wholeheartedly when the world tells her she is a “monster,” would she not listen to the world telling her she is “ugly” as well? It is not farfetched that she would internalize negative comments regarding kinky hair. In addition, her change in appearance occurred on the heels of her receiving her first doll from Wolverine, who quite heartbreakingly and unknowingly merely reinforced traditional notions of what is “normal” and emphasized how “different” Idie is physically. It would have made for a fabulous scene—had it been later touched upon by Wolverine or other characters within the franchise.

It hasn’t been—and it is extremely frustrating to me to see a writer leave what could be such meaty content on the table. That no other character is willing to address what is a glaring problem with this child in regards to her mutancy and her appearance is difficult to accept. These are missing scenes from Idie’s life, and Marvel has chosen to dance around these lost stories in the gutters, while I want nothing more than to read them.

I hope these avenues are being ignored simply because the writer wants to tackle different topics and not because the writer is wary of handling themes involving race and gender. No subject should be off-limits to a writer simply because of the circumstances of his or her birth. And race and gender? Those are human topics that involve us all.

How interesting would it be if Quire took it upon himself to “fix” Idie—only to encounter an Idie as militant and arrogant as he? And should he be reprimanded by Wolverine? Well, at least someone cared enough about Idie to do something. It would make for a powerful, and humorous, set of scenes. And it would also allow for Idie’s mental growth, acceptance, and adoration of herself, from her straight pixie cut to the strands of her X gene.

Here’s to black love for 2012’s Black Future Month—not just for each other, but for ourselves.

BHM: Days of future past.

I want to honor our legacy, to cultivate long, lovingly detailed posts on the black cartoonists and writers of the past who paved the way for all, but I simply cannot focus. I’m obsessed with the present. I’m obsessed with our future.

And so Ormes and Harrington give way to Ayo and Bernardin. What are we creating this very moment? What are we adding to the pot? After all, a thriving culture is like gumbo, simmering for eons, with each new generation adding fresh ingredients to enhance the flavor of what came before.

Black History Month? Well, that’s generally a whole lot of pot stirring. It’s an examination of what we have inherited and a chance to sample the fruits of our ancestors’ labor. And, oh my, is that important. But it’s damn sure not the only reason why we are in the kitchen. We aren’t children. We don’t get to snatch what we want from the pot, fill our bellies, and then bolt from the room. We’re here to cook, baby—to make something. And making something is not simply warming up leftovers, no matter how tasty they may be.

And I feel very much as if we are in a “microwave moment” in regards to our music, our literature, and our art. I don’t want to spend this month making a quick mental note of the doors opened by Matt Baker while using the opportunity he provided to simply regurgitate the work of Stan and Jack. That’s not why we were given seats at certain tables. Black History Month is wonderful. But the best thing about our history is that it’s not going anywhere. It’ll be there for us whenever we need it. But the present? That can slip through our hands like water if we don’t pay attention—water that can thin the “gumbo” and dilute its flavor.

So, for the next twenty-eight days, I propose we kick off a celebration of Black Present Month by gifting ourselves with wonderful creations by inspired artists and writers currently putting pen to paper and digit to keyboard. What’s out there now that we can pluck from the shelves or add to our feeds? And for those of us who feel the drive to create as well as consume? Well, a Black Future Month is in order. The pot’s waiting.