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.


BHM: Before Watchmen, post-racial.

Newsstand BoyIn a stellar move that has stunned the comics community and has quieted critics who have claimed that DC isn’t making proper strides in regards to ethnic and racial diversity, DC has released information concerning the final prequel project in the powerful Before Watchmen arsenal. Newsstand Boy by creators Eric Wallace and Scott McDaniel was announced this morning by DC’s co-publisher Dan Didio.

“We are absolutely elated to be moving forward with this project featuring Dave and Alan’s most popular African-American character. I think it is important, especially on the cusp of Black History Month, to show that DC is willing to stand behind its creators and characters of all colors and creeds—from white to black, and even blue! Hey, even Superman was blue! All shades here at DC, man. All shades.”

Eric Wallace was equally as excited regarding the project. “Honestly, it’s just an honor to be considered. When Didio contacted me this morning and asked me to sign on, I couldn’t believe it.” However, when pressed for details, the writer became coy. “Well, I don’t want to give away too much, but Scott has brought some amazing things to the table and I can’t wait to dig in!” The amicable creator seemed unconcerned about scheduling issues given that he was brought on at such a late stage in the project. “We’ve actually pulled ahead of all the other creative teams. Scott has already completed all four issues, so now I just need to put my finishing touch on the product—bring to the table what only a black man can. Like sprinkles on the ice cream.”

And what of the ice cream? McDaniel was quick to elaborate. “The stuff that Harvey and I have come up with is phenomenal. It’s going to knock your socks off. I finally sat down to read Watchmen last night and I’m certain that Harvey and I have created a work that honors what Dave and Alan have produced.”

Dave Gibbons, co-creator of the original Watchmen series, agrees. “The fact that DC feels so strongly about what Alan and I concluded so long ago that they wish to move forward with new stories is astounding. And that DC will be compensating Alan and I for our creations with a portion of the proceeds from the sale of these new works is a testament to the fact that DC truly cares about its creators.”

Alan Moore did not wish to issue a statement.

Usually tight-lipped about successful launches from its “distinguished competition,” Marvel executive editor Tom Brevoort was surprisingly quick to comment. “Marvel wishes DC all the success in the world with Newsstand Boy. Any project like this, no matter the publisher, helps to get fans in the stores and more eyes in front of Marvel comics. And with our upcoming release of Teenage Negro Ninja Thrashers, a lost creation from the late Dwayne McDuffie, we believe we’re producing the kind of comics that will make fans take notice. Fraction and Bagley have something really special with this one, something Dwayne would have wanted.”

Will Teenage Negro Ninja Thrashers be able to best Newsstand Boy in the eyes of retailers and fans? Only time will tell. But Bob Harras believes he has the answer already. “We’re not about looking over our shoulder to see what Marvel rushes to create in our wake,” the editor-in-chief explained.

“We’re DC. We keep moving forward.”


Dis gonna be good.

David Brothers (half-man, half-amazing, all black) is once again launching into his fantastic take on Black History Month over at 4th Letter by looking at the intersection of black people and comics. Right now, he’s about halfway through examining the foundation of African American creators in comic books, with short introductions to pioneers like Herriman, Ormes, and Baker. Go see. It’s important.

And while it’s important that African Americans join all Americans in creating the myths of tomorrow through sequential art, it’s also important that we appear in the myths as well. And while many are also providing interesting bios on well-known black characters in comics, what I’d really like is for companies to provide a list of graphic novels featuring black characters that people from all walks of life can enjoy right now. I’m talking about trades that are currently in print and can be easily ordered through Amazon. Let’s face it—while every bookstore I’ve ever been in has had a plethora of Batman, Wolverine and even Hellboy graphic novels, it’s quite rare to see an issue of Aya on the stands. If you want to see black people in comics, it’s either Amazon, the direct market, or an iPad. And none of my family members are setting one foot in a comic shop to pick up a floppy. Not even me.

So DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, Image, IDW, Top Shelf, and many more—what do you have for the superhero lover in me? What do you have for my mother who adores murder mysteries? For my father who loves science-fiction? For my aunt who is obsessed with politics? For my cousin who loves tales from the streets? For my niece who likes scandalous drama and romance? For every black individual yearning to see the reflection of his culture, his history, and his face in that paper mirror? Sentences: The Life of M.F. Grimm; Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun: A Personal History of Violence; Bayou; Aya, Daughters of the Dragon: Samurai Bullets; Shot Callerz; Vixen: Return of the Lion? Let us know! Because, really, we are desperate to know.

And I promise that if the effort is made to compile those lists, they will not go in vain. I will personally showcase work featuring black female characters and creators over at the Ormes Society. If you send it to me, it will go up.

Also, I forgot to mention webcomics, which is an absolute astronomical blunder! There are so many men and women making great, easily accessible comics right on the web. Speak up! Tons of us don’t know about you—and that needs to be rectified.