Too black, two strong.

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

Race and Gender Statistics

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

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

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

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

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


Black and bled.

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

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

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

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