First come.

I’m a long-term subscriber to Essence magazine. I’ve had a hard time finding a magazine that “speaks” to me, instead cobbling together features from various periodicals in an attempt to read articles that engage all of my interests. And so, I also occasionally peek at Esquire, The Atlantic, and Glamour—three additional appealing publications.

I’d state that Essence, however, is a requirement for African American women seeking information on beauty and fashion. Its tagline is appropriately, “Where Black Women Come First.” For other “women’s interest” magazines not only do not cater to a black woman’s needs, but are often blatantly harmful to black women in their use of brown skin and black cultures as a backdrop to highlight white beauty. And so, I’ve had to reject entertainment that purports to be for everyone, but in reality excludes or is dismissive of those who are black.

It is the reason why so many eyes are rightfully rolled when an uneducated person awash in anti-blackness decries the lack of a White Entertainment Television. One, there are dozens of stations that claim to provide universal entertainment, but in actuality serve the needs of white Americans solely or white Americans first. Two, Black Entertainment Television is not owned by black people—and exists to serve black entertainers to mainstream audiences. Black people have not owned BET since 2001 and are no longer the curators and censors who determine which black voices are deemed worthy of being heard and which black people are worthy of being seen. If you are angry at the existence of BET, I suggest you take the matter up with Philippe Dauman or Sumner Redstone. Black people have no control over the issue nor are their desires of any importance. The B in BET stands for who is providing the entertainment, not who is being entertained.

Even Essence is hamstrung by a tagline that claims to provide for all black women. In actuality, articles that do not deal with beauty and fashion are heavily geared towards a black female audience that is American, Christian, and straight. And that is exactly what happens when a form of entertainment claims to be for all—privileged groups are given preferential treatment. Attention is not equally allotted to all groups unless voices demand to be heard.

In the “Natural Hair” movement—created and nurtured by black women who face institutionalized discrimination due to the texture of their hair—there is currently a discussion over whether the white women with curly hair who have brusquely demanded inclusion in the movement should be embraced. To reiterate, members of a group that instigated the institutionalized bigotry against black women with coarse hair textures, denying them inclusion in countless arenas, now wishes to be part of the movement established by black women as a coping mechanism to deal with their bigotry. Why? Because that coping mechanism has developed into a community that is profitable and popular and is now deemed to be of worth. The refrain seems familiar.

The white women who demand inclusion in the Natural Hair movement know full well that due to white supremacy they will be given preferential treatment over black women within the movement—making the community wholly useless to black women as a coping mechanism. They know this and do not care. They will take from black women under the guise of inclusion, snatching what black women were able to scrape together and build on the outskirts they’ve been restricted to for centuries.

For privileged groups, the idea that there could be one small item on the board—a board they primarily rule—that is not under their control, that is not designated for them first and foremost, infuriates them. And their response is to (1) demand inclusion, (2) usurp attention, (3) dominate, and (4) destroy as if a small, petulant child.

And yet, it is possible for one to be privileged in one way and stripped of representation in another. In other arenas, the comic character Wonder Woman has developed over the years into a powerful feminist icon and a deservedly beloved power fantasy for young white women and girls. Each and every child deserves to have a character that champions the idea that he or she is deserving of power and autonomy! Each and every child deserves to have a story where he or she is served first. Due to decades of notoriety, Wonder Woman is sought out above lesser known female characters such as Black Widow and Captain Marvel (great characters in their own right) as a national symbol of female power—a testament to the fact that a woman can be equally as strong and savvy as her male counterparts. Such a symbol is needed both in the wider world and most certainly in the mainstream comics industry, where white men primarily give voice to most characters and where the desires of white men are served first over white women, even when the characters being written for are white female characters.

“I think she’s a beautiful, strong character. Really, from where I come from, and we’ve talked about this a lot, we want to make sure it’s a book that treats [Wonder Woman] as a human being first and foremost, but is also respectful of the fact that she represents something more. We want her to be a strong—I don’t want to say feminist, but a strong character. Beautiful, but strong.”

David Finch

I believe I understand what Finch, slated as the new artist for Wonder Woman, is attempting to say. He wants a Wonder Woman that is relatable, less of a symbol and more of a sympathetic character. But what Finch does not seem to understand is that when one strips feminism from Wonder Woman, one strips the power fantasy from the character. One makes the statement that yet in one more place the desires of female readers will not come first. Wonder Woman cannot be a feminist woman for women and young girls; it is more important for her to be a “human being” for all. The focus is on inclusion. Unfortunately, inclusion in an entertainment industry riddled with sexism is simply code for preferential treatment for men. A Wonder Woman that is not feminist is simply another sex symbol for male readers—in a landscape that is littered with them.

However, there is more than one Finch on the new creative team of Wonder Woman and I believe writer Meredith Finch understands the responsibility she has earned and the audience she is writing for. Meredith, as a woman, likely will not balk at the idea of putting women first—not in all things, but yes, in this one thing.

“Being able to take on that quintessential female superhero who represents so much for myself and for millions of people out there—especially at a time where comics are coming more into the mainstream—I feel like it’s really special, and that’s really where I’m coming from when I’m writing this. I want to always keep who she is and what I believe her core is central to what I’m doing.”

Meredith Finch

I cannot stress how important it is to have women writing about women for women—to have female authors in the mainstream who are willing to put women first. And yes, we need that for all oppressed groups on a national stage until the time comes that inclusion honestly means for all. I only hope that one day the mainstream will have black authors that are able to do the same for black people.

It is not discrimination, or “reverse racism,” or a claim that those who are not black cannot write black characters—no more than placing a female audience first in one book is evidence of sexism or the oppression of men. It is the honest admission that all Americans are taught anti-blackness by consuming a biased culture that denigrates black people, and only African Americans are forced to unlearn it in order to become emotionally whole (and some, sadly, do not). Those who are not black can simply continue to embrace anti-blackness if they wish to (though, thankfully, some do not) and are often rewarded for doing so due to how lucrative the exploitation of black people is in American society. Americans are taught to put the desires and needs of black people dead last at all times, even when creating material that feigns to be for and about black people. A black power fantasy that does not put black audiences first is not a black power fantasy; it is a story about black people for mainstream audiences—a mainstream where black people are perpetually held in last place.

To dismiss the demand for power fantasies for ostracized groups, to silence their voices, to angrily crush their desires for a miniscule region where they are allowed to come first is to hoard Band-Aids while those around one suffer from festering, open wounds. Yes, such dressings are insufficient—our culture is gravely injured—but to deny even that in a fit of selfish greed is incomprehensible.


Through the looking glass.

Don’t put your heart into something your people aren’t permitted to own or have a hand in creating.

It’s the hardest lesson to learn—especially if one has no alternatives available created by one’s people. We wish to identify with characters whose faces resemble our own, to bask in the validation it provides. We exist. We are of value. But what black people must know, especially when it comes to the media we encounter, is that content we do not own or have not created can easily be used to hurt us—either through the swift erasure of black people and the whitewashing of black characters to appeal to potential non-black audiences; heavily weighted negative stereotypes that result in discrimination, or the financial exploitation of black people. For that which is created specifically for black audiences sans any input from black people is a product devoid of black culture designed to siphon money from the African diaspora while providing nothing in return.

We want to be touched by the art we consume, to give ourselves over to the emotions elicited. And we should, no matter the creator or creation. But we should not search for our reflections in that which has not been shaped by our hand. For paper mirrors fashioned for us by those who are not us are not mirrors at all.


Read, white, and blue.

I no longer read Marvel and DC comics. That statement should not be considered an insult. The snippets made available to me in previews certainly look to be of great quality and both companies have hired fantastic creators who produce work outside of the superhero realm that I continue to enjoy.

Simply put, I am not the target audience for either line. While there are a handful of works intended to draw in different types of readers, both lines overall are clearly designed to bring in an audience in its mid-twenties to mid-thirties that is overwhelmingly white, male, and flush with disposable income. It is an audience that is shrinking in number, but is still more than willing to fork over substantial amounts of cash for a weekly diet of superheroic exploits.

And so, amusingly, its universes are skewed to appeal to that demographic. Those with even loose ties to the comics industry are well aware of editor Janelle Asselin’s astute critique of the cover to Teen Titans #1. What Asselin didn’t touch upon—a key factor I immediately noticed and mentioned to friends—is the complete lack of black culture both in the image and in Marvel’s and DC’s lines in general. Given the irritating obsession American youth have with black American subcultures (fashion, language, music, etc.) it is surprising to see it stripped from material geared towards teens. However, it is surprising only if one does not take into account two basic facts: the lack of black writers and editors at Marvel and DC; and that the majority of “teen” books are created for older white men who wish to read superheroic coming-of-age stories about the characters they loved as adolescents. And it shows.

As a detached observer, I can certainly see why DC and Marvel wish to completely drain their current resource before fully committing to the laborious task of recreating lines that appeal to multiple audiences. At this point, the demographic they cater to—though shrinking—is still the greatest in number with the greatest amount of disposable income. It is far easier to simply raise prices and change the race, gender, or sexual orientation of a tertiary character than to seek new talent and alter one’s brand.

It would be far easier for DC and Marvel to reach new audiences if their current audience was not so abhorrent to change. And so changes are made on the outskirts—in alternate universes, in solo series set apart from the main event, and in B- and C-list characters. It is a very smart move given the volatile nature of current readers—though I would certainly advise both companies to take a more aggressive stance in creating works that appeal to women. It is a market that is simply growing too fast and has too much money to ignore—especially when smaller comic companies are already taking great care to cater to it.

What I simply fail to understand is DC’s and Marvel’s refusal to band together to wring as much profit as possible from their current audience! I have said—repeatedly, to anyone who will listen—that given the similarities found in both lines, Marvel and DC should release separate but simultaneous “Crisis” events that dovetail into a Marvel vs. DC crossover, the climax of which would launch a short-term Amalgam universe, which would then fold as the DC and Marvel universes are rebooted—just in time to coincide with Avengers and JLA blockbusters in movie theaters. If one’s golden goose is dying, it’s best to feed it with as much grain as possible so those last eggs are glorious.

What would rise from the ashes? A new Marvel and DC featuring universes with a diverse selection of characters and stories—with decidedly lower prices and weekly releases to lure in a larger number of readers.


The shade of it all.

Colorism in cinema

Can we stop pretending this isn’t deliberate?

I am not asking for a recast of Shana. Even with the assistance of colorism, it is still very difficult for non-white actresses to obtain major roles. If a white actress can be hired for the role? She will be. So every role cast to an actress of color should be held onto with all its might, for the opportunity may not come again. What I am asking for is the basic acknowledgement that colorism exists, it is in play here, and it is erasing black, Latina, Native, and Asian actresses of darker hues from the canvas. It is telling our daughters and our sisters that their skin tone is unfeminine and undesirable. That we should not be relegated to the back, in brief full-body shots in celluloid to provide contrast to the fairer lead, but that we are so unattractive that we should not be seen at all. That we must be adjusted—lightened—to be of worth. To be beautiful. To be wanted. An actress such as Lupita Nyong’o is held as an exception to the “rule” that women of darker hues are unattractive instead of as one mere example of a new rule—that women of all hues are equally beautiful.

I am not going to support the upcoming Jem and the Holograms film. I am no longer going to support any film or television show where a character once heralded as beautiful—due to and not in spite of her skin tone—has been lightened to make said character “acceptable.” Marketable. Not until at least one character makes it from the second dimension to the third with her melanin levels intact. And Hollywood has amazingly yet to give us that. Not even one character.

We are no longer going to accept the message that we are not wanted here and yet still leave our money on the counter as we make our way out.

We have other options now.


Grand theft autonomy.

“I loved gaming when I was younger, but as I got older I learned pretty quickly that it wasn’t a world that loved me back.”

Laura Beck

I can’t find fault with Laura Beck’s statement. In fact, it is a statement I have made myself in regards to other mediums where race is concerned. But I feel that Beck’s exasperation with the three male leads in Grand Theft Auto V is misplaced. Michael, Franklin, and Trevor exist, not because Rockstar is fearful of a female lead, but because Rockstar Games is determined to retell the cherished stories of GTA’s past. Grand Theft Auto V is not about innovation, but renovation—replicating the very same characters and situations that brought the company its previous success. Michael is Tommy Vercetti, Franklin is Carl Johnson, and Trevor is Phil Cassidy. Niko of course, is a modern-day Claude Speed, which is why he was chosen as a stand-alone character to launch Grand Theft Auto IV in the same manner that Claude, and Claude alone, championed the new sandbox version of the Grand Theft Auto franchise we have all come to love with Grand Theft Auto III.

I’ve discussed this at length before, but a quick summary is in order: Claude and Niko represent the poor white immigrant’s journey through New York City’s underworld; Michael and Tommy are symbols of established and firmly entrenched organized crime; C. J. and Franklin represent wayward but hopeful youth trapped in inner-city black communities decimated by the emergence of crack cocaine. The comparisons between lead characters can be taken even further, playing upon the similarities between Victor and Luis, young Latino men with family obligations thrust into a world of debauchery and excess, and Johnny Klebitz and Toni Cipriani, low men on the totem pole in criminal organizations chock full of duplicity and double-crossing.

Rockstar brings nothing new to the table, but what is brought is so comforting and satisfying that the complaints are few. That said, there are clear issues regarding gender within the GTA franchise. I hope, just as the time between Grand Theft Auto III and Grand Theft Auto IV allowed Rockstar to fix the glaring racial stereotypes found within the franchise, so will the time between Grand Theft Auto IV and Grand Theft Auto V allow Rockstar to rectify its skewed depiction of women. However, clues to Rockstar’s enlightenment will not be found in Grand Theft Auto V‘s lead characters, but in its NPCs. Specifically? Its sex workers.

The obvious omission of male prostitutes from Grand Theft Auto IV proved that Rockstar’s desire for an element of realism was not to be had at the expense of alienating sexist players who could not handle seeing men placed in a sexually submissive role. Male hustlers are an obvious fact of life in New York City—and in Los Angeles. Should their presence be lacking in Grand Theft Auto V, kowtowing to bigoted players will likely be to blame. And I will certainly not be sticking around for the next installment of the series.

But unlike Beck, I feel that Rockstar is laying the groundwork for a new female lead character. After all, they have almost run out of characters to recycle! I believe that in a year or two we will all be lining up to purchase Grand Theft Auto: The Legend of Packie McReary, featuring Patrick, a Korean protagonist clearly reminiscent of Huang Lee, and a female drug runner and madam of Mexican descent. After all, to have a story set in a city suggestive of Los Angeles that does not feature Latino and Asian communities is criminally stupid—just as it is to have a story focused on crime that does not involve women. Women are notorious for being drug mules and participating in illegal sex work, and have been a part of Los Angeles’ street gangs for decades. Plus, the addition of female thieves to be used in heists in Grand Theft Auto V is likely Rockstar’s attempt to ease bigoted fans into a more progressive and inclusive stance regarding female protagonists.

But the question is not whether fans will purchase a game starring a female lead. We know they will. Lara Croft is a testament to that. The question is whether the boys’ club at Rockstar Games can provide a female lead that is well-rounded, well-written, and fun to play. A female lead will need to focus more on stealth, speed, and firepower instead of street-brawling skills demanding of upper-body strength. Will Rockstar make the adjustments necessary to accommodate this? Plus, given the mockery of trans women (the deep voices of the prostitutes Niko frequented were inserted for amusement) and the flat, stereotypical depiction of women in Grand Theft Auto IV, I’m not confident a female lead would be given the fleshed-out personality provided to male leads. The Grand Theft Auto franchise is populated with shrill harpies and dim-witted party girls. We really haven’t come that far from Catalina and Maria, and the blame can be laid squarely on Rockstar’s writers for that.

It can also be laid on the writers that inspire Rockstar’s writers. After all, the Grand Theft Auto series borrows heavily from America’s most beloved crime dramas, dated dramas that focus on the lives of men. If Rockstar wishes to venture into the uncharted waters of a female GTA protagonist, it will need new source material. Celebrity, technology, and changing social mores have revolutionized the roles of women in criminal enterprises. Twitter, Instagram, and reality television allow high-end call girls to discretely advertise to wealthy clientele—and contraband can easily be shipped right along with the woman a lovelorn musician, CEO, or athlete has unwittingly paid to transit. Finally, all one needs is a pretty girl and an iPhone to obtain the layout of a mansion for a later armed robbery. Three crimes for the price of one—and one hell of a fun GTA side mission!

Unlike Beck, I will be purchasing Grand Theft Auto V—and I will be closely examining how the game lays the groundwork for the next GTA installment—an installment that hopefully makes Beck and her peers finally feel welcome.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


Who should we have considered? Who should we have hired?

Sans snarky tone, these are valid questions that one ill-informed about what takes place outside of his small social and professional circle should ask. Editors should interact with consumers in order to remain aware of industry trends and to gain insight into areas they know nothing about (in the case of DC’s editorial staff, how to reach out to female and minority consumers and add a healthy dose of diversity to their current creative bench).

A creator isn’t going to be considered for any position if he has not made himself visible to those in a position to hire him. And in the case of comics, where cronyism abounds and editors are often (1) working with a very small and stable Rolodex and (2) have absolutely no interest in searching for new talent, visibility is difficult to achieve.

And if you are an editor walking that same well-worn path you have always walked when searching for talent, the angry cries from disgruntled fans can be disconcerting and exasperating. Where am I supposed to find these female artists? Where am I supposed to find these minority writers? Do you think I have time to read random scripts when I have two books to put out on time—and one of my artists just had a baby, my star writer is passed out in a bar, and my old industry buddy is complaining about lean times? Please.

But that fan has all the time in the world to venture off the beaten path. And she has discovered amazing creators who are producing fantastic work. And she can’t comprehend why they are being ignored.

I can. That editor and that fan? They visit different tables at conventions. They attend different parties. They read different websites. They follow different people on Twitter. Same industry, different worlds. And the majority of female and minority creators? They aren’t chilling in the one that EICs and CFOs inhabit.

But that doesn’t provide an answer to the question of the day. You say you want more black writers, so who should we have considered?

This is in no way a complete list of black writers! There are so many others out there creating! However, these are the men and women found on the path that I walk. These are the names from my bookshelves and feeds—established, professional, capable of producing quality work, and well aware of how the comics industry works.

There’s my answer. I’m sure there are many others who would be happy to provide you with theirs. All you have to do is ask.


Lock and key.

I’ve spent some time sifting through this ol’ blog, cleaning up dead links and correcting stray typos. Probably the most depressing part of the whole process is the realization that many of my older—and cynical—predictions regarding the current state of the industry have come to be:

“Of course, I still think Ultimate Spider-Man is going to sell well. The character has enough company support and calculated marketing to make up for the casual racism of some readers. Remember when I said that Marvel should blatantly push the characters that DC ignores? It’s happening. And Marvel’s doing a pretty good job of it too. There’s no way any book featuring a brand new black and Latino teen character should outsell Static Shock. Static has years of history and a very successful cartoon under his belt. But Miles? Well, Miles has the power of the Spider-Man franchise and blisteringly hot creators as a sales anchor. Miles is popping up in news articles all over the place. Miles will have guest appearances in popular Marvel books. And Miles is going to make more money than Virgil and Jaime—all while wearing Peter’s hand-me-downs. I think Miles is adorable, but that doesn’t sit completely right with me.”Cheryl Lynn Eaton

Know what else doesn’t sit right with me? That the sole remaining black male character with a solo title at DC is currently wearing Batman’s hand-me-downs. And is a subordinate. It is frustrating that minority heroes who are their own men, who do not depend on older white heroes for their inspiration, attire, or methods, are simply shunned by readers. And publishers are well aware of this, resulting in these characters receiving poor promotion, the occasional green or lackluster creative team, and a very limited timeframe to “prove” oneself before the onset of cancellation. Better to push that minority character draped in a web, “S,” or bat-symbol. After all, that’s what the readers want. That’s where the money is. And so that’s where the USA Today articles, publisher support, and the established white creative team (who will gladly exercise any and all “first dibs” rights to obtain a successful franchise) will be too.

Because that black writer—be he talented or a hack, experienced or a newcomer, beloved by fans or an internet pariah—is only called when there is a title featuring a black male lead on the table. And only when the title on the table is one that no one else wants. And so black writers get funneled into books that are quickly shunned by fans, cancelled, and forgotten. And the creators are forgotten just as quickly.

Nobody is asking for a hand out. No one desires a quota. All I am asking for is for established black writers to have equal access to be considered. This is not happening. They are only being considered for a small number of books that have long proven to be received poorly by an increasingly shrinking market that refuses all that is different from what has come before.

Equal access. When Luke Cage is on the table. Or Nightwing. Power Girl. Or Shang Chi. Or Batman. That’s it.