4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape is an anthology series that records the living history of #BlackComix, past, present and future. Here is the second in a series highlighting the Visual MCs and Literary DJs who decided to grab the mic!
Meet the cover artist for Mass Appeal: Vol. 07 in the 4 Pages 16 Bars anthology series!
Blossom Blair is an illustrator who likes painting sparkly girls. A brief introduction that belies an amazing talent, Blossom creates images of whimsy and true Black Girl Magic. Ms. Blair also happens to be the sister of 4 Pages Literary DJ Greg Anderson-Elysée, creator of Is’Nana theWere-Spider!
The Angel has blessed the Cipher!
Fresh off their own successful Kickstarter, Wingless Comics‘ Justice will be one of the entries in 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape Vol. 07 – Mass Appeal!
Justice is the brainchild of Brian J. Lambert, lead contributing writer at Wingless Entertainment. Brian published his first novel, Ascention- TheChrusion Saga Book 1. Brian was selected as a Reader’s Favorite Book Award Finalist in 2019 for Ascention.
He has also edited numerous independent works, including, Is’nana the Were-Spider by Greg AndersonElysee, Akolyte, by Derek Allen, Nia Caler, by Dorphise Jean and the upcoming graphic novel, Beyond 13th, by Michael Ralph.
Unstoppable Comics enters the Cipher!
Finding himself frustrated with the glaring lack of representation in the industry, JayDee Rosario started Unstoppable Comics in 2008 to give a space to perspectives not usually seen in mainstream comics.
Tired of stories that centered wealthy playboys and infallible gods, JayDee’s characters were inspired by folklore and the people around him. Unstoppable’s flagship title Shield of the Interceptor is loosely based on Arthurian legend and pays tribute to David Flynn, one of JayDee’s best and oldest friends who lives with acromegaly, a hormonal growth disorder.
But, wait… There’s more!
Griot Enterprises is proud to announce that its flagship title returns this fall with The Horsemen: Manifest Destiny!
The next installment of The New Mythology, The Horsemen: Manifest Destiny is a 64-page journey of three tales that continues to chronicle the past, present, and future of the Horsemen Universe.
Written and illustrated by Jiba Molei Anderson (with Kofi Malik Boone), the Kickstarter for The Horsemen: Manifest Destiny will begin in August and the book will be released this October. But everyone who backs the Kickstarter campaign for 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape Vol. 07 – Mass Appeal will receive a 24-page B/W preview of Manifest Destiny absolutely FREE as a special thank you to everyone that made Volume 7 of the hottest anthology in comics a reality.
With 65 backers and 6 days left in our campaign, we are under $500.00 from our funding goal. Help us get over the finish line by donating to the 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape Vol. 07 – Mass Appeal Kickstarter today!
4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape is an anthology series that records the living history of #BlackComix, past, present and future. Here is the second in a series highlighting the Visual MCs and Literary DJs who decided to grab the mic.
We’re very proud to introduce the next Visual MC to enter the Cipher as he was one of Jiba Molei Anderson’s (4 Pages 16 Bars Curator) students during his time as an animation / video game design professor at the Illinois Institute of Art – Schaumburg!
Ryan Francis is a Chicago-land independent artist and animator who has created artwork for children’s books, comics, T-shirts, video games. He also self-publishes comics such as, Shirley’s Day, Incident at the Game Store, and The Pizza Man.
The next Visual MC to grab the mic is a second-generation artist whose mother was a fellow classmate of Anderson’s at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago!
Damion Hampton is a UX designer and illustrator passionate about creative problem solving and the stories of those he designs for. Hampton’s work as a freelance comic book artist displays his interest in people and the desire for efficiency. Damion uses all of the skills he’s developed, balancing user needs with function, and crafting intuitive layouts in a role in User Interface Design, research, and as a Storyboard artist.
Finally, we’re very glad that this next Visual MC decided to grab the mic and bring his flavor to the Visual Mixtape!
“Growing up being influenced by Ralph Bakshi, Vaughn Bode’, Wendy Pini, and Robert Crumb to name a few, really shaped my visual aesthetic.”
Keef Cross is a tattoo artist, painter, illustrator, and graphic novelist. He is the author and illustrator of Dayblack Volume 1. An Atlanta, resident, the diverse cast of individuals he has met in his tattoo chair is a big part of why he began the Dayblack comic series.
But, wait… There’s more!
Imagine seeing this poster in your Local Comic Book Store (LCS)!
For a $75 pledge, your LCS will receive 3 copies of 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape Vol. 07 – Mass Appeal and 3 copies of 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape presents Sequential Graffiti. For the $100 pledge, Your LCS will receive 1 copy of the entire anthology series to carry in their store. Both pledges will receive this 30″ X 40″ poster to display in their store! If we get to $5000, this poster will be the stretch goal for all physical backers.
Vol. 07 – Mass Appeal is currently less than $1000 from its initial goal. With 12 days left, help us get over the finish line by donating to the hottest anthology in comics today!
At 19, a young Puerto Rican kid from the Bronx began his career at Marvel Comics. Since then, he did a couple of things, worked on a couple of comics you might have heard about: Justice League, Avengers, TeenTitans, Wonder Woman, Crisis on Infinite Earths… Y’know. Small sh*t.
Completely self-taught, he saw the mistakes in his artwork and corrected them through the use of reference and observation. A fan-favorite as well as an artist’s artist, He also inspired a couple of artists to follow in his footsteps of creating some of the most intricate and expressive comic book pages ever produced… including yours truly.
Some say don’t meet your heroes. I say bollocks to all of that. This cat happens to be the one of the kindest, most generous, souls ever to walk the planet. He remembers you. He’ll even put you into one of his comics. He’ll follow your work and let you know how proud he is of you making your way in this industry.
Welp, today is this gentlemen’s birthday. And so I celebrate GeorgePerez, one of my “Mount Rushmore” comic art influences and one of the best to ever do it. Feliz cumpleaños, good sir!
By the way, the Kickstarter for 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape Vol. 07 – Mass Appeal is 52% funded. Help us get to $2000.00 this weekend by becoming a backer today!
The 4 Pages | 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape anthology series is a celebration of where true diversity exists in this industry. Curated by Griot Enterprises publisher Jiba Molei Anderson (The Horsemen), this anthology celebrates the work of BIPOC creators from mainstream to independent, webcomics to print media and everything in-between.
“In February 2014, I was invited to take part in a roundtable discussion on a podcast,” Anderson begins. “During that time, an almost annual discussion began on social media where many fans were clamoring for some sort of unified front. ‘Why don’t we have a new Milestone‘ or ‘We need some sort of magazine to let people know about us‘ were some of the most common statements. “
“We brought that topic up in the roundtable. We discussed the logistics and perceived difficulties of putting something like that together. I was the one who said that all one needed was the connections to the various creators in the game, the wherewithal to bring all these diverse personalities together, the technical and marketing acumen to create the product and a certain lack of ego to play a bit of a back seat in order to push the movement forward.
And, since I opened my big mouth, I knew that I had to be the one to make this thing happen…”
Contributors for the previous five volumes included Quinn McGowan (Wildfire), Micheline Hess (Diary Of A Mad Black Werewolf), Roosevelt Pitt (Purge), John Jennings (Kindred), Chuck “Dragonblack” Collins (Bounce), Tim Fielder (Matty’s Rocket, Infinitum), Anthony Piper (Trill League), Roye Okupe (EXO: The Legend of Wale Williams), Nigel Flood (The Globalists), David Walker (Power Man and Iron Fist, Naomi), Robert Love (Bayou, Fierce), Sanford Greene (Bitter Root), Ray Anthony-Height (Midnight Tiger), Sha-Nee Williams, Khary Randolph (Excellence), Greg Anderson Elysée (Is’nana The Were-Spider), Ed Williams (Mayke), Robert Jeffery (Mine To Avenge), Dorphise Jean (Spirit’s Destiny) and Uko Smith.
“4 Pages | 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape is more than an anthology series of great comics,” Anderson continues. “Each 126- page volume is a portable gallery of some of the finest creators of color, past present and future. It’s an academic document recording the evolution of diversity in the medium. It’s living history!”
Volume 06 – The Feel will include creators the likes of George Gant (Beware of Toddler), Jamal Yasseem Igle (Supergirl, Black, The Wrong Earth), Moana McAdams (The Adventures of Nakoa and Nohea), Albert Morales (Samurai Señorita) and Amber Denise Peoples.
“Comics are Hip Hop,” Anderson states. “The work in 4 Pages | 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape is diverse, dangerous, political and inspiring. Like Hip Hop, Comics have the ‘mainstream’ and the ‘underground.’ Like Hip Hop, the underground or ‘independent’ scene of Comics is where true innovation and experimentation exists, where you’ll find cats grinding out with passion, creating their own labels and selling their wares out of the trunks of their digital cars searching for that special fan to purchase what they have to offer. “
This Kickstarter for 4 Pages | 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape Volume 06 – The Feel begins February 15. Click here for more information.
Earlier this week, Disney decimated the competition with the reveal of their 2021 content season and beyond. Star Wars fans alone will be gorging on content for years. They’ll be barfing it up like Grogu (Baby Yoda) barfs up blue macaroons.
In the MCU, the abundance of content will give the Marvel fan the same sense of satiation. Loki, What If, Shang-Chi, Eternals, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, WandaVision, Black Widow, this list goes on and on…
But there was one announcement that divided fandom, specifically Black comic fandom:
Black Panther 2, to be released in 2022, will not feature T’Challa, but rather focus on the country of Wakanda itself and other characters from the first film. This announcement was made because Chadwick Boseman, the superlative actor who brought T’Challa to life, passed away unexpectedly a mere two months ago.
Of course, the obvious go-to would be Shuri taking over the mantle of the Black Panther from her brother. The comic books themselves have shown Shuri as a Black Panther. However, some people (Black men if we’re being completely honest here) are up in arms with claims of Black man emasculation because the MCU will not recast the role of T’Challa nor use CGI to continue Brother Chadwick’s visage, if not performance, in this next film.
Ok. My two cents:
Yes, major characters like the DC Trinity have had multiple people play the various characters. However, there was always a sufficient amount of time between the “changing of the guard” so to speak. Examples include:
Superman: from George Reeves in the 50s to Christopher Reeve in the 70s to Dean Cain in the 90s, etc.
Batman: from Adam West in the 60s to Michael Keaton in ’89 to Christian Bale in ’05, etc.
Wonder Woman: from Lynda Carter in the 70s to Gal Gadot in 2018…
Point being, there were decades in between new actors taking on these roles for new generations.
Now T’Challa, specifically Chadwick Boseman’s performance, has elevated the role of Black Panther to that same mythic status. He made the role his. His performance is forever iconic. And, let’s keep it a buck, no matter who will eventually become the next T’Challa will be scrutinized and compared to Brother Chadwick’s performance… especially for BP2.
In other words: it’s too soon.
Of course people are gonna compare actors who took on the role like the late Sean Connery’s James Bond vs. Daniel Craig’s interpretation of the character. That’s natural.
But again, we’re dealing with generational comparisons. Brother Chadwick passed, what, two months ago?
It is simply too soon.
In addition, though T’Challa opened up Wakanda to the rest of the world doesn’t mean the next film will focus on that. Keep in mind, the MCU is now five years ahead of “regular” time thanks to Avengers: Endgame. It is possible to do a “back in time” BP movie without Chadwick to learn more about the nation and the mantle of the Black Panther (think the third Underworld film Rise of the Lycans) and then go forward in the third movie with a new T’Challa.
The thing is, some folks think T’Challa and Chadwick are the same person, which is not true. Besides, the MCU isn’t dumb enough to kill off a character because an actor passed. T’Challa is making them a lot of money. But I think they are sensitive enough to mourn. And, keep in mind, the whole cast and crew of BP (who are mostly returning) are still in mourning as well. They became a family on set and they are probably not ready to replace their champion.
This is actually a smart move, emotionally, to have BP2 focus more on Wakanda. Maybe the movie would be about other Black Panthers throughout Wakanda’s history. Maybe it’s about young T’Chaka. In any event, BP2 would act as a bridge for the next actor to fill Chadwick’s shoes in the role of T’Challa…
And I would love to see a flick about those who wore the habit of the Panther before the current King of Wakanda.
Of course, this is all speculative. None of us own the character and The Mouse will do what The Mouse does. We’re just gonna have to wait, see, and consume (or not) what they give us.
If you’re already missing Mister Nancy from American Gods, given he won’t be returning for the third season, then Griot Enterprises’s Horsemen 5 comic bundle may be a great place to start to get your fix of predominately African-American voices, superheroes and a good dose of African mythology too with a good mix of the…
First and foremost, I am an artist. Comics are my medium. With that being said, there have been many artists that I looked up to, admired, envied, and had been intimidated by. In other words, I have learned to be a better comic book creator by observing and studying how they have approached the craft of comics. This is a list of some of my favorite Black comic book artists. If your favorite artist isn’t on this list, make your own.
Part 1 focused on my early influences of the 80s and the 90s before I stepped my toe into this raging ocean called comics. Part 2 focused on the artists whose work pushed me to be a better creator as I began my career in comics. In Part 3, I want shed some light on some of the artists who have come up in the Black Comix world that keep me on my toes.
Let’s get into it…
JAMAL YASEEM IGLE & RAY ANTHONY-HEIGHT
Jamal Yaseem Igle is another artist whose work I first discovered through Alex Simmons‘ Blackjack series. From the beginning, I was amazed by his solid storytelling and “neo-classic” comic book style. In my opinion, he is a modern heir to the seminal Superman artist of the late 60s and 70s, Curt Swan. That comparison is further warranted by Igle’s stint on Supergirl with Sterling Gates, creating a classic iteration of the character, which has spilled over into her show on the CW. Both are comic book illustrators of the highest order with a command of anatomy that many other creators are still trying to get to.
Since then, Jamal has been focusing more on indie titles like the revolutionary Black, The Wrong Earth for Ahoy Comics and his own creation Molly Danger. If you want to know how to do comics right, Jamal’s work is the perfect start to your education.
Ray Anthony-Height has a style made for all-ages comics. That is not to say that his work is juvenile, but that it has a playful animated bounce that appeals to fans of multiple generations. I first discovered his work via IndyPlanet when his book Midnight Tiger caught my eye.
Suddenly, Ray was everywhere creating work for Marvel on titles like X-Men, Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur as well as Superb for Lion Forge. And, for a while, my beloved Midnight Tiger fell by the wayside as Ray was living the life of a freelance artist. When he announced that he was bringing back the character, I rejoiced…
In 2019, I was at a convention in Chicago and Ray was one of the attendees. He was selling his original pages, which were on 8.5″ X 11″ copier paper! The brother was drawing final print size the whole damn time with, what? A .02 mechanical pencil? You fiend! How dare you be that precise and awesome all at once? Balderdash, I say… Balderdash!
MICHELINE HESS & TONY PURYEAR
One positive aspect of Facebook is the opportunity to connect with other members of your tribe.
Thanks to John Jennings and Damian Duffy‘s Black Comix, a solid community of Black creators was formed. It was the sweetest breath of fresh air. We finally knew that we weren’t alone in our respective bubbles. It was like the movie Highlander without the taking of heads. There no longer had to be “only one.” We we everywhere.
Micheline Hess is another alumni of Milestone Media acting as a colorist working on titles like Static, Icon and (one of my favorite titles) Shadow Cabinet. But, I didn’t know Micheline until I began the 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape anthology series. Her book Malice In Ovenland was exactly what the anthology needed to offset the more standard superhero fare. Her whimsical style was a needed respite from ninjas on motorcycles and dusty shootouts in Western taverns.
But then, she goes and flips the script! Micheline uses that same child-friendly style to the revolutionary Diary of a Mad Black Werewolf, a womanist tale of the ultimate revenge against the twin demons of racism and sexism. Steeped in African iconography, she just decides to pop this thing out during the 2019 Inktober challenge and we were bugging! So glad that she turned that therapeutic art exercise into a graphic novel… Cheers to you, my sister!
Truth be told, I low-key envy Tony Puryear a little bit.
I mean, how could you not? He’s the first African American to write a summer blockbuster. Any body here of a little film called Eraser starring some dude… I think his name is Arnold Schwarzenegger? He married my mid-20s crush Erika Alexander, you know, Maxine Shaw: Attorney At Law, of Living Single. On top of that, those two made a comic book together, a multi-cultural, dystopian sci-fi epic called Concrete Park. It’s the artwork of Concrete Park that really stokes that little envy gremlin of mine.
Tony’s art reminds me of LosBros Hernandez, creators of the indie classic Love and Rockets, in the best way possible. His economy of line, use of expression and application of visual cinematic knowledge continues to blow me away. In addition, he is a fantastic graphic designer using the tool of visual communication in his scathing Gangkstas series lambasting this current administration that festers in the White House. Yes, I tip my hat to you, sir. Keep feeding my envy.
SHAWN ALLEYNE & CHUCK “DRAGONBLACK” COLLINS
Ok. Now this is the part where people might get mad with me. There are so many great artists out there that I want to give love to, but I limited myself to 29 artists to focus on for this series and I know I had to leave some people out. To those of y’all who may feel a certain way about this, let it be known that it was only because of space that you were not included, nothing personal. If you’re still mad at me after that… Well I can’t do nothing for you, mayne…
Shawn Alleyne was another artist I discovered through being associated with Black Comix. Born in Barbados now residing in Philadelphia, Shawn’s work is… How shall I call it… Sexy A.F. His figures are long and sinewy bursting with a sensual energy that exists in his lovingly-rendered linework. He doesn’t do too much interior work, but his covers for books like The Almighty Street Team and his pin-up work taking his own unique spin on existing properties fro the “Corporate Two” are absolutely stunning.
Shawn Alleyne is Black Love incense walking. His work is sure to make even the hardest of the hard swoon. But, for real bruh, I need a comic book from you with the quickness…
Keep, keep bouncing…
When Bounce first appeared, I was completely blown away by this mash-up of science fiction, political comedy, social commentary, Afrofuturistic fantasy and pure nerdom based on the real life adventures of Chuck Collins as a bouncer. Characters like the aforementioned Bouncer, his best friend Yemaya and the rest of the crew became some of my new best comic friends. As the strip has gone on, the proud Haitian Collins has incorporated more of his animation background into the strip making Bounce a companion of Black satire to works like The Boondocks (comic strip and animated series) and the Black Dynamite cartoon.
He also be dropping a lot of Orishas in his strip, too. I love the spiritual connection his work and mine have in common. Luckily, Chuck has collected a bunch of his strips in a volume called BOUNCE! First Round of Shots. You need to step up to the bar and order one.
JASON REEVES & MARCUS WILLIAMS
He’s a hustler. He’s a curmudgeon. He’s got beef with Luke Cage and How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way (seriously, what did Marvel do to you?). But Jason Reeves is one of the coldest artists in the game today.
The visionary behind 133Art, illustration studio and printing company, Reeves came to my attention through his creation, One Nation. Since then, his work has graced such projects as the animated series T.A.S.K. and the book Kid Carvers. His rendition of M.E.C.C.A. Con founder Maia Crown Williams graces the cover of 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape’s first volume.
What does Jason’s work bring to the table? Power. His characters are confident and strong evoking the inner majesty we all hope to one day possess…
But real talk? Just let the beef go, fam. Let it go…
Marcus Williams stays drawing.
Every week, he pops out a new series of images. From his latest, Ebony Images to his annual gender-bending Swaptober series to his fan fiction mash-ups of properties like Black Panther and the Thundercats, Williams’ work sparks the imagination and is an undisputed favorite among many Black comic book fans. With his partner-in-crime Greg Burnham, he co-created the superlative Tuskegee Heirs, a futuristic take on the Tuskegee Airmen and Japanese Mecha anime.
Williams’ work is everything a Black comic book fan wants. It references popular culture and has that animated style that people can immediately glob onto. It’s colorful, bombastic and joyful. He’s the “People’s Champ” of comic book artists and it’s easy to see why.
AFUA RICHARDSON & ASHLEY A. WOODS
I love seeing the rise of the Black woman in comics.
I’m not talking about characters, I’m talking about creators. I could write a whole articles about these amazing writers and artists, but I’m going to focus on the two women whose work always has me doing double-takes.
African-Native American Afua Richardson is a vocalist, performer, songwriter, voice actor, activist, cosplayer and one hell of an illustrator. She is truly a Jane of all Trades, multi-talented and multi-dimensional. I first discovered her on Facebook, unaware of her early work under the moniker Lakota Sioux. She then went on to illustrate Top Cow‘s unexpected and underrated Genius written by Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman. It was her illustrations of mermaids though that caught my attention.
I was utterly captivated by her use of Adobe Illustrator (one of my preferred artistic weapons of choice) to create such organic work that completely hid the digital tools she uses to create. Her “analog” work takes on the flavor of fine fashion illustration, a style that I’ve always loved since my mother would force me to hang out at JoAnn Fabrics on Sundays after church (hey, my mom was into sewing like I was into comics).
Afua has since become an artist in demand, creating covers and interiors for titles like Marvel‘s World of Wakanda, X-Men ’92, DC‘s All-Star Batman, Humanoids‘ Omni and more. And yeah, she’s a media darling which is cool because she totally deserves all of the accolades.
I think of Ashley A. Woods as my little sister.
Keep in mind, I do have a little sister, and she and Ashley share many of the same qualities. They are both sweet and kind, beautiful, intelligent, strong and hella talented.
Ashley graduated from the Chicago campus of the Illinois Institute of Art where I taught at the Schaumburg campus for 11 years. She put herself on by writing and illustrating Millenia War, which showcased her love of anime and video games. She blew up illustrating Stranger Comics‘ Niobe: She Is Life. Ashley stays hustling like a true Chicagoan becoming an artist-in-demand working on titles like Tomb Raider for Top Cow, Boom Studios‘ Ladycastle and has broken into the cinematic realm creating work for Jordan Peele’s Get Out and the upcoming Lovecraft Country.
Ashley’s work has developed this lovely “broken line” quality which has an almost etherial sensuality. She is also unashamed in exploring the feminine power in her work…
Two words: Cammy Cakes. If you’re an Ashley A. Woods fan, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
I’m super-proud of how far you’ve come in a short time, sis. I can’t wait to see how far you will go.
Do not let Uko Smith’s gentle demeanor and warm smile fool you. That dude is a cot damn artistic bully. He is the Deebo of comics riding around on that little-ass bike, wearing the chain that your grandmama gave you. Gaaahhh! It’s so disgusting how good this dude is! I don’t even wanna give him his props like that!
But, he is that good. He’s been that good ever since I met him years ago. He’s been that good with the sexy, flexy-ass art style which graces his own creation Bombshell with bodybuilder Colette Nelson. He’s bullied companies like DC, Marvel, Heavy Metal, White Wolf Publishing and others into giving him work.
Whatever. I’m just putting it out there that I’m not scared of you, Uko! You ain’t all that! You ain’t gonna do nothing to me…
Wait, he’s behind me right now, isn’t he?
So there it is. 29 Black comic book artists that I admire. And, I only scratched the surface. There are some many more people out there doing the damn thing like Quinn McGowan (Master of the One-Finger Technique), Anthony Piper, Julie Anderson, Sean Hill, Alitha Martinez, N. Steven Harris, Eric Battle, George Gant and so many more. And don’t get me started on the writers! Clawd hammercy! I would need to launch a series of books in order to give proper respect to them all…
Oh, wait… I do have a series of books for that purpose. Check out the 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape anthology series, the perfect sampler to discover the amazing world of Black Comix and their creators.
First and foremost, I am an artist. Comics are my medium. With that being said, there have been many artists that I looked up to, admired, envied, and had been intimidated by. In other words, I have learned to be a better comic book creator by observing and studying how they have approached the craft of comics. This is a list of some of my favorite Black comic book artists. If your favorite artist isn’t on this list, make your own.
Part 1 focused on my early influences of the 80s and the 90s before I stepped my toe into this raging ocean called comics. Part 2 is all about the cats whose work pushed me to be a better creator as I began my career in comics.
CHRIS CROSS & KEN LASHLEY
Chris Cross was one of the many artistic bright spots Milestone Media brought to the comic book landscape. Along with fellow alumni Humberto Ramos and John Paul Leon, Chris Cross had to be one of my favorite artists of the mid-90s. From Blood Syndicate to Heroes, his mastery of facial expressions and character “acting” along with his energetic layouts, which are a take on manga through an African-American lens, enhanced every book he worked on. His style makes stories as diverse as Xero to Captain Marvel extremely accessible to audiences from every walk of life.
I first discovered Ken Lashley through one of his first gigs providing illustrations for Alexander Simmons‘ Blackjack: Second Bite of the Cobra. However, I didn’t become a fan of his work until he self-published the WAY too short-lived Legends from his own studio. What a quantum leap! Ken AKA Ledzilla knows what makes for powerful images. His command of structure and anatomy was a goal that, some days, I’m still trying to achieve. His career is similar to one of my other favorite artists Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez in that Ken has done a lot of licensing art for properties like G.I. Joe and Star Wars. He knows the business of being a professional commercial artist and flexes it like a champ. Man, I really need to pick his brain about that the next time I see him at a con…
SANFORD GREENE & THE LOVE BROTHERS
Sanford Greene. The homie. We came up around the same time, meeting at the then Chicago Comic Con (before it became WizardWorld Chicago). Right away, I was a huge fan of his “Hip Hop meets Anime” style. It was super clean, perfect for all-ages titles like The Batman and Legion of Super Heroes. As time went on, his style became looser, grittier and I was along for the ride. This flavor in his work emerged when he worked on the Method Man graphic novel. Since then, Power Man and Iron Fist, the smash hit Bitter Root, An Army of Frogs… Man.
In 2007, Sanford and I were talking about how far we had gotten in our career. We were talking about the evolution of the sketchbook. He was the one that made the metaphor of the sketchbook being the equivalent of a mixtape. That conversation was the beginning of the 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape anthology series… You can thank Sanford Greene for that as well. I know I do…
When we launched Griot Enterprises in 1999, another company popped up almost at the exact same moment. That company was Gettosake Comics, owned and operated by Jeremy and Robert Love. These brothers were making the work Griot Enterprises wanted to be judged by. Chocolate Thunder was our jam and I loved (pun intended) these brothers’ cartoony style. We at Griot considered Gettosake the friendliest of competition as they made us want to create better comics.
Since then, Gettosake has gone the way of the dodo (which is bullshit because I want more). Of course, you could chalk up Gettosake’s demise to the fact that the Love Brothers have blown up at other labels like Image and Dark Horse thanks to books like Fierce, Number 13 (with David Walker) and the classic Bayou published by DC Comics. Still, I want more Gettosake comic books… Can we make that happen, fellas?
KHARY RANDOLPH & EMILIO LOPEZ
I could have just focused on Khary Randolph in this piece. I mean, he has a helluva resume working on books like We Are Robin, Teen Titans Go!, Starborn and others. I could just go on and on about his combination of Hip Hop aesthetics, animation and manga giving an ill kinetic flavor all its own…
But, when Khary connected with his colorist of choice Emilio Lopez, that’s when the whole thing came together. These two are straight-up the EPMD of comics, banging illustrations, all business. Khary is the MC while Emilio is the DJ. Together, they have created classic joints like Mosaic from Marvel and their current banger, Excellence, written by another brother-in-arms, Brandon Thomas.
JOHN JENNINGS & STACEY ROBINSON
Together, they are Black Kirby, the dynamic duo who brought the synthesis of Afrofuturism and comics to academia. Separately, they are two of the greatest artists I have the privilege to call colleagues and friends.
I first met John Jennings in 2009 when he approached me to have my work featured in the first volume of the seminal art book Black Comix. I was honored to be included in that volume, especially when I saw the pedigree of creatives that were in that book. Sine then, we have collaborated on a number of projects and exhibitions as fellow academics including SOL-CON and The Black Speculative Vision.
John’s work looks like he consults the Loa every time he creates an image. It’s like he has altar to Ogun, offers the rum, chews the roots and gets to work. It truly is Jack Kirby seen through the rough-hewn eyes of a master woodworker. It’s visual southern gothic Vodou with a rich tradition steeped in African spirituality. Just check out The Hole or the adaptations of Kindred and Parable of the Sower (with the blue-eyed soul brother Damian Duffy) to get a taste of some down-home comic book making.
Becoming a member of an exclusive club of Black comic book creators who are also college professors has its privileges. One of those privileges has been becoming friends and working with Stacey Robinson. His style is absolutely rhythmic. It’s visual jazz swirling in the brain merging with your vertebrate and settling deep within your soul. What I love about his work is that even though we make take similar approaches in creating images, his technique and visual language is so unique it’s almost annoying. Plus, we’ve got the whole DJ thing in common so when I look at his work, I know he’s “digging in the crates” to come up with some of the ills work I’ve ever seen. Check out I Am Alfonso Jones to get a taste of my man’s amazing talent.
This dude right here…
It was 1988. I was a junior at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy waiting in line to get my lunch. Here comes this cat, a freshman no less, walking up to me saying: “Yo, I saw you left this drawing in the art room and I decided to finish it. Here you go.”
The audacity! This fool went ahead and drew on my shit! Even more annoying, this fool made my drawing better!
That is how I met Kenjji Jumanne-Marshall.
I can’t condense how much I love his work in just a paragraph or two. Simply put, Kenjji is my litmus test. He is the purest comic book artist I’ve ever met. Kenjji is the best comic book artist you never heard of.
Jim Lee? Nah. Todd McFarlane? Whatever. Rob Liefeld? What the hell have you been smoking?
Kenjji is the Phife Dawg to my Q-Tip, the Big Pooh to my Phonte. He is the cat that pushes me to be the best creator I could possibly be. We thought we were starting a comic book company when creating Griot Enterprises when, in reality, it’s much more than that. Together, we created a standard of excellence that people still measure Black Comix by.
Straight up? Kenjji is family. And no one inspires you to be the best more than family.
So, that was Part Two. Come back for Part Three when I show love to the artists that came after me… And who keep me on my toes.
Truth be told, I dreaded making this list. I know some people are gonna be mad at me for this. Some people are gonna be like, “What about so and so?” or “You forgot so and so.”
I can’t let the naysayers get to me.
First and foremost, I am an artist. Comics are my medium. With that being said, there have been many artists that I looked up to, admired, envied, and been intimidated by. In other words, I have learned to be a better comic book creator by observing and studying how they have approached the craft of comics. This is a list of some of my favorite Black comic book artists. If your favorite artist isn’t on this list, make your own. Let’s get started:
PARIS CULLINS & CHUCK PATTON
These two brothers were the first comic book artists that I knew of who were Black. They both worked for DC Comics in the early 80s with Patton working on Justice League of America and Cullins drawing Blue Beetle. In terms of solid, steak and potatoes comic book illustration, these two brothers couldn’t be beat. Their mastery of the fundamentals captivated me. Knowing that they were Black inspired me.
DENYS COWAN & KYLE BAKER
In the 80s, there was a lot of experimentation happening in comic book illustration. This was the era when cats like Bill Sienkiewicz, Frank Miller and Howard Chaykin emerged, turning sequential art on its ear.
I fell in love with Cowan’s art when he was working on The Question with Denny O’Neil. I would say that his work has an “African” quality that you just don’t see with other creators. I’m not talking about the use of African iconography in his work, but rather the mark-making itself has a sensibility that reminds me of the continent. His illustration is almost like mud cloth to me. I feel the history of every artist who came before him in his linework. It’s damn near ancestral. He was the man who, when looking at my first comic book portfolio in 1994, said: “You want to make your own comics, don’t you?” He is the main reason why Griot Enterprises exists today. Yeah, most cats would mention his legendary status as a co-creator of Milestone Media, but it was The Question that made me a fan.
I became aware of Kyle Baker’s work when he followed Sienkiewicz on The Shadow. I thought it was an interesting choice to follow such an impressionistic art style with a more whimsical one, but Baker won me over very quickly. He’s a master cartoonist, doing things in illustration that I’m still trying to figure out. His graphic novel Why I Hate Saturn made me laugh out loud. His comedic timing is unparalleled. Again, Baker will get major love because of Truth: Red, White and Black, but to only know him for that book barely scratches the surface of this brother’s amazing body of work.
BRIAN STEFREEZE & LARRY STROMAN
As the 80s became the 90s, I officially decided to make comics my career as an artist. The birth of Milestone Media and Image Comics laid out the path before me.
Before Larry Stroman co-created the monolith of Black Comix known as Tribe, he did a lot of work for Marvel including, the equally-legendary Alien Legion and, my personal favorite work, X-Factor. I love Stroman’s work because he illustrates more like a graphic designer that a classic comic book artist. He has a way with shape and composition that is fascinatingly geometric, kinda like the “clean line” version of everything that I love about Denys Cowan’s work. When the “Mighty” Larry Stroman popped up at the 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape exhibition back in 2013, I definitely felt like I was blessed by a master.
Quite simply, Brian Stelfreeze is a zen master of illustration. I became a fan when he was the cover artist for Batman: Shadow of the Bat and he has consistently gotten better with every project he’s worked on. I’m a fan of Matador, Day Men, The Ride and so much more. When he was tapped for Ta’Nehsi Coates‘ relaunch of Black Panther, I thought to myself, “Finally.” He is the most gracious of teachers. I learned more from him in five minutes than I learned in a semester of grad school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
JASON PEARSON & SHAWN MARTINBOROUGH
“I’m gonna whup your bony ass as thin as my patience.” When I read those lines in the first issue of Body Bags, I knew that Jason Pearson was a brother. His artwork work is kinetic, seamlessly blending the cartoon with the realistic. His interpretations of characters from the “Corporate Two” are some of the best I’ve ever seen. I think I have at least three of his sketchbooks that I picked up throughout the years of going to conventions. His output isn’t as prolific as some other creators. I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s so special to me. Every time I see him on a project, it’s a treat and I do love my treats.
Shawn Martinborough is a master of noir. I really became a fan of his work during his stint on Detective Comics. Again, his graphic language manifested in his black and white work is astounding. From Luke Gage: Noir to Thief of Thieves and beyond, each page is a mini-education. He is also, quite possibly, the best-dressed man in comics. I have nothing but the highest respect for this artist.
So ends Part One of this series. Come back for Part Two when I shed a spotlight on more Black artists in the game that inspire me to continue putting the work in.
Yeah, it’s a grind for real. I’ll say this: writing a business plan before starting to draw page one has allowed me to navigate the game thus far. But yes, I am ready to advance to the next stage…
Now, let me address (once again) the feasibility of the oft-mused about “Black comic book company.”
I’ve seen some people try to take on the task of creating a huge comic book universe with dreams of a bunch of artists and writers coming on board to make this vision come true. Most times, it’s one person who wants to be the architect of this vision with the idea that they would become the next “Stan Lee,” the epicenter of this grand creative enterprise…
And, such thoughts lead, unfortunately, to nowhere or worse (feelings of betrayal, bitterness, clique-forming, etc.). Why? I’ll tell you…
Today, creators want to tell their own stories, build their own universes, and they can. Nothing is holding them back not even economics if they have the skill set to make their IP come to life (or create fundraisers on platforms like Kickstarter to raise capitol).
Making the comic is the easy part, the “fun” part. Handling the marketing and business of promoting the comic is where the real work lies. Building a fandom is a beast. That takes marketing, consistently putting out a quality product (not monthly, necessarily, but consistently), having a web presence (not just Instagram or Facebook but an actual website), going to conventions, pressing the flesh… The game ain’t for the faint of heart nor part-time players.
The good thing about Diamond when I got in the game was that they demanded seeing three issues before soliciting the first one. So, one had to have a complete arc from jump.
A lot of neophyte creators don’t plan for the long haul. Too many focus on that one issue hoping it will hit before doing a second one. I think some people need to focus on creating a solid story (beginning, middle, and end) as opposed to creating universes from jump. Universes come with time and consistent output. But first, you need to get a story out there to build the universe on.
Let me also say this on the creative end: don’t wait for your universe to be built before launching your title.
With The Horsemen, I did have the makings of a comic universe based on a couple of concepts that were percolating when I was an undergrad at U of Michigan back in the day. this existed before I even thought of The Horsemen themselves. Those concepts didn’t begin coming to fruition until my graduate studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where my thesis project birthed both The Horsemen and the 4 Pages 16 Bars project.
When I decided to enter the game, I knew that waiting until I had everything fleshed out creatively or skill-wise could mean that I’d be waiting forever. In other words, I knew that I would get in the way of my work seeing the light of day. Getting the book out was the most important thing.
I stopped looking at comics from a fan perspective and started to really look at them as an art form and as a product. I knew I had the skill set to make it look and read comparable to the industry standard package and design-wise. I also knew that the more I did it, the better and more sophisticated the work would become. It had to be good, but it didn’t have to be perfect. The point was to get the property out to the world, to “plant my flag” and to keep coming with new product.
On the creative side, I allowed the universe to grow naturally bringing those concepts into the story as the story progressed. I also kept myself open to new ideas as they popped up. By the time I published Mythos: The Official Handbook of the Horsemen Universe and Lumumba Funk, I realized that I had my universe with the characters, worlds and rules intact. I also found out that I established at least two spin-off properties from that world if I so choose to do that. It took 20 years, but in that 20 years, I put out The Horsemen so that readers could take the journey with me.
The reason why I created the 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape series is for people to sample different works from creators of color and guide them to said creators’ websites and such to purchase those books. Somewhat of the same concept as a company without the hassle of needless “continuity” between disparate creators and their own publishing/transmedia goals.
When it comes to bringing different properties under one banner, a business model similar to the Image Comics of 2019 is more feasible than a shared universe. Reason being, as stated above, building a cohesive comic book universe takes time. For example, DC’s multiverse exists because of acquisition (i.e. absorbing the properties of other comic book companies like Charlton, Fawcett,Wildstorm, etc.) whereas Marvel’s was more cohesive with a singular writing architect (initially Stan Lee) with equally creative artistic input from visual storytellers like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, etc. Even then, that took years to build.
Initially, all that creating the Image Comics’ model would take is a number of books carrying the same brand logo similar to the Image “I.” In addition to carrying that brand on the selected properties, said books would cross promote each other’s properties via social media, free ad swaps in their books, pooling resources to get small press tables at conventions, much like Hip Hop crews like the Native Tongues (The Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, Monie Love, Black Sheep, etc.), the Soulquarians (D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Common, J Dilla, The Roots, etc.), the Wu-Tang Clan and others whose similar sensibilities added to the success of the individual groups or artists.
I have a plan for that and a symbol…
And yet, you still find people complaining about the lack of representation in comics.
The real issue is that, simply, some people call themselves comic book fans when really, all they only read is either DC or Marvel comics instead of really looking for what’s out there. Even when they say they read comics from other publishers, it’s either early Image (Spawn, Youngblood, etc.) or Milestone, which hasn’t published a book since 2010.
And, the whole excuse of “we can’t find them” is complete and utter bullshit as we creators are promoting our works every single day on social media. Point blank period, the DC/Marvel acolytes ain’t checking for them because of the fact that those books aren’t from DC or Marvel.
The point is this: if you just read DC or Marvel comics, that’s fine. We all read DC or Marvel. They’re the “fast food” of comic book companies especially today.
But, if you complain about a lack of Black characters or Black creators, and only look at DC or Marvel as salvation as opposed to at least exploring offerings from independent creators, that’s a problem.
The whole “dreaming and wishing” phase has long past with so many creators and properties getting shine and making waves. Unfortunately, it seems that its only Black fans, the loudest complainers honestly, who refuse to be up on the game…
I think that’s partly because those cats don’t need to “invest” in DC/Marvel properties like they do the indies.
They can talk about what DC/Marvel does all the live long day subconsciously knowing that the “Corporate Two” ain’t really listening to them. Also, they don’t necessarily have to buy “Corporate Two” books because of close to 100 years of market saturation.
With indies like us, first they have to buy our books. There’s no workaround from that. Second, they know whatever they say will get a quick response, which isn’t necessarily a good thing (seriously, some cats need to get out of their feelings).
Also, there’s a fear factor involved in the sense that those who yap and create aren’t ready to hear critiques of their work (for real, get out of your feelings).
Finally, the “Corporate Two” stans want to feel like they are a part of the “mainstream” comic book community. That’s why they bitch so much about a Blue Marvel or John Stewart flick because they feel “if ‘mainstream’ fans (read: you know what I mean) watch it then I am, tangentially, of value.”
Yeah, I said it. I said that shit.
I’ve heard this same argument or plea or solution for the past five years. And, even though I personally made inroads to solve this problem, the fact is that if cats want the Black heroes, they think DC or Marvel should be making, they need to look outside of DC or Marvel to find them.
I see way too many people wish for the “Corporate Two” to make the type of Black characters or books that some #BlackComix creators have already made. I see too many fans wish for some sort of mainstream “approval” when there is more than enough material we created to build and support our own fandom.
Just like Jazz, Hip Hop, and Rock & Roll, we as Black folk have the opportunity to be ahead of the curve by supporting great indie Black Comix which would lead to more books which would lead to the “mainstream” wanting that content.
But until that day comes, I’ma keep making comics and celebrate other great books from Black creators like Crescent City Monsters, Excellence, Is’nana the Were-Spider, the upcoming Bass Reeves and more because they deserve more of my support and energy than a book from the “Corporate Two.”
A blueprint has been laid out. Question is: will someone follow it?