Lean Into It

So, I recently had a birthday.

Birthdays always find me in an introspective state of mind. I think about the past year of my life, which gets me thinking about other memories and events that shaped me, that created the man who writes these words on a laptop today.

Leo Season came to an end... And the warrior still stands (art by Michael Rechlin)...
Leo Season came to an end… And the warrior still stands (art by Michael Rechlin)…

As an artist, I’m sure that I am not unique in this position. As a human being of a certain age, I am sure that I am in like company when it comes to this acknowledgement concerning the passage of time.

So, during this rumination, I’m also thinking about my next post for the blog when I came across this article from the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/20/magazine/can-black-art-ever-escape-the-politics-of-race.html?_r=0

Thank you, universe, for sparking my impetus.

My “click bait” headline when I posted this article through my various platforms was:

“Not only will my work not escape it, I lean into it…”

The fact is that as a creator of color, your work is already political. The nature of America made it political. Even the attempt to be apolitical is a political stance. Unfortunately, it can’t be avoided. So, why try and placate an audience that already views you through a certain lens? Be unapologetic and authentic in your creation. The nature of art is to be provocative, to elicit a feeling, an emotion. Don’t avoid it. Lean into it. That’s my philosophy…

Cover art for Octavia Butler's Wildseed... A major influence on my work...
Cover art for Octavia Butler’s Wildseed… A major influence on my work…

I’m not saying that there is a specific vision of what “Black” writing is. Not only is that an extremely myopic vision, and completely arrogant to assume, but that also plays into viewing yourself through the “other’s” lens.

What I am saying is that the color of our skin makes everything we do political. We can’t escape that. What we can, and must do, is simply be artists. Our skin color and culture do not limit us… It enhances us. So, why try to hide? Why be ashamed? Be diverse! Write or draw whatever you want! But, also be proud and unapologetic of whom you are as a creator. Every example of Creators of Color, from Richard Wright to Zora Neale Hurston to Donald Goines to Kevin Grevioux to N. K. Jemisin to David Durham figured that out. All of them diverse in their thinking and subject matter. All of them Black. And, because they are Black, the other will always think there is an underlying agenda to their work, which makes their work political.

Donald Goines portrayed the dark side of the Black experience with a disturbingly seductive elegance...
Donald Goines portrayed the dark side of the Black experience with a disturbingly seductive elegance…

What part of my saying “be diverse” is confusing to you?

Ultimately, I don’t create for anyone’s approval but my own. Richard Wright didn’t create for anyone else’s approval but his own. I create to celebrate my culture and my people. Comic books are my medium. Because of this, and because of the color of my skin, my work will always be perceived as political… And, I don’t care. In fact, if my work changes a point of view, then I’ve succeeded as a creator.

That’s why we have diverse voices.

I am a fan of Richard Wright’s work as well as Octavia Butler as well as Donald Goines as well as Wole Soyinka as well as Christopher Priest. In short, I read different Black writers with different points of view and diverse voices depicting their unique observation of the human condition. Each one, because they are Black, these authors are considered political writers simply because of their skin color. My voice is unique from theirs, but my skin color is not. Therefore, I am a political artist as well, not because I write about slavery or the ghetto (because I don’t), but because of who I am. I am simply not ashamed of being considered a political artist. In fact, I use my platform, my culture and my voice to inform my craft. The first rule of writing is “Write what you know.” That is simply what I do…

So, I’ll say it before and I’ll say it again…

Everything I make is Protest Art.

http://www.griotenterprises.com

Iceskating Uphill

We all know the line... Let's say it together...
We all know the line… Let’s say it together…

So, this was posted today on one of the many groups I belong to on Facebook:

Why is it so hard to break into the comic book industry?

Here’s my issue with this post: it seems that the poster’s look at the fact that since the “Corporate Two’s” hiring practices are so insular that creators have taken to other avenues or different formats as a bad thing when, as it has been shown with examples (i.e. Harry Potter) the success that creators have found by working outside of the confines of the mainstream.

The climate of the industry today is this: Create your own. That’s not bad at all. More readers are gravitating to work outside of DC and Marvel. In fact, most creatives working at DC or Marvel today are seeing that exposure as a stepping stone for an audience to follow their independent work.

For example, Rick Remender and Mike McKone have stopped taking on work from DC and Marvel to focus on their own work. In addition, with crowdfunding platforms, Print On Demand options and webcomics, we as creators don’t need to work for DC and Marvel for any other reason than just to get a paycheck because the “Corporate Two” is not looking for original IP. They’ve got more than enough characters in their roster.

You won't get this level of satire from the mainstream...
You won’t get this level of satire from the mainstream…

Case in point, Attack on Titan has far outsold the highest-selling DC or Marvel book. Independent books like Saga, Lumberjanes, Low, Velvet, Lazarus and others are selling quite well and are being optioned for film. In all honesty, the creator of today does not need DC or Marvel to get out there.

The fact is that the creator of today has to also be a salesman, marketing and advertising entity, etc. Yes, that’s hard. Yes, we’d all rather just create and have other people take care of the elements of selling our IP that we may not want to make the time for, or have that innate ability to do, but this is the state of the industry today… And, it ain’t bad at all.

My issue is that the feeling that I get from this post is that it seems as if the poster looks at going into trade publishing and adapting a book to a Young Adult format as a some sort of defeat.

Yes, people who only look at DC or Marvel as the end all be all are going to ask where are the new superheroes because, quite simply, they aren’t looking. As it was stated, there are so many more spaces where people can be satisfied and, honestly, many creators have eschewed pursuing work at DC or Marvel because they enjoy the freedom of dictating the direction and potential financial rewards of owing their own IP.

Why follow when you can lead?
Why follow when you can lead?

As a fellow creator of comics and as an owner of my own company as well, I get asked that same question all the time: How do you break into comics? And, the answer is simple:

Create your own.

Now, if people are asking the question, how do I break into DC or Marvel? Again, the answer is simple:

Create your own.

Today, DC and Marvel are looking at what people do on their own, what kind of work they produce, what kind of following are they able to generate and how consistent their output is. In addition, yes you go to the cons and you use social media to foster honest relationships with cats who are working in the “Corporate Two” if you’d like to get a paycheck from them. But, they are not the end-all, be-all of this industry.

It’s like this: you can’t become the next Stan Lee working on Stan Lee’s properties at Stan Lee’s company. The Image cats knew that. The Milestone cats knew that. Independence is the goal, not the consolation prize.

So again, the only issue I take with this post is the perceived pessimism of working independently when, after it’s all said and done, it’s the desire of most people working in the industry, both in the mainstream and independent sphere.

Speaking of…

Support the Complexion of Comics!
Support the Complexion of Comics!

For a pledge of just $5.00, you’re officially a Head Nod and you get The Posse Cut(over and hour of some of the greatest collabos in Hip Hop history) and a digital version of Sequential Graffiti, a 64-Page poster book featuring some of the finest Visual MCs and Literary DJs working in comics today… Support‪ #‎4Pages16Bars‬ project on Indiegogo today… The deadline in August 16, 2015.

Cheers, fam!

http://www.griotenterprises.com

Help a Brotha Out Pt. 2: The Real Hip Hop

4 Pages 16 Bars ain't nothin' to f$%k with...
4 Pages 16 Bars ain’t nothin’ to f$%k with…

What’s happening, fam!

While you’re waiting for those Hip Hop variant covers from that other company, grab the 4 Pages 16 Bars Boxset today!

4 Pages | 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape is a celebration of where true diversity exists in this industry, a showcase for existing and upcoming talent as well as a source guide for those fans to purchase these books.

He's the EP...
He’s the EP…

Sequential Graffiti is the EP, a 64-page poster book featuring some of the finest Visual MCs and Literary DJs working in the independent scene today.

I'm the LP...
I’m the LP…

Volume One: The Symphony is the meat; 126 pages of the flavor that you savor up in here, neighbor!

The contributors for this first volume include Quinn McGowan (Wildfire), Micheline Hess (The Anansi Kid’s Club), Roosevelt Pitt (Purge), John Jennings (Kid Code, Black Comix) and many more!

We also got them beats for you to read to!
We also got them beats for you to read to!

Also included in this package is an actual mixtape! The Posse Cut is over an hour of some of the greatest collaborations in Hip Hop history… You can’t get any more authentic than that!

Each of the artists and writers in this series bring a unique, but shared viewpoint, in the creation of their work. The comic book industry is more than DC or Marvel. The scene is more diverse than Image or Dark Horse. This is visual Jazz, Rock, Funk, Hip Hop and electronic music. This is art for the people.

Both books and the Posse Cut can be yours for the low price of $15.00 and can purchased through our Square store and PayPal (jazintellect@hotmail.com)

Come check out the Complexion of Comics today!

http://www.griotenterprises.com

Help a Brotha Out

Ready for battle... We ain't goin' nowhere...
Ready for battle… We ain’t goin’ nowhere…

OK, y’all… This is a “Help A Brotha Out” message…

Need a little assistance this month. So, I’m selling the print-ready PDF of the The Horsemen: Plant Your Feet image for only $5.00 exclusively through my Square store and PayPal (jazintellect@hotmail.com).

“The Horsemen is the story of seven ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances, as the gods of ancient Africa possess them. The gods have chosen them to protect humanity from itself…whether humanity wants them to or not.They combat those who control the fate of the planet. Through their actions,the world would never be the same.”

I’m looking to raise $1500.00 by July 31 to help with the production of not only The Horsemen: Mark of the Cloven #4, but the first volume of The Horsemen: Mark of the Cloven trade paperback as well. As a bonus, when you purchase the poster, you’ll get a FREE PDF of The Horsemen: Mark of the Cloven #1 illustrated by yours truly and written by my man and fellow Sci-Fi soldier Jude W. Mire.

The Horsemen: Mark of the Cloven is that next shit...
The Horsemen: Mark of the Cloven is that next shit…

Help us keep giving you what you need… Cheers, fam!

http://www.griotenterprises.com

Mind Your Surroundings

Words of wisdom from Ra's Al Ghul...
Words of wisdom from Ra’s Al Ghul…

“The only weapon the uninformed has in a debate against an informed opponent is the circular argument “…

– Jib Tzu – The Art of Verbal War

Wow. My last post sparked some real conversation.

If you haven’t read my last post, you can check out The Complexion of Comics.

It’s interesting to be responded to, and referenced as a solution, simultaneously…

A follower of mine on Facebook had a response to my article concerning the return of Milestone. Here are a couple of excerpts:

“Its not that black people don’t want these comics or minorities in general, its the lack of authenticity in most minority creators approach to selling the books based on our needs and behavior as a group of minorities in America. As someone who substitutes at schools where I have shown minority comics with excitement, I’ve witnessed from the shining eyes of children from 5th -8th grade school I know they want it.

Too many Minority-owned companies competing in an industry where there is not enough mainstream established creators for it to have meaning. As in this industry is so dominated by Caucasians that each time a minority creator is so called competitive that they are not building more ground to establish themselves, but rather are really lessening their appeal for it’s numbers that decide who is successful and a hot commodity in an industry.

And Milestone is only repeating a common practice by most Blacks when it comes to success, that its not understood to maintain it that you have to grow it from the community you are trying to represent instead of obtaining success and not spreading it.”

In the immortal words of Morris Day, "Oh, lawd..."
In the immortal words of Morris Day, “Oh, lawd…”

Wow…

That response pissed a number of my fellow creators off. Here’s an excerpt of a response from T.A.S.K. creator Damion Gonzalez:

“You called Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Derek Dingle and Michael Davis sellouts. You accused them of not hiring minorities. I think that Joseph Illidge, Ivan Velez, Jr., ChrissCrossX, Jason Scott Jones, Robert Washington (RIP), Eric Battle and Micheline Hess would beg to differ. Those are just the people I know. Also Michael Davis would go on to mentor and tutor scores of other including N Steven Harris! You can talk all the businesses talk you want to talk but calling those men sellouts and ignoring what they actually did to foster your lack of knowledge about what they did will not fly.”

Damion Gonzalez took the commentary to... Well, you know...
Damion Gonzalez took the commentary to… Well, you know…

Wildfire creator Quinn McGowan also offered this as a counter to the argument posed to the commentator:

“Perhaps doing some actual research (as has been suggested to you before) and being informed before criticizing and tagging other people in your argument based in emotion (not in fact) would behoove someone considering themselves offering suggestions to people doing the work (And clearly already offering real and workable suggestions) in this industry…”

Quinn McGowan lit that... You see where I'm going...
Quinn McGowan lit that… You see where I’m going…

E.P.I.C. creator Lonnie Lowe Jr. came at my man straight no chaser with his response:

“Ok, until you create or contribute something wit at least 1/16 of the importance of what Milestone did for creators of color and minority creators you need to chill.

You’re way too heavily opinionated for someone who hasn’t done one thing to push the culture forward yet you have all the answers and solutions. You lack tangibility. You have no physical evidence. You haven’t done anything creator wise other than talk and make these long-ass posts about what someone else should be doing.”

Lonnie Lowe's response was... Now, I'm just being ridiculous...
Lonnie Lowe’s response was… Now, I’m just being ridiculous…

I felt what some could do is share the article on their walls to spread the word as opposed to preaching to the choir with their manifesto.

One of the points in my article is that the activation of fandom is also crucial in this equation.

Here was my response:

“For example, instead of explaining the creator’s responsibility (which as the name of this group suggests, most of us are), you could share this article on your wall in addition to other walls thereby spreading the message. Active fandom is an essential part of the cause. People do it for DC and Marvel all the time. Why not for us doing the good work as well?”

In the 20 years since Milestone ceased regular publication, this is what happened:

Griot Enterprises
Rosaruim Publishing
Gettosake Entertainment
Ravenhammer Entertainment
133Art
The Operative Network
Black Comix
ONYXCON
The Glyph Awards
MECCA Con
Genius
Concrete Park
Blackjack
Wildfire
4 Pages 16 Bars
T.A.S.K.
Exo: The Legend of Wale Williams
Trill League
Cannon Busters
Legend of the Mantamaji

And, that’s just the tip of the iceberg…

The point I am making is that the solution is in practice… Right now. As stated, the widespread awareness of diversity in comics is in its infancy (in one’s estimate, only 20 years when in actuality it’s almost 30). It takes not only time, but also an active word-of-mouth audience who purchases our work and promotes it for all to succeed.

We do the promotion. We’re active on social media and have been getting exposure on mainstream and independent media outlets. We’ve got the conventions established. We’re doing our part. What we need are active, not passive, consumers.

Yeah... I said it...
Yeah… I said it…

With Print On Demand outfits like Ka-Blam, Amazon’s Createspace, IngramSpark, etc., there is no need to spend extra money to print books in all 50 states to increase awareness or availability… Anyone can buy our books, in print and digital formats, anywhere in the world. One doesn’t even have to go to the comic book store to get their books. One goes to the comic book store for a sense of community, kinda like the barbershop.

In terms of marketing, social media takes care of the wide net awareness approach (i.e. articles, posts, etc.) while conventions (if one could afford the cost of travel, housing, booth space, meals and product) handle the personal interaction and direct sales to potential fans…

In short, we as creators don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

What the consumer needs to do is click on that post, read that article, come to the cons to see cats who look like them doing this thing well and purchase the books that speak to them. Then, they need to tell their people about it and support the movement in their way.

We do it for others, but we don’t do it for ourselves. Instead of blaming the creators, why not take your fellow consumers to task? Why not shout from the rooftop about that new book you picked up that no one is hip to yet?

Why is it so hard for the consumer of color to do their part in making this grow? They do it for less… Why they scared?

You keep talking about solutions when the solution is staring at you... Right in yo' face...
You keep talking about solutions when the solution is staring at you… Right in yo’ face…

With 4 Pages 16 Bars, each contributor gets access to order print copies of the book through my printers at my printing costs. In addition, they also receive a copy of the digital issue for free to sell on their websites. I’ve already implemented what you proposed… It ain’t new. That’s Cross Promotion 101.

4 Pages 16 Bars is Cross Promotion 101, a place for those who don’t know to sample what we have to offer with links to the websites of those participating so that we continue to build on the community… Emphasis on continue.

The simple fact is, everything you say Black Indie Creators should be doing, we are doing. What you, the fans, need to do is stop and take a look.

One.

http://www.griotenterprises.com

The Complexion of Comics: Step Ya Game Up

This image by Jason Reeves may be a bit of fan fic, but the return of Milestone is very real...
This image by Jason Reeves may be a bit of fan fic, but the return of Milestone is very real…

What’s happening, fam…

I’m not gonna lie to y’all… I’m a little shook.

Just reached out to Mr. Reginald Hudlin today congratulating him for the announcement made at the San Diego Comic Con this past weekend and, hopefully, put a little bug in his ear…

“Hello, Mr. Hudlin!

As a huge fan of both your film and comic book work as well as a fan of Milestone, I would first like to congratulate you and the rest of the team in bringing Milestone back to the comic book landscape. You were sorely missed and I’m looking forward to the new adventures featuring the heroes of Earth-M.

As a comic book creator of color, Milestone was influential at beginning of my career and the inspiration for me to create my own property, The Horsemen, as well as my company, Griot Enterprises.

I would love to work with Milestone in the near future. Moreover, I would love to, at some point, have the opportunity for our characters to interact in some form or fashion. A “Fan turned Professional” wish to be sure, but this is a time for all us (Creators of Color) to make the enduring mark on the industry through a sense of unity, something that deferred the dream back in the 1990s.

In any event, I hope this message finds you well and deservedly resting from the event that was SDCC. Please take a look at my website at your earliest convenience and I look forward to the day when we would meet in person.

Cheers!
Jiba Molei Anderson, MFA
CEO – Griot Enterprises
http://www.griotenterprises.com”

We shall we what we shall see…

Milestone officially back in the game is intimidating… Extremely intimidating. People have been hoping, wishing and praying that these brothers and their properties come back in full force. For nearly 20 years since Milestone stopped regular publication, two questions have been asked on a daily basis:

“When is Milestone coming back?”

“Who is gonna be the next Milestone?”

Personally, I’m more concerned that we Indie cats don’t go all Ania and front on Milestone because they had the ability to link with DC from jump.

This is the company that inspired a great many of us creators of color to step into the arena. Milestone Media has truly iconic characters in their stable. Icon, Hardware and especially Static are household names. They have the financial, marketing and distribution power of the “Rabbit” behind them. They are the Silverbacks, the 800lb elephant in the room.

Are the rest of us going to be overshadowed by the Return of the Cool?
Are the rest of us going to be overshadowed by the Return of the Cool?

Fellow creator of color and head of Ravenhammer Entertainment Brian Mark Williams expresses the concern some of us have:

“I feel terrible about this…I like Milestone. And I don’t want to be that fiery indie guy who doesn’t like anything but his own books…but Earth-M? Geoff Johns and Jim Lee? It scares me. I have concerns. Or maybe my worst fears have come true and I am that paranoid black writer who believes nothing is what it appears to be on the surface…”

He’s got a right to be concerned about Milestone’s future developments. They are the giants whose shoulders we stand on.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me sweat a little.

I’ve been rocking Griot Enterprises since 1999. The Horsemen has been in the landscape since 2002. That’s 16 years of being in the game…

And I’m just now getting a little bit of shine.

With Milestone officially back in the game, DC once again has “Diversity” on lock. In this respect, they crushed Marvel as it comes to representation. Yeah, Marvel may have, what, 10 – 16 books featuring characters of color, but only one writer of color working on them…

DC has Milestone… A company owned by four men of color, featuring characters of differing cultures, genders and orientation. They just landed verbal agreements from rising stars/veterans Ken Lashley and David Walker. DC Co-Publisher Geoff Johns is all on their jock and going to write a Milestone project. The artistic demigod that is DC Co-Publisher Jim Lee has been slated to draw a Milestone project.

That, my brothers and sisters, is the ultimate trump card.

Is this a violation? A little bit...
Is this a violation? A little bit…

My man Al “Sugar” Cayne writes:

“There’s no reason why all the major ‘Urban’ and ‘Hip Hop’ websites shouldn’t be posting your works. But more importantly that support needs to be reciprocated. Only then can you create a real infrastructure to create the foundation for growth. In this day in age of “All Things Indie” the support can’t be one sided.”

He’s absolutely correct. Especially for creators and properties of color, trying garner attention from Comic Book Resources, Newsarama or Comics Alliance is not nearly enough; especially because of the stigma of being the other. In addition, many fans of color simply do not check for independent comics.

Sorry to beat a dead horse, but that BGSS is a real condition.

That’s why I approached sites like Afropunk to promote my work. In that respect, comic books become more of a cultural artifact, and art piece that people, who normally don’t read comics, become aware of and are attracted to. We become special. We become unique.

Concrete Park co-creator, Tony Puryear puts it all into perspective with this statement:

“I’ve said this here before and I guess I’m gonna say it again: Isn’t this a time? Isn’t this a time to be making comics that reflect our experience, our sadness, and our beauty? I think it’s a helluva time and I think it’s about time. Let’s go!”

Get it Ronald Wimberly...
Get it Ronald Wimberly…

That is the realest of talk right there.

Mr. Puryear is absolutely correct. Despite whatever “Doom and Gloom” I hear about the state of representation in the comic book industry, despite whatever reservations or insecurities I, as an independent creator of color, may feel about the return of Milestone, this truly is a new Golden Age of diversity. The Indie game is strong. It’s powerful. Fans are tired of the same old, same old and aren’t taking any shorts.

Think about this:

At SDCC, Congressman John Lewis, civil rights activist and creator of the autobiographical graphic novel trilogy March, cosplayed himself… recreating the march to Selma with young children on the convention’s floors.

Ronald Wimberly (Prince of Cats) announced not one, but two projects: Sunset Park and the highly anticipated Slave Punk: White Coal, which will be published through Image Comics.

... I said GET IT!
… I said GET IT!

Meanwhile, Mark Waid and J.G. JonesStrange Fruit published through Boom Studios, falls under an eye of scrutiny. The mini-series, which feels like the “Ultimate” version of Icon, is criticized for well-tread tropes and a lack of authenticity.

This image has earned a particular level of side-eye... Especially because of recent events in the past few weeks. Talk about timing...
This image has earned a particular level of side-eye… Especially because of recent events in the past few weeks. Talk about timing…

Interestingly, if Strange Fruit were published in, say 2000, it would be considered groundbreaking

Oh, and Marvel’s Hip Hop Variant Cover month coming in October gets fronted on as another case of Columbusing rather than seen as an earnest homage to the musical and cultural art form.

That’s why I came up with the #4Pages16Bars concept… It’s the best of the best in a “Heavy Metal” format where fans can sample the great work out there… Not to toot a horn, but if I could get half the cats that complain about representation promoting and buying a project like this, things will change.

Fact is: there are those of us in the indie game that go toe to toe with what the Corporate Two puts out. The only thing we don’t have are the funds for big marketing campaigns. What we do have is passion, drive and chutzpah. What we need are the fans who do dig us riding hard to bring awareness to those who still sip the Kool-Aid.

Don’t get me wrong; we do a lot… A whole lot. But, we need the people who keep bitching to get their heads out of the sand, put their money where their mouth is, do a little research (we’re everywhere on social media for Heaven’s sake), and spread the word.

If all y’all do is complain and don’t contribute, shut up and continue to give them your money… #VoteWithYourDollars

Ready for battle... We ain't goin' nowhere...
Ready for battle… We ain’t goin’ nowhere…

Indeed… We’re the vanguards of the Next Age!

http://www.griotenterprises.com

There Is A Season

I must admit, I'll be picking up this book when it drops...
I must admit, I’ll be picking up this book when it drops…

“To every thing (turn, turn, turn)…
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)…”

– The Byrds

Marvel is working hard to get your dollars…

I recently picked up their free Previews magazine and I saw not one, not two, but ten books with characters of color in its upcoming roster of releases post their current Secret Wars event.

However, only two of their books have characters of color as the lead, those being the upcoming Spider Man featuring Miles Morales and Ms. Marvel featuring Kamala Khan.

Fine and good, right? I’m sure some of you and definitely Marvel is breaking its metaphysical arm patting itself on the back as it celebrates its latest stab at diversity.

Well, let me throw this out there: I looked at the creative teams on the books and do you know how many writers of color are going to be on these books?

One.

Yes, yes y’all… It’s about that time.

I’ve noticed that every 20 years or so, the mainstream comic book industry all of a sudden becomes diverse… Really diverse… As in, they lean into diversity like a corrupt police officer leans into a defenseless “suspect” of color.

In a way, the Avengers line-up of the comics will emulate the Avengers in the upcoming Civil War film...
In a way, the Avengers line-up of the comics will emulate the Avengers in the upcoming Civil War film…

Granted, the seeds are planted a couple of years before the crop fully matures. For instance, Marvel planted a seed when the Black Panther first debuted in 1966. They planted another seed with the Falcon in 1969. But, we didn’t get the full crop of Black superheroes until the 70s with characters like Luke Cage, Brother Voodoo, Misty Knight, Storm, Blade, Black Goliath (later, the Black Giant Man) and more. Of course, that crop coincided with the escalation of the Civil Rights Movement, but more so came to pass because of the proliferation of African-American themed action films (commonly known as “Blaxploitation).

DC, which by the way has always played catch-up to the change of society, followed with the first of the “race-bent” characters. John Stewart inherited the mantle of Green Lantern in 1971, a full five years after T’Challa’s debut. Tyroc (the Angry Black Man with the voice of an angel) joined the Legion of Super Heroes in 1976 and Black Lightning didn’t appear on the scene until 1977.

Now, I know what you’re thinking…

“Jib, we know this. You’re just repeating the same old thing…”

And, you’re right. But, bear with me… I’ma take this to another level. I just need to put what I’m about to explore in an historical context.

Here’s the thing: Diversity came into the mainstream comic book industry purely because of profit, not because of any underlying social responsibility these companies felt. Indeed, once the books failed to yield any lasting sales (i.e. Black Lightning’s initial run only lasted 12 issues, Brother Voodoo only lasted 5 issues as the headliner in Strange Tales, etc.), many of the initial crop of Black superheroes were either folded into larger superhero teams or teamed-up with other characters (i.e. Black Panther and Falcon joining the Avengers, Luke Cage teaming up with Danny Rand aka Iron Fist, Storm always being and X-Man, etc.), or, more commonly, sent to the minor leagues to fade into relative obscurity…

In other words, the explosion imploded.

They don't Ultimately feel that three of the characters can carry a book of their own...
They don’t Ultimately feel that three of the characters can carry a book of their own…

Now, that’s not to say that we didn’t have African American characters created during the 80s. Indeed, the 80s saw the debut of Monica Rambeau as Captain Marvel (initially a “legacy” character that would later claim her own identity as Spectrum), Cyborg, Vixen and others. However, none of these characters would be the lead in their own title. Captain Marvel was a member of the Avengers, Cyborg was in the New Teen Titans and Vixen was a part of the oft fronted upon Detroit Justice League.

While Hip Hop was emerging as the dominant cultural force in the United States, while the Cosby Show was the most popular television show of the decade, We wouldn’t see an African American lead a comic book in the larger comic book community until the 90s…

Until Brotherman… An independent comic book created by creators of color.

Then, the floodgates opened again. After Brotherman, the next big African American superhero was Spawn. Once again, emerging from the independent sphere.

However, when Milestone Media came along (and best believe, DC never owned Milestone), the game done changed. All of a sudden, we were seeing Black characters popping up left and right, and the independent scene led the charge. From Tribe becoming the biggest selling comic book from creators of color in history to the start of Ania to Blackjack, Prophecy of the Soul Sorcerer and more, brothers and sisters were creating some exciting IP…

And getting paid.

You say you want a revolution...
You say you want a revolution…

DC and Marvel took notice. They had to. New characters like Steel were carrying their own books, Black Lightning got another shot at being a headliner, the first Blade movie would become the template for the eventual domination of the cinematic Marvel Universe, the list goes on and on.

More importantly, we saw more people of color creating product at the “Corporate Two.” Writers like Dwayne McDuffie, Christopher Priest, Alex Simmons and others were getting the opportunities to shine, creating innovative and provocative concepts. Artists like Ken Lashley, Darryl Banks, the late Steven Hughes, Eddy Newell, ChrisCross and many more emerged as the visual caretakers of the American mythology. For a time, it was all good…

Then, the implosion happened… again.

This time, the implosion happened behind the scenes.

To be clear, we still had characters of color shining. Black Panther had two successful titles in the new millennium. Luke Cage became a major player in the Marvel Universe. Nick Fury became Samuel L. Jackson. DC kept on race bending and creating “legacy” versions of Mr. Terrific, the Crimson Avenger, and others. John Stewart, thanks to Justice League Unlimited, became the Green Lantern of a generation. Vixen went from a footnote to a strong character that will be getting her own animated series at DC. And, of course, Miles Morales and Kamala Khan would enter the scene.

However, fewer and fewer writers of color would be hired to chronicle their exploits, so much so that we would have to celebrate one Black writer getting hired at Marvel since 2009 and one Black writer getting hired at DC since 2011. To be fair, artists of color working for the “Corporate Two” are still getting love. And, some would argue that we’ve got brothers and sisters in other positions at the “Corporate Two,” but there are no Black editors. It seems that we are only good enough to draw the characters, not write them. It’s as if our images matter, but not our voices.

A real superhero...
A real superhero…

Our voice is important, now more than ever. With the murders of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and too many others painful to name at the hands of corrupt police practices and systemic racism, with the too-recent atrocities of Ferguson and Charleston, with the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Haitians in the Dominican Republic, from Boko Haram and #BringBackOurGirls, to the bravery of our real-life superhero Bree Newsome and the new leaders of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, we cannot be silenced. We must not be co-opted.

We should not and cannot be satisfied with the status quo. The scraps of representation others give us should not placate us, especially when the creators of said representation do not look like us nor care about the issues that continue to plague our community. The “Corporate Two” has been pulling a Rachel Dolezal on a large, and growing, part of their audience for far too long. And, don’t get it twisted, as soon as sales drop or don’t even achieve the break-even point, these books will fade into obscurity, once again to be mused upon until the next cycle of diversity comes around.

Yet, there is a bright light amongst the despair. And, once again, it’s coming from the independent sphere. From projects like Exo: The Legend of Wale Williams to the satirical Trill League, from webcomics like Project: Wildfire, Hunter Black, Kamikaze, Bounce, Diskordia, Matty’s Rocket and many others, from books like One Nation, Midnight Tiger, The Horsemen, Kid Code, Molly Danger, Concrete Park, Dziva Jones, Juda Fist and so much more, creators of color are coming on strong, taking no shorts, providing true representation, and giving voice to the voiceless. We’re saying it loud and we’re saying it proud.

The question is: Are you listening?

I don’t know about you, but I’m not gonna wait another 20 years for the “Corporate Two” to get around to some half-assed stab at diversity if it doesn’t work this time.

Vote with your dollars, support those who speak with your voice and #PlantYourFeet.

http://www.griotenterprises.com

Pop Culture, Politics and Flavor

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,094 other followers