Category Archives: Armchair Philosophy

The Real Icon: A Tribute to Dwayne McDuffie

The True Black Sci-Fi Soldier

“Today, the worlds where the battles for truth, justice and the American way are fought are chock full of superheroes of all ethnicities and genders. This is due in large part to McDuffie, who championed diversity during a comic, animation and television writing career that spanned more than 20 years.

The sudden death of McDuffie this week at age 49 has sent comics aficionados, as well as the multimillion-dollar comics industry, reeling.”

– From Jesse J. Holland, The Canadian Press

Justice League Unlimited

He brought thought provoking tales to comics that embraced people of color and that’s a legacy that will forever be cherished. He helped bring it to the forefront and look how its formatted the way comics have been looked at today. And for that, I thank him and will forever keep his works near and dear to me.

– Sean Mack

All-Star Superman

Sudden unexpected death makes us put a creator’s body of work, their life’s work and mission, into context. Many people who will never know or notice his name have enjoyed his work (especially in animation, where he definitely helped create lots of great stuff for television and direct-to-dvd), and many in comics and animation have benefited from the fruit of his convictions.

– Samax Amen

I found out that Dwayne McDuffie passed away on Tuesday afternoon. My friend, Anish, texted the news to me as I was getting ready to teach my Game Design class. At first, I was understandably shocked. It was a tough week already. My great-aunt and my brother-in-law’s great grandmother passed away on the same day the week previous and they were both buried the following week… And that was Monday. When I received word of Dwayne’s transition, man that was it. I’ve been a bit of a mess ever since.

Now, my great-aunt, who battled cancer, was in her eighties when she left the material plane, and great-gran was in her nineties when she joined the angels. They had good runs, great runs. But, Dwayne, Dwayne was 49, in the prime of his life, making moves, kicking ass and taking names. He just completed All-Star Superman, which already was an anticipated hit. He, along with Denys Cowan, Derek Dingle and Michael Davis, was the architect of Milestone Media. He made Justice League Unlimited one of the best cartoons ever to hit television. He gave us Static Shock, which was one of the top children’s cartoons of the nineties. He changed the game, for all of us, and he did it with the style, grace and panache of a true Detroit hustler.

Yeah, he was from the D, my hometown, the home of innovators, not imitators. He was a graduate of the University of Michigan, my alma mater. He was my hero as he was the hero to a lot of us in the game. He showed us that we could do it, really do it, without compromising who we are and what we’re about. Brotherman was Hip Hop and Tribe brought the Funk, but Milestone with Hardware, Blood Syndicate and my favorites Static & Icon brought the Soul.

Static

I’ve been reading all of the stories and anecdotes from the many people Dwayne touched in his life. Here’s mine:

Milestone is the reason why I’m in the comic book industry. Milestone showed me that I could have a career in comics being myself, with my point of view, creating characters that looked and sounded like me. When I first started making the rounds trying to break in, Milestone was the first company that I went to… And, they were great. I remember walking up to their booth, with comics to sign and portfolio in hand. Dwayne and Denys signed my books and Denys looked at my portfolio. There were Icon pages, Black Panther pages and a 3-pager featuring one of my concepts. Denys looked at my portfolio, looked at me and said:

“You want to make your own comics.”

I was flabbergasted. He was right and I told him so, but I also said that I wanted to get into Milestone. He said, “If you want to make comics, make comics. But, if you want to work for us, make some changes to your artwork and give us a call.” Then, he handed me the card, the Milestone business card. It was like the Golden Ticket. Exicted, I went home and worked on my stuff. I even set up a meeting when I went out to New York the following spring break, walking twenty-two blocks from the offices of DC Comics to Milestone for a meeting that they forgot we had scheduled, but still made the time to see a young, wet-behind-the-ears artist.

I never got the Milestone gig, but it didn’t matter. I was inspired. And Denys was right. I went and created my own thing, my own company. Because of Milestone, Griot Enterprises exists. Because of Milestone, The Horsemen exists.

Fast forward to 2005. The Horsemen had been out for a few years. I had to shut down publication due to a lack of investment funds to print new material. However, this is around the time that Print-On-Demand options for publishing were beginning to open up. This was the opportunity to get back out there. I had just started writing the yet unpublished Hip Hop Chronicles graphic novel and had to be at the SDCC for some meetings and some signings. I created and printed up some postcards letting everyone know that Griot Enterprises was coming back. I felt that it was going to be an uphill battle. After all, aside from a four-pager in the More Fund Comics graphic novel in 2004, there had been no new Horsemen material. I figured that the few fans I generated had all but forgotten about a brother. In any event, I was pleasantly surprised. A lot of brothers making books and reading books remembered the book and were excited to see something new. It felt good. Then, I saw him.

Icon, Rocket, Static & Hardware

There he was, big as life, yet extremely approachable, holding court. I was nervous. I walked up to him and shook his hand. I told him I was down with his work since Milestone and was loving what he did on JLU. Yes, I was a gushing fanboy and not ashamed of it. When I was done jocking, I told him about Griot Enterprises and how I was trying to fully get back into the game. Then, I handed him a postcard featuring The Horsemen and asked him if he ever had the chance to check the website out.

“Griot Enterprises?” He asked.

“…Yeah,” I said perplexed.

“The Horsemen… That’s you?”

“Yeah…”

“Man, I loved that book! I always wondered what happened to you guys!”

I was floored. Here I am, standing in front of one my heroes, and he’s gushing about my book. Stunned and amazed, I told him that I was coming back and that I wanted him to write the foreword for The Horsemen trade. he graciously gave me his phone number and told me to give him a call.

Now, I didn’t use that phone number often, and Dwayne never got around to writing the foreword, but that didn’t matter. It was enough that we connected… And we kept connecting. When I heard that Milestone was coming back to DC, I hooked up with Dwayne at SDCC and told him that I wanted to be down, in any capacity. We followed up with a phone conversation talking about how Milestone was going to be incorporated into the DCU and what books were going to launch. I told him that I would love to work on Icon and would send him a pitch. He said he’d look at it, but told me that Icon was his, that he was going to write it…

…And I felt him on that, intimately. At the end of the day, Dwayne McDuffie is Icon. Not the politics, but what he represents in the industry. He was the Martin and the Malcom, the Poitier and the Jackson. He broke down barriers and changed the game forever. His was the foot that really opened the door for all of us. He was our cool big brother, the cat who never forgot where he came from. My story with Dwayne isn’t unique. All of us who had the pleasure of meeting the man has one.

Dwayne's Secret Identity by Jiba Molei Anderson

And that’s why it sucks that he’s gone. This dude was our Will Eisner, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. Yes, this is big talk, but it’s justified. It’s because of what he’s done that characters the look like us are now respected. Because of McDuffie, Blade, Black Panther and Cage are A-list. Because of McDuffie, Black Lightning was a member of the JLA and John Stewart is the Green Lantern that many kids want to see on the big screen. We stand on the shoulders of a giant my brothers and sisters. Who’s gonna take the weight? We will. Big up to you, Dwayne. We’ll never forget what you’ve done for the game and for us.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got comic books to create.

Black Superheroes: The Essence of Swagger

Black Heroes art by Larry Stroman

Hey, all. The following is an article that I wrote last year for the Spanish magazine LaRAÑA de Sevilla. Also, since the beginning of The Horsemen, I’ve been trying to see if the Orisha have manifested themselves in other comic book pantheons. I believe that they have, especially in the Marvel Universe. Check out the my selection for Marvel’s version of The Horsemen and let me know if you would agree. Enjoy the article and I’ll catch you on the flip side:

BlackPanther as Obatala

Every culture has its own mythology. It is integral to the identity of the culture. It defines the best that the culture strives to be and warns against the forces, internally and externally, that seek to destroy that culture. I’m not talking about religion. I’m talking about mythology; the living, breathing folklore that adapts and changes to fit the needs of the society rather than locking a society in a dogma where many of the old rules don’t apply. Comic books and comic book creators have become the modern day bard or griot; the storytellers.

The superhero is a mythological construct unique to American society and the backbone of the American comic book industry. There is a reason why superheroes only work in American comic books. The superhero is the construct of immigrants, people from different cultures coming together to form a new nation where the unique attribute of each culture contributes to greater whole. This mythology of the superhero has its roots in the culture and faith systems of its architects. Because of this we have the holy trinity of superhero lore (Superman, The Batman, and Wonder Woman) whose roots stem from the Judeo-Christian faith and the mythology of the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Where is the African American presence in the superhero paradigm? How does the “Black” hero fit into the pantheon? Where are the culture, folklore, and mythology of the African Diaspora represented in this vibrant world of heroes and villains? What is the essence of the “Black” hero? The essence of the “Black” hero is swagger.

Storm as Yemaya

The immigrants of Africa were omitted from this super heroic pantheon relegated to the role of comic relief, stereotypical subordinate or worse. This was not limited to the comic book industry, but visual American entertainment in general. In fact, the emergence of the “Black” hero in cinema prompted the emergence of the “Black” superhero. Indeed, one could argue that Sidney Poitier’s cinematic rise paved the way for The Black Panther’s first appearance in Fantastic Four #66. The “Blaxploitation” movement in the 70s was a direct influence on the creation of Luke Cage, Misty Knight, Brother Voodoo and others. In these films, we are introduced to the “swagger” of the “Black” hero: a combination of physical strength and bravado, social consciousness, cultural navigation and, to a great extent, sexual prowess. Actors like Pam Grier, Jim Brown, Tamara Dobson, Fred Williamson, Jim Kelly and others served as the template for the hero who goes against the system because they have been maligned by the system.

Blade as Shango

The African American superheroes created during the late 1960s and 1970s fell into two categories: The “Poitier” model and the “Roundtree” model. Like seminal actor Sidney Poitier, heroes like The Black Panther, Storm, Doctor Voodoo and others carried the hope, promise and weight of the African Diaspora on their soldiers. Often, this type of character is not from the United States, but from Africa or other countries in the Diaspora proper (The Black Panther is from the fictional country of Wakanda, Storm is Kenyan, Doctor, formerly Brother, Voodoo hails from Haiti, etc.). In order to be seen as “equal” to their white counterparts, they had to be above them while being educated at the finest schools that Western civilization had to offer. In addition, their “secret” identity’s profession is more prestigious than most of their white counterparts (i.e. The Black Panther is the ruler of Wakanda, Storm was worshipped as a goddess and is now queen of Wakanda, Doctor Voodoo is a physician, etc.). Sadly, the attributes given these characters reflected an underlying conceit that still exists today: that an African American has to be twice as qualified to even be considered for the same job that a white American applies for. This statement is not written out of bitterness, but out of a sad fact in the history of American culture.

Then, there is the “Roundtree” model named for the tough “Anti-heroes” which make up the bulk of the 70s Black Action films first popularized by Richard Roundtree’s iconic character John Shaft. These characters were all American born, from the “rough” streets of the inner city, living on the fringes of society and angry. Hero for Hire Luke Cage, Green Lantern John Stewart, Daughter of the Dragon Misty Knight, Black Lightning, Blade and more fit into this category. Their professions were directly tied to the problems of the urban plight following the Civil Rights movement (Luke Cage was an ex-con cum private investigator, John Stewart was an out of work architect who was given the power ring, Misty Knight is a former cop turned bodyguard and P.I., Black Lightning was an inner city high school teacher, etc.). These characters were limited by the scope of their exploits, effectively becoming an inner city folk hero, which isn’t a bad thing per se, but still extremely limiting to the development of the character.

Misty Knight as Oya

Unfortunately, very few African American superheroes carried the same gravitas as their cinematic counterparts. This might be due, in part, to the fact that most of the heroes of color in the late 1960s to late 1980s were created by people who were not of the culture. Yes, they created a framework by which these characters could grow and develop, but they lacked the crucial understanding and deeper analysis behind the characters they created. They didn’t research, observe, and analyze African American culture beyond what they saw on television on in films. They just took the surface of what they saw, already exaggerated and simplified, as canon. In other words, they misunderstood the swagger.

The evolution of the African American superhero owes a great deal to the emergence of Hip Hop as a powerful social and political force. Fed up with the broken promises of the previous generation, young African Americans gave that frustration voice. That voice, pure and undiluted, further emboldened by the cultural significance of African American culture in the 1970s, was strengthened by the power of the beat; which hearkened back to the primal memory of the drum. MCs became the new “Black” hero in popular culture. Artists like Run-DMC, LL Cool J, NWA, Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions and others created personas that were, at once, larger than life while being completely accessible. Independent African American comic book creators took note of this and applied this philosophy to the comic book industry. The introduction of Brotherman by the Sims Brothers in 1988 was the call to arms. Brotherman effectively captured the essence of Hip Hop, which is the essence of the “Black” hero…the swagger.

Luke Cage as Ogun

In the 1990s, as Hip Hop spread its influence globally, the African American superhero evolved as well, almost symbiotically. Characters like Spawn, the entire Milestone line, Tribe, Martha Washington, Steel, Blackjack and others emerged during this time. In addition, the first wave of African American characters were re-contextualized and refined during this time with artists and writers, African American and otherwise, inundated and influenced by more a nuanced understanding of “Black” culture. It was during this time that a character considered on Marvel’s “D-list,” Blade would become the catalyst for the success that Marvel’s motion pictures currently enjoy. The Black Panther would star in a solo comic book and become an “A-list” and pivotal character in the Marvel Universe becoming even more relevant by marrying Marvel’s African goddess, Storm. In the cinema, we would be introduced to two of the coolest characters of color to ever exist in popular fiction: Morpheus from The Matrix Trilogy and Mace Windu from the Star Wars universe.

Photon as Oshun

Now, almost 10 years into this new millennium, the “Black” hero is further re-defined. President Barack Obama, whether you agree or disagree with his politics, is a transcendent figure, the sum total of the struggle and complexity of the African Diaspora. He is an aspect of Martin Luther King Jr’s. Dream made real. The racial “lie” of America has been exposed and the heroes, such as The Horsemen, created in this new millennium reflect this very new and fledgling African American consciousness.

Doctor Voodoo as Eshu

The African hero has always been one who is strong and defiant. From mythic “culture” heroes like Sudika-mbambi to historic figures overcoming extraordinary odds like Shaka Zulu, the African hero is independent and fearless in the face of the unknown. The African hero is about change and the strength of the human spirit. During the slave trade, the heroes changed and adapted to the times becoming a solace for a people subjugated and sold as cattle. The gods of the varied African tribes hide themselves in the faith systems of the dominant culture and create new ones from the synthesis. Shaka becomes John Henry, the steel-driving man who beats the machine. These stories fueled the spirit of this new African American community inspiring the people to rise above the station that they had been forced into and, to do it with and combination of strength, intelligence, style and panache.

The African hero has now evolved into the superhero. A new mythology has been added to the fabric of the super heroic paradigm. The African American superhero has demanded and now earned its place in the pantheon…and it’s about time.

In other words, get your swagger on, Black hero. Get your swagger on.

Thanks for reading. If you like this and want to see and read more, pick up Manifesto: The Tao of Jiba Molei Anderson on sale now. Cheers!

What Is Black Sci-Fi?

This statement is written for the purpose of not only defining the course of which my work has taken, but also to name and define a movement. This movement is not new nor is it limited to realm in which I choose to express my discipline. This movement has existed since Humanity began to express itself through creativity and sought to explain its existence through spirituality. However, the naming and explaining of this movement will be limited in the context of a culture (or cultures) and the hue of a people: my culture and my people.

The name of the movement is Black Sci-Fi.

This name, as some would no doubt like to debate, is not meant to divide, but rather to categorize and celebrate the speculative fiction from the African Diaspora. Furthermore, the name Black Sci-Fi does not preclude those outside of the Diaspora from working within this subgenre. However, in order to do so, one must follow certain tenets if one is to truly call their work Black Sci-Fi.

1.) The name of the genre is Black Sci-Fi.

It is not called African American Science Fiction, African American Speculative Fiction, Urban Sci-Fi nor any other politically correct terminology. It has been named Black Sci-Fi and will always be referred to as such to reflect its defiant political, social, spiritual, and racial stance in this these United States of America.

 

2.) Black Sci-Fi must have an African American as the primary protagonist.

Simply put, it’s not Black Sci-Fi if an African American is not main character in the story (i.e. I Robot, the Blade Trilogy, Spawn, Black Panther, etc.).

 

3.) Black Sci-Fi will always have a connection to the Black Experience.

All Black Sci-Fi works have made a connection between the actions executed in the “present” of the piece and the history of the Black Experience. This link is not limited to the African American experience but rather to the historical experience to the African Diaspora as a whole (i.e. the works of Octavia Butler).

 

4.) Black Sci-Fi focuses on the spiritual rather than the physical.

Whereas other subgenres of speculative fiction tend to focus on technology (the physical), Black Sci-Fi almost always focuses on the potential of the human experience (the spiritual). Indeed, Black spirituality is, in one shape or form, based on a link to the cosmos from the Dogon to the Yoruba to even Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Granted, technology may be in Black Sci-Fi works (especially if the work is based in a far off future), but technology is never the driving force of the piece (i.e. the Matrix Trilogy, Star Trek DS9, etc.).

 

5.)    Black Sci-Fi respects and often references other cultures.

The genre does not exist in a vacuum nor does it eschew other cultures to further its own agenda. Rather, Black Sci-Fi embraces the importance of all cultures in the human existence and draws upon them as well in order to create a cohesive universe in which it can exist. The subgenre is inclusive, not exclusive (i.e. The Horsemen, The Monarchy, etc.).

 

6.)    Black Sci-Fi is political.

Whether the work focuses on gender, sexuality, religion, class, race, etc., Black Sci-Fi is always a commentary on the existing conditions in which the work was created. More often than not, it is a critique on those conditions (i.e. Brother From Another Planet, Space Is The Place, etc.).

 

7.)    Black Sci-Fi is not limited to the literary or the visual.

Simply put, Black Sci-Fi is everywhere and we experience it every day. This is not a new phenomenon. This has been happening from the beginning and, in particular, the 20th and 21st centuries. We hear it everyday in our music, we see it in the clothes we wear, we use it in our speech, and it is in the way we move. It is a living, breathing entity. The Blues are Black Sci-Fi. Jazz is Black Sci-Fi. Rock and Roll, Soul, and Funk are Black Sci-Fi. Reggae is Black Sci-Fi. Hip Hop is Black Sci-Fi. House, Techno, indeed all DJ culture-based music is Black Sci-Fi (i.e. John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Parliament/Funkadelic, Sun Ra, EWF,
Outkast, Derrick May, Dwele, Afrika Bambatta, Vikter Duplaix, Goldie, Janelle Monae, Common, etc.).

This is the criterion that one must follow if one wants to work in this newly defined genre. I say newly defined not newly formed because this genre existed long before I was born. I’m just following its rules and regulations.
If you want to create true Black Sci-Fi, I suggest you do the same.