Imani Lateef, owner of digital comic book store Peep Game Comix and Todd Johnson, co-creator of the seminal independent Black comic book Tribe started a spirited discussion on Facebook. The conversation was a subject that I had written a few articles worth over the years. You can view them here and here.
Sparked by the upcoming Black Panther film, Mr. Lateef posed this simple question:
“Will Black Panther help Black Comix? Why or why not?”
This prompted Mr. Johnson to start a post on his own page. This is how his thread began:
“Thinking about a recent post from Peep Game Comix’s Imani Lateef regarding would there be any financial blowback of the Black Panther movie into the other African American comic properties my short answer was NOPE.
IMHO, opportunities for this market to penetrate will not be successful by solo efforts for a multiple of reasons that could be discussed and debated ad nauseam. Conflicting mindsets, experience, business acumen, street smarts, egos, finances, time dedication present unique leadership conflicts.
But I would offer that a Think Tank model would be successful in formulating best practices, coop purchasing, marketing strategies, information hubs, mentorship/partnership possibilities, etc.; a representational body from many areas.
The pioneers: Arvell Jones, Keith Pollard
This list by no means is all just some I thought of off the top of my head as an example. A think tank model harnessing a group such as above and more could do some damage on many fronts.”
The responses to both posts were immense and varied, from professionals and fans. The pros and practitioners, for the most part, were picking up what both Imani and Todd were laying down. But, in some parts, the conversation disintegrated into well-worn conceits of DC and Marvel Comics’ wish fulfillment of representation or the tired musing of some monolithic entity like Milestone Media controlling the flow of content and information. Some also cite Image as an example of independent success easily replicated. And that thought spooked a creator or two. It was as if the participants in the thread were having two conversations.
I wonder if they watched the Image episode of Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics on AMC. The Image of today is WAY different than the early days. Even then, the early success of Image was based on the star power the creators established at Marvel.
It’s hard to have people think and operate collectively in a more productive way than just wishing out loud.
Some cats love to dream, but the reality is too much for them. Some of them are fans playing professional. A lot of them think that DC and Marvel are the end all be all of comics. Most of them don’t know comic book history, especially when it comes to the Black presence in comics. So, becomes a perpetual “Johnny Come Lately” situation.
Being a fan of DC or Marvel comics does not make you an expert on the business of comics
One of the issues, I feel, is that some desire a Black Comix monolith using, mistakenly, Milestone Media as the model for such an entity when the truth is the Black Comix movement is more akin to Hip Hop: different viewpoints and concepts while emulate different aspects of the culture. Hip Hop is not only East Coast/West Coast or Def Jam or No Limit or Death Row. It’s all of those entities, artists, journalists, etc. contributing to the culture. Why should the Black Comix movement be any different?
It’s not about controlling creativity. It’s more about how we can market effectively. Again, folks flow in different spaces beyond the creation of comics. It’s not a question of conforming to one mindset, but more of how can we collectively continue to spread the word and celebrate the diversity of the movement.
We also have to step away from the gaze and operating practices of the “other.” I feel as if some think that the current of comics’ business affairs, audience and structure is the only way to go when that is so not the case. The current business model doesn’t really work for us financially or creatively. So why stick with a faulty model?
As creators of content, part of our responsibility is to grow the market. To pursue a classic comic book market model (i.e. monthly pamphlets, Diamond distribution, comic book shops, etc.) is a losing battle. That model requires a major influx of funds to compete in a stagnant space dominated by corporate-owned entities with the resources to maintain their control.
What I’ve found way more successful is the pursuit of the wider book market / educational route. I’ve found the signs of much bigger success there. Parents and teens enjoy the representation they see because it’s not Marvel or DC. And, there’s a growing niche field of study concerning comics and pop culture thanks to the emerging interest in Afrofuturism.
For example, books like Sheena C. Howard’s Encyclopedia of Black Comics, John Jennings’ & Damian Duffy’s Black Comix & Black Comix Returns and my own 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape anthology series are concentrated texts that show the diversity of the movement. We all can big up these projects as examples of how we get down. A few articles about these books in different spaces as well as social media and cons like M.E.C.C.A. Con, Sol-Con, BASM, ECBACC and others can bring more eyes to what we’re all doing.
In essence, we’re creating cultural artifacts more so than just a new line of comics. So, we should think of, and market, them as such.
In terms of creating a sales metric of the movement, I think we could use successful Kickstarter campaigns and book sales of the Black Comix projects that received a great amount of grassroots marketing exposure. I’m thinking of books like Black, Trill League, Midnight Tiger, etc. along with the Catalyst Prime line as a baseline starter.
It would take all of us to promote each other. We all have fan bases, some shared, some unique. So, why don’t we promote each other more than sometimes wanting to be the G.O.A.T? Teamwork makes the dream work. That’s one of the ways Hip Hop became a dominant cultural force.
If we did a full-court press cross-promoting some of the best that the Black Comix movement has to offer, beyond Facebook or Twitter, we could make an impact and move the needle.
It would take a series of articles that would focus on known books like Niobe: She Is Life, Black, the Catalyst Prime line, Milestone 2.0 etc. as well as projects like Bounce, Project: Wildfire, The Horsemen, Is’nana: The Were-Spider, DMC and more published in places like Afropunk, IO9 and “mainstream” outlets as well as CBR, Newsarama, etc, but I think that this will bring awareness to what we do.
We’ve got the network in place. We just need to flex it properly and unapologetically.
It’s ours for the taking. Hip Hop didn’t look for approval and built its audience the old-fashioned way: one person at a time. Then, the “mainstream” came in and co-opted aspects of the culture. We can do the same. We have the tools…
Of course, we should avoid the whole co-opting thing, though. Because as Paul Mooney said “Don’t have too much fun, or they’ll take you too…”
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