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!

Indies: The Next Level

Independent comic books, I feel, are the soul of the industry. DC and Marvel are the standard bearers, the frontmen of this game at large, but independent comics are where you can see how deep the rabbit hole goes.

If you call yourself a true comic book fan, you have to go to the conventions. That’s where you get the true flavor. Especially in these times, as Diamond tightens its grip and shuts more independents out every day, as this economy puts everyone under pressure including the local comic book store limiting their ability on taking a chance with a new, untested title, as more and more creators are moving online distributing individual issues digitally with the goal of producing a print graphic novel, conventions are becoming the place to cop the new ish.

Throughout Griot’s journey in this industry, I have had the pleasure of discovering new work and meeting the wonderful people who created it. I am proud to call many of them friends and brothers-at-arms. Here are five books that have been some of favorites:

1.) Blackjack by Alex Simmons and various artists

This book was awesome, no doubt about it. This was the legend of Catcher Freeman… But for real. I loved, loved, loved the concept. An African American soldier of fortune in the 1930s, Blackjack captured all of the adventure of Indiana Jones and the pulp adventures of the time period. This book was also my first introduction to the work of Ken Lashley and Jamal Igle, two brothers whose work that I’ve come to admire and follow as they moved up the ranks to become stalwarts at DC and Marvel comics respectively. And, Alex, I consider Mr. Simmons to be a mentor. He has always bee very gracious in giving his time and advice to a young brother coming up in the game. I haven’t seen any new Blackjack material in a minute, but the second a new Blackjack adventure hits the scene, I’ll be first in line to pick it up.

2.) Body Bags by Jason Pearson

In my opinion, Body Bags is the evolution of Brotherman. I don’t mean that in terms of art nor theme, but rather in its writing, which was fresh, honest and real. If Brotherman was the comic book Nation of Millions, then Body Bags is the equivalent of Busta Rhymes’ When Disaster Strikes. I have always been a HUGE fan of Jason Pearson’s artwork. A true student of Michael Golden, It’s one of the most perfect hybrids of cartooning and realistic rendering I’ve ever seen. Exaggeration of art and story work in complete harmony with this book (I mean, Panda’s supposed to be, like, fourteen to sixteen years old… Looking like that? Must be all those hormones in that milk!). Again, this is a book that comes out very sporadically. But, when it does, it’s a good Wednesday.

3.) The Ride by Doug Wagner with various artists and writers

Now, crime comics are a strong genre in the industry thanks to Frank Miller’s Sin City. Since it’s launch in the early 90s, lots of people hopped onto that bandwagon producing excellent work with David Lapham’s Stray Bullets and Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso’s 100 Bullets immediately coming to mind. The Ride is the other great crime comic. The stories become these great character studies and cautionary tales with the ridiculously simple premise that a 1968 Camaro is always the centerpoint of the story. The art in The Ride is produced by the Gaijin Studios crew including Cully Hamner, Brain Stelfreeze, Georges Jeanty and Jason Pearson. These cats can take my money anytime… And they do.

4.) Atomika by Sal Abbanatti

There has been a periodic fascinating with Russia and the former Soviet Union with Nexus being one of the first books to deal with the subject. From Christian Gossett’s Red Star to Brett Lewis & John Paul Leon’s The Winter Men, the topic has been addressed in some interesting ways.

Now, I must admit that I have a certain “snobbery” when it comes to comic book art (Hey, opinions are like assholes… Everybody has one…), and Sal’s art is not the kind of work that I normally gravitate to…

… And that’s one of the things that I love about this project. Atomika is a prime example of art and story working in perfect harmony. Abbanatti’s re-contextulization of the history of Russia through the use of their mythology is married seamlessly with his rough, almost German Expressionist style. Atomika is bold, almost cruel and unrelenting with a lovely romantically poetic undertone. I consider this book to be a spiritual sibling to my work in The Horsemen. Great minds do think alike.

5.) Black Summer by Warren Ellis & Juan Jose Ryp

You know what? I hate Warren Ellis, I really do. His work is so disgustingly amazing, it almost pisses me off. The Authority with Bryan Hitch is still one of the best books to come out of the early new millennium… Its sister title, Planetary with John Cassaday rocks… Ocean with Chris Sprouse was out cold… I mean, come on man!

At first, I fronted on Black Summer. Nope, wasn’t gonna pick it up, not gonna do it. But, my guy at Graham Cracker Comics pushed the zero issue on me (it was only ¢.99) and I was hooked. Black Summer is the evolution of the concepts established in The Authority. It was a true study of what would happen when superheroes take it upon themselves to be the conscious of America. Ryp’s art is the perfect compliment to the brutality depicted in the world of The Seven Guns.

I loved these books when they came out and they still rock. This is some classic material, my people. Click on the titles in this article to learn more about these books and pick them up if you’re so inclined. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed. Get some comic book soul into your collection and I’ll holla at you soon. Cheers!

Shameless Plug #1

Hey, all.

My new book, Manifesto: The Tao of Jiba Molei Anderson, is available now in hard and softcover at Lulu.com. You can also purchase the digital version from Wowio and Drive Thru Comics as well. It’s 96 pages of my art, writing and design work from being in the game 15 years.

Here’s some of the groovy artwork that you’ll find in Manifesto:

Cop the book, you’ll be glad you did. Cheers!

Influences Part Two: The Indies

I actually had been reading independent comics since I was 10 years old. I was one of those kids that didn’t just like Batman or Superman or Spiderman… I loved comic books… Period. I was a magpie to anything with a word balloon. This was the beginning of the eighties and the beginning of the Direct Market. I started reading about comics beyond DC and Marvel and was intrigued. Nay, inspired. You see, drawing the Justice League or the X-Men seemed like going to a Halloween party dressed as Prince: I am not 5’3″, light-skinned with a pompadour… It ain’t ever gonna happen…

…But, I could be a member of The Time. I could get a suit, some Stacey Adams, a mirror (Jerome!) and do “The Walk” or “The Bird” to my heart’s content. That’s what independent comic books meant to me. Here are the top 5 independent comics that were a huge influence in my development as a storyteller:

1.) Elfquest by Wendy & Richard Pini

Elfquest was the book that made me think very differently about comic books. The subject matter was too advanced for me when I first read it at age 10, but that was the thing that was so intriguing. The world the Pinis created was accessible because of the seeming “innocence” in the art, but the mythology was so rich, turning fantasy notions on its ear while still being firmly rooted in the genre. I wish I had those three original trades today.

2.) Mage / Grendel by Matt Wagner

Okay, I’m cheating here by placing two books in the number two position. However, I feel that it is nearly impossible to talk about Matt Wagner’s work without mentioning Mage and Grendel simultaneously. It’s almost as if the concepts were fraternal twins. Mage was the wonderful modern re-imagining of the Arthurian legend. Kevin Matchstick, the reluctant hero, is an inspired model of modern heroism: cynical, but still willing to do the right thing at the end of the day. The way in which Wagner modernized mythology resonates in my work to this day and is a huge influence on one of my upcoming works coming later this summer.

If Kevin Matchstick is Wagner’s Superman, then Hunter Rose, the original master assassin and novelist Grendel, is his twisted, elegant Batman. Wagner did something truly unique: he took a concept rooted in pulp novels, threw in a little fantasy (with Grendel’s opposite number, Argent the Wolf), and proceeded to craft a saga that went from crime to horror to science fiction… And have it all make complete and logical sense. Wagner showed me that any concept is possible in comics. If the story is solid, you can take the audience anywhere you want them to go.

3.) Nexus by Mike Baron & Steve Rude

First Comics was the spot for me in the 80s. I’m not saying I read all of their titles, but man were they doing something big over there. From Warp to Grimjack to American Flagg to Jon Sable: Freelance, there was a sense of truly dealing with mature themes… In a mature way over at First. Nexus caught may attention because here was the first comic book that I read where the hero’s job was to assassinate the bad guys. Pretty heavy stuff and along with the political overtones prevalent in the book, you’d think it would go over a young lad’s head… And it did. I re-discovered the book in college and was truly able to appreciate Steve Rude’s genius at visual storytelling and amazing art with Baron’s great sense of political and social satire. I’m still finding something new to learn in Rude’s art every day. This is how independent superhero books are supposed to be done.

4.) Brotherman by the Sims Brothers

You didn’t think that I would forget including this book in my top 5, did you? Are you kidding? Brotherman is the comic book equivalent of Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. This book is a classic on so many levels. From the hybrid graffiti meets Jack Davis’ Mad Magazine style of Dawud Anyabwile to the authentic voice of Guy A. Sims’ writing, Brotherman was a breath of fresh air for every African American comic book nerd. It showed all of us that you could create a quality book, which truly reflected our sensibilities, not some thrice-removed approximation of our culture. If it weren’t for Brotherman, we may not have had Milestone Media, Ania, Gettosake… Hell, Griot Enterprises might not have existed and definitely not the last book on my top 5 indie list…

5.) Tribe by Todd Johnson and Larry Stroman

Tribe was the final nail in the coffin, the last straw. After this book came out, it was over. My fate was sealed. So were probably a lot of young Black comic book creators at this time as well. You see, the 90s were a glorious time in the comic book industry. We saw some of the highest highs and lowest lows during this decade. The 90s gave us the death of Superman and the breaking of Batman’s back. It also gave us the explosion and, to an extent, the realization of the independent comic book as a viable force in the the industry with the birth of Image Comics.

Simultaneously, we also see the explosion of minority characters during this time with the emergence of Milestone Media through DC Comics and independently owned Ania Comics. It was sad that Ania and Milestone couldn’t co-exist. Ania, from the onset attacked Milestone Media because of their affiliation with a major company. The “sell-out” card was played and, for a brief moment, we were seeing a precursor to the East Coast/West Coast Hip Hop war in the comic book industry. In this perfect storm of creativity meeting financial reward, Tribe came on the scene as the “Outkast” of this comic book of color explosion.

Tribe, to date, is the most financially successful African American creator-owned comic book in the industry’s history. Selling at a million copies, it benefited from its association with Image, being a part of Image’s second wave (which also included The Maxx). More importantly, my history with Tribe is a personal one. I knew the writer, Todd Johnson, from shopping at the comic book store he owned in Detroit. Furthermore, while in college, some of my good friends (including John J. Hill from DC Comics) in art school were actually coloring Tribe in between classes becoming some of the first digital colorists the industry has seen. Finally, during my initial foray into the industry, Todd was one of the first cats that took me seriously when I was developing The Race (which, would ultimately become a key element in my book The Horsemen) for comics. It may have been one of Todd’s other books… If his company hadn’t folded.

Regardless, Tribe was the ish, the proper bookend to what was started by Brotherman. The book, visually and in a literary context, rang true to a native Detroiter’s sensibilities. There was a rhythm to the book that spoke to a musical sensibility, one informed by not only Parliament/Funkadelic, but also echoed the work of Detroit Techno pioneers such as Derrick May and Juan Atkins. Bold, graphic, funny (no one would ever forget the posterior of Roslyn… Pure thickness!), Tribe ensured us all that the voice of the independent comic book creator of color can compete, and succeed alongside the big boys.

Of course, there are so many more books that have hit me in that special way, but it was these five that showed me that I could be my own artist, with my own voice in the world of comics… And that voice could and should be heard. For that and for so much more, I thank all of you.

Influences Part One

Hey, all.

Wanted to talk a little bit about my influences. When I got into comics, there was a certain style of artist that I gravitated to. I enjoyed the artists who were trying to capture the more realistic approach to rendering the human figure in their “cartooning” while still maintaining the exaggeration of action and camera angles that help make comic book art so dramatic and exciting. This was the kind of feeling that I wanted, and still want, my art to elicit. As I entered the industry, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting almost all of my artistic heroes. These are the roots of my kung-fu:

1.) Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

He is the “Old Man on the Mountain,” the wisest of my kung-fu masters. His artwork is probably the most seen in the mainstream of any comic book artist because of his extensive marketing and advertising illustration for DC Comics. I’ve been aware of his work since I was a little child in the 70s. He is probably one of the greatest draftsmen the industry has ever seen. When I met him at the New York City Comicon in 2009, it was a true “Master, please to show me a new style!” moment. He was an absolute gentleman, very kind, gracious and still very vital in the game, which is so rare. He was everything that I thought and hoped he would be and he showed me the power of grace when you concentrate on your craft.

2.) John Byrne

Seriously, if you came of age reading and wanting to draw comic books in the 80s, then you were influenced by this man. He re-vitalized Superman and with Chris Claremont elevated the X-Men from B-list status to a household name. I owe a lot of my construction of the human figure to this artist. His visual storytelling, though seemingly conservative next to some artists today, is extremely effective with subtle hints of experimentation. Say what you want about the man’s personality (I never saw it when I met him in the 90s), but you have give respect when respect is due.

3.) George Perez

Perez is the epitome of the self-taught artist… That’s the first thing that I love about his art. The second thing that I love is that he never rested on any laurels. He’s always trying to improve, to progress, to blow us out of the water, and he always succeeds. His sense of composition is uncanny. His individualization of character is almost beyond compare. From The Teen Titans to Crisis on Infinite Earths to JLA/Avengers, this man is a beast. I’m still salty, and proud, that my good friend John J. Hill was the art director for the last title. Perez is also one of the sweetest people that I’ve ever met in comics and I’m still geeking out that I was a speaking character in his too-short lived Crimson Plague.

4.) Alan Davis

Ah, the British Invasion of the 1980s: Alan Moore, David Lloyd, Dave Gibbons… You would think that I would have Brian Bolland in my top 5. Don’t get me wrong, Bolland is amazing, an artistic deity… And I knew I would never get to that level of detail… But I could be Alan Davis. Please believe, it is not that Alan Davis is any less talented than Bolland. In fact, Davis combines the best of Neal Adams, Barry Windsor-Smith and John Buscema in my opinion. And, it is exactly because of those influences that Davis’ work speaks to me. Elegant and dynamic with fascinating page design, I’ll always buy a Davis-drawn book when it comes out.

5.) Steve Rude

For someone who is decidedly in the independent comic arena, you see that most of my influences come from the “Big Two.” This artist really made his bones by doing his own thing. I’ve always been enamored by the book Nexus. I thought that Mike Baron and Steve Rude created something truly unique. Rude’s work speaks to my collegiate experiences. He is an artist’s artist combining his love of Alex Toth and Jack Kirby with the structure of a fine arts education. There is an innocence in his work, which is uniquely Midwestern. I’m sure he doesn’t remember, but Steve Rude is the reason why Griot Enterprises exists. He gave me the biggest compliment and that was the kind of encouragement a young artist needs and desires to hear. So, I thank you for that, Mr. Rude.

These artists are the roots of my style. I’ve learned and continue to learn so much from them whenever I see their work. So, that’s it… For now. Cheers!

Wizard’s End:

So, unless you’re one of the three people in the comic book industry who shares a cave with Osama Bin Laden, you already know that Wizard’s existence as a print magazine is no more. Instead, it will re-invent itself as an online journal starting in February.

Now, my first reaction was a knee-jerk “What’s gonna happen with the industry now that Wizard isn’t on the stands?” Then, I realized that I got the heads-up from Comic Book Resources, my online journal of choice.

Yes, Wizard’s demise was it’s own fault. They shouldn’t have tried to franchise the convention experience (their biggest mistake, in my opinion), they should have covered indie comics more, hell, Gareb Shamus should not have tried to get into the MMA business. But, the end of Wizard truly means the end of an era… It means that the ’90s, in the comic book industry, are officially over.

Peep game, Wizard’s rise to prominence as the comic book journal of note directly coincides with the rise of Image and Valiant. It can be argued that these three entities created a symbiotic relationship that helped start a revolution in the industry. All three entities were brash and in your face. All three entities showed the power and possibility of the independent market in comics. However, Valiant caved under the miasma that was the speculator market and the ousting of Jim Shooter as EIC. Image suffered the loss of Jim Lee’s Wildstorm studio and the in-fighting of the partners, which forced its re-defintion. Wizard decided to suck on the teat of the big two, most notably, Marvel especially post-bankruptcy.

Now, let’s be clear: Wizard was never the New York Times, but it did make reading comic books fun. And, I especially enjoyed the How-To-Draw section in the mag, which was extremely useful. I enjoyed their attempt to give better coverage of the indy scene w/ Wizard’s Edge (The first one in 2002 was a great boost for my book, The Horsemen).  But, those experiments quickly dissapated leaving Wizard much worse for wear. Their convention strategy blew up in their faces, pissing off everyone from fan to retailer to creative to company. When DC or Marvel decides to pass on your convention, you’re screwed.

 At the end, Wizard forgot what Wizard was about, making comics fun. They started “smelling their drawers” and thought that they were the industry. That is the reason for Wizard’s demise. No one of us is the industry; not, DC, not Marvel, not Wizard. We are all a part of this industry and we all need to understand that in order for the industry to maintain and to grow. Don’t get me wrong. Marvel and DC will always be the big two Image and Dark Horse will always be the pinnacle of the second tier and the rest of us will be pushing to get our product out under these conditions… and that’s cool. I appreciate the competition. Just remember that we’re all in this together and there ain’t no “I” in team. That’s the only way that we’re all going to survive in this industry.

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.

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