Welcome to the eighth volume of 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape! Thank you to all of the Visual MCs, Literary DJs and Crowd Controllers who saw the vision and decided to enter the Cipher. Y’all have shown where the true diversity in this comic book industry exists and came through with straight bangers!
And to think, all of this started with a casual conversation…
In 2007, I was at the WizardWorld Chicago Comic Con. I happened to run into Sanford Greene (BitterRoot, Power Man & Iron Fist). Both of us were taking a much-needed break from manning our respective booths. At the time, we were both working on Hip Hop-related projects with Sanford creating the artwork for the Method Man graphic novel while I was writing a book called (at the time) Hip HopChronicles.
Since we were both in a “break dancing & wall tagging” state of mind, we started reminiscing on the direction our respective careers were taking. We talked about the sketchbook and how that reminded each other of the mixtapes DJs and rappers would create to sell their skills directly to the masses.
Taking the sketchbook/mixtape metaphor further, the Comic Con became, in essence, the equivalent of selling a mixtape at a swap meet or out of the trunk of your car. The sketchbook reflected the stage of the creator’s career.
The analogy breaks down like this…
When you start out, you probably don’t have a lot of money. But you could go to Kinkos and, using the copy machine, print up about 20 – 50 of those sketchbooks right quick to give the audience a taste of your skills.
As you grew in the business, hopefully, you had gotten some credits under your belt and some coins in your pocket. Maybe now, you could afford better quality paper for your next sketchbook. Maybe now, you could afford a color cover. Maybe now, you could afford full-color interiors.
The full-color experience let you know that the artist was ballin’ and making power moves… They done come up!
In any event, the whole idea is that as one levels up in their career, their presentation evolves as well. One develops their professional persona and define their swag. The sketchbook then becomes the avatar of one’s “drip, “so to speak. The sketchbook, in our summation, is a visual mixtape.
You picking up what was just laid down?
I’m a child of the 70s who came of age in the 80s. The mixtape, in my time, was a carefully curated work. One didn’t just slap a bunch of songs together on a cassette and send it on its merry way. Nah. You had to come up with a theme. Your mixtape had to have a narrative, and a raison d’etre or reason for being.
Maybe you were nursing a heartbreak. Maybe you were trying to shoot your shot with that special someone. Maybe you wanted to get the party started with the perfect selection of tracks guaranteed to get the crowd amped up. The mixtape was a form of personal sonic expression where one could become the DJ, the Bard, or the Griot they felt they were meant to be.
Track selection was an extremely important aspect of making a bomb mixtape. Again, one could be basic about it; just take the hits everyone heard on the radio, slap them together and off they go. But anyone could turn on the radio and listen to the hits. You might as well buy a volume of Now, That’s What I Call Music and call it a day. To make a dope mixtape, one had to go off the beaten path and “dig in the crates” a little bit.
Track arrangement was the secret sauce of the mixtape. It’s one thing to have the dope music. It’s another thing to arrange those tracks and assemble a tale that hits the emotions of the listener. A great mixtape was the soundtrack to a film that people wished they could see. A mixtape was all about mood and intention with the goal to take its intended listener on a journey into the creator’s psyche.
This philosophy is the methodology behind 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape. Each volume has been carefully curated with each entry chosen and arranged to take the reader on a journey through the diversity of creators, and content, that is present in the comic book industry. We go deep; finding the best cuts and the illest tracks to craft an eclectic experience that can only be found in the indie comic world.
And now here we are; eight volumes in serving up the crème de la crème of Black Comix, in particular, and Indie Comics in general. This village has definitely become a nation.
This volume features the next crop of Visual MCs and Literary DJs who decided to grab the mic! Aries Art (Cover Artist and Visual MC), Michael Watson (Hotshot), Raudric Curtis (Dambe), Milton Davis (Changa and the Jade Obelisk), Andre Roberts (The Dog Years), Terry Huddleson (Visual MC), Malachi Bailey (Her), Akinboye Olasunkanmi (Weju), Juan Arevalo (Oya), Brett Hillesheim (The Book of Gylou), Curtis “Specks” Thompson (Legacy of the View), and more enter the Cipher!
So, sit back and relax, kick your feet up, get into this playlist we put together for you, and remember…
This is a public service announcement to all of the artists and writers who are considering entering this wild world of comics.
Ok, so what I’ve been seeing in these internet streets is that some neophyte writers think that artists are interchangeable and should be happy with whatever rate they are offered. They believe that artists are just sitting around and twiddling their thumbs waiting for these neophyte writers to bless them with their ideas.
These so-called writers are also upset because other artists, who’ve been in the game longer than most of them, are telling younger artists, no matter where they reside, to know their worth and not get jacked by people who don’t value nor respect their efforts.
And yet, some of these writers… Excuse me… “creators” want to play victim when they aren’t willing to respect the artists they hire and pay them what they’re worth?
As one who handles every aspect of comic book production (writing, illustration, lettering, coloring, design, etc.), I know exactly the amount of work it takes to produce a book from beginning to end.
I’ve also gotten paid as a freelancer for over 20 years working as a writer, illustrator, and designer.
And, I have never let anyone undervalue the work I put into the game nor would I ever undervalue anyone else…
Because I respect their talent. And that respect is shown by paying them what they are worth.
When I see these so-called writers, or “creators,” complaining or trying to justify not paying potential artists what they’re worth, regardless of which country they reside, I see that they don’t respect the artist.
That is sad because the artist, not the writer is the attraction to the book.
Look, this is comics, not prose. Comic book readers don’t care about words until they open the book. The artist is the part of the collaboration that gets eyeballs on the project.
Let me put it another way: you literally get what you pay for when it comes to art. $20 art will look like $20 art. $200 art will look like $200 art. No matter which artist from which country you deal with, the metric is the same.
Yet some “creators” act like artists from other countries live in hovels. Because of this poisonous mentality, they employ exploitive capitalist practices (Power to the People) as the model for their businesses while, for the most part, larger companies like DC or Marvel pay their creatives a living wage equivalent for their talents…
And make up that cost by selling books.
UPDATE 01: Here is a link to an article from Creator Resource which lays out the page rates from major comic book companies in 2017.
Some of these “creators” are being cheap as fu*k and their slip is showing. Show some respect and pay the artist their worth.
What is the national average for every country from every artist you work with? And, is that your metric for hiring artists from that region?
If so, that still smacks of exploitation in my eyes.
I would rather pay a bit above their national average, especially if they come from a country whose currency is less than the country where I reside.
I can afford it because that’s showing respect.
You’re talking to a cat who has told other artists to charge me their real rate as opposed to the “I’m just happy to be here” rate because that’s not only showing respect, but that’s also a guarantee that I’m getting some of the best talent in the business.
I treat my collaborators the way I command to be treated in this business.
Here’s another point these so-called “creators” might want to think about if they are going to attempt this mode of artistic exploitation:
Did you ever consider that some artists set the price they set in order to weed out “clients” who they consider are a waste of their time and effort?
To the “creator” who prompted this piece (I’m not giving them the satisfaction of naming them), the claim that American artists are encouraging artists from other countries to raise their rates to price themselves out of their jobs is… ridiculous.
Real talk: an artist should base their rate on the time it takes to create the work and their experience level. Newer artists should charge less because of their experience. Artists with a track record can, and should, charge more.
UPDATE 02: There is a site called Litebox which breaks down the rates illustrators have been paid in various industries including comics.
For example, I wouldn’t do a page for a $100 because my CV shows that I’m worth more than that. However, I tell all of my students that they should establish a baseline rate in order to teach them to respect their talent from jump and to never sell themselves short.
Do you honestly think that artists encouraging other artists to know their worth is part of some devious plan to shaft other artists from different countries in order to what? Level some playing field to work with a bunch of start-ups that are just learning the business themselves?
That is hilariously arrogant.
No, what some people seem to be getting upset about is that artists are encouraging other artists to know their worth.
What some people are getting upset over is artists communicating with other artists in order to help the younger cats coming up in the game not get jerked.
Again, it’s not about pricing themselves out of the market. It’s about self-respect and recognizing their value in this business.
This is where respect comes into play.
As stated earlier, comics are a collaborative effort. Unless you are a true cartoonist and can execute every role yourself, a comic book needs a writer, an illustrator, a colorist (if color book), a letterer, and an editor in order to be a viable product.
A comic book is an exercise is graphic design; a synthesis of image and text coming together to create a message.
No one is more important than the other in this process. If one aspect of the product is lacking, then the entire book falls apart.
So, you need to respect every member of the team. That respect, in part, comes from paying your creative team properly.
It’s always asked. It never fails. It’s asked so frequently; you can set your watch to it.
In the immortal words of Cherelle, “Let’s sing it together…”
IS THERE A BLACK COMIC BOOK INDUSTRY?
And, here is the short answer:
Yes, there is.
How so, you may ask?
Well, let me school ya…
While this question is still being asked, many indie Black Comix creators were at NYCC supporting and big-upping each other. And, their tables were busy all weekend because people were buying their product left, right and center. On the same weekend, another group of Black Comix creators were in Algiers the same weekend sharing their talent with kids on the African continent.
From companies like Evoluzione Publishing to Webway Comics to Griot Enterprises to Stranger Comics, YouNeek Studios and others, to the larger independent companies like Image Comics publishing books like Bitter Root and Excellence, to the network of conventions that cater to fans of color like Onyxcon, MECCA Con, ECBAAC, Blerd Con, BCAF and so many more, to crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, to printers like 133Art, distribution systems like Peep Game Comix and stores like Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse, First Aid Comics and Third Coast Comics, you damn right Black Comix exists not only as an industry, but a movement as well.
Hell, why do you think I created an anthology like 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape?
We’ve got creators, publishers, digital distributors, a convention system, printers and brick and mortar stores…
Sounds like an industry to me. And, it looks like the reach of this industry is international.
Problem is, cats who continue to ask this question are too busy chasing the business model of the “Corporate Two” or work in a vacuum so tight that they don’t realize what’s happening around them. Flat out, these cats don’t even really interact with, or stay aware of, other creators and what they are making in a similar space…
In other words, they are either too arrogant or too scared to be a part of the community.
The arrogance comes because they want to be at the top of the totem pole when it comes to what they think Black Comix are. They are looking for that ephemeral superstar status Wizard Magazine put into some of their heads with their Top 10 Artist and Writer lists (which were totally and arbitrarily manufactured). The fear comes into play as they know, deep down, that their product isn’t as up to snuff as someone else’s.
Yeah, I know I’m gonna catch mad flack for that last statement. It doesn’t mean that it isn’t any less true.
Now, there are many Black creators who are not asking this question. They are the ones getting recognition and finding success because their books meet the standards of the market. Why? Let me say this so the people in the back can hear:
COMIC BOOKS ARE AN EXERCISE IN GRAPHIC DESIGN
Everything needs to work in harmony (art, story, coloring, lettering, layout design and editing) in order to be considered a viable product by buying standards. Books like Bitter Root, Niobe: She Is Death, Is’nana: The Were-Spider, Crescent City Monsters and others have audiences of diverse backgrounds gobbling up their books because they are good stories that are well-designed with great content from Black creators. If one’s book is lacking in any of these areas, that book is going to have problems.
This leads into point two of this particular rant:
COLOR IS NOT CONTENT
The aforementioned books also work because it doesn’t matter if the characters are Black…
Their creators are.
Furthermore, they’re not trying to create a “Black version” of comics they’ve read before. They’re telling unique stories in different genres (because comics are more than superheroes) using their culture to enhance their stories and give unique points of view.
Here’s another point that you may or may not be aware of:
THE GAME DONE CHANGED AND BLACK WOMEN ARE AT THE FOREFRONT OF THIS CHANGE
I am not disrespecting the brothers who have paved the way at all. In fact, the brothers who haven’t been asking the question know exactly what I’m talking about.
In my opinion, C. Spike Trotman and Iron Circus Comics is the new publishing model one would want to follow. This woman has fundamentally changed the game building a successful publishing company with her savvy use of crowdfunding, marketing and content while cats are looking elsewhere for answers. She understands the market she’s built and has an extremely loyal fan/economic base.
In Detroit, Maia Crown Williams has created a cultural powerhouse with her MECCA Con which brings creators from all over the country to the Motor City, sets them up with book signings and makes sure that they sample the finest cuisine my hometown has to offer. In addition, she brings top-notch Black creators to Detroit as educational ambassadors who show young brothers and sisters the craft of bringing their visions to life.
Also, Sebastian Jones’ Stranger Comics and World of Asunda brand featuring Niobe has a huge female fan base in part due to Amandla Stenburg’s involvement in the creation of the character as well as Ashley Woods being a part of the creative team. By putting the creative team front and center (something the “Corporate Two” used to do), Stranger Comics built up that fan base, in part, because of marketing the creative team, the Black women who are a huge part of said team, gave added legitimacy to the brand.
And, of course, not enough can be said of Ariell Johnson and her success with Amalgam Bookstore and Coffeehouse.
Black women, straight-up, buy comics. Black women, straight-up, make comics. In addition to sci-fi author, creator of Dark Horse Comics’s LaGuardia and writer of Marvel’s Shuri series Nnedi Okarafor, we’ve got Ironheart writer Eve Ewing, artist Afua Richardson, writer and creator of the Women In Comics collective Regine Sawyer, illustrator Micheline Hess, indie writer Dorphese Jean, the badasses Ashley Woods, Alithea A. Martinez and so many more putting in that work on the daily and having a large fanbase that includes Black women.
This leads me to my final point:
CHANGE YOUR DEFINITION OF SUCCESS
People who want to get into comics nowadays don’t want floppies (though the 24-32-page pamphlet is still useful in getting people interested in your brand), they want books. They want graphic novels. These aren’t the people who go to the store every Wednesday for their X-Men or Justice League fix. They want books that represent them. They want to know that the creators of these books look like them, way more than the characters. They want the new and the creative. They want something different. They want a product that they don’t have to necessarily pick up every single month to follow the story. This is a new audience that people who keep asking the question are completely ignoring…
And, leaving money on the table.
Too many cats think way too small when it comes to their subject matter and its potential reach in other markets because they’ve locked into a model that, though successful for some, makes absolutely no sense for others. It amazes me how many cats don’t look at libraries or bookstores (online and mortar) as viable markets when those markets are killing it in terms of graphic novel sales.
it’s all about mindset. If you’re long-range goal is myopic, you’re not gonna find much traction. Straight-up, the model has changed. It’s been changed since, at the extreme least, 2010.
If you’re just going for a success model that only benefits the “Corporate Two” (i.e. built-in fan base from over 80 years of market saturation, Diamond as distribution, etc.) YOU ARE GOING TO FAIL. Simple as that.
The idea that Black Comix aren’t making an impact is bullshit. People who say that simply aren’t really checking out what’s happening in Black Comix. They’re too busy wishing for the “Corporate Two” to appease them while Milestone happened, while the whole con structure for Black Comics was built while Bitter Root and World of Asunda get picked up by Legendary and HBO respectively while Raising Dion and Cannon Busters appeared on Netflix.
But again, too many of aren’t aware of what’s happening in front of them. People really need to open their eyes to see what’s really going down. The machine has been created. More people just need to plug in by going to the cons, interacting with and being truly aware of what’s happening with other creators. That’s called being a part of the community…
And, maybe we’ll finally stop asking this question.
Speaking of community:
Dedication, Vol.05 of 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape is available now in print ($24.95) and digital ($9.95) formats. Click here to grab the print copy, here for the digital.
Also, 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape presents The Union is on sale in digital format ($3.99) with a print format coming at the end of October. What is The Union? The Union is an 8-bit video game that brings properties from independent Black Comix creators like Dorphise Jean, Robert Garrett(RIP), Quinn McGowan, William Satterwhite, Terance Baker, Tyrell White and Jiba Molei Anderson together for the first time to battle an enemy that threatens the very fabric of the multiverse we like to call The Blaxis. You can grab that bad boy here.
This is the community I’m talking about. This is Black Comix.
The African American presence has been evident in comics since the inception of the medium. Granted, for most of the medium’s history, the portrayal of African American culture has, at its best been skewed and, at its worst, offensive. But it cannot be denied that the African American character has always had a place in comic strips and comic books, and the African American comics’ creator has had a hand in developing the art form.
We have been here from the beginning and every day, there is another person of color, with nothing more than a pencil and imaginations, creating sepia-toned superheroes to right wrongs and provide inspiration to future comic book fans.
This is a celebration of the African American contribution to a uniquely American art movement, one, that at over 100 years and counting, has lasted longer than any modern artistic movement in history.
Here now are some of the trailblazers who paved the way for all of us from Milestone to Ania to Gettosake to Griot Enterprises, Black, Tuskegee Heirs, Niobe and so many more of us making comics today.
We salute you.
George Herriman’s premise of the series goes a little something like this: Krazy Kat is in love with Ignatz Mouse. Ignatz Mouse rebuffs Krazy Kat’s affections by throwing bricks at Krazy’s head. Krazy takes the brick throwing as a sign of affection from Ignatz Mouse and continues the pursuit. In this abusive situation comes Offissa Pupp, who is love with Krazy Kat, locks Ignatz Mouse up in order to show his feelings for the Kat who is totally oblivious to the good Offissa’s intentions.
Krazy Kat is, unmistakably, a Black comic strip. Through Herriman’s cultural chameleon-like way approaching life and work, he was able to bring his African American viewpoint on life and love to the masses…and the masses ate it up.
Created by Jackie Ormes, Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem, starring Torchy Brown, was a humorous depiction of a Mississippi teen who found fame and fortune singing and dancing in the Cotton Club. Ormes became the first African-American woman to produce a syndicated comic strip.
Torchy presented an image of a black woman who, in contrast to the contemporary stereotypical media portrayals, was confident, intelligent, and brave.
Clarence Matthew Baker is the first known African-American artist to find success in the comic-book industry. He entered comics through the Jerry Iger Studio, one of the 1930s to 1940s “packagers” that provided outsourced comics to publishers entering the new medium. Baker’s first confirmed comics work is penciling and inking the women in the 12-page Sheena, Queen of the Jungle #69.
His other artwork for comic books includes the light-humor military title Canteen Kate, Tiger Girl; Flamingo, South Sea Girl, Glory Forbes, Kayo Kirby; and Risks Unlimited. Baker illustrated Lorna Doone for Classic Comics in December 1946, and others.
Baker was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2009.
THE BLACK PHANTOM
Published in 1964, created by Steve Perrin and Ronn Foss for Mask and Cape #4, The Black Phantom pre-dates Jack Kirby’s Black Panther appearance in the Fantastic Four by two years. This fact makes the Black Phantom the first Black costumed superhero.
The Black Phantom was Lafayette Jefferson, an engineer and soldier who worked with the N.A.A.C.P. to address racial injustice in the southern United States. While traveling, he meets a young white man and orphan named Joey Trager. Together, they become the Black Phantom and the Wraith to battle the likes of the Ku Klux Klan and other opponents of tolerance and change.
Inspired by the television series I Spy, the first TV dramatic show to co-star an African-American in a lead role, writer John Saunders and artist Al McWilliams created the adventure comic strip Dateline: Danger! for the Publishers-Hall Syndicate. Introduced as both a daily and a color Sunday strip in November 1968, it similarly was the first in this medium with an African-American lead character, Danny Raven. As in the TV show, the two protagonists were American secret agents who globe-trotted to trouble spots under the cover of another profession.
Friday Foster was an American newspaper comic strip, created and written by Jim Lawrence and later continued by Jorge Longarón. It ran from 1970 to 1974 and was notable for featuring the first African American woman as the titular character in a comic strip.
Early on, Lawrence’s story lines had a harder edge showing the contrast of Friday’s family with her street-wise brother trying to accept her newfound success in the world of magazine publishing. But soon its episodes changed focus to showcase more soap-opera thrills of romance and travel for the gorgeous African-American.
Friday Foster made her way to film in 1975 with the incomparable Pam Grier playing the action-seeking photographer. Friday Foster is arguably, the first African American comic strip character as a lead brought to the cinema.
Powerman was a British comic book series written by Don Avenall (aka Donne Avenell) and Norman Worker, and illustrated by Dave Gibbons and Brian Bolland that was initially distributed in Nigeria in the early 1970s. The series starred a superhero named Powerman. When the comics were re-published in the United Kingdom the character’s name
An executive from a Nigerian advertising agency approached Bardon Press Features to discuss the idea of making a series with a black superhero; the man and his wife saw that in Nigeria, the comics available were imported and had White protagonists. Gibbons said that he remembered asking why Africans did not work on the strips and hearing that the African artists would likely emerge once comics become popular in Africa.
This is where we came from. Now, check out where we’re going. Grab Volume 3 of 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape – Doin’ Our Own Thang available now on Amazon, Kindle and DriveThruComics. Support diversity in Indie Comics!
You definitely started off with a bang. You have come out of the gate with events that have shaken this world up. You have called some of our most influential elders back to the celestial plane. You have also put the comic book world on notice. You have literally changed a universe:
The Marvel Universe.
Secret Wars #9 was finally released, the climax to an event that has set the tone and direction of this venerable creative playground for the foreseeable future.
Actually, Secret Wars is the culmination of Jonathan Hickman’s vision of the Marvel Universe, which began with New Avengers #1. To see this extremely ambitious meta-story unfold, in hindsight, is pretty amazing, especially when you consider the ever-increasing corporate nature of DC and Marvel coming to the fore. What’s truly interesting, if you really think about it, was that the hero of this meta-tale, which truly changed the Marvel Universe, is not Doctor Doom nor is it Reed Richards.
You see, while this mini-series signaled the end of the old world and its symbolic parents the Fantastic Four (much like Crisis On Infinite Earths put to bed the Silver Age of the DCU with the death of Barry Allen), the architect of the new world was another Jack Kirby creation; perhaps his most important creation depending on who you’re speaking to:
The Black Panther.
Yes, T’Challa is the real hero of Secret Wars. I would argue that for the past few years, we were seeing what the Marvel Universe had become through T’Challa’s lens. Understand I know that I am reaching here. There is nothing to back-up my thoughts. However, what is unmistakable is that the King of Wakanda was instrumental in creating the new Marvel Universe. Thanks to the Infinity Gauntlet, T’Challa dismantled Doom’s Battleworld and created something that merged universes as opposed to having them tear each other apart. He created something more inclusive, more “colorful,” something better than what was before. Here is an article that promotes a very ballsy theory, but quite valid: http://graphicpolicy.com/2016/01/15/the-new-marvel-universe-born-out-of-africa-and-afrofuturism/
Now, don’t get it twisted. I don’t think that Hickman created a more diverse, more inclusive Marvel Universe out of some notion of social responsibility. I don’t think that Marvel signed off on this direction out of any sense of social justice or any dedication to representation. This was a smart business move, pure and simple.
46.7% of comic readers are women. One in five comic book readers are Black or Latino. Diversity was the buzzword in 2015 and it’s only getting louder as we begin 2016. In other words, the world outside of the fantasy world of comics has changed. And, Marvel wants to get as much of that money as possible.
So, of course in the new Marvel Universe that T’Challa created, you are going to see more characters that reflect the real world the reader lives in. That has always been the strength of Marvel. That’s what makes Marvel different from DC. That’s what makes Marvel more accessible than DC. They have played to the strength of their creative business model’s core philosophy, and it’s paid off handsomely.
On the flip side, this weekend marked the 4th annual Black Comic Book Festival at the Schomberg Center in Harlem. From everything that I saw posted, it was and extremely successful affair which showcased the diversity and evolution of the African American presence in the independent and mainstream comic book industry. All of the attendants, professional and fan, remarked how amazing the festival was. Lines were around the corner. Creators were selling work left and right. I, of course, was very disappointed that I couldn’t attend this year. It is my goal for 2017 to be at this event. In case you missed it, here are some of the panels that occurred thanks to our comrade Karama Horne AKA The Blerd Gurl:http://theblerdgurl.com/media/panel-replay-from-black-comic-book-fest/#more-6703
Simultaneously, the 2016 Black Comix Arts Festival is happening on the West Coast of our nation in San Francisco. I guarantee that this event will be just as successful as the BCBF.
In the first two weeks of this New Year, the presence of the Black Hero is being felt throughout the country. And, it’s going to just get Blacker as the year moves forward. From Firestorm and Hawkgirl’s appearance in Legends of Tomorrow to the continued presence of… Oh hell, let’s just call Diggle Spartan in Arrow (thanks, Felicity) and J’onn Jonzz in Supergirl, to Falcon and War Machine in Captain America: Civil War with the cinematic introduction of the aforementioned Black Panther, to the Luke Cage series which will bring Misty Knight to the world of Netflix, the Black hero (as well as the Brown hero) is going to play front and center in this brave new world.
What’s even more important and celebratory is that we are going to see more work from creators of color in this landscape. Again, with Marvel leading the charge in the mainstream, we are going to have the pleasure of enjoying David Walker and Sanford Greene’sPower Man and Iron Fist as well as Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brain Stelfreeze’sBlack Panther alongside the minority dominant Ultimates, Squadron Supreme, Avengers, Ms. Marvel, Red Wolf, Spider Man, Captain Marvel and more. We’re going to see Afua Richardson and Ashley A. Woods get down and become trailblazers for women of color… Black women… Working for the Corporate Two. Of course, the Corporate Two need to do much more in this regard to their hiring practices, but this is a small step in the right direction.
Most important, we are going to see the continued growth of creators of color in the independent scene rising up to the challenge and creating fascinating, interesting and financially successful concepts. From Marcus Williams’ Tuskegee Heirs to Greg Anderson-Elysse’sIs’nana The Were-Spider and Jason Pearson’s return to Body Bags (all successfully funded via Kickstarter), the landscape has truly changed.
We have our own convention network now, and it covers the major areas in these United States. From the BCBF to BCAF, from ONYXCON to ECBACC, from SOL-CON to M.E.C.C.A. CON, our network is solid and it’s expanding…
And don’t get me going on Social Media… We got that joint on lock.
The world has changed. They are no longer the standard. They are no longer the example to follow. We no longer want to be like them. Their fantasy world is no longer theirs and they are afraid. They are desperately trying to turn back the clock, to impede progress. They tried to halt evolution. Because of that, they now face revolution. If you are offended by this paragraph, you are They and I apologize that I am not here to comfort you in your time of fear and grief.
Representation matters and here we are representing to the fullest.
So, no more talk of whether or not independent comics by creators of color are viable. No more questioning whether there is an audience for this kind of work by this type of creator. No more asking, “Where is the next Milestone.” No more asking, “Why doesn’t DC or Marvel have more Black characters.” As we have seen, and will continue to see, this aspect of the industry is here in full force, firmly entrenched. Our heels are dug in. We have built the foundation on which this new nation has, and will continue, to emerge.
David Bowie famously sang, “We can be heroes.” Well, here we are, on the page and behind the scenes… We are the real Black Heroes…
Fear us… Better than that, celebrate us. We were a village. We have become a nation. Ubuntu.
Well, this has been an exciting few weeks in the world of comics and comic-cons.
Two weeks ago, I had the extreme pleasure of attending the first ever Brown and Black Comix Expo, Sol-Con, on the campus of Ohio State University. Despite the fact that my skin was slightly smoldering from standing on enemy ground (I graduated from the University of Michigan), It was a transformative event… Let me amend that statement… It reminded me of what comic-cons used to be.
What do I mean? Well, before the “star” system and culture created by the late Wizard Magazine, comic-cons used to be a place where not only fans met their favorite comic creators and could bond with like minds over shared interests, comic book creators could bond with each other, share ideas, develop alliances and develop friendships. There was very little hierarchy. It didn’t matter which company you worked for. It didn’t matter if you were working with Marvel, DC, or one of the independents. Were you a creator? Cool. Let’s interact.
This vibe was evident at Sol-Con. Here we were, African American and Latino creators, side-by-side, plying our wares, sharing our stories, mixing it up with a diverse crowd of students, fans and educators…
…And left our egos at the door.
We shared the same space with the legendary Xaime Hernandez, creator of the seminal Love and Rockets. David Walker and I finally met face to face after knowing, and writing, about each other for at least 10 years (BTW, I got the Power Man / Iron Fist news over drinks that Friday and he swore me to secrecy). I was able to kick it with my sister Ashley Woods and here her manifesto on bringing the sensuality to her work and not giving two fudges about it (go on, girl). I reconnected with my man Eric Battle and finally met the illustrious Tim Fielder (can’t wait for that Horsemen piece!). I was able to meet the fantastic creator J. Gonzo and cop his awesome book La Mano del Destino… I could go on forever about how great that convention was…
We were truly nerds of color, proud and unabashed in our culture, influences and knowledge. We were mixing and matching conversations ranging in topics from Blaxploitation films to the greatness of Robert Rodriguez to 80s pop music to Robin’s green swimming trunks.
In short, we were becoming comrades. We were becoming friends. We were expanding our tribe.
Side note: I’m extremely proud to say that The Horsemen and 4 Pages | 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape will be used as textbooks for an upcoming OSU class focusing on race and representation in comics.
Hence, you could appreciate my saltiness at not being able to attend the New York Comic-Conthis past weekend. I wanted to keep the love going. But, I stayed abreast of everything that my fellow creators of color were doing that weekend, and extremely happy with the coverage that the con received. In fact, I did a little mental squeal of happiness when MSNBC did a story on comic book diversity and some of my colleagues were a part of that piece. You can check it out right here:
At this point, shouldn’t we all agree that articles like this only scratch the extreme surface of diversity in comics? Can we all agree that we should demand more of certain so-called “comic journalists” to go deeper with their research concerning not only characters of color, but creators of color as well?
Let’s start with the basics: Spawn, Shadowhawk, Steel, T.R.I.B.E., Brotherman, the entire Milestone line; pretty much every comic fan from 1993 on knows about these characters. Now, let’s go a little deeper: how about Jakita Wagner and Ambrose Chase (Planetary), Martha Washington, Quantum, Shadowman, Jackson King (Stormwatch, The Monarchy), Blackjack, Dhalua and Tesla Strong, Purge, Chocolate Thunder… The list goes and on. Now, let’s get to the 21st century. How about Destiny Ajaye (Genius), Midnight Tiger, Will Power, Watson and Holmes, Lucius Hammer, Concrete Park…
You see where I’m going.
Can we all agree that comic books are way, way more than just the “Corporate Two”? Can we agree not to celebrate these cursory articles about diversity, but instead challenge them to go further?
It’s 2015… We deserve more… And, we should demand it…
Creating for others to acknowledge and support you (i.e. the “mainstream audience”) is a waste of time. Stay in your lane, be unapologetic in your approach, make sure what you represent is of the utmost quality and you will find audience… Later for waiting for the “Corporate Two”…
The “mainstream” only comes… Only comes… after you have established a track record of production and garnered a fan base on your own. Even then, it only wants a pre-packaged sanitized, or easily exploitable, version of what one has produced. The “mainstream” has never… Never taken the lead on anything. It’s up to creators to bring cats in, kicking and screaming if need be, to the land of “Act Right.”
Cons like Sol-Con prove my statement. It is because of the independent spirit of creators like David Walker and Xamie Hernandez and Ashley Woods that they have spotlight on them right now. The mainstream didn’t make them a success. The independent market did. Diversity has always been a part of the independent comic book game. The mainstream is just now seeing the profitability of making the comic book world reflect the world we live in.
BTW, we have not arrived. There is no time to be resting on any perceived laurels. This is just the beginning and the comic book game is only going to get more interesting and more colorful.
I’ve stated this before. Folks can’t be spectators. Change is a contact sport.
This has been an interesting past couple of weeks…
On a personal level, I have been doing a lot of interviews, some in print, some for online radio, and the topic has been the same…
The Complexion of Comics.
Now, this phrase came about as I was speaking with MECCA Con founder Maia “Crown” Williams and I were working to title a panel I was going to moderate at the event. We didn’t want the panel to be the same old “bitch session” concerning the state of representation on the printed page and behind the scenes of the two largest publishers in the comic book sphere. Rather, we wanted to steer the conversation towards independent publishers and creators of color working on the fringe, navigating this space and creating new streams of access that DC or Marvel don’t care, or are too large of an entity, to navigate.
No more complaining. No more hoping, wishing and praying. This panel was to be about celebrating and forming alliances. You know how I get down.
It was a great panel, a true cross-section of publishers, artists and distribution with Bill Campbell, publisher of Rosarium Publishing, Daniel Zarazua, publisher of Pochino Press, Imani Lateef, owner of online distributor of comics by African American creators Peep Game Comix and Anthony Piper, creator of Trill League. We broke it down, we came correct, chopped it up and learned from each other…
Oh, yeah… The audience dug it as well. You can check out the panel right here:
I also had the extreme pleasure of meeting Sheena C. Howard and swapped a copy of #4Pages16Bars for her award-winning book, Black Comics: Politics of Race and Representation. It’s a meaty read and an extremely necessary discourse concerning the history of Black comics and their creators. If you want to get your academia concerning comics on, this is the book to read… It won the Eisner for a reason…
Oh, and Ms. Howard will be contributing to 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape… That’s how you build…
So, all in all, it was a great experience for everyone involved and something that I hope more of us, creators and fans can and will experience.
Now, coming back from MECCA Con, I was pleasantly greeted with this news:
I am excited by this news not because T’Challa is heading a solo book again (I called that when they announced that the Black Panther movie was green lighted; just good business), not because Ta-Nehisi Coates, a crucial voice in racial discourse, a voice who I listen to is writing the book, but also because Brian Stelfreeze, one of the greatest artists in the game, an influence on my work and an African American is drawing the book as well.
Peep game: A major African character from the “Corporate Two” has a writer/artist team that is representative of that character’s ethnic background.
Now, you may be saying: “Well, we’ve seen this before, haven’t we?” And, I would say yes… Almost 20 years ago. I can cite Steel towards the end of its run when Christopher Priest handled the writing duties and Denys Cowan handled the art circa 1997. Before then, Marcus McLaurin and Dwayne Turner working on the Cage book in the early 90s…
Since then? Nope… Until the recent news development.
On the flip side, this article popped up yesterday in the Huffington Post:
Now, I posted this and called it a revolutionary story and I stand behind those words. Never in comics coming from the “Corporate Two” have you seen a story focused around a family with extraordinary abilities of African descent… Never. Steel doesn’t count because John Henry and Natasha Irons never wore their respective armors at the same time. Black Lightning, pre-New52, never shared a book with his super powered daughters Thunder and Lightning. This is the first time, though only a mini-series, that you have seen this type of dynamic on the comic book page. It is revolutionary… Marvel should be patting its back on this book…
However, neither the writer nor artist of Infinity Gauntlet is of African descent. So, revolutionary in the sense we haven’t seen this from the “Corporate Two.” However, still problematic as there are no people of color writing nor drawing the book…
And, unfortunately, since Infinity Gauntlet is a mini-series, which is part of the Secret Wars event with no signs of becoming an ongoing title, by this time next year folks will complain about proper representation at the “Corporate Two”.
That’s the ongoing problem. People are so content with representation on the printed page, but aren’t nearly as concerned about the voice writing it. When that happens, things tend to get disingenuous. That’s why the upcoming Black Panther is so important. With the team of Coates and Stelfreeze, those are two brothers guiding the King of Wakanda. The only thing that would make that book more authentic is if one of the creators hailed directly from the continent.
So, Ta-Nehisi Coates on Black Panther is coming along with Brian Stefreeze drawing the book. They also just signed my girl Ashley Woods along with ally Afua Richardson as the first African American women working as an artists at Marvel as well as Sanford Greene finishing Runaways, Jason Pearson, Olivier Copiel, and more doing those Hip-Hop variant covers. I have to admit, this is kind of cool. It seems as if the “Corporate Two,” in some form, is paying attention to their buying audience and making some inroads to representation behind the printed page…
But, you know how I roll in this business and, you know I am one of the biggest critics when it comes to the “Corporate Two’s” practices. My side-eye is permanent.
This coming weekend is the inaugural Sol-Con: The Brown + Black Comix Expo held at Ohio State University’s Hale Hall from October 2-4. I hope that some of you will be able to attend and experience the true Complexion of Comics… Cheers.
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.
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:
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…
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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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.
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