“The gods have chosen them to protect humanity from itself…whether humanity wants them to or not. They combat those who control the fate of the planet. Through their actions, the world would never be the same.”
Created by Jiba Molei Anderson, The Horsemen is the saga of seven ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances, as the gods of ancient Africa possess them.
“When the first issue dropped in 2002, I was mad nervous. I didn’t know how this would be received. We sold over 3500 copies through Diamond (which would be major numbers today, still managed to be in Diamond’s top 300 for the month).
The official debut was Motor City Comic Con. That would be the true test. That weekend, we sold out of the box we brought with us to the con by Saturday. I had to go back to my mom’s crib in to pick up another box and we almost sold through that one by Sunday.
The biggest proof of concept came when I was trying to sell a copy to someone who already grabbed it at his LCS. He was not my target audience, but said it was the best book he had read that week.
I also met, and shook, Billy Dee Williams hand that weekend…”
– Jiba Molei Anderson
With the release of the Divine Intervention first issue in 2002, The Horsemen became a pioneer of the Afrofuturism movement in comics by using the Orishas as the basis for the superhero mythology.
The groundbreaking series celebrates its 20th anniversary with The Horsemen: Birth of the Spark!
“In 1995, I moved to Chicago and received my MFA in Visual Communication from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. It was at SAIC when I understood that the creation of comic books were an exercise in graphic design with script, illustration, layout, color story, etc. all components of the overall product.
My thesis project was going to be a book on the history of African American superheroes and linking them with the Orishas of the Yoruba faith as it were one of the religions that survived the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade through “hiding in plain sight” as it were.
This thesis project was the birth, and first appearance, of The Horsemen…”
– Jiba Molei Anderson
Written and Illustrated by Jiba Molei Anderson, The Horsemen: Birth of the Spark is an 80-page, 8.5″ X 11″ “Treasury-sized” volume, which continues the New Mythology saga with four stories filled with metaphysical intrigue, psychedelic locales, and pure AfroFantastic action!
The Elder Champions of Creation face their greatest challenge in The Consonance: Revelations!
Discover the truth behind the emergence of the Orisha in The First Iteration!
The Horsemen battle humanity’s psychic decay in the Birth of the Spark!
Witness a reinterpretation of the very first Horsemen story published in the now-legendary 1999 Griot Preview Book by The Horsemen: Manifest Destiny variant cover artist Aries Art!
The Horsemen: Birth of the Spark will also feature three pin-ups by indie comics legend Shawn Alleyne, articles by Wingless Entertainment founder Brian J. Lambert & scholar Lisa Kottas with a foreword by the co-architect of the Black Comix movement, John Jennings (Kindred, Parable of the Sower, Black Kirby) plus plenty of bonus materials celebrating this momentous milestone!
20 years ago, the world was introduced to The Horsemen and a world filled wonder, mystery, and grandeur told through a Pan-African lens. In doing so, The Horsemen helped change the climate in the comic book industry. Come and help us raise a glass and give cheers by entering The New Mythology on June 6, 2022!
That’s an interesting word. Let’s check Webster’s Dictionary for the definition:
• an attendant at a gate who is employed to control who goes through it.
• a person or thing that controls access to something.
“the primary-care doctor serves as the gatekeeper to specialists”
It’s the second meaning that I see some refer to when discussing the comic book industry.
Lately, I’ve been doing a LOT of podcasts, interviews and presentations. All of them, in one form or another, incorporate the question, “How does one get into the comic book industry?” That question is easy to answer:
Make a comic book.
Simple answer, right? Perhaps it’s too simple an answer. There must be something more involved to the process. There’s a reason why some comics succeed and some don’t, right? There has to be. For some, there has to be some outside force that’s preventing their ascension to the top of the charts.
“Money for marketing. That’s it. We don’t have enough money for marketing. Naw, it’s because we’re not unified as one comic book company. Yeah. That’s the reason why our books don’t get the acclaim that DC or Marvel get. No wait, I got it! The reason why we’re not getting noticed is because of the industry gatekeepers! Yeah! Distribution! Marketing budgets! Lack of corporate funding! All them gatekeepers. That’s why!”
There are no gatekeepers.
There is nothing keeping anyone from creating, printing, distributing and marketing your comic book. There is nothing in the way of preventing said creator to find, advertise and sell to their intended audience.
Print-On-Demand (POD) printers and distributors such as Amazon, Drive Thru Comics, Ka-Blam, Barnes & Noble will not only print books as needed, but also place them for sale in their online marketplaces with no cost for set-up fees nor minimum print runs.
Independent creators don’t need to follow the success model of the “Corporate Two.” We don’t have to pay for that infrastructure to be successful.
In terms of marketing, I have found that independent comic book creators actually do MORE promotion than the “Corporate Two” from consistent posting on social media, podcasts, conventions, etc.
Many of us #BlackComix creators already have our own comic book companies. Many of us have our distribution streams down pat as well as promoting our products throughout social media and other venues. In addition, there is an entire network of conventions, and a growing number of Local Comic Book Stores (LCS) that are owned by and cater to the African American audience.
Independent comics are having a moment, especially #BlackComix. For example, The World of Asunda (Niobe: She Is Life) is being developed for an HBO series, Bitter Root is being developed at Legendary (directed by Regina King) and more. Hell, my book TheHorsemen is part of a long-term installation in the Smithsonian.
So many independent Black creators (that apparently don’t have the budget for promotion) are making power moves that are getting noticed. You may try and write off Kickstarter, but these cats are selling in-store numbers based on the funding goals.
So, at the end of the day, the real fantasy is that #BlackComix are languishing unheard when cats like YouNeek Studios (Malika, EXO) signed major distribution deals with DarkHorse or a Black Comix company like Advent Comics signing with DiamondDistribution to get their books into your LCS or brothers like John Jennings (Kindred) are overseeing imprints like Megascope and pushing content that the public, at large, are picking up.
Nothing holds us back. Personally, I’m not competing with DC or Marvel. Different companies, different sizes, different goals. In fact, I’m not competing with anyone but myself.
There are no gatekeepers.
So, if there are no gatekeepers, how does one garner acclaim for the book that they want to create? The answer that question is simple:
Do the work.
This is doing the work:
Make the product. Make sure that the product can stand shoulder to shoulder with the industry standard and make sure that your product stands out from the rest.
Figure out what success looks like for YOU, not the “Corporate Two.” You don’t have corporate dollars. You don’t have damn near 100 years of market saturation. So why try to fashion your business after a model that is, honestly, outdated?
Market your product. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a lot of money to market effectively. Again, social media has democratized the playing field. Me interacting with you, right now, is an act of marketing. But you have to know who you are as a brand to market effectively.
BE AN ACTIVE PARTICIPANT IN THE COMMUNITY. Real talk, the reason why this question pisses me off is because every who asks this question is not doing their homework. Again, y’all so focused on what the “Corporate Two” is doing, y’all haven’t really been paying attention to the network that has already been created. I see more cats bitching about Black Superman than showing love to a book like Tuskegee Heirs. There is a whole history of #BlackComix that has been present since the beginning of the industry. More cats need to read up on it.
And don’t say that the work isn’t promoted because it pops up in Facebook groups & ads, Instagram and Pinterest posts as well as Twitter feeds all day, every day.
The reason why I created the 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape anthology series was to show that we don’t need one company to represent #BlackComix. Just like Hip Hop isn’t just Death Row or Tommy Boy or Disturbing Tha Peace, #BlackComix isn’t just Stranger Comics or Advent Comics or Griot Enterprises. It’s a culture hence the tagline “Comics Are Hip Hop.”
At the end of the day, those who complain and worry about gatekeepers, quite simply aren’t doing the work. They’re trying “game” the system and plan for success before putting pencil to paper. The rest of us are working the program and making it happen. There’s a whole community already there and it is strong. Y’all just need to pay attention… Because there are no gatekeepers.
BTW, The Kickstarter of 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape Vol. 07. – Mass Appeal launches in June 1. Click here to be among the first notified!
First and foremost, I am an artist. Comics are my medium. With that being said, there have been many artists that I looked up to, admired, envied, and had been intimidated by. In other words, I have learned to be a better comic book creator by observing and studying how they have approached the craft of comics. This is a list of some of my favorite Black comic book artists. If your favorite artist isn’t on this list, make your own.
Part 1 focused on my early influences of the 80s and the 90s before I stepped my toe into this raging ocean called comics. Part 2 focused on the artists whose work pushed me to be a better creator as I began my career in comics. In Part 3, I want shed some light on some of the artists who have come up in the Black Comix world that keep me on my toes.
Let’s get into it…
JAMAL YASEEM IGLE & RAY ANTHONY-HEIGHT
Jamal Yaseem Igle is another artist whose work I first discovered through Alex Simmons‘ Blackjack series. From the beginning, I was amazed by his solid storytelling and “neo-classic” comic book style. In my opinion, he is a modern heir to the seminal Superman artist of the late 60s and 70s, Curt Swan. That comparison is further warranted by Igle’s stint on Supergirl with Sterling Gates, creating a classic iteration of the character, which has spilled over into her show on the CW. Both are comic book illustrators of the highest order with a command of anatomy that many other creators are still trying to get to.
Since then, Jamal has been focusing more on indie titles like the revolutionary Black, The Wrong Earth for Ahoy Comics and his own creation Molly Danger. If you want to know how to do comics right, Jamal’s work is the perfect start to your education.
Ray Anthony-Height has a style made for all-ages comics. That is not to say that his work is juvenile, but that it has a playful animated bounce that appeals to fans of multiple generations. I first discovered his work via IndyPlanet when his book Midnight Tiger caught my eye.
Suddenly, Ray was everywhere creating work for Marvel on titles like X-Men, Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur as well as Superb for Lion Forge. And, for a while, my beloved Midnight Tiger fell by the wayside as Ray was living the life of a freelance artist. When he announced that he was bringing back the character, I rejoiced…
In 2019, I was at a convention in Chicago and Ray was one of the attendees. He was selling his original pages, which were on 8.5″ X 11″ copier paper! The brother was drawing final print size the whole damn time with, what? A .02 mechanical pencil? You fiend! How dare you be that precise and awesome all at once? Balderdash, I say… Balderdash!
MICHELINE HESS & TONY PURYEAR
One positive aspect of Facebook is the opportunity to connect with other members of your tribe.
Thanks to John Jennings and Damian Duffy‘s Black Comix, a solid community of Black creators was formed. It was the sweetest breath of fresh air. We finally knew that we weren’t alone in our respective bubbles. It was like the movie Highlander without the taking of heads. There no longer had to be “only one.” We we everywhere.
Micheline Hess is another alumni of Milestone Media acting as a colorist working on titles like Static, Icon and (one of my favorite titles) Shadow Cabinet. But, I didn’t know Micheline until I began the 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape anthology series. Her book Malice In Ovenland was exactly what the anthology needed to offset the more standard superhero fare. Her whimsical style was a needed respite from ninjas on motorcycles and dusty shootouts in Western taverns.
But then, she goes and flips the script! Micheline uses that same child-friendly style to the revolutionary Diary of a Mad Black Werewolf, a womanist tale of the ultimate revenge against the twin demons of racism and sexism. Steeped in African iconography, she just decides to pop this thing out during the 2019 Inktober challenge and we were bugging! So glad that she turned that therapeutic art exercise into a graphic novel… Cheers to you, my sister!
Truth be told, I low-key envy Tony Puryear a little bit.
I mean, how could you not? He’s the first African American to write a summer blockbuster. Any body here of a little film called Eraser starring some dude… I think his name is Arnold Schwarzenegger? He married my mid-20s crush Erika Alexander, you know, Maxine Shaw: Attorney At Law, of Living Single. On top of that, those two made a comic book together, a multi-cultural, dystopian sci-fi epic called Concrete Park. It’s the artwork of Concrete Park that really stokes that little envy gremlin of mine.
Tony’s art reminds me of LosBros Hernandez, creators of the indie classic Love and Rockets, in the best way possible. His economy of line, use of expression and application of visual cinematic knowledge continues to blow me away. In addition, he is a fantastic graphic designer using the tool of visual communication in his scathing Gangkstas series lambasting this current administration that festers in the White House. Yes, I tip my hat to you, sir. Keep feeding my envy.
SHAWN ALLEYNE & CHUCK “DRAGONBLACK” COLLINS
Ok. Now this is the part where people might get mad with me. There are so many great artists out there that I want to give love to, but I limited myself to 29 artists to focus on for this series and I know I had to leave some people out. To those of y’all who may feel a certain way about this, let it be known that it was only because of space that you were not included, nothing personal. If you’re still mad at me after that… Well I can’t do nothing for you, mayne…
Shawn Alleyne was another artist I discovered through being associated with Black Comix. Born in Barbados now residing in Philadelphia, Shawn’s work is… How shall I call it… Sexy A.F. His figures are long and sinewy bursting with a sensual energy that exists in his lovingly-rendered linework. He doesn’t do too much interior work, but his covers for books like The Almighty Street Team and his pin-up work taking his own unique spin on existing properties fro the “Corporate Two” are absolutely stunning.
Shawn Alleyne is Black Love incense walking. His work is sure to make even the hardest of the hard swoon. But, for real bruh, I need a comic book from you with the quickness…
Keep, keep bouncing…
When Bounce first appeared, I was completely blown away by this mash-up of science fiction, political comedy, social commentary, Afrofuturistic fantasy and pure nerdom based on the real life adventures of Chuck Collins as a bouncer. Characters like the aforementioned Bouncer, his best friend Yemaya and the rest of the crew became some of my new best comic friends. As the strip has gone on, the proud Haitian Collins has incorporated more of his animation background into the strip making Bounce a companion of Black satire to works like The Boondocks (comic strip and animated series) and the Black Dynamite cartoon.
He also be dropping a lot of Orishas in his strip, too. I love the spiritual connection his work and mine have in common. Luckily, Chuck has collected a bunch of his strips in a volume called BOUNCE! First Round of Shots. You need to step up to the bar and order one.
JASON REEVES & MARCUS WILLIAMS
He’s a hustler. He’s a curmudgeon. He’s got beef with Luke Cage and How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way (seriously, what did Marvel do to you?). But Jason Reeves is one of the coldest artists in the game today.
The visionary behind 133Art, illustration studio and printing company, Reeves came to my attention through his creation, One Nation. Since then, his work has graced such projects as the animated series T.A.S.K. and the book Kid Carvers. His rendition of M.E.C.C.A. Con founder Maia Crown Williams graces the cover of 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape’s first volume.
What does Jason’s work bring to the table? Power. His characters are confident and strong evoking the inner majesty we all hope to one day possess…
But real talk? Just let the beef go, fam. Let it go…
Marcus Williams stays drawing.
Every week, he pops out a new series of images. From his latest, Ebony Images to his annual gender-bending Swaptober series to his fan fiction mash-ups of properties like Black Panther and the Thundercats, Williams’ work sparks the imagination and is an undisputed favorite among many Black comic book fans. With his partner-in-crime Greg Burnham, he co-created the superlative Tuskegee Heirs, a futuristic take on the Tuskegee Airmen and Japanese Mecha anime.
Williams’ work is everything a Black comic book fan wants. It references popular culture and has that animated style that people can immediately glob onto. It’s colorful, bombastic and joyful. He’s the “People’s Champ” of comic book artists and it’s easy to see why.
AFUA RICHARDSON & ASHLEY A. WOODS
I love seeing the rise of the Black woman in comics.
I’m not talking about characters, I’m talking about creators. I could write a whole articles about these amazing writers and artists, but I’m going to focus on the two women whose work always has me doing double-takes.
African-Native American Afua Richardson is a vocalist, performer, songwriter, voice actor, activist, cosplayer and one hell of an illustrator. She is truly a Jane of all Trades, multi-talented and multi-dimensional. I first discovered her on Facebook, unaware of her early work under the moniker Lakota Sioux. She then went on to illustrate Top Cow‘s unexpected and underrated Genius written by Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman. It was her illustrations of mermaids though that caught my attention.
I was utterly captivated by her use of Adobe Illustrator (one of my preferred artistic weapons of choice) to create such organic work that completely hid the digital tools she uses to create. Her “analog” work takes on the flavor of fine fashion illustration, a style that I’ve always loved since my mother would force me to hang out at JoAnn Fabrics on Sundays after church (hey, my mom was into sewing like I was into comics).
Afua has since become an artist in demand, creating covers and interiors for titles like Marvel‘s World of Wakanda, X-Men ’92, DC‘s All-Star Batman, Humanoids‘ Omni and more. And yeah, she’s a media darling which is cool because she totally deserves all of the accolades.
I think of Ashley A. Woods as my little sister.
Keep in mind, I do have a little sister, and she and Ashley share many of the same qualities. They are both sweet and kind, beautiful, intelligent, strong and hella talented.
Ashley graduated from the Chicago campus of the Illinois Institute of Art where I taught at the Schaumburg campus for 11 years. She put herself on by writing and illustrating Millenia War, which showcased her love of anime and video games. She blew up illustrating Stranger Comics‘ Niobe: She Is Life. Ashley stays hustling like a true Chicagoan becoming an artist-in-demand working on titles like Tomb Raider for Top Cow, Boom Studios‘ Ladycastle and has broken into the cinematic realm creating work for Jordan Peele’s Get Out and the upcoming Lovecraft Country.
Ashley’s work has developed this lovely “broken line” quality which has an almost etherial sensuality. She is also unashamed in exploring the feminine power in her work…
Two words: Cammy Cakes. If you’re an Ashley A. Woods fan, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
I’m super-proud of how far you’ve come in a short time, sis. I can’t wait to see how far you will go.
Do not let Uko Smith’s gentle demeanor and warm smile fool you. That dude is a cot damn artistic bully. He is the Deebo of comics riding around on that little-ass bike, wearing the chain that your grandmama gave you. Gaaahhh! It’s so disgusting how good this dude is! I don’t even wanna give him his props like that!
But, he is that good. He’s been that good ever since I met him years ago. He’s been that good with the sexy, flexy-ass art style which graces his own creation Bombshell with bodybuilder Colette Nelson. He’s bullied companies like DC, Marvel, Heavy Metal, White Wolf Publishing and others into giving him work.
Whatever. I’m just putting it out there that I’m not scared of you, Uko! You ain’t all that! You ain’t gonna do nothing to me…
Wait, he’s behind me right now, isn’t he?
So there it is. 29 Black comic book artists that I admire. And, I only scratched the surface. There are some many more people out there doing the damn thing like Quinn McGowan (Master of the One-Finger Technique), Anthony Piper, Julie Anderson, Sean Hill, Alitha Martinez, N. Steven Harris, Eric Battle, George Gant and so many more. And don’t get me started on the writers! Clawd hammercy! I would need to launch a series of books in order to give proper respect to them all…
Oh, wait… I do have a series of books for that purpose. Check out the 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape anthology series, the perfect sampler to discover the amazing world of Black Comix and their creators.
First and foremost, I am an artist. Comics are my medium. With that being said, there have been many artists that I looked up to, admired, envied, and had been intimidated by. In other words, I have learned to be a better comic book creator by observing and studying how they have approached the craft of comics. This is a list of some of my favorite Black comic book artists. If your favorite artist isn’t on this list, make your own.
Part 1 focused on my early influences of the 80s and the 90s before I stepped my toe into this raging ocean called comics. Part 2 is all about the cats whose work pushed me to be a better creator as I began my career in comics.
CHRIS CROSS & KEN LASHLEY
Chris Cross was one of the many artistic bright spots Milestone Media brought to the comic book landscape. Along with fellow alumni Humberto Ramos and John Paul Leon, Chris Cross had to be one of my favorite artists of the mid-90s. From Blood Syndicate to Heroes, his mastery of facial expressions and character “acting” along with his energetic layouts, which are a take on manga through an African-American lens, enhanced every book he worked on. His style makes stories as diverse as Xero to Captain Marvel extremely accessible to audiences from every walk of life.
I first discovered Ken Lashley through one of his first gigs providing illustrations for Alexander Simmons‘ Blackjack: Second Bite of the Cobra. However, I didn’t become a fan of his work until he self-published the WAY too short-lived Legends from his own studio. What a quantum leap! Ken AKA Ledzilla knows what makes for powerful images. His command of structure and anatomy was a goal that, some days, I’m still trying to achieve. His career is similar to one of my other favorite artists Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez in that Ken has done a lot of licensing art for properties like G.I. Joe and Star Wars. He knows the business of being a professional commercial artist and flexes it like a champ. Man, I really need to pick his brain about that the next time I see him at a con…
SANFORD GREENE & THE LOVE BROTHERS
Sanford Greene. The homie. We came up around the same time, meeting at the then Chicago Comic Con (before it became WizardWorld Chicago). Right away, I was a huge fan of his “Hip Hop meets Anime” style. It was super clean, perfect for all-ages titles like The Batman and Legion of Super Heroes. As time went on, his style became looser, grittier and I was along for the ride. This flavor in his work emerged when he worked on the Method Man graphic novel. Since then, Power Man and Iron Fist, the smash hit Bitter Root, An Army of Frogs… Man.
In 2007, Sanford and I were talking about how far we had gotten in our career. We were talking about the evolution of the sketchbook. He was the one that made the metaphor of the sketchbook being the equivalent of a mixtape. That conversation was the beginning of the 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape anthology series… You can thank Sanford Greene for that as well. I know I do…
When we launched Griot Enterprises in 1999, another company popped up almost at the exact same moment. That company was Gettosake Comics, owned and operated by Jeremy and Robert Love. These brothers were making the work Griot Enterprises wanted to be judged by. Chocolate Thunder was our jam and I loved (pun intended) these brothers’ cartoony style. We at Griot considered Gettosake the friendliest of competition as they made us want to create better comics.
Since then, Gettosake has gone the way of the dodo (which is bullshit because I want more). Of course, you could chalk up Gettosake’s demise to the fact that the Love Brothers have blown up at other labels like Image and Dark Horse thanks to books like Fierce, Number 13 (with David Walker) and the classic Bayou published by DC Comics. Still, I want more Gettosake comic books… Can we make that happen, fellas?
KHARY RANDOLPH & EMILIO LOPEZ
I could have just focused on Khary Randolph in this piece. I mean, he has a helluva resume working on books like We Are Robin, Teen Titans Go!, Starborn and others. I could just go on and on about his combination of Hip Hop aesthetics, animation and manga giving an ill kinetic flavor all its own…
But, when Khary connected with his colorist of choice Emilio Lopez, that’s when the whole thing came together. These two are straight-up the EPMD of comics, banging illustrations, all business. Khary is the MC while Emilio is the DJ. Together, they have created classic joints like Mosaic from Marvel and their current banger, Excellence, written by another brother-in-arms, Brandon Thomas.
JOHN JENNINGS & STACEY ROBINSON
Together, they are Black Kirby, the dynamic duo who brought the synthesis of Afrofuturism and comics to academia. Separately, they are two of the greatest artists I have the privilege to call colleagues and friends.
I first met John Jennings in 2009 when he approached me to have my work featured in the first volume of the seminal art book Black Comix. I was honored to be included in that volume, especially when I saw the pedigree of creatives that were in that book. Sine then, we have collaborated on a number of projects and exhibitions as fellow academics including SOL-CON and The Black Speculative Vision.
John’s work looks like he consults the Loa every time he creates an image. It’s like he has altar to Ogun, offers the rum, chews the roots and gets to work. It truly is Jack Kirby seen through the rough-hewn eyes of a master woodworker. It’s visual southern gothic Vodou with a rich tradition steeped in African spirituality. Just check out The Hole or the adaptations of Kindred and Parable of the Sower (with the blue-eyed soul brother Damian Duffy) to get a taste of some down-home comic book making.
Becoming a member of an exclusive club of Black comic book creators who are also college professors has its privileges. One of those privileges has been becoming friends and working with Stacey Robinson. His style is absolutely rhythmic. It’s visual jazz swirling in the brain merging with your vertebrate and settling deep within your soul. What I love about his work is that even though we make take similar approaches in creating images, his technique and visual language is so unique it’s almost annoying. Plus, we’ve got the whole DJ thing in common so when I look at his work, I know he’s “digging in the crates” to come up with some of the ills work I’ve ever seen. Check out I Am Alfonso Jones to get a taste of my man’s amazing talent.
This dude right here…
It was 1988. I was a junior at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy waiting in line to get my lunch. Here comes this cat, a freshman no less, walking up to me saying: “Yo, I saw you left this drawing in the art room and I decided to finish it. Here you go.”
The audacity! This fool went ahead and drew on my shit! Even more annoying, this fool made my drawing better!
That is how I met Kenjji Jumanne-Marshall.
I can’t condense how much I love his work in just a paragraph or two. Simply put, Kenjji is my litmus test. He is the purest comic book artist I’ve ever met. Kenjji is the best comic book artist you never heard of.
Jim Lee? Nah. Todd McFarlane? Whatever. Rob Liefeld? What the hell have you been smoking?
Kenjji is the Phife Dawg to my Q-Tip, the Big Pooh to my Phonte. He is the cat that pushes me to be the best creator I could possibly be. We thought we were starting a comic book company when creating Griot Enterprises when, in reality, it’s much more than that. Together, we created a standard of excellence that people still measure Black Comix by.
Straight up? Kenjji is family. And no one inspires you to be the best more than family.
So, that was Part Two. Come back for Part Three when I show love to the artists that came after me… And who keep me on my toes.
Truth be told, I dreaded making this list. I know some people are gonna be mad at me for this. Some people are gonna be like, “What about so and so?” or “You forgot so and so.”
I can’t let the naysayers get to me.
First and foremost, I am an artist. Comics are my medium. With that being said, there have been many artists that I looked up to, admired, envied, and been intimidated by. In other words, I have learned to be a better comic book creator by observing and studying how they have approached the craft of comics. This is a list of some of my favorite Black comic book artists. If your favorite artist isn’t on this list, make your own. Let’s get started:
PARIS CULLINS & CHUCK PATTON
These two brothers were the first comic book artists that I knew of who were Black. They both worked for DC Comics in the early 80s with Patton working on Justice League of America and Cullins drawing Blue Beetle. In terms of solid, steak and potatoes comic book illustration, these two brothers couldn’t be beat. Their mastery of the fundamentals captivated me. Knowing that they were Black inspired me.
DENYS COWAN & KYLE BAKER
In the 80s, there was a lot of experimentation happening in comic book illustration. This was the era when cats like Bill Sienkiewicz, Frank Miller and Howard Chaykin emerged, turning sequential art on its ear.
I fell in love with Cowan’s art when he was working on The Question with Denny O’Neil. I would say that his work has an “African” quality that you just don’t see with other creators. I’m not talking about the use of African iconography in his work, but rather the mark-making itself has a sensibility that reminds me of the continent. His illustration is almost like mud cloth to me. I feel the history of every artist who came before him in his linework. It’s damn near ancestral. He was the man who, when looking at my first comic book portfolio in 1994, said: “You want to make your own comics, don’t you?” He is the main reason why Griot Enterprises exists today. Yeah, most cats would mention his legendary status as a co-creator of Milestone Media, but it was The Question that made me a fan.
I became aware of Kyle Baker’s work when he followed Sienkiewicz on The Shadow. I thought it was an interesting choice to follow such an impressionistic art style with a more whimsical one, but Baker won me over very quickly. He’s a master cartoonist, doing things in illustration that I’m still trying to figure out. His graphic novel Why I Hate Saturn made me laugh out loud. His comedic timing is unparalleled. Again, Baker will get major love because of Truth: Red, White and Black, but to only know him for that book barely scratches the surface of this brother’s amazing body of work.
BRIAN STEFREEZE & LARRY STROMAN
As the 80s became the 90s, I officially decided to make comics my career as an artist. The birth of Milestone Media and Image Comics laid out the path before me.
Before Larry Stroman co-created the monolith of Black Comix known as Tribe, he did a lot of work for Marvel including, the equally-legendary Alien Legion and, my personal favorite work, X-Factor. I love Stroman’s work because he illustrates more like a graphic designer that a classic comic book artist. He has a way with shape and composition that is fascinatingly geometric, kinda like the “clean line” version of everything that I love about Denys Cowan’s work. When the “Mighty” Larry Stroman popped up at the 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape exhibition back in 2013, I definitely felt like I was blessed by a master.
Quite simply, Brian Stelfreeze is a zen master of illustration. I became a fan when he was the cover artist for Batman: Shadow of the Bat and he has consistently gotten better with every project he’s worked on. I’m a fan of Matador, Day Men, The Ride and so much more. When he was tapped for Ta’Nehsi Coates‘ relaunch of Black Panther, I thought to myself, “Finally.” He is the most gracious of teachers. I learned more from him in five minutes than I learned in a semester of grad school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
JASON PEARSON & SHAWN MARTINBOROUGH
“I’m gonna whup your bony ass as thin as my patience.” When I read those lines in the first issue of Body Bags, I knew that Jason Pearson was a brother. His artwork work is kinetic, seamlessly blending the cartoon with the realistic. His interpretations of characters from the “Corporate Two” are some of the best I’ve ever seen. I think I have at least three of his sketchbooks that I picked up throughout the years of going to conventions. His output isn’t as prolific as some other creators. I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s so special to me. Every time I see him on a project, it’s a treat and I do love my treats.
Shawn Martinborough is a master of noir. I really became a fan of his work during his stint on Detective Comics. Again, his graphic language manifested in his black and white work is astounding. From Luke Gage: Noir to Thief of Thieves and beyond, each page is a mini-education. He is also, quite possibly, the best-dressed man in comics. I have nothing but the highest respect for this artist.
So ends Part One of this series. Come back for Part Two when I shed a spotlight on more Black artists in the game that inspire me to continue putting the work in.
Yeah, it’s a grind for real. I’ll say this: writing a business plan before starting to draw page one has allowed me to navigate the game thus far. But yes, I am ready to advance to the next stage…
Now, let me address (once again) the feasibility of the oft-mused about “Black comic book company.”
I’ve seen some people try to take on the task of creating a huge comic book universe with dreams of a bunch of artists and writers coming on board to make this vision come true. Most times, it’s one person who wants to be the architect of this vision with the idea that they would become the next “Stan Lee,” the epicenter of this grand creative enterprise…
And, such thoughts lead, unfortunately, to nowhere or worse (feelings of betrayal, bitterness, clique-forming, etc.). Why? I’ll tell you…
Today, creators want to tell their own stories, build their own universes, and they can. Nothing is holding them back not even economics if they have the skill set to make their IP come to life (or create fundraisers on platforms like Kickstarter to raise capitol).
Making the comic is the easy part, the “fun” part. Handling the marketing and business of promoting the comic is where the real work lies. Building a fandom is a beast. That takes marketing, consistently putting out a quality product (not monthly, necessarily, but consistently), having a web presence (not just Instagram or Facebook but an actual website), going to conventions, pressing the flesh… The game ain’t for the faint of heart nor part-time players.
The good thing about Diamond when I got in the game was that they demanded seeing three issues before soliciting the first one. So, one had to have a complete arc from jump.
A lot of neophyte creators don’t plan for the long haul. Too many focus on that one issue hoping it will hit before doing a second one. I think some people need to focus on creating a solid story (beginning, middle, and end) as opposed to creating universes from jump. Universes come with time and consistent output. But first, you need to get a story out there to build the universe on.
Let me also say this on the creative end: don’t wait for your universe to be built before launching your title.
With The Horsemen, I did have the makings of a comic universe based on a couple of concepts that were percolating when I was an undergrad at U of Michigan back in the day. this existed before I even thought of The Horsemen themselves. Those concepts didn’t begin coming to fruition until my graduate studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where my thesis project birthed both The Horsemen and the 4 Pages 16 Bars project.
When I decided to enter the game, I knew that waiting until I had everything fleshed out creatively or skill-wise could mean that I’d be waiting forever. In other words, I knew that I would get in the way of my work seeing the light of day. Getting the book out was the most important thing.
I stopped looking at comics from a fan perspective and started to really look at them as an art form and as a product. I knew I had the skill set to make it look and read comparable to the industry standard package and design-wise. I also knew that the more I did it, the better and more sophisticated the work would become. It had to be good, but it didn’t have to be perfect. The point was to get the property out to the world, to “plant my flag” and to keep coming with new product.
On the creative side, I allowed the universe to grow naturally bringing those concepts into the story as the story progressed. I also kept myself open to new ideas as they popped up. By the time I published Mythos: The Official Handbook of the Horsemen Universe and Lumumba Funk, I realized that I had my universe with the characters, worlds and rules intact. I also found out that I established at least two spin-off properties from that world if I so choose to do that. It took 20 years, but in that 20 years, I put out The Horsemen so that readers could take the journey with me.
The reason why I created the 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape series is for people to sample different works from creators of color and guide them to said creators’ websites and such to purchase those books. Somewhat of the same concept as a company without the hassle of needless “continuity” between disparate creators and their own publishing/transmedia goals.
When it comes to bringing different properties under one banner, a business model similar to the Image Comics of 2019 is more feasible than a shared universe. Reason being, as stated above, building a cohesive comic book universe takes time. For example, DC’s multiverse exists because of acquisition (i.e. absorbing the properties of other comic book companies like Charlton, Fawcett,Wildstorm, etc.) whereas Marvel’s was more cohesive with a singular writing architect (initially Stan Lee) with equally creative artistic input from visual storytellers like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, etc. Even then, that took years to build.
Initially, all that creating the Image Comics’ model would take is a number of books carrying the same brand logo similar to the Image “I.” In addition to carrying that brand on the selected properties, said books would cross promote each other’s properties via social media, free ad swaps in their books, pooling resources to get small press tables at conventions, much like Hip Hop crews like the Native Tongues (The Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, Monie Love, Black Sheep, etc.), the Soulquarians (D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Common, J Dilla, The Roots, etc.), the Wu-Tang Clan and others whose similar sensibilities added to the success of the individual groups or artists.
I have a plan for that and a symbol…
And yet, you still find people complaining about the lack of representation in comics.
The real issue is that, simply, some people call themselves comic book fans when really, all they only read is either DC or Marvel comics instead of really looking for what’s out there. Even when they say they read comics from other publishers, it’s either early Image (Spawn, Youngblood, etc.) or Milestone, which hasn’t published a book since 2010.
And, the whole excuse of “we can’t find them” is complete and utter bullshit as we creators are promoting our works every single day on social media. Point blank period, the DC/Marvel acolytes ain’t checking for them because of the fact that those books aren’t from DC or Marvel.
The point is this: if you just read DC or Marvel comics, that’s fine. We all read DC or Marvel. They’re the “fast food” of comic book companies especially today.
But, if you complain about a lack of Black characters or Black creators, and only look at DC or Marvel as salvation as opposed to at least exploring offerings from independent creators, that’s a problem.
The whole “dreaming and wishing” phase has long past with so many creators and properties getting shine and making waves. Unfortunately, it seems that its only Black fans, the loudest complainers honestly, who refuse to be up on the game…
I think that’s partly because those cats don’t need to “invest” in DC/Marvel properties like they do the indies.
They can talk about what DC/Marvel does all the live long day subconsciously knowing that the “Corporate Two” ain’t really listening to them. Also, they don’t necessarily have to buy “Corporate Two” books because of close to 100 years of market saturation.
With indies like us, first they have to buy our books. There’s no workaround from that. Second, they know whatever they say will get a quick response, which isn’t necessarily a good thing (seriously, some cats need to get out of their feelings).
Also, there’s a fear factor involved in the sense that those who yap and create aren’t ready to hear critiques of their work (for real, get out of your feelings).
Finally, the “Corporate Two” stans want to feel like they are a part of the “mainstream” comic book community. That’s why they bitch so much about a Blue Marvel or John Stewart flick because they feel “if ‘mainstream’ fans (read: you know what I mean) watch it then I am, tangentially, of value.”
Yeah, I said it. I said that shit.
I’ve heard this same argument or plea or solution for the past five years. And, even though I personally made inroads to solve this problem, the fact is that if cats want the Black heroes, they think DC or Marvel should be making, they need to look outside of DC or Marvel to find them.
I see way too many people wish for the “Corporate Two” to make the type of Black characters or books that some #BlackComix creators have already made. I see too many fans wish for some sort of mainstream “approval” when there is more than enough material we created to build and support our own fandom.
Just like Jazz, Hip Hop, and Rock & Roll, we as Black folk have the opportunity to be ahead of the curve by supporting great indie Black Comix which would lead to more books which would lead to the “mainstream” wanting that content.
But until that day comes, I’ma keep making comics and celebrate other great books from Black creators like Crescent City Monsters, Excellence, Is’nana the Were-Spider, the upcoming Bass Reeves and more because they deserve more of my support and energy than a book from the “Corporate Two.”
A blueprint has been laid out. Question is: will someone follow it?
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.
This is the last day of 2018 and the sixth day of Kwanzaa, Kuumba (creativity).
They say that diamonds are formed under immense pressure. Well, 2018 showed that Black creativity is brilliant, dazzling and gleaming. From Black Panther to Sorry To Bother You to A Wrinkle In Time to Dirty Computer to Into The Spider-Verse, the Afrofantastic has been on full display and crushing competition. The #BlackComix movement is thriving in its diversity of thought and content while Comicsgate was crushed under the weight of its misogynistic and racist vitriol.
Despite the continued assault on the African consciousness, 2018 was the year we came out in our full melanin creative glory. We’re gonna top it in 2019… #SurviveResistExcel#BlackArtMatters
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.
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…”
Currently Griot Enterprises has a GoFundMe campaign happening. Your contribution will help us keep this train moving and you can cop some cool rewards for your donation. So please, become a part of Griot Enterprises and a part of the future of entertainment… We tell great stories!
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.