I’ve been that “jack of all trades” for 20 years.
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?
For real, y’all. Get familiar…