Earlier this week, Disney decimated the competition with the reveal of their 2021 content season and beyond. Star Wars fans alone will be gorging on content for years. They’ll be barfing it up like Grogu (Baby Yoda) barfs up blue macaroons.
In the MCU, the abundance of content will give the Marvel fan the same sense of satiation. Loki, What If, Shang-Chi, Eternals, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, WandaVision, Black Widow, this list goes on and on…
But there was one announcement that divided fandom, specifically Black comic fandom:
Black Panther 2, to be released in 2022, will not feature T’Challa, but rather focus on the country of Wakanda itself and other characters from the first film. This announcement was made because Chadwick Boseman, the superlative actor who brought T’Challa to life, passed away unexpectedly a mere two months ago.
Of course, the obvious go-to would be Shuri taking over the mantle of the Black Panther from her brother. The comic books themselves have shown Shuri as a Black Panther. However, some people (Black men if we’re being completely honest here) are up in arms with claims of Black man emasculation because the MCU will not recast the role of T’Challa nor use CGI to continue Brother Chadwick’s visage, if not performance, in this next film.
Ok. My two cents:
Yes, major characters like the DC Trinity have had multiple people play the various characters. However, there was always a sufficient amount of time between the “changing of the guard” so to speak. Examples include:
Superman: from George Reeves in the 50s to Christopher Reeve in the 70s to Dean Cain in the 90s, etc.
Batman: from Adam West in the 60s to Michael Keaton in ’89 to Christian Bale in ’05, etc.
Wonder Woman: from Lynda Carter in the 70s to Gal Gadot in 2018…
Point being, there were decades in between new actors taking on these roles for new generations.
Now T’Challa, specifically Chadwick Boseman’s performance, has elevated the role of Black Panther to that same mythic status. He made the role his. His performance is forever iconic. And, let’s keep it a buck, no matter who will eventually become the next T’Challa will be scrutinized and compared to Brother Chadwick’s performance… especially for BP2.
In other words: it’s too soon.
Of course people are gonna compare actors who took on the role like the late Sean Connery’s James Bond vs. Daniel Craig’s interpretation of the character. That’s natural.
But again, we’re dealing with generational comparisons. Brother Chadwick passed, what, two months ago?
It is simply too soon.
In addition, though T’Challa opened up Wakanda to the rest of the world doesn’t mean the next film will focus on that. Keep in mind, the MCU is now five years ahead of “regular” time thanks to Avengers: Endgame. It is possible to do a “back in time” BP movie without Chadwick to learn more about the nation and the mantle of the Black Panther (think the third Underworld film Rise of the Lycans) and then go forward in the third movie with a new T’Challa.
The thing is, some folks think T’Challa and Chadwick are the same person, which is not true. Besides, the MCU isn’t dumb enough to kill off a character because an actor passed. T’Challa is making them a lot of money. But I think they are sensitive enough to mourn. And, keep in mind, the whole cast and crew of BP (who are mostly returning) are still in mourning as well. They became a family on set and they are probably not ready to replace their champion.
This is actually a smart move, emotionally, to have BP2 focus more on Wakanda. Maybe the movie would be about other Black Panthers throughout Wakanda’s history. Maybe it’s about young T’Chaka. In any event, BP2 would act as a bridge for the next actor to fill Chadwick’s shoes in the role of T’Challa…
And I would love to see a flick about those who wore the habit of the Panther before the current King of Wakanda.
Of course, this is all speculative. None of us own the character and The Mouse will do what The Mouse does. We’re just gonna have to wait, see, and consume (or not) what they give us.
August 17 is the day that this #MeanOlLion makes his annual solar rotation. The only thing I ask for my birthday is…
Buy a Griot Enterprises product.
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Obatala, The Creator. Yemaya, The Protector. Oshun, The Light. Oya, The Catalyst. Shango, The Avenger. Ogun, The Architect. Eshu, The Trickster.
The Horsemen is the story of seven ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances, as the gods of ancient Africa possess them. They have been chosen 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. Read the groundbreaking Afrofuturistic saga from the very beginning and discover who controls the Eight Immortals but the number Seven!
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Oh, and what’s this?
The 4 Pages | 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape trade paperback series is a celebration of where true diversity exists in this industry, a sampler for potential fans to enjoy unique intellectual properties, a showcase for existing and upcoming talent as well as a source guide for those fans to purchase these books.
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.
“I’m hella uncomfortable at any attempt at glorifying the “sambo” image…” – Someone who hasn’t read the book
“I’m good on this. Consider a name change…” – Someone who hasn’t read the book
“And this is why people don’t take Black people seriously in the world of literature…” – Someone who hasn’t read the book
Imagine what they would say if they actually read the book?
He rose up against those who oppressed his people. Using an image meant to denigrate a race, he united a people and created a mighty nation. Now, he must rise again to save the nation he created from the corruption within.
Incendiary, triggering and revolutionary, JBD: The Devil’s Due Definitive Collection, written and created by La Morris Richmond, featuring the art of Jiba Molei Anderson, Seitu Heyden & Barton McGee is available NOW from Griot Enterprises!
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This is Leo Season! It’s a celebration! Drink up, be merry and grab some books from Griot Enterprises to build your collection of Black Comix!
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.
Yes, y’all. Though Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the X-Men concept, they were not so forward-thinking as to make the book an allegory for Civil Rights, LGBTQ Rights, hell not even the right to wear white after Labor Day.
You need proof? The first mutant, if not character of color, in the X-Men universe was introduced to The X-Men in 1975. Her name is Ororo Munroe AKA the Wind-Rider AKA the Goddess AKA Storm. Though in the 80s you would see another Black woman, retired dancer Stevie Hunter as a supporting character (the dance teacher of Kitty Pride who the internet has completely forgotten), the young Brazilian mutant Sunspot in the New Mutants and the introduction of First Nations mutant inventor Forge, the mutant representation of color was, and still is, few and far between.
It was Chris Claremont, steward of the mutants from the late 70s to the early 90s who gave The X-Men the cultural gravitas that so many are drawn to. The X/King analogy began with the release of the 1982 graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills, which was illustrated by Brent Anderson who would go on to be the seminal artist of the classic Astro City.
And even Chris Claremont, the man whose work created the analogy says that the analogy is incorrect. Still don’t believe me? Check out this article from 2016:
The myth that Stan Lee modelled Professor X after Dr. King and Magneto after Malcolm X is as prevalent as the myth that Sophia Stewart, a Black woman, created The Matrix. Even though these two myths have been debunked… Repeatedly… There are still way too many of us who continue to drink the Kool-Aid and will swear upon death that these stories are true.
Of course, like the Stewart story, it doesn’t help that after seeing this story gain traction that Stan Lee fed into the lie as the consummate huckster he was. Lee’s greatest contribution to Marvel was his outstandingly shameless marketing skills. Here’s an example of him taking credit for the concepts Chris Claremont brought to The X-Men from an article dating back to 2000… When the first X-Men movie was released:
Now, Stan Lee didn’t say this in 1963. He didn’t say this in 1975 after Giant-Size X-Men #1 dropped reviving the title and giving it some much needed diversity. He didn’t say this in 1982 when God Loves, Man Kills was released. He didn’t say this in 1992 when The X-Men cartoon debuted on Fox Television…
You see where I’m going with this?
He was P Diddy before Sean Combs was even born. But many people will rather eschew history and fact for the fantasy of white men thinking about them as an economic demographic well before they actually did start thinking about Black dollars…
Which they’re still figuring out how to get even now after Milestone Media and the beloved Static Shock, after Blade, after Luke Cage, Black Lightning, Black Panther, etc.
At the end of the day, It’s not about representation. It’s about race swapping to get said representation. That type of representation is lazy at best. It gives the impression that we, as a marginalized group would take any scrap of attention the “other” gives us in order to see ourselves on screen…
And, unfortunately, there are still too many of us that will accept race swapping as progress.
Yes, this is an old argument or gripe depending on who’s reading this. But, it has to be reiterated that still too many Black consumers hunger for representation from the “Corporate Two,” complain when they don’t receive it to their satisfaction, rail against the lack of new, compelling characters of color from the “Corporate Two,” ignore those new “Corporate Two” characters that were created (RIP Mosaic and I hope you get some big love, Naomi) and dismiss those independent creators producing amazing content because they did not create said content for the “Corporate Two” to reap the financial benefits from their blood, sweat and tears.
Let me put it to you this way, spending money does not necessarily buy you respect.
IMO, my desire to be pandered to by the “Corporate Two” is nil, especially when this whole thread from jump is based on whatiffery combined with the false narrative of the original creator’s intent of the character.
As a consumer, I don’t have to depend on, nor desire for, this threadbare attempt to take my dollars because they changed the skin of an established character to match mine.
As a creator, I’m lucky to be able to create content that properly fills the need for representation I desire.
As a fan of comics (not just the “Corporate Two”), I see more than enough content from other creators of color that satisfies my need for representation… Especially when said creators are having their projects optioned (i.e. Bitter Root, World of Asunda, etc.).
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not here to rain on people’s parade (not really) nor am I here telling folks what they should buy (though there is some really great work people are missing out on because of their tunnel vision). I am here to dispel myths and half-truths. I am here to give credit where credit is due…
Because The X-Men you love was the result of the work Len Wein, Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, John Byrne, Paul Smith, Terry Austin, Glynis Oliver andTom Orzechowski put into the title from the 80s. Let’s keep it really 100.
So, while other cats get caught up in the wish fulfillment of “The Man” giving out scraps like we finally got a seat at the table, I’ma be over here celebrating the people who are out there making the work I really want to consume and continue being someone who creates the work that these cats claim they really want.
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
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know it’s been a minute since my last post. What can I say? I have been extremely busy. With working on TWO Horsemen projects, teaching and giving presentations among other things, it has left very little time to post on this blog.
One of the things I’ve been busy with is writing for role-playing games. Never thought that I would become a part of that industry as a writer, but here we are.
I’ve been contributing to Onyx Path / White Wolf Publishing’s World of Darkness franchise, which includes Vampire: The Masquerade and Wraith: The Oblivion (mad shout-out to Matt McElroy of Drive Thru Comics for recommending my work to the team). I had been tasked to create characters and design worlds for these games providing me with the opportunity to add something truly different to this venerable brand. I have had the rare pleasure of complete freedom in my voice and approach to these worlds. I have been truly unapologetically Black in my language and world-building with the complete support of the Onyx Path and White Wolf organizations.
Here is a character I created for Vampire: The Masquerade. When developing her, the spirit of my dear departed uncle Ronald Williams entered my body giving this character her voice and attitude. Visually, my cousin Q Uetta Nunnelly was the inspiration for this character’s look.
What can I say? My people have mad swagger.
If The Horsemen was created to honor my Liberian heritage, then these characters definitely pay homage to my African American clan, the Williams family.
But, enough jibber-jabber (a pun I never I thought I would use) from me. Ladies and gentlemen, the incomparable Francois Mamuwalde…
You wanna know my story? Well, I suppose. It’s not like I have anything to hide. Have a seat while Mother gets herself ready for this show. This is gonna take a minute.
So, my government name is Clarence Sherman Wilks. If you tell anybody that, I will find you and stake you with this eyebrow pencil. My daddy, Herbert Wilks, was from Autagua County, Alabama. He moved to Harlem in 1940 looking for work like they all did. Daddy did all kinds of things. He was a porter, drove a cab and also ran numbers on the side for Ms. Stephanie St. Clair. That’s right. My daddy was rollin’ with the Madam Queen of Policy!
He met his future wife, the beautiful, the stunning, the GORGEOUS Gwendolyn Price at the Savoy in 1942. All it took was one dance and that was it. They got married six months later and they went to work. Mama popped out the twins right off the bat. Constance and Joann were born in 1943, then my brothers Herbert in ’45, Alvin in ’47, and then my sister Juanita in ’49. After pushing out five kids in six years, they promised themselves that they would have no more kids. Problem was, Mama and Daddy enjoyed fuckin’ too much.
Ok. Do not act new. You wanted me to tell you MY story. So, don’t be actin’ all shocked by the way that I tell it. This is how I talk, honey, and I changing’ that for nobody. We are all grown up in here.
Anyway, I was born on September 17, 1951. I know I look damn good for my age, honey. When they say, “Black don’t crack,” I am living proof.
I was the baby of the family. I knew it and made sure everybody else in the family knew it, too. Mama always doted on me and I got away with everything. On top of that, I had a real slick mouth. Mama would always make my brothers take me when they went out. She knew that I would give the 411 without hesitation. I was a little snitch, honey. Oooh, it would make my brothers and sisters so mad!
Sidebar: I’m trying something new tonight. I’m going for an “Olivia Pope meets Angela Davis” kind of vibe. I call it “Power to the People while running B613” realness. Yes? No? Doesn’t matter. I’m committed.
Now, where was I? Oh, yeah. I knew I was different from a very young age. My sisters would grab me and dress me up like a little girl. They had me in walking in Mama’s shoes, putting on her jewelry and wearing her wigs. Oh, those heifers pulled out all the stops. They thought they were getting me back for all the times that I got them in trouble. What they didn’t know at the time was that I loved every second of it. Playing dress up was my thing. I told you my Mama was beautiful and I wanted to look just like her.
You know how the story goes. If you know the words, feel free to sing along. Mama cried and prayed to God to get the demon out of her child. Daddy had a fit and tried to beat manhood into me. It all became too much. I ran away from home in ’68 and found myself on the streets of Greenwich Village. I was going to prove my family wrong and become a famous performer. Comedian, singer, dancer, it didn’t matter. I was going to be a star and Manhattan was the place to make it happen.
It is extremely difficult to become a big-time celebrity when you are Black, gay and homeless. I had to fight off the bums who would try and steal my little bit of stuff when I slept on the park benches. I had to run from cops who were cracking down on the “perverts” bringing down society. I wound up selling mouth and ass on the street to the Wall Street businessmen on the “Down Low” and the soldiers in the closet going off to Vietnam for rent money and cigarettes. Those early days were rough, honey.
How’s my lipstick? Poppin’, right?
I was at the Stonewall when the riot started that Saturday night in June of ’69. That was an historical moment for me. Not because of the riots starting the whole movement and everything, but because that was the night I saw Erzulie for the first time. Now, this is a couple of years before we met for real. She was already a legend amongst the scene. There were all kinds of rumors about her. Everybody knew that she used to be a man, but some of the other stories? Some said that she had been around since the 20s.Some said that she never aged. Some said that she was a vampire and drank blood to stay young and fabulous. I didn’t pay any attention to all of the fairy tales, but when I saw her in the flesh? It was like watching sunshine in the darkness, honey.
After the riots though, I knew I had to get my shit together. I wasn’t gonna let anybody use me and throw me away anymore. I had a voice and I was gonna use it, cotdammit! I started telling jokes on the corner for spare change. I was out here reading people left and right working on my material. I was able to “mop” some dresses, wigs and make-up so I could put together some looks.
My first drag name was Baby Love. The whole Motown girl group thing in the early days inspired me. I started performing in bathhouses and the clubs in ’70. I wowed them sweaty young things while making sure my face didn’t melt off in the heat. I started to get a little following, child! I was making moves! Every now and then, I would catch a glimpse of who I thought was Erzulie in the crowd. But, every time I would try and find her after my set, poof! Nowhere to be found. I swear, at a certain point I thought I was making her up as motivation to keep going.
I was also a big fan of horror movies. I loved to scare myself, girl. I would sneak into movie theaters to catch the dollar show and sit in the dark wishing I had a big, strong man to grab his shoulder and bury my head into his chest so I could avoid the really scary moments.
August 25, 1972. I will never, as long as I live, forget that night. This new vampire movie called Blacula had opened. You know that film? Anyway, William Marshall was all elegant and stuff with that strong-ass voice playing a Black vampire prince in love with that fine-ass Vonetta McGee. I loved that movie! All the time I was watching, I thought to myself, “Yaaasss, Mamuwalde! Come bite me!”
You know that old line, “Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it?” Well, there was this white boy sitting a couple of seats over. I know, I know, but he was fine, girl. All long hair and broad shoulders, big strapping corn-fed muthafucka! I felt him staring at me while he was rubbing his crotch. I got the message loud and clear. I didn’t feel any cop vibes coming off of him and we were in a theatre outside of the usual spots where cops were harassing the bull dykes and the sissies. Plus, it had been a while since I stopped turning tricks. Mama ain’t had any in a while and did not mind ending her drought with a tall glass of milk.
The theatre was pretty filled up. We were in the back where no one could see us. I moved to the seat next to him and replaced his hand with mine on his crotch. I undid his pants and was about to get busy doing my thing when he yanked my head up and bit my neck. It happened so fast, I couldn’t even scream. I saw my life flash before my eyes as I was dying I saw my parents, my brothers and sisters. They were looking at me with judging eyes, shaking their heads, blaming me for getting into this situation and saying this was payment for going against God’s law.
Could you hand me my wig, baby? The purple one. Wha’chu mean the color is off? It’s supposed to be off! Don’t you worry about my skin tone! I know I’m dark! I have a look happening here! It’s gonna be so off, it’s on! Don’t ever question Mother’s fashion sense!
I swear, you ‘bout to get my pressure up and I don’t even have a heartbeat…
ANY WAY… I woke up under a pile of garbage in a dumpster the next evening. The muthafucka took me out back to the alley and threw me away like trash. It was worse than being raped. I was abandoned, I was thirsty, I had fangs, I couldn’t walk out in the middle of the day anymore… Child, I was a mess.
I tried to learn about my new condition as best I could, but vampire movies are not educational films. At least I could see myself in the mirror so I could fix my face. But the rest of it was a sad state of affairs. I resorted to feeding off of rats because I was scared that I was gonna turn anyone I bit into something like me, too. I was so scared; I didn’t know what I was gonna do. The stress was messing with my performance, which also meant it was messing with my money and I wasn’t making that much money to begin with. I was bombing on stage, singing sad-ass songs; people were starting to hate Baby Love.
I became so depressed that I was ready to end it all. It was New Year’s Eve and I decided that after my last show at the bathhouse, I would stand in the middle of the Village and watch the sunrise. Just burn up in the middle of the street to ring in 1973. I opened with The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face by Roberta Flack. As I looked out into the sea of bored faces, I Erzulie again. I thought it my mind was playing tricks on me. But then, she started moving closer until she got up to the front. Child, the goddess was real! I felt the spirit come back and proceeded to bring the house down… Baby Love was back!
But, that was only the beginning. After the show, Mama Erzulie came up to me, gave me a hug and told me it was gonna be alright. I found out that the stories about her were true. She was a vampire and so was I. She took me in and gave me a home. She became my mentor and my friend. She saved my life and gave me a purpose. She’s the reason why you’re sitting here, getting on my nerves while I get ready for this show.
I am the first member of the legendary House of Lilith. I am the Mother of the legendary House of Mamuwalde and the fiercest bitch in all of the goddess’ creation. I am Francois Mamuwalde, but you can call me Buffy because I am here to slay all y’all muthafuckas!