Birthdays always find me in an introspective state of mind. I think about the past year of my life, which gets me thinking about other memories and events that shaped me, that created the man who writes these words on a laptop today.
As an artist, I’m sure that I am not unique in this position. As a human being of a certain age, I am sure that I am in like company when it comes to this acknowledgement concerning the passage of time.
So, during this rumination, I’m also thinking about my next post for the blog when I came across this article from the New York Times:
My “click bait” headline when I posted this article through my various platforms was:
“Not only will my work not escape it, I lean into it…”
The fact is that as a creator of color, your work is already political. The nature of America made it political. Even the attempt to be apolitical is a political stance. Unfortunately, it can’t be avoided. So, why try and placate an audience that already views you through a certain lens? Be unapologetic and authentic in your creation. The nature of art is to be provocative, to elicit a feeling, an emotion. Don’t avoid it. Lean into it. That’s my philosophy…
I’m not saying that there is a specific vision of what “Black” writing is. Not only is that an extremely myopic vision, and completely arrogant to assume, but that also plays into viewing yourself through the “other’s” lens.
What I am saying is that the color of our skin makes everything we do political. We can’t escape that. What we can, and must do, is simply be artists. Our skin color and culture do not limit us… It enhances us. So, why try to hide? Why be ashamed? Be diverse! Write or draw whatever you want! But, also be proud and unapologetic of whom you are as a creator. Every example of Creators of Color, from Richard Wright to Zora Neale Hurston to Donald Goines to Kevin Grevioux to N. K. Jemisin to David Durham figured that out. All of them diverse in their thinking and subject matter. All of them Black. And, because they are Black, the other will always think there is an underlying agenda to their work, which makes their work political.
What part of my saying “be diverse” is confusing to you?
Ultimately, I don’t create for anyone’s approval but my own. Richard Wright didn’t create for anyone else’s approval but his own. I create to celebrate my culture and my people. Comic books are my medium. Because of this, and because of the color of my skin, my work will always be perceived as political… And, I don’t care. In fact, if my work changes a point of view, then I’ve succeeded as a creator.
That’s why we have diverse voices.
I am a fan of Richard Wright’s work as well as Octavia Butler as well as Donald Goines as well as Wole Soyinka as well as Christopher Priest. In short, I read different Black writers with different points of view and diverse voices depicting their unique observation of the human condition. Each one, because they are Black, these authors are considered political writers simply because of their skin color. My voice is unique from theirs, but my skin color is not. Therefore, I am a political artist as well, not because I write about slavery or the ghetto (because I don’t), but because of who I am. I am simply not ashamed of being considered a political artist. In fact, I use my platform, my culture and my voice to inform my craft. The first rule of writing is “Write what you know.” That is simply what I do…
While you’re waiting for those Hip Hop variant covers from that other company, grab the 4 Pages 16 Bars Boxset today!
4 Pages | 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape is a celebration of where true diversity exists in this industry, a showcase for existing and upcoming talent as well as a source guide for those fans to purchase these books.
Sequential Graffiti is the EP, a 64-page poster book featuring some of the finest Visual MCs and Literary DJs working in the independent scene today.
Volume One: The Symphony is the meat; 126 pages of the flavor that you savor up in here, neighbor!
The contributors for this first volume include Quinn McGowan (Wildfire), Micheline Hess (The Anansi Kid’s Club), Roosevelt Pitt (Purge), John Jennings (Kid Code, Black Comix) and many more!
Also included in this package is an actual mixtape! The Posse Cut is over an hour of some of the greatest collaborations in Hip Hop history… You can’t get any more authentic than that!
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.
Both books and the Posse Cut can be yours for the low price of $15.00 and can purchased through our Square store and PayPal (firstname.lastname@example.org)
“To every thing (turn, turn, turn)…
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)…”
– The Byrds
Marvel is working hard to get your dollars…
I recently picked up their free Previews magazine and I saw not one, not two, but ten books with characters of color in its upcoming roster of releases post their current Secret Wars event.
However, only two of their books have characters of color as the lead, those being the upcoming Spider Man featuring Miles Morales and Ms. Marvel featuring Kamala Khan.
Fine and good, right? I’m sure some of you and definitely Marvel is breaking its metaphysical arm patting itself on the back as it celebrates its latest stab at diversity.
Well, let me throw this out there: I looked at the creative teams on the books and do you know how many writers of color are going to be on these books?
Yes, yes y’all… It’s about that time.
I’ve noticed that every 20 years or so, the mainstream comic book industry all of a sudden becomes diverse… Really diverse… As in, they lean into diversity like a corrupt police officer leans into a defenseless “suspect” of color.
Granted, the seeds are planted a couple of years before the crop fully matures. For instance, Marvel planted a seed when the Black Panther first debuted in 1966. They planted another seed with the Falcon in 1969. But, we didn’t get the full crop of Black superheroes until the 70s with characters like Luke Cage, Brother Voodoo, Misty Knight, Storm, Blade, Black Goliath (later, the Black Giant Man) and more. Of course, that crop coincided with the escalation of the Civil Rights Movement, but more so came to pass because of the proliferation of African-American themed action films (commonly known as “Blaxploitation).
DC, which by the way has always played catch-up to the change of society, followed with the first of the “race-bent” characters. John Stewart inherited the mantle of Green Lantern in 1971, a full five years after T’Challa’s debut. Tyroc (the Angry Black Man with the voice of an angel) joined the Legion of Super Heroes in 1976 and Black Lightning didn’t appear on the scene until 1977.
Now, I know what you’re thinking…
“Jib, we know this. You’re just repeating the same old thing…”
And, you’re right. But, bear with me… I’ma take this to another level. I just need to put what I’m about to explore in an historical context.
Here’s the thing: Diversity came into the mainstream comic book industry purely because of profit, not because of any underlying social responsibility these companies felt. Indeed, once the books failed to yield any lasting sales (i.e. Black Lightning’s initial run only lasted 12 issues, Brother Voodoo only lasted 5 issues as the headliner in Strange Tales, etc.), many of the initial crop of Black superheroes were either folded into larger superhero teams or teamed-up with other characters (i.e. Black Panther and Falcon joining the Avengers, Luke Cage teaming up with Danny Rand aka Iron Fist, Storm always being and X-Man, etc.), or, more commonly, sent to the minor leagues to fade into relative obscurity…
In other words, the explosion imploded.
Now, that’s not to say that we didn’t have African American characters created during the 80s. Indeed, the 80s saw the debut of Monica Rambeau as Captain Marvel (initially a “legacy” character that would later claim her own identity as Spectrum), Cyborg, Vixen and others. However, none of these characters would be the lead in their own title. Captain Marvel was a member of the Avengers, Cyborg was in the New Teen Titans and Vixen was a part of the oft fronted upon Detroit Justice League.
While Hip Hop was emerging as the dominant cultural force in the United States, while the Cosby Show was the most popular television show of the decade, We wouldn’t see an African American lead a comic book in the larger comic book community until the 90s…
Until Brotherman… An independent comic book created by creators of color.
Then, the floodgates opened again. After Brotherman, the next big African American superhero was Spawn. Once again, emerging from the independent sphere.
However, when Milestone Media came along (and best believe, DC never owned Milestone), the game done changed. All of a sudden, we were seeing Black characters popping up left and right, and the independent scene led the charge. From Tribe becoming the biggest selling comic book from creators of color in history to the start of Ania to Blackjack, Prophecy of the Soul Sorcerer and more, brothers and sisters were creating some exciting IP…
And getting paid.
DC and Marvel took notice. They had to. New characters like Steel were carrying their own books, Black Lightning got another shot at being a headliner, the first Blade movie would become the template for the eventual domination of the cinematic Marvel Universe, the list goes on and on.
More importantly, we saw more people of color creating product at the “Corporate Two.” Writers like Dwayne McDuffie, Christopher Priest, Alex Simmons and others were getting the opportunities to shine, creating innovative and provocative concepts. Artists like Ken Lashley, Darryl Banks, the late Steven Hughes, Eddy Newell, ChrisCross and many more emerged as the visual caretakers of the American mythology. For a time, it was all good…
Then, the implosion happened… again.
This time, the implosion happened behind the scenes.
To be clear, we still had characters of color shining. Black Panther had two successful titles in the new millennium. Luke Cage became a major player in the Marvel Universe. Nick Fury became Samuel L. Jackson. DC kept on race bending and creating “legacy” versions of Mr. Terrific, the Crimson Avenger, and others. John Stewart, thanks to Justice League Unlimited, became the Green Lantern of a generation. Vixen went from a footnote to a strong character that will be getting her own animated series at DC. And, of course, Miles Morales and Kamala Khan would enter the scene.
However, fewer and fewer writers of color would be hired to chronicle their exploits, so much so that we would have to celebrate one Black writer getting hired at Marvel since 2009 and one Black writer getting hired at DC since 2011. To be fair, artists of color working for the “Corporate Two” are still getting love. And, some would argue that we’ve got brothers and sisters in other positions at the “Corporate Two,” but there are no Black editors. It seems that we are only good enough to draw the characters, not write them. It’s as if our images matter, but not our voices.
Our voice is important, now more than ever. With the murders of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and too many others painful to name at the hands of corrupt police practices and systemic racism, with the too-recent atrocities of Ferguson and Charleston, with the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Haitians in the Dominican Republic, from Boko Haram and #BringBackOurGirls, to the bravery of our real-life superhero Bree Newsome and the new leaders of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, we cannot be silenced. We must not be co-opted.
We should not and cannot be satisfied with the status quo. The scraps of representation others give us should not placate us, especially when the creators of said representation do not look like us nor care about the issues that continue to plague our community. The “Corporate Two” has been pulling a Rachel Dolezal on a large, and growing, part of their audience for far too long. And, don’t get it twisted, as soon as sales drop or don’t even achieve the break-even point, these books will fade into obscurity, once again to be mused upon until the next cycle of diversity comes around.
Yet, there is a bright light amongst the despair. And, once again, it’s coming from the independent sphere. From projects like Exo: The Legend of Wale Williams to the satirical Trill League, from webcomics like Project: Wildfire, Hunter Black, Kamikaze, Bounce, Diskordia, Matty’s Rocket and many others, from books like One Nation, Midnight Tiger, The Horsemen, Kid Code, Molly Danger, Concrete Park, Dziva Jones, Juda Fist and so much more, creators of color are coming on strong, taking no shorts, providing true representation, and giving voice to the voiceless. We’re saying it loud and we’re saying it proud.
The question is: Are you listening?
I don’t know about you, but I’m not gonna wait another 20 years for the “Corporate Two” to get around to some half-assed stab at diversity if it doesn’t work this time.
Vote with your dollars, support those who speak with your voice and #PlantYourFeet.
It’s that time of year again. The weather’s getting warmer (in theory), which means that the temperature is rising.
I’m not talking about cookouts and beach time; I’m talking about the ongoing discussion of Characters of Color and the people who create them in the entertainment industry.
As I continue my marketing and analysis of representation of diversity in comics, once again the discussion breaks down into tried and true tropes:
“We need more characters of color!”
“We need to start our own companies!”
“We need to support our own!”
“If any Black artists or writers come out with decent stuff, I’ll support it.”
“We need a huge investment of capital in order to put out quality product.”
“What happened to Milestone? We need a new Milestone, but ‘The Man’ would never allow that to happen!”
“Where the comics created by POC at?”
In April, a mixtape dropped, Sequential Graffiti. It was a taste of something on the horizon, a little treat to get you ready for the LP.
The revolution is here.
4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape Vol. 1 – The Symphony is the shot fired across the starboard bow. It is the dream realized and the face of the true diversity that exists in the entertainment landscape today. It is where you will find us, the creators, the Hard Riders, the Visual MCs, Literary DJs and Crowd Controllers who have been holding this scene down, changing the color of the industry one innovative concept at a time.
Peep the line-up:
Purge created by Roosevelt Pitt, illustrated by Rob Haynes, Krishna AndBalram Banerjee, Gus Vasquez & Jay Reed
The Anansi Kid’s Club created by Micheline Hess
Project Wildfire created by Quinn McGowan
Bounce created by Chuck Collins
One Nation created by Jason Reeves, Alverne Ball and Luis Guerrero
Purge: Black, Red & Deadly created by LaMorris Richmond, illustrated by Roberto Goiriz
Juda Fist created by Mark C Dudley
Dziva Jones created by Aminah Armour, illustrated by Ashley A. Woods
Dreadlocks created by Andre Batts
There’s also a gallery featuring the work of John Jennings as well as articles from Maia Crown Williams, Damon Alums & Jiba Molei Anderson.
4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape is the answer to all of those questions, all of those complaints, all of that wishing, hoping and praying. A four-volume quarterly trade paperback series has been created to focus on comics, webcomics, animation and prose featuring creators of color. It is a resource that celebrates the past, present and future, the evolution of this movement that has been in full effect for well over 20 years.
Where the comics created by POC at? We’re right here. Cop 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape Vol. 1 in print and digital formats at Barnes & Noble and Amazon June 3.
In today’s social media climate, people are wont to complain, especially self-proclaimed geeks. Now granted, a good deal of the griping is warranted, particularly when it comes to diverse images in visual and literary media.
The problem is when alternate images are presented; not from the “mainstream,” but from the independent sphere and those who make the biggest complaints concerning misrepresentation ignore them.
Well, they would be fools to ignore this…
Created by Damion Gonzales, T.A.S.K. (Tactical Allied Superhuman Kommand) is an intergovernmental organization enabling international police cooperation and action in meta-human matters. It was established in 1963 and is the fourth leading intergovernmental organization by member states. T.A.S.K.’s headquarters is in New York City near the U.N. building but it maintains eight regional bureaus and several smaller satellite offices throughout the world. Its current Executive Director is John Henry, who co-founded the organization and has been its leader since its inception. As Executive Director of T.A.S.K. John Henry has a seat on the U.N. Security Council.
In matters where meta-human involvement has escalated a particular incident beyond the capabilities of a nation’s law enforcement agencies to combat effectively, T.A.S.K. facilitates international police collaboration and meta-human countermeasures. Any action taken by its operatives is taken within the limits of existing laws in different countries and in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. T.A.S.K. operatives receive training in police procedure and most have an extensive knowledge of international laws/treaties.
T.A.S.K. is an animated superhero series set in our truly global reality. What’s it all about? Engaging characters thrown into incredible situations. Young super-humans learning what it means to be heroes in the midst of learning how to just … be.
Big fights. Big wins. Crushing losses. Throw in a dash of teen angst. Season with heinous villainy…
T.A.S.K. is coming!
Shoot, T.A.S.K. is here!
Gonzales and Echo Bridge Pictures have just released a proof of concept trailer for the T.A.S.K. animated series. The trailer does everything that a good trailer should. The world of T.A.S.K., heroes and villains are truly diverse, the world is extremely engaging and, man, it’s a whole lot of fun. The animation hearkens back to the style of Saturday Morning cartoons, taking one back to a time when you would wake up, Saturday morning at 7am, fix a bowl of cereal, and plop yourself in front of the television for 4 hours of pure escapism and imagination.
Check out the trailer here:
Damion Gonzales just took y’all to T.A.S.K.… Step ya game up.
Once again, yours truly and Griot Enterprises will be at C2E2 in Chicago April 24-26. We’ll be at Booth 212, shaking hands, kissing babies, saving the world… You know… The usual…
While you’re at the booth, come cop these goodies:
THE HORSEMEN: DIVINE INTERVENTION The beginning of The New Mythology! The Horsemen is the story of seven ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances, as the gods of ancient Africa possess them. 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.
THE HORSEMEN: MARK OF THE CLOVEN The New Mythology continues! Africa is now the new frontier and a beacon of hope for the rest of the world.However, controlling the world has always been a “Family” business…
And, the bastard children of the Deitis want in…
CHRONICLE: THE ART OF JIBA MOLEI ANDERSON
The creator of The Horsemen returns showcasing the work and philosophy of a new master of the medium. More than just the average “sketchbook,” Anderson also includes two tutorials on the creation of comics… A must have for any fan of the medium!
OUTWORLD: RETURN OF THE MASTER TEACHERS
The Annexation is at hand. After years of conflict, the Utopia is finally on the brink of bringing the Outworld back into the Collective’s fold, The Master Teachers are all but a fading memory…
… And in the celestial wilderness, the Second Revolution is about to begin.
They have been outlawed and hunted to the brink of extinction. The Diaspora,
once devoted to peace and diversity, has become the Utopia, dedicated to war,
subjugation and destruction. However, a rag tag band of rebels holds the key to the Diaspora’s liberation and will ignite a revolution that will bring justice to a galaxy.
4 PAGES | 16 BARS: A VISUAL MIXTAPE PRESENTS SEQUENTIAL GRAFFITI Comics are Hip Hop! In 2015, diversity has become the buzzword in the comic book industry with companies like DC and Marvel claiming to lead the charge, but merely scratching the surface of the complexity and intersection of race, culture and gender.
4 Pages | 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape presents Sequential Graffiti is a sampler for potential fans to enjoy our intellectual properties, a showcase for existing and upcoming talent as well as a source guide for those fans to purchase our books.
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.
In addition, we’ll have EXCLUSIVE prints for The Horsemen and 4 Pages | 16 Bars as well as the animated The Song of Lionogo: An Indian Ocean Mythological Remix created for the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. This con is gonna be one for the ages… Hope to see you this weekend!
“It was all a dream, I used to read Wizard Magazine…”
– Paraphrasing ‘Juicy” by The Notorious B.I.G
Pssst… Guess what?
Comics are Hip Hop.
Of course, if this were written in the 20s, I would have said, “Comics are the Blues.” If this were written in the 40s, then Comics would be akin to Jazz. In the 60s, Comics would be considered Rock and Roll…
You get the idea.
Comics started out as a sort of gutter hybrid art form of image and text, which (for the most part) were crudely drawn, crudely written disposable fair printed on cheap paper for the unwashed masses, mostly children, to enjoy.
Comics are hood. Back in the day, nobody who considered themselves “true” artists or writers would claim comics as a legitimate art form. Artists wouldn’t claim comics, using that work as a stepping-stone while they pursued “legitimate” work from advertising agencies.
Hell, Stanley Lieber created the pen name Stan Lee initially to distance himself from comic book work for the day when he would write The Great American Novel.
Comics are dangerous. Along with Jazz, along with Rock and Roll, along with Hip Hop, Comics were once, and according to some, still considered the bane of existence; a poison of the mind that would lead to delinquency, crime, homosexuality, and murder. Frederic Wertham made his bones by putting the fear of comics into the hearts and minds of good, hard-working, American folk with his ode to ridiculousness Seduction of the Innocent.
Comics are gully. They have the ability to tap into our base instincts. They allow some to engage in power fantasies of strength, sexual illusion and dominance, fulfilling wishes to be overly-muscled, gritted teeth savage demigods who can kill with impunity, cruelly reducing women to disposable plot devices only useful for fulfilling carnal needs or a tool for motivation in their mutilation or death by exotic and tragic means.
The Comic Book industry knows beef. From the eternal struggle for dominance by DC and Marvel to the conflict between Milestone Media and Ania (a rift that echoed the East Coast/West Coast war without the death of its representatives), to the dearth of flame wars pertaining to every aspect of comics in social media, it’s a wonder that we’ve never seen scuffles on par with the Source Awards at the San Diego Comic Con.
At the same time, Comics are conscious. Comics can uplift. Comics can inspire. Comics can show us at our absolute best. We love Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Black Panther, Storm and many others because they illustrate who we want to be. Two Jewish men for the purpose of punching Hitler, and the ugliness of Nazism, in the face, created Captain America. Spider Man shows that an ordinary schlub could rise from his nebbishness and become a hero because, of course, with great power comes great responsibility. The X-Men fight for equality in a world where not only are they not wanted, but are outright persecuted for being different.
Like Hip Hop, Comics are experimental, have different styles, represent different regions, and are global. East Coast is different from the West Coast, which is different from the Midwest and the Dirty South, yet no matter if you rock Nas or Rakim, NWA or the Souls of Mischief, Common or Eminem, Outkast or T.I., it’s still representing the culture that is Hip Hop. By the same token, no matter if you’re Justice League or Avengers, Hellboy or Saga, Blade of the Immortal or Archie, you’re still knee deep in that comic book culture.
Comics and Hip Hop share the mastery of elements in order to be truly down in the game. The practitioners of Hip Hop are the MC, the DJ, the B-Boy & B-girl and the Graffiti artist. The practitioners of comics are the Writer, the Penciller, the Inker, the Colorist and the Letterer.
And, just like Hip Hop, money has come in and changed the game. Before 2008, one could say that DC and Marvel were in the same boat as Dark Horse, Image, Dynamite, IDW, Boom, etc. Even though DC and Marvel were “bigger labels,” they were still in the comic book family.
Like Hip Hop, Comics had cinematic success well before recent memory. For instance, one may be able to call the 1978 Superman film the Beat Street of comic books movies. Furthermore, Comics and Hip Hop have borrowed from each other as well as had moments of symbiosis (i.e. the Wu-Tang Clan, MCs using their rap monikers like secret identities, rappers creating comic books, Brotherman, etc.).
Real talk, 1997’s Blade, in tone, attitude and execution, was as close to a Hip Hop influenced comic book movie as you were gonna get.
However, once Iron Man and The Dark Knight made big money, the Mouse (Disney) bought Marvel, the Rabbit (Warner Brothers) doubled down on DC and changed the whole game. Now we’ve got the Corporate Two trying to dominate, and sublimate, an industry that thrives on innovation and diversity. For them, it’s not about creating good stories, but exploiting IP.
Same thing happened in Hip Hop. Before Dr. Dre’s classic The Chronic, you could have A Tribe Called Quest, EPMD, Salt N Pepa, Public Enemy, Arrested Development, 2 Live Crew, MC Hammer and more rock the airwaves and all be considered Hip Hop. After The Chronic, it became all about blunts, guns, sex and keeping it real. It became all about the clothing deal or schilling products before even getting the record deal. It became less about speaking your truth and more about fattening your bank account…
In other words, Hip Hop became more about Drake and less about Kendrick Lamar.
Still, just like real Hip Hop, real Comics endure. Like Hip Hop, Comics have the mainstream and the underground. Like Hip Hop, the underground, or independent scene of Comics is where true innovation and experimentation exists. That’s where you’ll find cats grinding out with passion, creating their own labels and selling their wares out of the trunks of their digital cars (POD, websites, Comixology, Drive Thru Comics, Kickstarter, etc.) searching for that fan with discernable taste to purchase what they have to offer.
And, just like Hip Hop, the work is diverse, dangerous, gully and uplifting. These Comics represent our base fears and our wildest dreams.
Remember when Nas said, “All I need is on mic?” The Comic creator could say, “All I need is one pen, or one pencil, or one stylus…”
This is where the future exists. This is where we exist. We are 4 Pages | 16 Bars, and we came to rock the house.
Protect ya neck.
4 Pages | 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape presents Sequential Graffiti is available for print ($14.99) and digital formats ($5.99) now at Amazon and Drive Thru Comics. Think of it as a 66-page EP celebrating some of the Visual MCs and Literary DJs who help make comics a cooler place to be. It’s all leading up to Vol. 01 of 4 Pages | 16 Bars: A Digital Mixtape. It’s called The Symphony for a reason…