Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fear of a Black Cape

The following was most recently inspired by reading a review of the events of "the Black Panel at San Diego Comic-Con International (SDCC) 09, a conversation that repeats itself in my comics shop and the letter X.

I'll summarize for you so you don't need all the background.

The "Black Panel" is an annual event at SDCC hosted by a guy named Michael Davis. The purpose/feel of the panel is to provide support/promotion for projects related to Black Culture specifically in comics.

When I put it this way, it seems pretty decent and useful but I also want to see it in it's best possible light. If you're putting a panel together with Denys Cowan and Reginald Hudlin on it I'm fine with it. Even better if you're including Jamal Ingle, Kyle Baker and Dwayne McDuffie. I'm pretty sure that you could easily honor people like Nichelle Nichols and have a high quality panel that really sets the tone for panels like it at other shows.

Of course you don't have to have a panel like this at all. If you're a person of color and into comics culture then there no end to the areas of disappointment you've had to face to either feel represented or to break into the industry. The answer, IMO is to hone your craft no matter the obstacle and get out there and do what you have to do to make it work.

Then again you could easily turn a classy panel like I described into a minstrel show full of chicken, watermelon, punctuality and laziness jokes. Then throw in some "Them" vs "Us" references, promote projects by rappers etc, and you'll have what I've seen more than once in the comics industry. I think this is a less than professional way to handle business.

If you make it to the point where you can host, organize and or moderate a panel on the state of minority affairs in the comics industry, please do me the favor of doing so as if you a) have a brain and b) have respect for the business. Panels such as these can and should be used as promotional/information sharing tools and they shouldn't be circus side shows.

Now for those conversations I keep finding myself having.

All I want are good comics. I'll be the judge of what's good though. I don't watch UPN, BET or listen to Urban Radio either. That's because they don;t offer me anything that I find useful in the least. I have no problem supporting creators of color when solid work is being done in the industry. I do not however support glorified fan fiction in my comics.

I was talking to a guy recently about how cool he thought it was that Black Panther and Storm of the X-Men were married. My position was that the whole thing made no sense to me logically and that clearly we were dealing with a case of Reginald Hudlin remembering a conversation from his youth in which he must have said, "Man If I were Black Panther, I'd get with Storm. That girl is BAD as HELL! Damn!!!" Nevermind the fact that their paths would probably never cross.

If BP were going to marry a black super personality in Marvel comics, then he'd have a better chance of meeting Monica Rambeau (Photon), a former Avenger and current member of Nextwave and the Marvel Divas comic or Misty Knight, cyborg chick detective and former GF of Iron Fist. Both spend most of their time in NYC and have Avengers ties, directly and indirectly. Storm, on the other hand is part of a team that is anything but public and she's either in Upstate NY or has moved out to the West Coast with all the other mutants, hated around the world for just being different.

Hudlin was having a Jay-Z and Beyonce moment. Storm MIGHT be Marvel's most popular female character Black America would crack the internet in half over it's collective knee if BP married a white super chick so it damn well had to be Storm but that doesn't change the fact that this is glorified fan fiction. Why couldn't Hudlin create a strong black female character whom BP could fall in love with and marry, who could become a significant character at Marvel for years to come?

I have heard arguments that the BP and Storm pairing is great considering the state of black super dudes in mainstream comics but I'm calling bullshit on complaints about the state of black characters in mainstream comics. If people were willing to actually do the leg work, they'd see that representation is out there. Something has changed though.

Hip Hop/Street culture has helped to put forth an idea that we're only being represented if black character look and act like black people act on television and in the media. A comics starring rappers who have super powers which match their music industry personas would get more notice than a long running DC super team with FOUR black characters including it's leader (JSA and Mr. Terriffic).

The only complaint I'll really allow for mainstream comics involves no male black X-Men...ever (I really don;t count Bishop since he had to come back in time from the future) and no better characters in the Legion of Superheroes than, Tyroc, Invisible Kid II and Kid Quantum II. Small potatoes to some but it's noticeable to me. I won't list all the black characters in mainstream comics BUT I will say that you have:

Luke Cage leading an Avengers team
John Stewart as a prominent Green Lantern
Black Panther himself
Jim Rohdes as that other Iron Man guy who will now be played by Don Cheadle in the next Iron Man movie (in my book this counts as 2x as black)
Steel as a big time superman supporting character as well as his niece Natasha.
Cyborg, fan favorite member of the Titans
Mr Terriffic, Jakeem Thunder, Amazing Man, and Thunder, daughter of Black Lightning
The JLA has Black Lightning, John Stewart and Vixen
The current run of Astro City (READ ASTRO CITY!) stars Charles and Royal Willams as agents infiltrating an evil spy organization (Pyramid) in order to track down the killer of their parents.
Everyone who wants to read a great sci fi comics should also read Ocean by Warren Ellis.

Like I said, not a complete list but good enough to have people only holding on to their old feelings about representation because they want to and not because it's really the case. In fact if people start mentioning characters I've left off, it would just be making my point for me.

Now I know plenty of people that want to see more African mythology and Black Historical allegories used in comics and because they don't see these things, many mainstream comics fans become indie comics creators and make these comics themselves. This is perfectly fine and I'll validate the hell out of it. To a point. Please don't tell me that this is the only outlet out there for blacks and creators of color because the mainstream won't let us in.

a) I'm having a hard time separating this "original material" I'm seeing from people disenfranchised by the industry from the material it's derived from.

If you are pissed that your voice isn't wanted by "The Man" then why do you try so hard to repackage the same stories "The Man" has spent decades selling us but with a black twist?

b) Please master the craft that you are trying so hard to display. There are a lot of talented people of color working in mainstream comics and these are not people who took a negative portfolio critique or maybe even several rejection letters or unreturned phone calls as a message that there was no place for them. They, as near as I can tell, just kept at it.

Comics is not a business for everyone. The 15 largest publishers in the business can only have some many people under it's employ so you will have to compete. Becoming bitter and not honing your skills to a true professional level of story telling is not the answer.

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