Yes, a lot of the comics were racist. A new generation of black artists is reinventing them | Books


Manuel and Geiszel Godoy are military veterans and they believe deeply in social justice. Most importantly, these are entrepreneurs who saw an underdeveloped sector in their industry and immersed themselves in it.

“We have to show that we can pull a Tyler Perry as a community,” said Manuel Godoy, president of Black Sands Entertainment, in a recent video interview. “The idea is that the more the company grows, the better the intellectual property, the more everyone wins, and we can finance our projects ourselves because we have the experience, the expertise to do it.”

The Godoy niche is growing: independent comics by black artists, written for black families about black people, with a focus on tales from Africa before slavery. Their projects include an upcoming animated series and the Black Sands Publishing app.

“If we can do it,” said Godoy, “we have proven that you no longer need to go through the door they built to access the main stage.”

Black Sands isn’t the first to walk through the door. He joins a growing beehive of black designers who have sculpted the space into a format that for decades was steeped in racism and exclusion.

Booming genres like Afrofuturism (which combines African culture with science fiction) mirror the worlds imagined by black activists: worlds in which existing power structures are dismantled and black people thrive.

But there are other genres on the rise – from romance and horror to black superhero reboots and reflections on work life. In Vita Ayala’s dark and fantasy adventure “Submerged”, a girl sets out on a quest to find her estranged brother after getting lost on a New York subway. “Hot Comb” by Ebony Flowers explores black women’s relationships with their hair. In Micheline Hess’ horror comic “Diary of a Mad Black Werewolf”, a clan of black werewolves feeds on racist cops and “Karens”.

Just as Black Lives Matter builds on movements from the past, the rise of black comics is more of a revival.

“One thing that gets lost when we talk about the great black speakers, thinkers and historical figures of our time is the makers of black comics,” says Sheena Howard, professor of communications at Rider University. “Challenging racial stereotypes in comics is a big part of what black creators have done, besides directly addressing injustice.”

Black Panther, considered by many to be the first black superhero in mainstream American comics, is a prime example. Its emergence in 1966 marks a historic moment for representation in comics. As his storyline evolved, Futuristic King of Wakanda T’Challa addressed colonialism, racism, and segregation.

Over 50 years later, Chadwick Boseman, the late actor who brought the Black Panther to cinematic life in 2018, has helped implant the African kingdom into the American mainstream.

But the road to Wakanda was long and arduous. For much of the 20th century, racist images of black figures filled the pages of the mainstream press. Many of the cartoons were derived from the black-faced minstrel caricatures, such as Ken Kling’s “Joe & Asbestos”. Even children’s books by admired authors, such as “If I Ran the Zoo” by Dr. Seuss, portrayed black people as monkeys.

“We often see ourselves through other people’s eyes,” says Howard, editor of “Why Wakanda Matters: What Black Panther Reveals About Psychology, Identity, and Communication”.

When these images are internalized, she adds, they can damage identity and self-esteem. “We often get our perceptions of others in the media ecosystem.”

Yet even when the black and yellow face was prevalent, there were alternatives. Oliver Harrington, a black political cartoonist, followed Harlem-born Bootsie in his “Dark Laughter” comic. Jackie Ormes, considered the first black woman cartoonist, shaped confident and intelligent female characters in her “Torchy Brown” series.

“In the beginning, a lot of black cartoonists tried to normalize black lives by showing the good and the bad,” says author and illustrator John Jennings. This is what made the Elms and Harrington comics powerful; they were outliers but they did not trade in exoticism. “Their thing was a slice of life job. … People tend to forget that joy in the face of oppression is a drastic act.”

In 1947, “All-Negro Comics,” a one-issue comic book anthology created only by black artists and founded by journalist Orrin C. Evans.

The Lion Man character – who many see as a prototype of Black Panther – was a college-graduated black superhero protecting the world’s largest uranium deposit. Evans wrote in the introduction that he hoped Lion Man would give black Americans “a better appreciation of their African heritage.”

A second issue was planned, but the vendors would not sell Evans the paper to print it.

“The fact that [Evans] went to the trouble of making this book was an act of resistance, ”says Jennings, professor of media and cultural studies at UC Riverside and founder-curator of Megascope, a publisher of graphic novels by and about people of color . (Among Megascope’s upcoming work is “Across the Tracks,” a young reader comic about the Tulsa Race Massacre, now available, and “Hardears,” a sci-fi fantasy adventure and political satire. inspired by the Barbados Crop Over Festival, May 11.)

Almost two decades later, Black Panther emerged against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, paving the way for future black superheroes like Blade, Luke Cage, and Storm.

Not all black comic book heroes wore capes. “Martin Luther King and the History of Montgomery,” published in 1957, offered an introduction to nonviolence. The mainstream comic book industry ignored it, but it was widely distributed to schools, churches, and civil rights groups.

During this century there was the “March” trilogy, an award-winning graphic novel about movement by Andrew Aydin and John Lewis, the late Congressman and civil rights icon.

Similar stories, such as Kyle Baker’s “Nat Turner” series on the slave rebellion, and David F. Walker’s “The Life of Frederick Douglass” offered lessons in history, revolution and resistance. Aaron McGruder’s syndicated comic book “The Boondocks” (1996 to 2006) commented on political and popular events through the eyes of an African American boy.

Now that history is remaking itself – in the streets and on the page – old characters are being reinvented for modern times and old footprints are brought back to life.

DC Comics recently announced that it will be reimagining the 1993 origin story of Static, the black teenager with electricity (aka Virgil Hawkins), who obtained his superpowers after a clash between gangs and police – an event known as the Big Bang. This time, Hawkins’ superpowers come from a protest against police brutality.

The timely tale of Static and other meta-humans known as Bang Babies is part of DC’s rebirth of Milestone Comics, a pioneering imprint founded by four black creators in 1993 and focused on super- hero of color. The original imprint essentially stopped after four years, in part due to the perception that it was only for black readers. Yet Static was so popular that he not only joined the DC Comics universe, but also got his own WB animated series, “Static Shock”.

“When you’re stuck in that dilemma like, ‘Milestone Comics is only for black people,’ then your only market is 14% of the population,” Howard says, “and it gets very difficult.”

Milestone’s demise was a huge loss for comic book writer Kwanza Osajyefo, who felt he was one of the few comic book publishers to accurately portray “Blackness and Black culture”. DC plans to release new titles featuring Milestone characters this summer.

When Osajyefo took a job in 2007 at DC Comics, he helped launch the webcomics Zuda imprint, prioritizing content from creators of color. It closed three years later, but gave way to an idea that started to creep through his head over a decade ago: What if only black people have superpowers?

“I grew up reading comics like X-Men, where these white characters are supposed to be strangers,” he says. “People call them analogies for minorities like blacks, and I’m like, ‘No, that’s not correct. “” When Cyclops and Jean Gray take off their costumes at the end of the day, they are white. Nobody stops Wolverine because he drives a nice car. “

In 2016, Osajyefo and others started a successful Kickstarter campaign for “Black” – about a teenager who finds out he has superpowers after surviving a cop bullet. After the publication of “Black”, film offers poured in. Last year, Warner Bros. acquired the rights to adapt the feature films.

Much of the studio’s interest was due to the success of director Ryan Coogler’s version of “Black Panther,” as well as the animated film “Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse”. They debunked the idea that movies featuring black-led superhero characters aren’t profitable, says Frances Gateward, professor of media theory and criticism at Cal State Northridge and co-editor of “The Blacker the Ink: Constructions of Black Identity in Comics and Sequential De l’art. “

“Disney / Marvel so underestimated the film’s potential that fans who wanted to buy ‘Black Panther’ merchandise couldn’t find it,” she says. “So like a lot of active fandoms do, they made their own. We started seeing more titles featuring black characters, in all genres, from romance to horror to super. hero.”

Perhaps more than anything, stories like “Black Panther” and publishers like Black Sands Entertainment offer examples of “heroism,” Gateward says, “both in ordinary everyday life and in overpowered fantasy beings – but perhaps more importantly, by showing surviving and thriving black communities. “

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