• Michael Dooley

Beyond Black Panther: A Celebration of Black Comix Creators

Black Panther the movie has just been released on 4K Ultra HD. Marvel’s new Black Panther: World of Wakanda spin-off series from Marvel just scored this year’s GLAAD Media Outstanding Comic Book Award. And here in real life, multitudes of conventions and exhibitions nationwide are honoring the talents and accomplishments of black comics creators.

If you attended the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s BAM Black Comix Expo, the Black Comic Book Festival at Harlem’s Schomburg Center, and San Francisco’s Black Comix Arts Festival you would’ve met such featured guests as Ron Wimberly, Regine Sawyer, David Walker, Kwanza Osajyefo, and Joe Illidge. And, good news: you can still be introduced to them, and many, many more, via Black Comix Returns, the book.

Ashley A. Woods, cover art

Black Comix Returns isn’t simply about black comic books. More expansive than that, it’s a celebration of African American independent comics art, spotlighting nearly 100 cartoonists in practically every genre and category: educational, experimental, erotic, horror, humor, kids, and sure, superhero. This lineup includes established pros like Lance Tooks, Keith Knight, Ben Passmore, and Afua Richardson, whose World of Wakanda covers were part of that GLADD award. But mostly it presents relatively unknown but praiseworthy rising art stars.

Many have done licensed material for the mainstream majors, but the majority are developing their own, creator-owned projects. One of the book’s authors, cartoonist-scholar Damian Duffy, explained to Women Write About Comics that “the ‘x’ in ‘Black Comix’ is there because its focus is on independent work, which often means work sold outside or alongside the local comics shop market. Indy comics are put out by everyone from amateur artists to storyboard artists to fine artists to commercial illustrators. Some work is self-published, or only published online.”

Afua Richardson (click to enlarge)

With its abundance of handsomely presented illustrations, Black Comix Returns serves to present aspiring artists with role models who have achieved and are gaining success and respect within the industry. This, in turn, empowers them to seek, and to persistently pursue, their own visions of similar career paths. The book also supplies various resources for further research, from blog and podcast recommendations to listings of ongoing conventions and festivals.

Duffy’s collaboration with his co-author, artist and Media and Cultural Studies Professor John Jennings, date at least as far back as their 2008 gallery show. “Out of Sequence: Underrepresented Voices in American Comics” was a response to the LACMA/Hammer Museum’s landmark “Masters of American Comics” exhibition in 2005. Their take was to assemble 70 artists – including Tooks and Knight as well as Alison Bechdel, Jackie Ormes, and Gus Arriola– at a University of Illinois museum to highlight the contributions of minorities, women, gays, lesbians, and others who are typically ignored or overlooked. The handsome accompanying catalog included essays by such notable experts as Trina Robbins and Robert C. Harvey. And last year, Duffy and Jennings achieved wide critical acclaim for their graphic novelization of Kindred, a time-travel tale about a young African American woman, written by science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler.

Lance Tooks (click to enlarge)

Black Comix Returns was released by Lion Forge Comics, which Forbes featured in February under the headline, “Groundbreaking Publisher Forges Diverse Future For Comics.” In it, the company was lauded for its central mission, “making comics that give voice to underrepresented creators and characters with powerful, personal stories to tell.” One example of this is Catalyst Prime, a line of superhero titles in a universe created and developed – and populated – by people other than white males.

Lion Forge is just one of a growing number of such small publishing companies that are pushing big progressive agendas, and to which many Black Comix Returns artists contribute. In one of the book’s essays, Duffy profiles C. Spike Trotman, a publisher who he considers to be the “single person who embodies the future of comics.” Trotman maintains an undisguised contempt for mainstream comics, its values and practices. But by god, she’s doing something about it. Trotman is a black woman who runs Iron Circus Comics, the largest comics publisher in Chicago. Circus’s diverse lineup “brings to the fore creators whose voices have historically been minimized, misrepresented, or outright silenced by long-established corporate comics publishers.” She’s also a successful businesswoman whose Kickstarter campaigns have garnered well over half a million dollars in contributions, which has inspired independent creators to seriously consider the viability of crowdsourced publishing. And, bottom line, “Spike represents an unstoppable force, steamrolling the prejudices, boundaries, and self-imposed, backwards-looking limitations on American comics.”

As a forward-looking publication, “Black Comix Returns” has much to offer everyone from rabid fans to casual comics readers to anyone who’s interested in exploring bold new directions in visual narrative expression. See for yourself with these samples.

For more Print features on black comics artists, click the links below.

King: Another Civil Rights Leader’s Graphic Novel Biography

Insider Histories: Black Cartoonist E. Simms Campbell

Kwanza Osajyefo (click to enlarge)

David F. Walker, writer (click to enlarge)

James Stanley (click to enlarge)

Odera Igbokwe (click to enlarge)

Fred Noland (click to enlarge)

Ron Wimberly (click to enlarge)

Bryan Christopher Moss (click to enlarge)

Leisl Adams (click to enlarge)

Sole Rebel (click to enlarge)

Shawnee and Shawnelle Gibbs (click to enlarge)

Joel Christian Gill (click to enlarge)

Gregory Anderson-Elysee (click to enlarge)

Chris Visions (click to enlarge)

Julian Lytle (click to enlarge)

John Jennings at Cal State Northridge’s “Comics and Visual Culture” symposium, March 10, 2018. photo by M Dooley.

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