Biting the Hand You Hope To Feed You

The month of February is not just Black History Month (which goes above and beyond Martin Luther King, Jr.; George Washington Carver; and Rosa Parks; but I digress): it is also #Black Comics Month, which is a celebration and awareness of comic books created by those of African descent.

To kick things off, Vixen Varsity interviewed David F. Walker , the creator of the Shaft (Dynamite Entertainment); Doc Savage (Dynamite Entertainment); Number 13 (Dark Horse Comics); The Army of Dr. Moreau (IDW/Monkeybrain Comics); and The Supernals Experiment (Canon Comics) comics. Mr. Walker talked about the state of diversity in comics in general, and the particular issues assigned to Black creators. His frustration came through, especially with this statement:

No, the biggest challenge faced by black creators is the lack of support from black fans. Last year, I was at the New York Comic Con. I can’t tell you how many black people I saw, but I’m guessing that is was well into the five figures—and that’s just one show, in one major metropolitan area. That’s to say those were the black folks at NYCC, and not the fans in Atlanta, or Southern California, or Atlanta, or wherever. But I know that is just half the fans at the show in New York had bought Concrete Park, the book would not have been cancelled. If just ten percent of black folks I see at conventions all over the country supporting creators like myself, or Alex Simmons, or Brandon Easton, or whoever I could list here, we’d all be doing better. Likewise, if more black nerds were speaking out about the murder of Darrien Hunt—one of our own—we would be taking a stand for something that really mattered. But the problem is that more of us are concerned with what’s going to happen on the next episode of Arrow, or whether or not it is okay to cast a black actor as Human Torch or Jimmy Olsen, than they are with the murder of one of our community.

Wow. Just…wow.

I must say, I was a wee bit offended on several levels. I’m especially miffed at the nerd comments earlier in the article, but I’ll leave that alone for now.

As an independently published author, I understand the rage and frustration. We have to work five times as hard to get one-tenth of the recognition bestowed by the mainstream–make that ten times if you are a writer of color, and fifteen times if you are a writer of African descent. But I also write books with no pictures, which are more legitimized within the literary canon. I’m not a comic book creator, nor do I play one on TV. I can’t speak to the unique set of challenges faced by Black comics creators. But I can speak to some of the issues addressed above, which boil down to one thing: marketing.

One of the things that bothers Mr. Walker is the Black nerd community’s focus on things that he considers flightier than the recent death of a Black man while cosplaying. While I don’t recall hearing about it, it’s entirely possible that I did and it got lost in the emotional anesthesia rendered by the spate of killings of unarmed Black men over the past year, and especially during the past few months. Mr. Walker also expresses his displeasure with the lack of support of Black comics creators within/from the black community, even going so far as to state that Black supporters could have kept a comic from shutting down due to poor sales circulation.

To all of this, I say: I. Am. Unaware. Of. You.

I don’t play video games (unless you count Bejeweled Blitz), especially of the role-playing variety. I don’t read comic books. I barely watch movie adaptations of comics. I also don’t watch shows based on comics characters, such as the aforementioned Arrow and Agent Carter. I only stumbled across #BlackComicsChat on Twitter by accident, due to a post by a participant in another group chat. In fact, I only discovered the #Blerd (Black Nerd) tribe on Twitter a few months ago, in all of its lovely, multifaceted splendor. Ditto for activities such as cosplay. These things are foreign to me, and I take umbrage that I, as a potential consumer, should be blamed for my lack of awareness, which apparently affects the bottom line of purveyors of certain creative arts.

Black comics are a relatively small subset of literature in general and Black literature in particular. While comics, video games, and the like (including associated practices such as cosplay) are venerated to nerd nirvana, there is a significant population of Blerds such as myself, as well as those of more traditional tastes, who have never picked up a comic book and who rely on the big-screen comics adaptations (e.g., Blade, Black Panther, Green Lantern) to garner awareness.

If sales are low enough that cancellation is more probability than possibility, and support is deemed practically nonexistent, then what are creators doing to improve visibility? How are you trying to reach people like me, who have not a clue about the rich and diverse presence of comics creators? Who is publicizing the outrage regarding victims like Darrin Hunt and stoking that outrage and call for reform across platforms (social media, racial, community, etc), so that it can expand and evolve past the insulated bubble of the Black comics tribe and select associates? How can you best serve as an ambassador of your world, that would make me want to visit?

As an (indie) author, I have long ago accepted that my writing may not be everyone’s cup of oolong, and I have adjusted my expectations accordingly. Likewise, I also understand that without a mainstream PR behemoth, the task falls to me to let people know about my work. If they don’t know about it, or me, then they can’t try it or buy it. Any failures in those areas are on me, and me alone.

Which why events such as #BlackComicsMonth are so important. By providing a focused showcase of Black comics and those who create them, and within the milieu of social media, there is greater exposure of a tribe that has gone relatively overlooked by those not in the know–which can be a lot of people. Perhaps if events such as this proliferate, the frustrations and blame expressed by Mr. Walker will dissipate.

Thanks for stopping by.

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