Even though I have problems with some of the treatment of black characters in comics, I think that things are looking better than they ever have. There are more black headliners, more black characters, and better stories featuring those characters than there were years ago. Vertigo, once the stronghold of stories aimed at goths, published Sentences and the Papa Midnite book, in addition to expanding to the point where they’ve got an entire line based around crime fiction. Marvel seems committed to treating Black Panther as a major player in terms of both stories and real world stature.
I don’t think that things are perfect, not by any means, but things are getting better. I still want to hear more black voices, see black characters that aren’t introduced and shuffled off to the sidelines or the background, and stories that do more than paying lip service to the idea of black culture.
It’s a cliche to say that “black history is American history,” but it’s true. America would not be the country it is today without the input of black people, be it forced or voluntary. Slavery led to economic prosperity, but contributions from black people didn’t end there. There’s the Harlem Renaissance, slavery-era literature, 20th century music, novels, movies, and dozens of others. You don’t have to dig very deep at all to find something of value.
I’d like to be able to say the same about comics. Milestone is back in what could be the perfect time for its resurgence. A company that blazed trails in portrayal of non-white characters, transgender characters, and coloring can go from a well-regarded footnote to actually having the stature and respect it deserves. Gay characters in comics don’t begin with Perry Moore and end with Northstar. Islam in comics didn’t start with GW Bridge or The 99. There’s a lot out there that has gone forgotten simply because the material isn’t easily accessible.
There are a bunch of extremely talented black artists out there who will one day be up there with the greats. There’s fascinating panel designs, fusions of influences from Kirby to Otomo to Moebius to Tezuka and back again, and new and exciting ways to approach comics. I’m sure that there are plenty of writers waiting in the wings, too, with fresh ideas and perspectives to bring to things.
What do I want out of blacks in comics? I’ve got a list of things. I’d like to see black characters on an even keel with white ones, more research, more variety, and more respect.
Really though, two words: good stories.