It’s frivolous in the face of this, but it bears being said: everything matters when it comes to race and racism. Even these stupid old comic books that I spend my time reading. Everything is a brick in the wall or a straw sitting on the camel’s back. Race, as a concept, is ingrained in our society and way of thinking. It’s inescapable.
That understanding, that knowledge of the fact that race is way more than just the Ku Klux Klan and being scared of black people, is why I looked at Mark Millar’s assertion that he was going to create a top 10 black hero with the sidest of side-eyes. A quote, again:
The biggest movie star in world is black, as is the President, but top 10 superheroes exclusively white. I plan to change this in 2012.
— Mark Millar (@mrmarkmillar) March 25, 2012
’cause here’s the thing. Millar sees dollar signs. He’s over here thinking “Black people are cool now, guys!” and trying to figure out how to get a black dollar. He wants to ride a wave, to capitalize (and please believe I mean “convert into capital,” meaning dollars) on a trend, and that trend? That trend is my life. It’s not even a trend at all, it’s the blood that runs through my veins and my mom’s and my grandparents’ and everyone before them. I’ve been reduced to a column on a spreadsheet.
And I’m supposed to trust a guy whose idea of Cool Black is Samuel L Jackson, who was surprised that black people suffer from the same conditions as white people, who has consistently portrayed black people as objects of scorn for his white protagonists, who made a big to-do about creating an “African-American Hulk” in his crappy comics so that he could do a joke about how it’s weird that people call black Brits African-American sometimes and have a dude living like he’s straight out of a rap video to create a top 10 black hero? A guy who sees dollar signs, rather than dreams, when he thinks of black people? “You speak to me in words and I look at you with feelings.” There’s a gap in there between us, and it’s not a nice one.
Millar setting himself up to put coloreds at the forefront of comics sounds like another overseer to me, to be perfectly frank. Or at best, somebody who doesn’t know nothing about nothing attempting to do me a favor, even though every single other favor he’s done has gone down in flames. It’s the white man’s burden in four colors. “There are no popular black superheroes… I shall have to create one!” No. I reject your whole position and whatever lazy high concept comic book that comes out of it. Holler at me when there’s ten writers in mainstream comics who are black, and then you can talk to me about doing me a favor. In fact, just do me one favor, Mark. Don’t do me no more favors.
I spent a few years on this blog relating black history and comics in an attempt to… I don’t know, exactly. Part of it was sort of examining myself, part of it was an earnest attempt to point out when and where comics companies got race right and wrong. Overall, though, it was a reminder. “Black people love this stuff, too, and we’ve even contributed in a major way to the field.”
I’ve been reading comics since I was old enough to read. I graduated from David Michelinie to Judy Blume and stories featuring Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown. This stuff is in my blood. I couldn’t escape it if I tried. I’m just as much of a fan as Comic Book Guy. But I’m never treated like one, not by the companies I grew up loving. It’s the story of America writ small, drawn into a 9-grid. A crucial part of the evolution of the country or format, but downgraded to second class citizens when it comes time for representation. Racism is fractal like that. It winds its way from your thoughts, into your choices, into your society, into your world view, and then into your society, into your choices, and then into your thoughts. It’s self-perpetuating.
I didn’t do any Black History Month posts this year. I thought last year’s creator-focused approach was a nice send-off, and to be frank, it’s pretty emotionally exhausting to spend the month thinking real hard about black pathology and representation in comics. I think the creator-only approach was good, because I later finally realized that Marvel and DC do not, and will not, ever care about black people. If blacks had money, they’ll court them, and they have over in relatively minor ways over the years. But when it gets right down to it… Marvel and DC, two for-profit corporations, won’t care until the dollar signs are there, the fans won’t care because the characters don’t matter, the creators won’t get a leg up because the corporations don’t care, and I was just busting my fists against a stone wall instead of using my brain.
I’m working on course-correcting, but it’s a new way of thinking. Ever since childhood times, “comics” has always been a synonym for “Marvel and DC, and then maybe some other folks.” But if something or someone isn’t giving you what you need, and making no noises to imply that they might in the future, bounce. They don’t care about you. They don’t even really like you, unless you’re toeing the company line and paying cash money for their comics. The stuff that I like? That I consistently praise to the high heavens? Those are exceptions. Those aren’t things that Marvel and DC make bank off of. I was stupid for expecting the Big Two to change. They have no reason to. None at all. None that make business sense, anyway.
So, why stay? Why continually put yourself through this torture? You like the characters? I like a lot of things I don’t take part in any more. There’s always going to be new characters to enjoy, so why stay after they have proven that they don’t need you? Why stick around and let mercenaries like Millar come in out of the sun like vultures, ready to fix things by taking advantage of you and your culture?