The White Man’s Burden, Not The Black Man’s Dream

March 27th, 2012 by | Tags:

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:

’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?

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19 comments to “The White Man’s Burden, Not The Black Man’s Dream”

  1. Many fair point. I’m not quite as pessimistic regarding whether they’ll EVER care about Black people. I think that what you see as exceptions could be signs of change. One year, at MegaCON, I asked Quesada about the lack of Black-on-Black love in the MU, after someone raised the point on a message board. He said some interesting things (one of which I’m convinced was a nod to the elevated status that Black Panther was soon to enjoy) but one surprising statement was him pointing out how his ethnicity and upbringing made HIM want to see a more diverse Marvel Universe. I think they’re making moves in that direction, despite what I remotely-perceive as the crashing and burning of BP.

    I think there’s a brighter future somewhere on the horizon. I guess we’ll see…if they don’t run all of us off during the interim.

  2. Millar hasn’t gotten any of my money since the first three issues of Ultimates 2, and in addition to basically hating his writing style, but quotes like the above make me unwilling to contribute anything to him financially.

  3. Well-writen manifesto. “I reject your whole position and whatever lazy high concept comic book that comes out of it.” That’s been true for me since Ultimates 2. I have not bought a Millar book since.

    I disagree somewhat with “If blacks had money, they’ll court them.” Yes, we are talking about corporations whose goal is to increase not just share of market but total available market by reaching new audiences. But something still gates this notion and the medium doesn’t move forward. Young adult women could make up a 50% increase in readership, a potential buying audience larger than one based on any race, and we’ve seen (and you’ve commented on) the deplorable depiction of (and representation by) women in comics despite stated outreaches by the big publishers. Young adult fiction (Twilight, Hunger Games) have helped grow female readership. And comics seem to perpetuate its fanboy echo chamber.

  4. Man,David always speaks the truth and always hits the mark.The reason there are so many new black characters is because after all this time “its cool” to be black.Millar isnt helping the sterotype that all black people look like rappers, re-watching some the Wire today reminded me that what the comic industry needs is more stories like Incognegro or Cowboys.

  5. I’m curious, David, if you have any particular thoughts on Miles Morales, who is I think half African American?

  6. DC and Marvel haven’t been relevant since the Image boys packed up and left them in the early 90s, if you think about it. Their whole steez was built upon their ability to corner the creative talent into doing whatever they were told to. They can’t do that anymore.

    So to that end, though I have people I like and friends who make things that come out of those companies–I don’t think they are producing, or are ever going to produce, another truly relevant comic. Their readership is a demographic within a demographic, and ever dwindling.

    Comics as a medium passed them up long ago, and now that they are both IP farms for Warner and Disney, they really aren’t that important.

    What I’m saying is that you DEFINITELY need to move on from them. At this point the only relevance DC/Marvel have is the one that you give them. But there’s no honest reason for talking about a DC/Marvel book over say the latest issue of BRPD or Prophet or Orc Stain or whatever.

    Even Mark Millar isn’t really a DC/Marvel guy anymore. He’s pure creator-owned at this point.

    The only big name writers left who ONLY are doing Marvel/DC are Johns and Bendis. What you’re looking at is a house on fire. And I say let it burn.

    There are plenty of other comics to divert your attention to. And the rest of the field is I think going to be more pliable to your critiques anyways because at that point you’re dealing with individuals, and not corporations, and you can dialogue with individuals.

    You’re ostensibly right now trying to have a civilized discussion with a sociopath.

  7. @West: Yeah, the Quesada regime at Marvel has been really good at at least trying to see what will stick. They published a ton of Black Panther comics. It’s just that nothing ever really sticks in the long run.

    @Clarence Boyce: I don’t think that every new character comes from purely mercenary standpoint, actually. But in Millar’s case, I do.

    @Michael: I like him a lot, though I’m not currently reading the series. I reviewed the first issue when it came out. You can tell that Bendis put a lot of himself as a father into the character, and Pichelli was the perfect artist to bring him to life. There’s a care and attention there that is palpable, and it’s appreciated. But I’m also more than aware that Miles Morales wouldn’t exist if we didn’t have the real Spider-Man sitting two shelves over in the comic shop, you know? We get him because there’s an established backup. He’s a stunt, but a well-executed and worthy one, from what I’ve seen. I’m glad he exists, and I hope he sticks around long enough for some kid to love him like I loved Peter Parker growing up.

  8. But..you are a column on a spreadsheet. we all are. thats pretty much how any corporation operates when they try to expand into other markets. i mean i dont have the figures in front of me but if i had to pick one group that wouldnt be to much into comics (besides girls) it would be the black community so i understand where marvel and dc are coming from. so yeah if you wanna say fuck it and pack up shop because of that mentally go ahead but you’re gonna be pretty hard pressed to find any successful company without that mindset. the machine has been running to long and to well for that to change. but i also agree that white guilt/burden is annoying and demeaning but its annoying and demeaning for all races involved. having black and asian asgardians in the thor movie took me right out of it on the premise that a norwegian mythology would have differant racial gods. it’s not a one way street

  9. “But..you are a column on a spreadsheet. we all are.”

    Good point.

  10. […] – they’ve been content to sweep under the rug for way too long.Supplemental Reading:“The White Man’s Burden, Not The Black Man’s Dream,” by David Brothers“‘Mad Men,’ ‘The Hunger Games,’ and the Need for Consequential […]

  11. “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?”

    i’m a non-white woman who loves comics but i’ve had my heart continually stomped on for the last 10 years by DC/Marvel. i’m afraid to move on but what you wrote up there got me choked up and i’m finally ready to say “good riddance” and find something else to read. thanks david.

  12. “if i had to pick one group that wouldnt be to much into comics (besides girls) it would be the black community”

    @Dylan Yo, c’mon, son. Also, I’m pretty sure you don’t know any black people if you think this has any root in truth.

  13. @Dylan: So much dissonant fuckery in that paragraph. But, long story short, Dylan: If someone is born on this planet, and they read anything on a regular basis, they appreciate comics (in any given form.) There’s a reason why the medium is used as a form of entertainment on all 6 habitable continents.

  14. […] and I look at you with feelings.” There’s a gap in there between us, and it’s not a nice one. Click to read article Like this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  15. Bill Cosby, in his early years as a stand-up comedian, was often accused of not doing enough for race relations. That he was just kowtowing to what he thought would sell better to the masses. In response Bill simply stated that by doing his jokes the way that he was, he was in fact doing more for race relations by making it available and accessible to anyone.

    I’m not saying that Mark Millar is a good person, or a bad person for that matter. Or that his motivation is anything but financial, or a spreadsheet column. I’m not even saying that I’ve enjoyed much of his body of work. But truth be told, he has made a name for himself, and one that has been propelled to a forefront of comic book writers when they are on the tongues of those that are mostly unfamiliar with the bulk of them. A number of his projects have gone on to become Hollywood movies as well, so in some eyes, he’s considered quite successful.

    In the end, Millar doesn’t really do any favors for anyone but his publisher. He makes money by selling titles and lately movie rights. But he sells titles. He moves books into the hands of people. Personally I can’t see the problem with an African American hero at the forethought of thinking when it comes to superheroes. Be it Millar or someone else that comes after him making it a reality.

  16. @Wafflebot: Besides being the dumbest thing i’ve ever read, I don’t know what your trying to tell me behind your passive aggressiveness. Lets just ignore your broad assumption that anyone whos ever read a book respects, or using your words “appreciates”, comics because thats asinine. As far as you saying its a successful medium on all 6 habitable continents, well yeah, because its a successful business(and its pretty apparent i’m addressing the comic industry DC, marvel etc and not comics as an art form). So therefore as a business its going to try to make as much money as possible by trying to dominate as many markets as possible. Thats mainly what i was addressing. The white guilt/burden is annoying to many white people to on many different levels was just a closing thought seeing on how the article is titled “The White Man’s Burden”.

    @Wafflebot: I live in Buffalo which is predominantly just a black neighborhood so yeah I have a few but thats besides the point and is irrelevant. All i was saying, and I said I was just assuming, was that while im sure alot of black people know alot about comics i’m not to sure the black community makes up much of the comic book sales or care. Maybe i’m wrong like i said I don’t have any figures

  17. shit sorry. second comment was @David Uzumeri:

    rushed it out at work

  18. I used to work at a comic book shop, and around every halloween, the occassional customer would come in and ask “Who’s a good black superhero to dress up as?” I always found myself a little hardpressed to name more than a handful. Black Panther, Power Man, War machine (but that was too difficult an idea), Nick Fury, Captain America (once), and then Spawn. Only when I mention Spawn do I get that “Oh yeah…” response. No one else ever seemed to strike any chords.

  19. Great piece, David.