Archive for the 'Black History Month' Category


Black History Month 2011: Matt Baker

February 3rd, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Matt Baker
Selected Works: It Rhymes With Lust, Matt Baker: The Art of Glamour (forthcoming)

Matt Baker’s another creator whose name I’d heard in passing but never realized was black until a couple years ago. C’est la guerre, right?

Baker’s a master of good girl art. There’s the obvious, of course–pretty girls in comics are great as a general rule. But on top of that is something a little less obvious. Drawing pretty girls isn’t as simple as heaving bosoms, full lips, big butts, and pokey nipples. You can’t just draw smiles and long legs. You need to be able to draw grins and gams. Skintight clothes are all well and good if you’re lazy, but good artists will throw in fantastic looking dresses, interesting heels, great hats, fabulous hair, and a good sense of humor. What’s more–no two women will wear the same outfit. Proper good girl art requires a certain level of skill that simple T&A-centric art doesn’t.

Baker had all of it down pat. His Phantom Lady work is top notch, as goofy as it is sexy and heinously violent. There’s another strip of his that I like called Canteen Kate. Kate worked with a bunch of Marines, and her stories are somewhere between Milton Caniff’s Male Call and I Love Lucy. It’s all slapstick and goofy pratfalls, but it’s enjoyable.

Baker knew what he was doing, and he excelled at it. The thing is, good girl art is good for comics, period. It shows an attention to detail that needs to be present to make good comics art. Look at how John Romita turned Amazing Spider-Man into the most exciting romance comic ever, due at least in part to some good girl stylings. You can’t hack this stuff out or else people will get bored.

I could look at Matt Baker’s work all day long.

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Black History Month 2011: Jackie Ormes

February 2nd, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Jackie Ormes
Selected Works: PattyJo ‘n’ Ginger, Torchy Brown, but the only thing you’ll find in print is Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist by Nancy Goldstein

I don’t know half as much about Jackie Ormes as I wish I did. I was introduced to her by Cheryl Lynn and her Ormes Society. This essay by Karen Green helped quite a bit, too. (I also bit the images from there.)

I like that what Ormes represents as a person is reflected in the content of her strips. She slipped a certain level of biting commentary into her work, but coded for people in the know. It’s an affirmation that someone else feels the same way you do and has noticed the same things you have. If you’ve ever been in public and seen something scandalous go down and then lock eyes with someone else and know you’re thinking the same thought–that’s the feeling I get from the strip about the white tea-kettle whistling at the little girl.

Ormes’s work is, for lack of a better phrase, aggressively normal. Part of overcoming a four hundred year head start is proving that you’re just as much of a normal person as everyone else. In her strips, black kids are just as smart as white ones, black families are equal to whites, and people do groundbreaking things like “have regular relationships” and “tell jokes.” Her work outside of comics reflects that normalcy, too. She had dolls made of her characters, and took part in campaigning for social issues and supporting her community.

Herriman and Ormes are both icons of black comics, as far as I’m concerned. Herriman was there and worked at a point in time where I didn’t think there were any black people working in comics, much less legends of the craft. Ormes provides a valuable counterpoint to the frankly crap portrayal of blacks in mainstream books, in addition to emphasizing the normalcy of black citizens. I just wish more of her work was in print, but that doesn’t seem too likely.

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Black History Month 2011: George Herriman

February 1st, 2011 Posted by david brothers

George Herriman
Selected Works: Krazy & Ignatz 1916-1918: “Love in a Kestle or Love in a Hut”, Krazy & Ignatz 1925-1926: “There is a Heppy Land Furfur A-waay”

Last year, I discovered All-Negro Comics and was stunned to find that there were comics created by and for black people in the ’40s. This past year, I finally started paying attention to George Herriman, and my mind was blown once again. Herriman’s Krazy Kat was #1 on The Comics Journal‘s list of 20th century American comics and is widely loved by what seems to be everyone ever. The Ignatz Awards at Small Press Expo are named after the mouse from Krazy Kat. If you take a look at the history of comics, there’s a black guy right there in the early days. That’s wild, and it somehow never really settled in my mind. I didn’t just hear about Herriman, but somehow, the fact that he was black never managed to settle in my head.

Krazy Kat, though. I burned through 1916-1918, and for strips that are pushing 100 years old, they’ve aged fantastically well. I wasn’t expecting to see Herriman playing with panel layouts or having non-clunky dialogue with clever wordplay. The language is really what hooked me, even with how much I like how Herriman experiments with layouts and formula. Krazy mumbles and rambles, building a complex world of words that sit just to the left of ours. Herriman throws “quotes” around seemingly random terms, just like Kirby did. There’s even a bit of Brian Azzarello-esque wordplay at work in certain strips, like the vagrant William Bee, alias “Bum Bill.”

I’ve been losing faith in the mainstream’s ability to appeal directly to black readers, but Herriman serves as a reminder that there has almost always been an alternative. When something isn’t floating your boat, it’s time to find another something.

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Black Future Month ’10

February 27th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

The end of Black Future Month is a point in time where “black comics” don’t exist. Comics by, for, or about black people exist in this theoretical future, of course, but they aren’t black comics. They’re just comics. They aren’t set apart from their brethren because they happen to star a black dude or is set in the hood. But, let’s put all that pie in the sky Kumbaya business to the side and talk about the here and now.

For a while, I was trying to keep up with every black character in mainstream comics. After a few months of reading about Bishop try to murder a toddler, DC Comics screwing over Dwayne McDuffie, John Stewart not appearing ever, and Cyborg being stuck in Teen Titans Hell, I was officially burnt out.

I was suddenly faced with a dilemma, though. When it comes to mainstream books and black people, you’re generally gonna be SOL. At the same time, I’d carved out this niche as a “race blogger.” I felt like I was supposed to be paying attention to all these characters. That’s the conscious thing to do, right? No. Absolutely not.

Here is the thing. If you’re supporting black comics by purchasing books from Marvel or DC, you’re not supporting black comics at all. They do what they do, and sometimes they do it well, but they are targeted at one very specific audience. Tom Brevoort has owned up to this in a refreshingly frank blog post. If it doesn’t make dollars, Marvel and DC will not do it. If it does make dollars, Marvel and DC will definitely do it, no matter the consequences. Don’t believe me? Ask Dan Didio about Milestone sometime.
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Black Future Month ’10: Brandon Thomas

February 25th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury came courtesy of Brandon Thomas and Lee Ferguson. It blew me away when it first came out. It, along with Marc Bernardin, Adam Freeman, and Afua Richardson’s Genius, took a simple but clever story and turned it on its ear. I loved it, I was ready and raring for more, and bam, its publisher went through a reorganization period and publication halted.

It’s a while later now and we’ve got more Miranda Mercury on the horizon. I wanted to catch up with Brandon as part of Black Future Month because this guy deserves the attention. Miranda Mercury has a great blend of action and character, and “Not Dead Yet” is sure to be a treat.

All images here feature words by Brandon Thomas, pictures by Lee Ferguson, and are from the first few pages of The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury #295. Look for the new joint later this year in the form of three over-sized issues and, fingers crossed, more later. Check out Brandon’s website, his blog (which is the home of his long-running Ambidextrous column), and follow him on Twitter as @mirandamercury. For some fun, check the script to #297 and look at some of his notes on other books.

Buy Miranda Mercury: Not Dead Yet when it comes out.
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Black Future Month ’10: Life in Marvelous Times

February 23rd, 2010 Posted by david brothers

I almost called this one “The Importance of Being Aya,” but Mos Def’s “Life In Marvelous Times” from The Ecstatic is a much better fit. In it, Mos Def paints a picture of the intersection between the past and the present, conjuring images of starving children with gold teeth and life in the projects, before ultimately concluding that “we are alive in amazing times,” despite all of the poison and destruction and hate. This 360 degree view of life allows him to say that we are living in marvelous times, with “wonders on every side.”

Black history, as it was taught to me growing up, was more limited. The picture that was painted for me portrayed a very poor, down-trodden, and miserable existence. An existence punctuated by regular lynchings, scarred backs, and burning towns. We learned about Martin Luther King, Dred Scott, WEB Du Bois, the high points of the Harlem Renaissance (pretty much Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston), a little bit about the Great Migration (black people moved, the end), a little bit about Malcolm X as Boogieman, and maybe a little something about Marcus Garvey, if the teacher was brave. Black history generally stopped with the death of Martin Luther King.

The problem with this teaching is that you don’t get the whole picture. The idea of blacks as victims is left reinforced and ingrained in your head. It turns life into warfare, a constant struggle for life, liberty, and happiness. Due to that, you miss out on hearing about the other parts of black history. The dapper dressed gentlemen taking their lady friends out to cut a rug, the kids in the ’60s who were born into a brand new world, and the normal folks making a normal living. Black is never normal.

It’s fair to say that we’re in a new age of comics now, one that allows for comics that I would’ve never found when I was a kid. Take Aya for an example. I can go out to the store and buy a hardcover book about a black (strike one) girl (strike two) living in the Ivory Coast (strike three) who is basically living a soap opera (you’ve been out for ages kid, get out of here). Back when I was trapped in the bad old days of Wizard and superheroic speculation, the weirdest thing I read was Frank Miller’s Sin City, a book with no capes, a lot of actual curse words, and a healthy dose of nudity. Nowadays, if I want to read a soap opera starring a girl in Africa and her friends, I can do that.

I never saw that kind of thing when I was a kid. Black folks in comics were generally sidekicks or supporting characters. They were Ron Troupe and Robbie Robertson, or Luke Cage and Bishop. Born and bred in misery, but managing to struggle above into the light, or simply there to dispense useful advice or be the token negro in an otherwise all-white cast. Sometimes both. Sometimes neither.
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Black Future Month ’10: Julian Lytle

February 18th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

I’ve known Julian for a few years now, and he’s even contributed to a couple of posts I’ve done here. We came up around a lot of the same stuff, though several states and a couple years apart, and his perspective is always something interesting and engaging. I’m pretty sure I spent most of one New York Comic-con chilling at or around his table while he was hustling to get some commissions done and chatting about ’90s rap, superheroes, and where comics need to go. Pay attention.

His style is something like modern pop–something you could describe as “ripped from the headlines” if it wasn’t just slightly ahead of the curve. Bright colors, bold design, and slick composition make up his Guns’n’Honey series, while his figure work is part-manga/anime, part-superheroic style, and part-something else. We’ll call it Future Pop. Right now, you can check his website or his webcomic Ants. Click any of the images in this piece to be taken to his Flickr account. If you see him at a con, hit him up and get on his list for art. You won’t regret it.

We’re around the same age, though I think you’re a little older than I am. What’s your genesis? How’d you get into comics and what made you pursue in art? Basically, who is Julian Lytle, and how did he come to be? 

Yeah, man, I’m getting old. It’s all mental though. When I was little, I wanted to be an “everything scientist.” I can’t tell you what that is, but then I saw the original weeklong Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. That got me hyped. I started drawing really back then. I could draw a perfect copy of the cartoon-style Turtles. I also used to watch this show called Secret City on PBS. It was like a personal art class everyday. I used to tape it. I loved to watch Bob Ross, all the landscapes and happy trees.

I didn’t fall in love with comics or anything until X-Men #1, which I think is one of the best superhero comics ever made. Jim Lee was gully on that book. The opening with the training to this day looks beyond what I can do to me. I was hooked on X-Men from that day. I had all the trading cards. My first comics were DC though. But, comic books wasn’t my thing until 12. Before that, the comic strips were my thing.

Another thing that got me into art was popularity to a degree. I wasn’t an athlete or the smartest or the best looking, but I could draw the best. And as a kid, being the guy that could draw a Ninja Turtle was some juice. Even girls liked them. The schools always pushed me, like them kids who could play basketball and stuff. I never felt like the ostracized fanboy, I guess ’cause I liked video games and sports. I think that helped my art, I try to stay with what’s current, what’s poppin’. 

Your style is pretty distinct. If I had to describe it in terms of genre, it’s like “retro future pop.” Your style brings throwback designs, trends, and styles into the future, updating them for the modern day and adding a splash of bright color into the mix. I’m thinking specifically of the Jubilee picture you did a few years back and your Guns’n’Honey series. They aren’t in a typical pinup style, but still manage to work extremely well. How’d you develop this style? 

Well, my mom died in the summer of 2006 and I didn’t draw for a couple of months. I was watching some videos on TV and it got me thinking. My friend gave me the line “guns and honey” and I started drawing a cute woman from a picture and she had a gun. I changed some stuff that I didn’t like. I did another one and another.

Those are the first Guns N’ Honey. Kind of just experiments and getting my feet wet again. Then I started thinking about what I was seeing in rap videos. The things you see the most are women, usually objectified. They also, most of the time, talk about violent acts. Rap also has a need to boast about things, particularly fashion–Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Louis Vuitton, all of that. So I mixed all that up, but instead of men with guns, like others have done before, I used women. But I wanted it to look like a fashion spread you’d see in Vogue or V.

I used design elements and typography to set apart my pieces from the most. I want to use bigger, coloured, zip-a-tone style shading. I started taking lyrics from songs I listened to. I got “Talk to the Cannon” from Weezy on that Dedication 2 mixtape. The piece made itself. I found the reference on my computer that I knew would work, changed some things, had my colourway set, and laid out the type and bam, it was done.

Over time I started trying to make them look like old genre movie poster or pulp novels. Robert McGinnis is a big influence, but so is Hype Williams. I’ve also always wanted to get into fashion illustration since I was really young. So, this is, in a way, me just doing stuff on my own for myself.

I’ve been told I draw the type of girl I want. I don’t know about that, but I do try to draw women that look strong and dangerous, but not all naked for any old reason. Not every woman has huge breasts, and, you know, a woman with a B-cup and a t-shirt on looks good too. I also like taking poses of men and flipping them with women, like Malcolm X’s window picture and James Bond’s Quantum of Solace newspaper ad.

So, you could say that my style is from consumption and regurgitation. It is pop culture because that is where it comes from. What’s funny is that I couldn’t draw a female without copying from a comic book until I was like a senior in high school. I sucked at drawing women until college. Now, that is all I draw.  
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Black Future Month ’10: Things Are Getting Better

February 16th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

The first all-black comic was 1947’s All-Negro Comics. Everything I know about it I read from this site. It’s a somewhat lengthy read, but well worth your time.

All-Negro Comics once attempted to be a representative and standard-bearer for an entire race. The situation was so off-center and dire that an attempt to educate both blacks and whites as to the history and prestige of the black race was seen as necessary. I transcribed the introduction that Orrin C Evans wrote, because I find it pretty fascinating.

Dear readers: This is the first issue of All-Negro Comics, jam-packed with fast action, African adventure, good clean humor and fantasy.

Every brush stroke and pen line in the drawings on these pages are by Negro artists. And each drawing is an original; that is, none has been published ANYWHERE before. This publication is another milestone in the splendid history of Negro journalism.

All-Negro Comics will not only give Negro artists an opportunity to gainfully use their talents, but it will glory Negro historical achievements.

Through Ace Harlem, we hope dramatically to point up the outstanding contributions of thousands of fearless, intelligent Negro police officers engaged in a constant fight against crime throughout the United States.

Through Lion Man and Bubba, it is our hope to give American Negroes a reflection of their natural spirit of adventure and a finer appreciation of their African heritage.

And through Sugarfoot and Snakeoil, we hope to recapture the almost lost humor of the loveable wandering Negro minstrel of the past.

Finally, Dew Dillies will give all of us–young and old–an opportunity to romp through a delightly, almost fairy-like land of make-believe.

And we’re proud, too, of our big educational feature–a monthly historical calendar on which the contributions of the Negro to world history will be set forth in each issue.

What’s important about All-Negro Comics is that it is an answer to a trend in comics. A conscious answer, one calculated to present something that hadn’t, to my knowledge, been properly represented in comics. In mainstream comics at this point, Whitewash from the Young Allies and Will Eisner’s Ebony White were par for the course. Clumsy, bumbling racial caricatures were, as near as I can tell, the norm and accepted by polite society. Will Eisner himself accepted that White was a racial stereotype with an excuse that boils down to “it was funny back then.”

All-Negro Comics, then, was a shot across the bow of pop culture racism. It is counter-programming against the cultural politics of the era it was written in. It puts the lie to the flimsy excuse of “It was just a product of its time.” Accepting that excuse means assuming the worst about the people of that time, that they were okay with denigrating and marginalizing an entire culture. It reminds me of the saying about how all evil needs to triumph is for good men to do nothing. At the same time, if you’re doing nothing, are you really that good?

Evans’s opening editorial begins combat against the idea of the shiftless, lazy Negro. It introduces Ace Harlem, a positive black role model intended to represent the modern black male. Ace Harlem was cast in the same mold as Dick Tracy or The Spirit- an upstanding man out to do good simply because it was the right thing to do.

There’s a message implicit there. Ace looked out for his people, tried to do the right thing, and was specifically intended to represent the black community. As near as I can tell, he was created to be what we often mistakenly assume a lot of black characters to be nowadays: a representative for the community at large, rather than a specific person. The existence of Ace meant that black people, just like whites, weren’t born criminals or inferior. They had just as much drive, just as much of a sense of justice, as anyone else did.

Ace Harlem says what everyone should have known already, is what I’m saying.

All-Negro Comics puts me in mind of Spike Lee and, more recently, Tyler Perry. Spike has a rep for being a loudmouth jerk, but he’s a guy who also aggressively pushed a very specific agenda: movies should reflect real life. Sometimes this meant a majority white cast and sometimes this meant majority black. He wanted to show that, at the heart of things, we’re all the same. If you look at the casts of his movies over the years, his track record reflects that. He saw a gap and he worked to fill it.

Tyler Perry, on the other hand, saw a different gap. He saw that no one was really marketing movies to black women and leapt upon it. He pounded out cheap movies aimed at that demographic and look at that– little old black ladies hit the movies in droves, bringing half the church with them, and Tyler Perry sleeps on a mattress made out of dollar bills.

Between then and now, there was a hole in comics. All-Negro Comics, like Spike Lee and Tyler Perry, attempted to patch that hole. It lasted long enough for only the one issue, but it shows that the thirst was there. Someone recognized the hole and attempted to fill it.

That market is out there. Black people, just like everyone else, will read comics. Black people will make comics. Black people are doing both. Where All-Negro Comics was meant to be counter-programming in 1947, what we have now is even better. Take a stroll down artist’s alley at your local convention. There are black creators doing their thing in a variety of genres and styles.

The rise of the internet, graphic novels in bookstores, and affordable print on demand turned black comics (for whatever definition of “black comics” you’re using) from something with a niche appeal into something that can genuinely be considered a success. You can buy Aya at the same place you buy your Stephen King novels, you can read World of Hurt or Ants on your lunch break, or you can order Ho Che Anderson’s King off Amazon and have it the next day.

Things are better than they were before. We don’t need one single comic to represent the fact that black people, like white people, are human beings. I’d rather that the mainstream comics didn’t marginalize or exclude their black fans and characters, but you know what? Comics has plenty of Spike Lees and Tyler Perrys. I don’t have to beg Mark Millar for table scraps when Dwayne McDuffie is ready and willing to provide a full course meal.

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Black Future Month ’10: Jay Potts

February 11th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

The nice thing about interviewing people is that sometimes they manage to school you. I thought I knew a little bit about blaxploitation, but Jay Potts, creator of World of Hurt, clearly has a PHD. I looked up some stuff, added others to my Netflix, and came out of this a better, more knowledgeable man. I figure you will, too. His dissection of who Luke Cage is- whoo. I hope Jeff Parker’s going to be using that for his Thunderbolts run.

World of Hurt is, to put it simply, a Blaxploitation web comic. Isaiah Pastor is a good man who does bad things for good reasons. Really, that’s all you need to know. The comic updates on Wednesdays and Jay generally has a good review or blog post each week, too. It’s must-reading. Follow him on Twitter if you’ve got one.

The images in this post are the first six episodes of World of Hurt. They are, of course, the property, intellectual and otherwise, of Jay. If you like them, click over to the site and start reading weekly. If you’d rather read them on his site, check out the first episode here. The ones here are a little smaller than his, but if you click, they’ll go big.

Finally, if Jay recommends some music or a movie? Get up on it asap. Trust me.

-Who is Jay Potts? I saw on your site that you went to SCAD. Did you focus on comics while you were there, or were you more interested in fine art or some other discipline?

Heh. I’m still trying to find out who ‘Jay Potts’ is! I’m a corporate paralegal by occupation, and artist by inclination. I enjoy politics and hiking. I have lovely, talented, smart fiancée named Noelle, a dog named Hoppie, and a black cat named Boo. Amongst the three, I’m not sure who’s my biggest fan. 

I started out in the graduate program in Illustration at SCAD, but I quickly transitioned to Sequential Art. Until going to SCAD, I was self-taught, so I was introduced to concepts and ideas that I had never heard of before. I had great professors, like James Sturm, who went on to found the Center For Cartoon Studies, Bob Pendarvis, and Mark Kneece who were fantastic. Mostly, I enjoyed interacting with peers who treated cartooning as an art form and not a hobby, and this was the first time I ever had the opportunity to enjoy that sort of give-and-take and interaction. I learned so much about storytelling and the creative process from just talking to those guys and watching their own process. That interaction, and the friendships I forged in Savannah, were invaluable.
-Rather than employing the tongue-in-cheek tone of Afrodisiac or Black Dynamite, World of Hurt is very straightforward- it’s a black action film on paper. Why’d you choose to do a straight blaxploitation comic, rather than updating it as others have?

Although I think that, sparingly, the tongue-in-cheek treatment of Blaxploitation can be a legitimate way to approach the film genre, but for the most part it seems to be the ONLY way that is ever used. I wanted to try something else. Also, I would put Afrodisiac and Black Dynamite in a slightly different category from films like Undercover Brother or I’m Gonna Git You Sucka or Greg Houston’s graphic novel, Vatican Hustle. In the first two you can not only see a familiarity with Blaxploitation, but a real understanding and reverence for it. These guys KNOW their subject, and the work is steeped in that knowledge. There are plenty of Easter eggs for Blaxploitation fans buried in the work, and those references are tweaked and subverted for comedic effect. For example, in “She Came From Venus,” an 8-page Afrodisiac tale, Rugg references Godfrey Cambridge and Raymond St. Jacques‘ portrayals of Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson in Cotton Comes To Harlem, Calvin Lockhart, Robert DoQui in Coffy, and a classic Max Julien in The Mack and still delivers a heckuva story. That’s reference and reverence. In works like Undercover Brother, the surface elements of Blaxploitation are skimmed for cheap laughs for people who know nothing about Blaxploitation other than some dim cultural memory of bellbottoms and pimps in giant hats and ermine capes.
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Black Future Month ’10: The Stereotype

February 9th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

What do Black Panther, Black Lightning, John Stewart, Black Goliath, Luke Cage, John Henry Irons, Sam “Falcon” Wilson, and Martha Washington have in common? Easy: they were created in whole or in part by white (or Jewish) dudes.

Your boy John Shaft? His origin lies in a novel written by Ernest Tidyman, a white guy from Cleveland. Foxy Brown, the meanest chick in town, was written and directed by Jack Hill, another white guy. Are there any black pop culture figures that have been homaged, swagger-jacked, referenced, and emulated more than Shaft and Foxy? Maybe, maybe James Brown or Muhammad Ali?

Consider the importance of Gordon Parks as director of Shaft. Shaft‘s New York City is grimy, dirty, vibrant, black, and beautiful. We see opulence and poverty, violence and peace, and in the midst of all of this is Richard Roundtree as John Shaft, head held high and in control of the situation. Shaft presented black characters who didn’t feel inauthentic and a world that had depth. It’s fair to say that having a black director, and an actor as talented as Roundtree, served Shaft well. Parks got it.

I love Jack Kirby and I dig his Black Panther, but it took Christopher Priest to make me a believer. I found Reggie Hudlin’s take on Black Panther to be fascinating, at least in part because it pushed a very specific, relatable version of Panther. The two of them brought an aesthetic, or mindset, to the book that hadn’t been there before, and it worked. The character clicked for me for the first time.

Let’s talk about diversity.
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