Here’s a few tips if you want to write black people in comics.
1. Find a quiet place to write
2. Use a laptop– they’re easy to get comfy with and you can research and write at the same time. Also? Music.
3. Keep a hammer by your laptop
4. Hit your laptop with the hammer, and then your hands, because you’re gonna get it wrong.
Still with me?
You’re going to piss somebody off. That’s just the way
love life goes. If your character is too thuggish, he’s an idiot gangbanger thug mandingo. If he’s too bookish, he’s an Uncle Tom. If he’s not black enough, he’s just a white dude with black skin. If he’s too black, you’re just reinforcing negative stereotypes.
You can’t win. This is the unspoken rule of creating or writing black characters. Someone, somewhere, is going to hate what you do and how you did it. It could be something in your approach, dialogue, or technique. It could be nothing at all, you might have just pushed someone’s buttons on accident. You’re co-opting, appropriating, and destroying.
With that said, all of that’s no reason to not do it.
If you’ve got half a brain, you’re smart enough to write black people. You know that every black person is different, but that there are still similarities in all of us. If you’re really unsure, you’ll run it by a black friend or two. If you don’t have any black friends, go find some.
Paul Cornell is a pretty smart dude. When he created Faiza Hussein, a British Muslim, he consulted actual Muslim women. Why? Because he knows that there are intricacies or in-jokes or experiences that he may not know about. It was an amazingly respectful, honest, and (to be frank) obvious move. When you’re writing detectives, serial killers, crazy people, or scientists, you do a bit of research to make sure that your ideas are sound. Same goes for race. I respect G. Willow Wilson for similar reasons– it’s clear that she’s willing to do the research necessary to make the story real. A little research goes a long way.
Scared money don’t make money. If you’re so scared of criticism that you’re going to choke when writing black people, you shouldn’t be doing it. If you’re going to seize up at the first sign of criticism, you shouldn’t do it. You’ve got to have the smarts and guts to be able to plow on through and pray that you’re right. It’s a touchy subject, and with good reason, but if no one ever tries, it will never stop being a touchy subject.
Sometimes, creators turn out to be so great at it, no matter their race and upbringing, that I’m willing to read anything from them that involves touchy subjects. Garth Ennis is probably number one on that list for me in everything but religion. He dared to try and tackle things that other people glossed over, and turned out to be pretty great at it. The man has an honestly startling grasp of character, be it white, black, or whatever. The Slavers arc of Punisher MAX was one of the saddest things I’ve ever read, and probably one of the best stories to ever come out of Marvel. It’s something that a lesser writer would have bumbled and botched. Under Ennis, it was honestly terrifying in a very sad sort of way. It makes the stupid superhero fights the Punisher is going to be getting into for the next however many years look worthless.
And that’s how you do it. You do it right, you do it well. It doesn’t matter what the subject is. Put in some work, do some research, and get it done.