Black Future Month ’10: Paris/Tokyo

February 6th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

The easiest thing to point to when someone says “What’s cultural appropriation?” (in the unlikely event that somebody actually wants to know the answer to that question) is the theft of rock and roll. ego trip’s Big Book of Racism!, in addition to being an incredible read, has a great series of lists about rock and roll and race. Long story short, of course, cultural appropriation is the act of taking something that “belongs” to one culture–be it music, arts, literature, drama, whatever–and taking it for your own.

It isn’t a focused movement, exactly. There are no malicious men sitting around a table, plotting on how they can steal bachata and make it there own. It tends to be a byproduct of what happens when racism and institutional racism work hand in hand. Taking rock and roll for an (extremely simplified) example– white America in the mid-1900s had no interest in letting black America onto their jukeboxes and into their clubs. However, white musicians performing what was often the exact same music was met with, if not acceptance, something more positive than racially-motivated revulsion. Over time, rock and roll became a “white” genre, something associated with your average run of the mill white people rather than blacks.

Blackface is another example of cultural appropriation, though much more actively racist and malicious. White actors portrayed black characters for the entertainment and edification of a white audience, donning burnt cork and shoe polish and emulating (or just making up) the ways that black people acted.

A more recent example of cultural appropriation are the dozens of kung fu movies starring white guys. Once Hong Kong action cinema proved to be popular in the ’70s, one way of making it even more popular for American audiences was to toss a white guy into the main role. A good example of this is Danny Rand, from Marvel’s Iron Fist. Danny is a rich white guy who ended up in a thinly obfuscated Shangri-La and ended up becoming its greatest warrior, even triumphing over the natives of the city.

In the fall of ’08, I took a work trip to Tokyo, Japan. I didn’t get as much time to dig in and explore as I wanted, but I did end up spending a lot of time in Shibuya and Harajuku. I saw a lot of people dressed like I dressed, or like people dressed back home. I spent some time in a streetwear shop where the two clerks didn’t know much English beyond “Biggie” and “Nas,” but they knew rap lyrics and fashion.
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Black Future Month ’10: Ron “D-pi” Wimberly

February 4th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

I’m hoping to make a few interviews a weekly part of Black Future Month ’10. I thought about doing the usual rigamarole–“How you doing, how’s it feel to be a black artist in the predominately white comics industry, have you ever been a victim of racism, have you ever been shot, so whatchu think about Obama?”–but I’m having trouble thinking of anything more boring/depressing/terrible. Why interview anyone if you’re going to ask them the same old questions?

Instead, I want to focus on the work. These cats are people who you should be watching out for. This isn’t a comprehensive list, obviously, just a few people whose work I dig and who deserve your attention. Given enough time and knowledge, I’d hit up everyone I ever liked for interviews.

My (loose) plan is to follow each interview up with a piece that is related in some way. The first of those hits on Saturday. It may provide some continuity, it may not, who knows.

First up is Ron “D-pi” Wimberly, artist of Sentences and several other works. Check out his DeviantArt and website. All art is, I assume, copyright to him.

I think the first work of yours I saw were the covers for Vertigo’s old Hellblazer: Papa Midnite miniseries. You’ve done work on a few other books for Vertigo, including an OGN, and you’re working on Gratuitous NInja, too. When you add in the magazine work, you’re wearing a lot of hats when it comes to art. Why such a diverse body of work? Is it so you can flex different artistic muscles?

I get bored easily. That’s the long and short of it. I also have alot of ideas. Usually if I am working on an idea I didn’t come up with I am a little unhappy as well, so I have to get my kicks somewhere else. I’m just trying to make great work and be happy. I hope that doesn’t make me too difficult to work with.

I like hats.

Another thing is I gotta eat. 

I want to talk about Gratuitous Ninja for a minute. Its title describes the series perfectly, but where did the series come from? Was it something you did on a lark one day and kept up with or was it more planned out than that?

Gratuitous Ninja started in the Static Fish, Pratt University‘s Student Comic Magazine. We had a talented group of contributers on that run, cats that are really ill, of whom you may or may not know. Raphael Tanghal, Ted Lange, Dan James– really talented individuals came together on these books. I was fortunate to be a part of it.

I always loved Ninja. GratNin was originally a love letter to one of the great loves of my life. A woman I met in college. The original run of GratNin is a silent comic wherein a kunoichi saves this shinobimono from the belly of a walking prison. It’s also a love letter of sorts to Moebius, the original that is, the latest rendition not so much.

You probably can still order the reprint of the book online. It was called the Ninjaversary and it featured pin ups by Tanghal, LeSean Thomas and even a collabo with Aerosyn Lex from the KDU

GratNin: Loan Sharks is the latest volume of Gratuitous Ninja and is running weekly on your site right now. I get a real Jet Set Radio feel from it, with the mixing of Japanese aesthetics and mythology and American storytelling, particularly when combined with the addition of real youth culture- something that crosses color lines and and country borders. How’d you develop this style? Is it a synthesis of things you’re into or did it spring fully-formed from your head?

Yeah… uh… weekly.

…the answer to your questions is, “Yes”

I love jidaigeki, chambara and I am a city kid transplanted into the suburban wasteland. The style is born from my experience.

Illumination via juxtaposition. 
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Black History Month ’09 #03: This Is The Way The World Begins

February 3rd, 2009 Posted by david brothers

I really enjoyed the new volume of Afro Samurai. Resurrection stripped out all of the dross from the first Afro Samurai film. Romance subplot? Gone. Meandering explanations? Gone. Light characterization? Gone. What was left was a lean exploitation flick in the style of Ninja Scroll or Fist of the North Star.


I may speak on Afro (and Ninja Ninja) later this month, but Afro Samurai kind of exemplifies something I love about black, or rap, culture. It’s universal. It went from being something that wouldn’t last twenty years to one of the most dominant forms of music on the planet. Who did Britney Spears, all-american girl, go to when she wanted a hit? Timbaland and Pharrell. Rap has infested pop and dance music to an amazing level.

Looking fresh is still a huge part of rap culture and one of the biggest meccas for streetwear fashion is… Tokyo. I spent a week in Tokyo back in October and man, I could’ve spent thrice what I did on clothes and sneakers. I came home with two different books that were basically sneakerhead fetishism. Kids in fitted Yankees New Eras hit me with the head nod as I walked past and I bonded with these two dudes who didn’t speak a word of English other than “B.I.G.” and “Nas.” I used to live in Spain, I’ve been to France, and found rap fans in both places.

It’s worldwide, and that’s a beautiful thing. People talk about Obama getting elected as if it was the end of racism. Well, that’s dumb. Obama being president isn’t going to change racism. But, right now, there are whole countries full of kids growing up in and around black culture, repping it like it was their own. In a way, they have made it their own by accepting it and modifying it to fit their own culture. These kids identifying and learning from each other because they have that common ground… that’s where post-racialism is going to come from. Not from one man doing one thing. It’s going to come from sharing cultures.

It’s not going to be a flip of a switch. It’s not going to be as easy as declaring “mission complete!” or just up and deciding that we’re post-racial. There’s got to be give and take and push and pull and just something deeper than mere co-existing before post-racialism happens. This is part of why I think that having the two biggest superhero comics out actually represent their audience, and real life, is vital.

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Japan Shots

October 10th, 2008 Posted by david brothers

Just stuff I bought.

More later.

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