Black History Month ’09 #23: We Gonna Make It

February 23rd, 2009 by | Tags: , , , ,

One thing that is vital in expecting blacks in comics to get better is having black voices in comics. Off the top of my head, we have three black writers regularly getting work at the big two right now: Kevin Grievoux, Dwayne McDuffie, and Reggie Hudlin. Christopher Priest is retired. There are a good number of artists out there, but artists generally don’t get to decide the stories of the books.

Something Spike Lee makes it a point to do is to employ up and coming and already famous black actors. If you’re going to pull from the community, you might as well give some back, right? So, his movies over the years are a who’s who of black actors and, to a lesser extent, Spike’s friends. In an industry which has made a habit of ignoring black voices, Spike has been an island who pushes the other side as hard as he can.

In doing so, he’s put forth the idea that the black voice is just as valid and interesting as the default Hollywood voice. Though he was robbed for the Best Picture for Malcolm X, he’s kept at it and kept making sure that someone out there is keeping that voice going.

I’m not sure why black writers in comics are so rare, but there’s a similar situation with women. Louise Simonson, G Willow Wilson, Gail Simone, and Kathryn Immonen are the first names that come to mind when I think of “women writers at the big two.” Interestingly (or perhaps not), I can’t think of a single black female.

Anyway, a side-effect of the lack of these voices is a lack of representation in the books themselves. You end up having a black experience as told by outsiders. The “black story,” such as it is, ends up filtered and probably even unrealistic. At one point, I had a list of Marvel superheroes who were either born in, operated out of, or had serious ties to Harlem. I don’t have the list any more, but off the top of my head, there’s Black Panther, Falcon, Storm, Robbie Robertson, Luke Cage, Misty Knight, Tombstone, and Randy Robertson. That’s basically all of Marvel’s biggest black names right there, so I’m not exactly making things up here.

And I mean, no knock on Harlem at all, but I’m pretty sure black people are from other parts of New York City, or even the rest of the country. I do believe that Rocket Racer is from Brooklyn, but I’m pretty sure I’m the only fan of RR alive. What about the black folks from the south? Brother Voodoo has Haiti and NOLA on lock, but what about Atlanta? Texas? Where are they at?

An infusion of black writers wouldn’t have more of a negative effect on comics than hiring a bunch of new white guys would. You’d be more likely to see authentic or different stories about black people, which I think is only a good thing. Even better, hiring good black writers can only lead to good things.

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12 comments to “Black History Month ’09 #23: We Gonna Make It”

  1. Robbie was on the list twice. I thought a joke was to follow.

    Anyway, I kinda like Rocket Racer, too. Although I’d cringe if I heard I were in a new story. But I’d read it.

  2. I had no idea that Tombstone was black but I guess that makes sense with his real name being Lonnie Lincoln.

  3. @zero democracy:

    On second thought, he becomes almost hilariously problematic when approached from that angle. A Harlem crime boss who somehow becomes an unstoppable bulletproof albino to commit crimes better?

  4. An example of what you were saying – the story being told by outsiders – occured in the recent “Life & Times of Lucas Bishop”. Woo boy, did that one stink. Especially the art.

    You know, I find it shameful that the initial status quo for Brand New Day – Peter, his best bud, and two girls going out together – is an exact copy of the one we had in the 90s, except rather than Harry, Harry’s gal, and nonentity girl, we had Randy Robertson, Glory Grant, and Jill Stacy…all of whom have been zapped into the stone age.

  5. @zero democracy: Actually, he was born with the albino thing. he was Hammerhead’s hitman for a while – in fact, you could replace the current Hammerhead with Tomby and Mister Nonent – sorry, Negative with old Hammerhead, and no-one would tell the difference.

    The bulletproof thing came after a freak chemical accident, and THEN he tried to take over Hammerhead’s business, intending to hurt anyone who came in his way – apart, of course, from his old pal Robbie Robertson.

  6. It’s not Marvel/DC and it’s long been cancelled, but Valiant’s Shadowman comics in the 90s were about two seperate black guys who were both portrayed very well and Not from New York–they were centered in New Orleans. The Shadowman from the first series, Jack Boniface, was a jazz musician and all-around very intelligent fellow. The second Shadowman, Michael LeRoi, was kinda fucked up in the head, but that’s what you get when Garth Ennis writes your debut issues after Acclaim buys out your publisher.

  7. Wait, Black Panther has serious ties to Harlem?

    When did that happen?

  8. @LtKenFrankenstein: He spent some time teaching in Harlem under the name Mr. Charles.

  9. Jim Rhodes is from philly.

  10. Grievoux is black? Didn’t know that. Pity he’s terrible. But since you bring up an infusion of good PoC writers, where should the Big Two being recruiting them from?

  11. I’ve been digging this entire series of posts so far, just too much of a nance to post a response.

    It’s basically the same issue with any minority in any media: when you got people writing a character from a culture/race/group they don’t understand, the character is going to end up being one of the (possibly many) stereotypes for the group instead of a fleshed out character. It’s just what happens when someone doesn’t have enough exposure to different people.

    Being Inuit, talking about media portrayals of black people ain’t my strong suit, and I ain’t that great with my own race either(though mine are far and few between). After watching Atanarjuat (all Inuit actors, with an Inuk director, primarily Inuit crew, entirely in Inuktitut… interesting movie but boring at times) I found this essay thing on the shifting portrayal of Native Americans in film: http://bill-shiftingother.blogspot.com/ – I find there’s a bit of a parallel in the themes explored there as some of your posts have expressed (though it can kind of be summarized as “Portrayals of people are shit when they’re being written by the dominant culture which has absolutely no bloody clue about ’em”).

    Aboriginal people bounce between being portrayed as horrible savages and prisitine utopian naturalists who were perfect and did no wrong ’til the whiteman came (both stereotypes are shit because they’re both dehumanizing). And in superhero comics, every aboriginal superhero is a mystic shaman (even Forge, who’s mutant power is super engineering or something). Though I think other ethnic super heroes have similar issues, or at least most of them.

    Now to actually make this sort of make sense, what with referencing some random blog post and all, I reckon your last paragraph is spot on. Having good black writers might even lead to more white writers realizing that there’s more black characters than tough guys from the Harlem and sassy girls.

  12. Although he looks terribly dated to me now and Wolfman’s “black” dialogue was maddening at times, I always thougth the Cyborg was one of the more interesting black characters. He was either born a robotics genius or was drilled by his two scientist parents to become one, who rebelled to become an excellent athlete and subsequently ran with a street gang. I mean that sh*t is gold right there!