Regarding the Cover to SHAFT #2 (a.k.a. Dedicated to Darrien Hunt)

Shaft02CovCSubGreeneNo doubt, there will be people debating over the meaning and motivation behind Sanford Greene’s cover to Shaft #2, which came out today. For the record, the idea for the cover came to me long before the grand jury hearing in the case of Mike Brown, and is not in response to that particular case. If there is one recent ripped-from-the-news incident that really inspired the cover, it was the 2014 killing of Darrien Hunt, the young cosplayer from Utah. Every death that I read about whether it is Mike Brown, or Eric Garner, or Trayvon Martin, or any of the other tragedies that have been playing out with far too much frequency, destroys me a little bit. But there was something about the death of Darrien Hunt that really got to me. You see, if I’m going to be honest, on the path of my life and my career, there was a reasonably good chance I could have met Darrien some day.

Darrien-HuntAs it is, I meet young men and women like him at every convention I go to—young people of color enjoying the world of comics and pop culture. I was one of those young people (though cosplay was never my thing, and really hadn’t caught on back then). I love meeting fans of all colors, genders, ethnicities, and ages. But for me, whenever I meet a young black person who loves comic, I’m meeting myself. I live for those moments. I cherish those moments. Those moments keep me going. The death of Darrien Hunt devastated me. Not that it was any worse than any of the other deaths that have taken their toll on this country, it just felt a little different to me on a personal level. It struck at the heart of the world that I am fortunate enough to be a part of—the world of comics and creativity, where imagination frees us from the pain and the boredom and drudgery of everyday life. Comic books saved my life as a kid. They meant everything to me. They still mean a lot, as does the community that has been built around this weird and wonderful world. And to be clear, it is a community. We are all a family. I believe that. And Darrien Hunt was part of our community. None of us will ever get to meet him. He will never get the opportunity to read our works, and maybe become inspired to become a dreamer who helps free the world from the routine of the everyday. I had to say something about the loss of his life, and the loss of so many lives that haunt me.

This cover was my idea. To their credit, Dynamite agreed to run with it. Sanford drew it beautifully. But if there is any controversy or hate for this cover, let it land at my feet, for I am the instigator. I am the evil, manipulative, bleeding heart liberal that forced everyone to move forward with this cover, in my dastardly plan to honor the life of a young man needlessly killed. If there is any appreciation for this cover, however, let it inspire people to be more understanding and empathetic, and work to make this country and this world a better, safer place for everyone.

Share Button
Posted in COMICS, Life & Times, NEWS & UPDATES | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Blaxploitation 2.0 (a.k.a. The Return of the BAMF)

blax montageIf you’ve been following my career for any length of time, you know that blaxploitation is my thing. Hell, my career as a writer really started with my fascination with blaxploitation, starting nearly twenty years ago when I decided to make a documentary, and in the process began publishing BadAzz MoFo. Much has happened since then, including my opportunity to write the first Shaft comic book series for Dynamite Entertainment, and Shaft’s Revenge, the first new prose novel starring Shaft since 1975’s The Last Shaft. It’s really no surprise that lately I’ve been thinking about blaxploitation more than usual—contemplating what the original movement meant, the lasting impact it has had, and what the future holds. All of this has led me to the belief that it is time for a new wave of blaxploitation to usher in a new era of black popular culture.

I don’t want to get too deep into the history of blaxploitation right here and right now, because that is a subject that requires a great deal of time to fully cover. What I will say is that at its most basic, blaxploitation was a response to the need for fantasy fulfillment within a certain cross section of black America. As a form of entertainment, film is a platform through which fantasies are fulfilled. The same is true of literature, comic books, music, and just about any form of creative expression you can name. These forms of expression are all based in the response to the needs and desires of audiences. The problem, of course, is that what passes for mainstream entertainment has long been tied into the prevailing racial ideologies that are the accepted norm in this country. As a result, black people had a very limited role within the fantasy fulfillment provided by film, and never became part of the modern mythology that emerged within cinema.

Blaxploitation was a response to the absence of black people within the mythology derived from film. It also served as a fulfillment of the fantasies of a very specific audience. These fantasies were rooted in the desire for empowerment, revenge, and heroic figures that looked like members of the audience, moving through worlds that resembled those they inhabited, and fought back against systemic oppression that plagued the black community. For better or worse, this is the very essence of what blaxploitation was and, again, for better or worse, it was all blaxploitation would ever really amount to be.

black_caesar_54There are plenty of theories as to why blaxploitation seemingly died off in the second half of the 1970s. Most of these theories are valid and true, though all fail to acknowledge that the death of blaxploitation wasn’t so much the end of its life cycle, but the beginning of its evolution into other things. And few, if any of these theories, really touch upon something crucial that failed to happen within the confines of blaxploitation. At their very best, these films were entertainment; they provided escapist diversion for audiences, manifesting images of power, control, and justice within a world rife with corruption and oppression. But that is all they did. In other words, these films gave us figures that manifested our need for revenge or justice, without providing real justice or revenge, while also doing little to nothing to improve our knowledge of self.

There are many criticisms I can level at blaxploitation—or the vast machinery that created the films, the movement, the era, or whatever you want to use to define it—but there is no greater criticism than the overall failure to provide knowledge of self. Even at their best, these films failed to depict black people as anything other than an oppressed people. Understanding this—to recognize this reality—is the first step in the emancipation from mental slavery. If we can only think of ourselves within a context of oppression, and in reaction to that oppression—be it the need to seek justice or revenge—then we have accepted our role as the oppressed, which is in and of itself a dehumanizing status.

superflyLooking back on 2014, it is clear that black people are as oppressed and dehumanized now as we were more than 40 years ago when blaxploitation emerged to fulfill our dreams on film in the midst of our ugly reality. I don’t need to list the horrific examples that have unfolded this year, all of which have left us screaming for justice and revenge. I hear all this talk of what we need politically just to survive in a nation that has made it all but legal to kill us. I also hear the talk of what we need to keep our dreams alive. Not just our dreams of survival, but our dreams of existing in a world with our own heroes that protect us from the evils we face. We want now, what we wanted then, only we need a better version, because in the end, kicking ass within a context of nothing but oppression, without a larger knowledge of self, didn’t do us much good in the long run. Blaxploitation spawned more followers in the Church of Super Fly and the Church of The Mack—those that idealized the dope pusher and the pimp—than it did those who wanted to be actual filmmakers, or those who even understood what those films were really trying to say.

All of this leads me to where I am right now, thinking about the future of my career, and the future of black people in this country. I ask myself, “What can I do?” I pose this question to other creators, to fans, to critics, and to those that see something is wrong. I’m not just talking “wrong” in how pop culture serves our needs of inclusion and entertainment. I’m talking about the way the criminal justice and socio-political system continues to marginalize, oppress, and dehumanize us. And I’m talking about the intersection of these two realities, for they are intrinsically bound together, feeding off each other like a parasite.

Looking ahead to 2015, I see that the time has come for what I call Blaxploitation 2.0. This is not a call for a new wave of films, but for a revolution in pop culture that provides both the manifestation of our dreams, while also establishing us within a context that exists beyond the ideological confines of the oppressed. Blaxploitation 2.0 is not about revenge, because that is not what we need. And while we need justice, ultimately, that is only a part of what we need, because as long as we are denied our humanity, we will never be given any form of justice. So, if I were to put a definition on Blaxploitation 2.0, it would have to be “a revolutionary movement within pop culture entertainment that combats the long-term systemic dehumanization we continue to endure.”

I know, that’s a lot to chew on. And there’s more to be said. But I’ll start by saying this: “The time has come for the return of the badass motherfucker.” Say it out loud. Spread the word. Stay tuned for more details.

Share Button
Posted in Life & Times, NEWS & UPDATES, Random Nonsense, RANTS & RAVES | Leave a comment

Hanging My Head in Shame (a.k.a. Apology with a Capital A)

dreads 1aNot that long ago, I wrote about an experience I’d had with a woman, where I felt my blackness (among other things) was being called into question. The piece that I wrote was an immediate response to the moment, while at the same deeply rooted within past experiences, written with very little thought of the bigger picture. By “bigger picture” I mean several things—including how the person I’d written about might respond to my words, and equally important, the personal baggage from my past that I had been carrying at the time of the conversation. In the moment, I was angry, and hurt, and I was doing that thing that I do, which is write. I use words to express my feelings, to share my experiences, and at time, these words can be like weapons. At times, I forget this fact, and wield my words recklessly, tossing them about like bricks or Molotov cocktails, and not giving any thought to how they may land, where they may land, or who they may injure when they come crashing down.

To give greater context to the experience that led to this particular blog post, I should say that the person in question—we’ll call her Lady X—is someone I have known for a long time. I consider her to be a good friend, I admire her greatly, and would be lying if I said that her opinions didn’t matter to me. As is apt to happen in many friendships, Lady X and I had not spoken for a long time (about two years), until we recently reconnected. Many of our conversations in the past have become intense—some might say heated—but there was never any intentional malice between us. We both just happen to be to be two very intense people, with a well-established history of speaking our minds.

I’m not going to speak for Lady X by trying to explain where she was coming from during the conversation that left me in such a rage. To her credit, she Apologized to me after the fact. Of course, I had already pulled out my arsenal of words, lobbed a few grenades, and proceeded to forget about it all as I walked away from the explosion. Lady X’s Apology was sincere, and it helped to heal the pain that been inflicted…until she happened on to the blog, and read the post.

Rather than hide from the consequences of what I had written, I decided to talk to her openly and honestly. I also offered an Apology, with a capital A. Like I said, Lady X had already Apologized for what had happened. In her explaining where she was at when all the unpleasantness occurred, I began to see the bigger picture. Part of that bigger picture was me carrying around a lot of bullshit from own past, and allowing that to dictate how I responded to her. It is with all honesty and the most sincere regret, that I admit to not listening to what Lady X was really saying. Instead, I was hearing the echoes of past conversations/discussion/fights, none of which had anything to do with the moment.

The problem so many of us have is that we move through life, experiencing both good things and bad things. We often hold on to these with an equally firm grip. In holding on to these experiences, we bring them with us into new experiences, and when those new experiences remind us of the old ones, we react as if it is in fact the old experience. We hold the person and the experience in the present accountable for the events of the past. We react as if the person in the moment is the person from the past, and we often retaliate. None of this is done intentionally, though the damage done knows not the difference between intentional and unintentional, nor does the person we hurt in the moment. Few things hurt more than having to pay for the sins of another—whether it was a bad parent, a school bully, or an unfaithful lover. All too often, we are made to pay for the sins of another. But by equal measure, we have all done our fair share of damning someone for the sins that have been wrought upon us in the past.

More relationships are hurt and destroyed, when the sins of someone in your past are carried around like either a protective shield or a weapon, and used on a person in your present. I can say that this is what I did with Lady X. What she did—and what she explained to me—is her story to tell. Her Apology has been made and accepted. And I have offered her my Apology—with a capital A.

For those of you wondering what an Apology with a capital A is, it is more than just saying, “I’m sorry.” It is about admission and accountability as much as it is about saying you’re sorry. It is about owning the baggage you’re carrying around, and not using the sins of another against someone other than the original sinner. It means that sometimes you have to accept that you were the villain of the story—or perhaps more accurately, the villain of one side of the story. It means doing the most you can to own the damage you have done, and working toward not doing it again.

Share Button
Posted in Life & Times | Leave a comment

Happy 4th Re-Birthday To Me

heart attackThis weekend is the 4th anniversary of my almost dying. That’s an anniversary not many people get to claim, but for me it is one of great significance. I’ve already written about my near-fatal bout with pneumonia on several occasions (read about HERE and HERE), and as I take a moment or two to reflect on what I now think of as my re-birthday, there is a lot for me to process.

So much has happened since that fateful day in 2010, when I had an incredible pain in left arm, and decided to go to the emergency room, with what turned out to be a serious case of pneumonia, which had led to an infection around my heart. I’ve talked about coming out of experience, and entering into a new reality of anxiety and depression.

Just before, and in the time since my hospitalization, I lost several friends. No two deaths impact us the same way, but to face the death of more than a dozen friends in a span of four or five years will fuck you up in a way that cannot be described. Trust me on this. Add to that a weird kind of survivor’s guilt that surpasses what often comes when we lose someone close to us, and you have a recipe for disaster. Among the friends and family that have died in these last few years, there were two losses that destroyed me. It was like stepping on a landmine, and surviving just enough to crawl away, and pull your broken and bloody body over a second landmine.

Four years later, I’m still dealing with my encounter with the Grim Reaper. Part of this includes the knowledge that for whatever reason, death passed me over, in favor of some of the people I loved the most. Like I said, it fucked me up in ways that I can’t describe. The depression and anxiety took their toll, to the point I had little by way of desire to be alive. Not that I was suicidal—it was more like I was one or two streets away from being suicidal, but I could see the intersection just up ahead.

Despite all that has happened these last four years, life has taken a happy-ish turn. I finally decided to get serious about dealing with my depression (which is a story for another time), and in doing so, my life has started to turn around. I still have the crippling anxiety attacks, but the depression is not nearly as bad as it used to be. For one thing, I no longer wake up disappointed that I didn’t die in my sleep. But the best part of this story is the way my career has moved forward. New projects and new opportunities have helped to make my 4th re-birthday the best so far. The year ahead is filled with promise and potential—both in terms of healing and professional growth. I look forward to the year ahead, and have nothing but love and respect for those that have stuck by me, those that are new to the party, and those that are no longer here, but remain with me every single day. Be well, and keep on keeping on.

Share Button
Posted in Life & Times | Leave a comment

Calling Blackness Into Question (or Being Black, With a Capital B)

flipping offHonestly, I’m tired of talking about these things. I’ve been dealing with race and racism my entire life, and now that I’m closer to 50 than I am to 40, I’m really tired of explaining myself and issues surround race and racial ideology to others. Hell, I’ve written a book on the subject, just so I don’t have to talk about it anymore. And yet the conversation still comes up, and keep engaging, because it must be done. But recently I had an encounter with someone that struck a raw nerve, an encounter in which—if I’m to understand the implication—called into question my blackness.

The news has been filled with horrific stories of unarmed black people being killed by police. You could write a book about the terrible cases that occurred in 2014 alone. It was this current state of affairs that led to a recent conversation about being black, and being profiled, and being harassed by the police. For the record, I have been profiled. I have been harassed by the police (though I’ve never suffered any sort of physical brutality). That said, I have not been bothered by the police in any way, shape, or form, in nearly twenty years. The last time I got pulled over by the cops was 1999, and I had a busted headlight. I had a pleasant exchange with the officer, who did not give me a ticket. In 2011, I intervened when a crazy man attacked an employee at the post office. I helped subdue the crazy man, wrestling him to the floor, and when the cops finally showed up, I was thankfully not shot by mistake. That was my last encounter with the police. Two encounters in fifteen years. I don’t know why it has been so few, I’m just thankful that it has been.

As I was talking about this, the person I was talking to—a black woman—began to question what it was that I was doing that kept me from being harassed. I was at a loss for an explanation. Maybe it’s because I drive a Prius, and cops ignore black men driving hybrids. Maybe it is because I’m driving through neighborhoods that aren’t as heavily patrolled. Maybe it’s because of my light complexion, or because I don’t go out much to clubs anymore. I honestly don’t know. Her theory was that maybe I wasn’t black enough. Maybe I had assimilated (sold-out) because I drove a Prius. “Maybe you’re this.” “Maybe you’re that.”

And maybe you’re full of shit.

I grew up in a predominatly white community, surrounding by black people (most of them my family). My complexion is very light (as is the complexion of much of my family). I have been accused of “sounding like a white person” when I talk. At the same time, I’ve been called “nigger” more times than I can count. I’ve been in fights. I’ve been messed with by the cops. And, perhaps quite significantly, I spent a long time trying to prove I was black. Hi-yella Negroes often find themselves in similar positions.

For me, I spent more than ten years of my life really trying to prove my blackness. I read many of the books you’re supposed to read, studied history, embraced much of the culture that defines blackness in America. I also grew my hair out. For me, with my light skin, and my “articulate” way of speak, my hair was the quickest and easiest way to send a message to the world—“I am Black, with a capital B!”

dw new2I had dreadlocks for ten years (from 1987 to 1997), and it was during this time that my blackness was questioned the least. On the left is what I looked like in 1996, about a year before I cut my hair. People looked at me, and the message of what I am was made fairly clear (though people still commented on the way I talk). It was also the time that I was harassed most by the cops. I am not going to say that there was a direct correlation. Maybe there was, maybe there wasn’t—I don’t know for sure. I just know that after I cut off my dreads, I was only pulled over by the cops because of valid reasons (once for running a red light, and the other for that busted headlight I mentioned). I have walked past cops in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and multiple other cities, and not been given a second look. Most of time when I drive home, I drive past a police station, so I see the 5-0 all the time, and nothing happens.

DW 1997This is me in 1997, just after I cut off all my hair. Maybe I am a sell out who has assimilated because I drive a hybrid. Maybe I’m not black enough. Maybe I’m no longer a threat, and therefore can longer consider myself a Black man with a capital B. The woman I’d been talking to, who alluded to all of this, may be completely right about me. She asked my why I cut off my dreads. I told here it was because at that point in my life, I no longer felt the need to use my hair as a tool to identify myself. I’m pretty sure she rolled her eyes, as if to say, “No, you just didn’t want people knowing what you are.”

The reality is that each of us defines who we are by a volatile mix of environment, genetics, socio-political ideologies, and this intangible thing that exists in each of us (I call it my soul). But until we get in touch with that intangible thing, and make peace with it, we will forever be stuck in a trap of being identified by outside forces, and by adopting mannerism and appearances that help to answer the question, “What are you?”

The two important things to remember are that those outside forces will seldom change in their attempt to define and identify you; and that true peace of mind and identity can only come from a place inside, in which you no longer need to explain yourself. That’s not to say that you can’t explain or identify yourself if you so chose, just that you don’t have to if that’s not what you want to do. I reached a place, just before I turned 30, where I no longer felt the need to shout to the world, “Look at me, I’m Black with a Capital B!” At the same time, I don’t shy away from my blackness. And I find it sad and troubling that there are still people out there, whose measure of blackness continues to be things mired in the negative—how many times you get harassed by the cops, how much time you’ve done in the joint, how many of your friends have been killed in a drive-by shootings.

If these are the measures of what it takes to be Black with a capital B, then perhaps I am not deserving of laying claim to the rich culture that I have embraced my entire life, the history that I have studied tirelessly, and the humanity that I have sought to reclaim for myself and so many others. Maybe the sad truth is that I am not black until I am harassed by the cops, or killed, or sent to prison. And if that is true, well, I guess I need to be cool with not being black enough.

Share Button
Posted in Life & Times, NEWS & UPDATES, Race Matters, Random Nonsense | Leave a comment

A Veteran’s Day Tale

vetAbout a month ago, I was in New York City. When I was much younger, I lived in the city, and over the years, I’ve had plenty of amazing, surreal, and terrifying experiences in the Big Apple. But something that happened during my most recent trip tops everything.

I was waiting for the subway at the Times Square station, and a street musician was performing Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay.” Scenes like this are common in New York, and on the subway and subway platforms, most people go into their protective bubble, and try to tune out as much of the world as possible. I, however, had only been back in the city for about three or fours hours, and hadn’t put on my New York force field of protection. That must explain why I noticed the older gentleman, somewhere in his 60s, drop some money into the musician’s guitar case, and go on to have a full emotional meltdown.

The man began to sob uncontrollably. I can’t recall a time that I’ve ever seen a grown man have an emotional breakdown like this in such a public place. And everyone around him was ignoring it—hiding behind the shields that all New Yorkers seem to use to get through the day. The only other person that seemed to notice was an African American man, in a business suit, who was trying to get the musician’s attention. Mr. Business Suit was motioning to the musician, trying to get him to stop singing the song, because he could see—as could I—that it was doing something terrible to the Crying Man. And to describe him as merely the Crying Man doesn’t really begin to convey what this guy was going through.

I kept waiting for someone to say something to the Crying Man. Didn’t anyone else see that he was on the verge of completely falling apart? Didn’t anyone else care?

Finally, after what seemed like hours, but was probably less than a minute, I approached the Crying Man. “Hey, man, are you okay?” I asked.

He looked at me, tears flowing, sobbing uncontrollably, and he shook his head. “No, I’m not,” he said.

“What’s wrong? Can I do anything for you?” I asked.

“I got all this shit inside me. It is killing me, and I don’t know how to get it out,” he said.

“Well, you got to get it out, my man. You can’t keep these things inside. Look at what it’s doing to you,” I said. “Find someone to talk to about it—to take all this shit away from you, so you can stop carrying it.”

“No one gives a fuck about me,” said the man.

“That’s not true,” I said. “I give a fuck about you. I’m standing here, talking to you right now. I’m looking at you, and I’m telling you, whatever it is your carrying, give it to me. Let me take it, so you don’t have to keep it anymore.”

The man looked at me like I was insane. So did Mr. Business Suit, who was watching the entire thing. And then, Crying Man said to me, “I was just a teenager when this song came out—a kid. I didn’t know any better. And the man, he told me all this bullshit about the things I could do, and the difference I could make, and so I went to Vietnam.”

The Crying Man then told me about his experiences in the Vietnam War. Needless to say, this was not what I was expecting, nor was it what I was prepared to hear. But I listened, as the man told me his very sad story. I fought back the tears. I reached out, placed my hand on the man’s shoulder, then I pulled him close and hugged him, because there was nothing—and I mean nothing—that I could say in response.

The Crying Man looked at me, and asked, “Why are you doing this for me?”

“You’re a human being, aren’t you?” I asked. “Your life has some value, doesn’t it?”

He looked at me, as if not sure what to say next. He nodded his head and said, “Yeah, I’m a human being.”

“Well, we all need to be reminded of that from time to time,” I said. “You matter. I matter. We all matter.”

“No one has ever done anything like this for me,” he said.

“Well, I guess I’m not like anyone,” I said.

My train pulled up. I told the Crying Man that I had to go, but wanted to make sure he didn’t need me to stay.

“Thank you,” he said. “You saved me.”

I got on the train and rode away. I never even found out his name.

Share Button
Posted in Life & Times | Leave a comment

Introducing A. Darryl Moton

motonEver since making the transition from print to the Internet, BadAzz MoFo has pretty much been a solo endeavor. I regularly get approached by folks who want to contribute, and then I never respond (sorry for being such an asshole). This has been my toy for a very long time, and ego and pride have kept me from sharing this space with anyone else. But with my increasingly busy schedule, and my new-found desire to help others get their creative voices heard, I am finally going to start including the work of a select group of contributors. With that said, let me introduce to you A. Darryl Moton. I have no idea what he’s going to be writing for the site, but I’m looking forward to it.

Share Button
Posted in NEWS & UPDATES | Leave a comment

How to Buy My Comic Books (and Comics in General)

docsavageA lot of my friends and family members have asked me when and where they can buy the upcoming Shaft comic series, as well as the Doc Savage Special, starring Pat Savage (both written by me). Since these are people who do not normally buy comics, I need to explain a few things to them. The most important thing is that they understand that when Shaft #1 comes out on December 3rd, and the Doc Savage Special comes out on December 17th, there is no guarantee they can just walk into a comic book store and buy a copy of either. That’s because the comic retail market is unique in how it operates. Basically, the comic retail market operates on a system that requires you pre-order your comics approximately two months in advance. The amazing writer Kelly-Sue DeConnick explains this system quite well HERE, and the video below also explains it.

If you want Shaft or the Doc Savage Special (both from Dynamite Entertainment), you have several options open to you.

SHAFT order form colorYou can pre-order from a local comic book retailer. If you don’t know where the closest retailer is to you, check out the website Comic Shop Locator. The retailer you go to will need the order codes of the comics you want. Since Shaft #1 has variant covers, there are multiple order codes (one for each different cover). You can print out the image above, and take it to your local retailer.

Some retailers will not order a single comic for you if you don’t sign up for a subscription service. In that case, you can always order from an online retailer like Things From Another World (though you will still need to pre-order). There are other online retailers, but TFAW is the only one I have used.

You can also purchase digital versions of both comics. Dynamite sells digital versions of all their titles on Comixology, as well as at the Dark Horse Digital Store. Digital stores do not require pre-orders (though you do have to create an account).

Share Button
Posted in COMICS, NEWS & UPDATES, Random Nonsense | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

John Shaft vs. Sam Wilson (a.k.a. It’s Time to Re-write the History of Black Characters in Comics)

shaft v falconI’m about to stir it up. I’m about to talk some shit, ruffle some feathers, and remind those that know me, how I break it down. Some of you will get pissed off, and that’s okay. Righteous indignation is a wonderful American tradition. Run with it, my friends.

As many of you know, in the world of comics, Sam Wilson, better known as Falcon, has assumed the mantle of Captain America over at Marvel/Disney. This has been a much-hyped story, that I have weighed in on (read HERE and HERE), but couldn’t go into as deep as I wanted because of a secret that I needed to keep. That secret was made public last week, when Dynamite Entertainment announced that I was writing their upcoming Shaft comic book.

I’m not going to lie. I really wanted to write a Falcon story for Marvel. And not just any story—I wanted to write the definitive Falcon story. I wanted to write something that would elevate him above his status as nothing more than a sidekick, which has remained unwavering now for 40-plus years. I even put together a pitch. It was pretty good. I managed to consolidate the convoluted history of Falcon, and reinvent him as one of the most dangerous characters in the Marvel Universe. Unfortunately, I never got to pitch that story, because Marvel, in all their progressive wisdom, decided that the best way to give a black character a badass storyline was to have him assume the role of a white character. And as disappointed as I am, I ain’t that disappointed, because I’m writing Shaft for Dynamite (sorry, I know, it’s shameful bragging, but I can’t help myself).

My love for the character of John Shaft is no secret. I was introduced to the character in the films of 1970s, but really began to appreciate John Shaft through the original series of books, created by Ernest Tidyman. A lot of people are surprised to find out that Shaft started as a novel, followed by six sequels, and that his creator was a white man—which is irrelevant to me. I’m just eternally grateful that Tidyman created Shaft in the first place, and in doing so helped to change pop culture. I also need to be very clear about this…my vision of Shaft—the one that will be in the comic—comes from the character that Tidyman created. There will be glimpses of the character from the films, but that Shaft is a shadow of the man in the books.

cover montage 1The idea to do a comic series based on Tidyman’s novels first occurred to me years ago, but back then it was more of a dream than anything else. As a writer of comics and prose, my goal has always been to have characters of color that are complex. But the reality of mainstream comics is that black characters with complexity are few and far between. To be sure, they exist, but they exist in worlds controlled by large corporations, that seldom deviate from the status quo. These characters are like toys that are owned by someone else, and only a select few people get to play with these toys, which come with rules for how you get to play with them.

Without bragging, I could have given Marvel a Sam Wilson/Falcon story that would have made him the most iconic black character they have in their toy box. But I no longer have any interest in that, because I’ve been given a better toy, with fewer rules attached. And just so there is no confusion…I know that Falcon is a superhero and Shaft is just a plain old badass. But they are both characters, and one comes with a tremendous amount of untapped potential, and the other comes with a ton of baggage and rules.

By letting me write Shaft—whether they realize it or not—Dynamite is changing the game. From this point forward, whenever people talk about black characters in comics (or black creators), they will need to talk about Shaft. (They also need to start talking about Watson & Holmes, Molly Danger, Midnight Tiger, Concrete Park, Genius, and all the other amazing comics that keep getting overlooked and ignored.) In other words, the time has come where the history of black characters in comics needs not just a new chapter, but an all-new book. In that book, there will be a paragraph or two about the time Sam Wilson took over for Captain America, and the buzz/outrage it created. And hopefully, in that very same book, after the chapters about Milestone, Jackie Ormes, Morrie Turner, Brotherman, and the rich legacy that came before me, there will be an entire chapter on a comic publisher that licensed an iconic black character created by a white man, and then hired a loud-mouthed black guy—with a bad habit of bragging and talking shit—to bring it like it’s never been brought in comics before.

Shaft #1 debuts in stores on December 3, 2014. Pre-order your copy now.
Share Button
Posted in COMICS, Life & Times, NEWS & UPDATES, Random Nonsense | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I’m Not Mike Brown

Victims 1I am not Mike Brown. I’m not Darrien Hunt. I’m not Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, or Yuseff Hawkins, or Emmett Till, or one of the Central Park Five, or one of the Scottsboro Boys. In fact, when push comes to shove, I’m a lucky black man. I’m getting ready to turn 46. I have no criminal record. I have a college degree. I’m doing work that I love, and moving around in the world in ways that my father, and my grandfather, and all the men in my family never could. My great-grandfather was born a slave—his father was also his owner, and his mother was sold off to another plantation. So, yeah, I’m pretty damn lucky. I have it better than those that came before me. But sadly—heartbreakingly—I also have it better than many of those that came after me.

Mike Brown was old enough to be son. So was Trayvon Martin, and even Darrien Hunt. If he’d lived, Emmett Till would’ve been old enough to be my father. Same with Fred Hampton.

It is difficult to look at the injustices that have been endured by the generations that came before me, and it is even more difficult to witness the oppression and dehumanization of the generation that has come up behind me. And then there is my generation. I’m only a few years older than the Central Park Five. I was living in New York when that travesty happened. Eric Garner was only a few years younger than me. I never met him, but I knew guys like him. Just like I’ve known guys like Darrien Hunt and Mike Brown. I’ve known too many. And I can’t say that I am them, in the way that has become so popular during these news cycles. How many people donned hoodies and proclaimed that they were Trayvon Martin? Hell, I did it. But I’m not Trayvon, or Jordan Davis. I’m alive, writing this, trying to make sense of it all—sense of the fact that so many others before me and after me have been killed, and that I’m still alive. I’m trying to fully comprehend all of the people in prison for crimes that can be directly linked to a system of oppression and inequality that leaves people of color at a disadvantage, dead, and incarcerated.

victims 2The moment you know one person who has been killed, whether it’s by the police or gang violence, you know too many. Once you know one person who has committed murder, who has gone to prison, has been caught up in the cycle of crime and violence, you know too many. Every story of injustice, systemic oppression, dehumanization, murder, rape, and all the other terrible things people do to each other, all these stories open old wounds. And I’m not just talking about my wounds, or the wounds of the families that survive the horrors that have befallen too many of us. I’m talking about the wounds of everyone—of the entire nation. The murder of Mike Brown and the ensuing violation of human rights that followed in Ferguson opened wounds in every person in this nation, even those that don’t know they were hurt in the process.

This wound has been opened so many times, that it never gets to heal. Some people think that it heals, because we stop talking about this incident or that incident, but that’s not the case. Darrien Hunt reopened the wound that was still open from Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and John Crawford, just to name three. It hurts to think about all of these people, and so many more. People who have been killed. People who have been incarcerated. People who have been chewed up and spit out by a system that was never meant to serve everyone, just a select few. And it hurts to talk about them, because talking about the bigger picture of racial ideology and systemic oppression is scary and infuriating and depressing. But if we don’t talk about it—if we don’t scream about it, and point it out, and make sure that everyone knows the truth, things will never get better. It’s like this—the wound keeps getting opened anyway. It never heals. And it never will heal, until we look at what really keeps opening it up—at what is causing all this blood to be spilled, and all these lives to be ruined.

I know it hurts. I know it makes you angry and sad and depressed. I know. But we can never stop talking about it. We can never stop pointing it out. One hundred years after the last cop has gunned down the last unarmed black person, we will still need to be talking about it, so that there will never be another Mike Brown, or a Trayvon Martin, or an Emmett Till. We can never stop talking about it, pointing it out, reminding the world of all the horrors that add up to sustained genocide. We can’t stop fighting. Because if we stop, it will keep happening.

Share Button
Posted in Life & Times, NEWS & UPDATES, Race Matters, RANTS & RAVES | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment