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.

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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).

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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.
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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.

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I’m Just Talkin’ ‘Bout Shaft.

Shaft01-Cov-A-CowanFor months now, I’ve been talking about a top secret project that I couldn’t actually talk about. Well, now I can talk about it. I’m writing Shaft for Dynamite Entertainment. This has been a project long in development, and definitely one of the biggest things I’ve ever done. I’m working with an incredible artist named Bilquis Evely, and she is killing it. The first issue will have several variant covers, including the masterpiece pictured above by Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz. You can read more about it at Comics Beat. The series will be steeped in the world created by author Ernest Tidyman, author of the Shaft books. It was with the help and the blessing of his widow, Chris Clark-Tidyman, that this project got off the ground. Dynamite has put a lot into this series, which debuts in December (just in time for my birthday). I’ll be posting more about it in the days, weeks, months, and hopefully, years to come.

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Rose City Comic Con 2015 Schedule

Okay, boys and girls, I’ll be at the Rose City Comic Con in Portland, Oregon, Sept. 20-21. And guess what? I have an actual schedule.

SATURDAY

Monkeybrain Comics: The Collaborative Process – Room: Panel Room 2, Time: 1:00PM – 1:50PM
While some comics are the result of a single person writing and drawing their own work, many are the result of collaborations between writers and artists. But no two collaborations are the same. Join Monkeybrain Comics co-founder Chris Roberson and the creative teams behind some of Monkeybrain’s most critically acclaimed titles, Christopher Sebela and Ibrahim Moustafa (High Crimes), Adam P. Knave, D.J. Kirkbride, Nick Brokenshire (Amelia Cole), David Walker, Carl Sciacchitano (Army of Dr. Moreau), and Paul Tobin, Colleen Coover (Bandette), for a discussion about how they work together.

Making it in Comics: The Myth of the Overnight Success – Room: Panel Room 5
Time: 5:00PM – 5:50PM
Behind every overnight success in comics there are years of struggle and sacrifice. Join this panel of creators who discuss how they got to where they are, who they were before you heard of them, and what it takes to be an overnight success. Moderating this panel is David Walker (Number 13) with guests Ibrahim Moustafa (High Crimes), Tyler Jenkins (Peter Panzerfaust), Brian Michael Bendis (Ultimate Spider-Man), and Michael Avon Oeming (Powers)

SUNDAY

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: The Role of the Fan in Geek Culture – Room: Panel Room 6. Time: 2:00PM – 2:50PM
Every fan has an opinion, and we all know what opinions are like (and why they stink). The fact of the matter is that the fans can help shape the course of whatever it is they love. They have all the power. In this panel hosted by writer David Walker (Number 13, The Army of Dr. Moreau), with guests Adam Rosko (Trek in the Park), Rachel Edidin (Wired and Comics Alliance), Mike Russell (culturepulp.com), and Kenna Conklin (Geek Portland) talk about the responsibility that comes with that power.

I’ll also be hanging out at Carl Sciacctano’s table, #J-06. I’ll have comics, books and other fun stuff.

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Black Westerns: A Brief Overview

black westerns 1This piece originally ran in BadAzz MoFo #4, which came out in 1999. It is part of The BadAzz MoFo Collection, now on sale.

The cowboy has long been a perennial part of American folklore. Like the Japanese samurai, or the European knight in shining armor, the cowboy has gone on to become the American ideal of heroism, manliness, truth and honor. Thanks to the motion picture industry, images of Roy Rogers, John Wayne, and Clint Eastwood all come mind as the arch-typical hero of the old west; and have kept the cowboy white.

In truth, the black cowboy did exist in the Old West. But while the popular fiction and yellow journalism of the day was quick to call attention to lawmen like Doc Holliday or Wyatt Earp and outlaws like Billy the Kid; their Black counterparts were largely neglected. U.S. Deputy Marshall Bass Reeves was long considered one of the greatest lawmen of the old west, with a career that spanned thirty-two years. Outlaws like Cherokee Bill were as ruthless as Billy the Kid, and The Rufus Buck Gang committed a crime spree worse than the Dalton and James Gangs combined. Yet these historical figures are barely known, and hardly discussed.

Thanks to the whitewash of history, the contributions of Blacks (not to mention Chinese, Indians, and women) has been neglected. Likewise, Hollywood has been notoriously irresponsible in their depiction of truth, justice, and the American way. The great explorer Jim Beckworth, who discovered the Beckworth pass, which connects California and Nevada through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, was portrayed by white actor Jack Oakie in the film Tomahawk.

Despite Hollywood’s reluctance to show Blacks riding tall in the saddle, the Black cowboy has found a home in the movies. One of the first Black Westerns was the 1921 silent film The Crimson Skull. World famous rodeo star Bill Pickett appeared in Crimson Skull, and two years later Pickett would star in the documentary Bull-Dogger. The comedy short A Chocolate Cowboy appeared in 1925, in an attempt to give Black audiences a cowboy hero.

The big break through for Black Westerns came during the race films of the thirties. In 1938 Herb Jeffries (a.k.a. Herbert Jeffrey) starred in Two Gun Man from Harlem, the first in series of films that would establish Jeffries as the Black singing cowboy. Appearing as the heroic lead in Harlem on the Prairie (1938); The Bronze Buckaroo (1938); and Harlem Rides the Range (1939) Jeffries would go on to be come a matinee idol for the segregated audiences of the time. Riding to the rescue on his trusty horse Stardusk, Herb Jeffries became one of the first black action heroes in the history of film. (NOTE: Years later, Jeffries would confess that he was not of African descent, but merely passing as being black.)

Along with Jeffries, other black actors of the day appeared in the handful of westerns that were produced. Spencer Williams appeared in several films along side Jeffries, including Harlem Rides the Range, which Williams wrote. Mantan Moreland appeared in Come On, Cowboy (1948), a comedy western musical, and Louis Jordan starred in 1946’s Look-Out Sister.

woody strode rutledgeThe 1950s saw virtually no screen presence for the Black cowboy. It wasn’t until 1960, when Woody Strode appeared as the title character in John Ford’s Sergeant Rutledge (above), that Black actors would begin to start appearing mainstream Hollywood westerns. Strode would prove to be the forerunner to the black action heroes of the seventies; making several appearances in horse operas throughout the sixties. Strode’s performances ranged from memorable cameos (Once Upon a Time in the West) to co-leads (Sergeant Rutledge, Boot Hill and The Professionals).

As America (and the film industry) began to desegregate, so to did the Hollywood western – albeit grudgingly. The path that was blazed by Woody Strode would be followed by Jim Brown. Roles in Rio Conchos (1964) and 100 Rifles (1969) would help to establish Brown as the leading black action hero of the 60s. Sidney Poitier and Ossie Davis would also make appearances in westerns during the sixties; Poitier in Duel at Diablo (1966) and Davis in The Scalphunters (1968).

outcastsTelevision westerns were never more popular than they were during the sixties. Taking advantage of changing racial attitudes, popular western television series like Bonanza, Daniel Boone, Gunsmoke, Rawhide and Big Valley occasionally would have black guest stars. Yaphet Kotto, Brock Peters, Woody Strode, Frank Silvera, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Raymond St. Jaques were among the actors that usually played former slaves or buffalo soldiers. In 1968, ABC premiered the series The Outcasts (left). The offbeat series followed the adventures of two bounty hunters; Earl Corey (Don Murray), a former slave owner, and Jemal David (Otis Young), who co-starred with Jack Nicholson in The Last Detail) a former slave. The shaky alliance between the two bounty hunters allowed producers to explore issues of racism in the old west.From a historical standpoint, the series offered what may have been television’s first black action hero. The Outcasts held a certain amount of promise, unfortunately, it only lasted one season.

legend of nigger charleyDuring the seventies, the blaxploitation genre was taking America by storm, and it seemed as if there was finally hope for Black westerns. Jim Brown started the decade by starring in 1970’s El Condor. Two years later came Buck & the Preacher, starring Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte; and Fred Williamson in The Legend of Nigger Charley. Cleavon Little appeard as perhaps the most famous of all on-screen black cowboys, in Mel Brooks’ comedy Blazing Saddles, which had been co-written by Richard Pryor, who was originally to star in the film. Pryor would get his shot at a comedy western when he appeared in Fred Williamson’s disappointing Adios, Amigo. Williamson starred in a series of westerns (Joshua, Take a Hard Ride), doing his most to make the Black cowboy a familiar part of the American consciousness. Unfortunately, Hollywood has been reluctant to release it’s stranglehold on the western, and white cowboys.

John Wayne, and the white cowboy has become the last bastion of hope for the white race; promising to ride up on his white horse to save this great nation of ours, from whatever savages threaten our safety. Through Hollywood and the western, lies and half-truths can continue to be propagated, and the Black cowboy, the true original cowboy, will remain forever an oddity.

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I’m Not Dead…

…just really busy with a ton of projects. I know someone, somewhere, is concerned about my lack of posts this month. And for that I am appreciative. Lots of interesting stuff in the works, stay tuned.

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The Invisible World of Black Comic Creators

sdccOkay, so I got back from the San Diego Comic Con a few days ago, and I really wanted to share some of my experiences and thoughts, before they are lost in the jumbled mess of my mind. Let me start by saying that I’ve been going to SDCC since 1998, and in that time there are only two years I’ve missed. Some years have been great, and other have been not-so-great. This year was one of the best years for Comic Con—especially considering where my life is at on a personal level (which I won’t bore your with). Professional things are going well, but because of a series of non-disclosure agreements, I can’t talk about what I’m working on (nor could I talk about these various projects at the con itself).

The Supernals Experiment #1 - Comics by comiXologyOne thing I could talk about was The Supernals Experiment. This is a five-issue mini-series that I wrote for Canon Comics, founded by NFL great Phillip Buchanon. The Supernals Experiment is the creation of Phillip, and through editor Shawna Gore, I was brought on to write the mini-series. The first issue debuted digitally on Comixology the day before SDCC kicked off, and Phillip was at the show handing out physical copies of the comic. He also debuted New Money, another creation of his, written by my friend Hannibal Tabu, and drawn by N Steven Harris. It’s interesting to me that no one has really picked up on the significance of all of this. Phillip is a black man, who has started his own comic publishing company, and has hired predominantly creators of color to craft stories with a diverse line-up of characters. This in and of itself might be one for the history books. But that was just the beginning.

sdcc 7

Hanging with Phillip Buchanon (left), creator and publisher of The Supernals Experiment.

If you pay any attention to pop culture coverage, you’ve probably read about the lack of diversity in comics (as well as just about everywhere else). I’ve raised this issue myself on multiple occasions, but I have also been very critical of those critics that bemoan the lack of diversity in comics—both within the pages of comics, and within the ranks of creators—but who do little to mention who and what is out there. The truth is there is a problem with a lack diversity and representation in comics (and all facets of pop culture), but the other truth is that there are some truly amazing people doing some truly amazing work out there. And I ran into quite a few of them at SDCC 2014.

watson 3I’m not going to name everyone I saw, because that would take too long. But I do want to make mention of some great creators who I crossed paths with. Amongst the writers, there was Brandon Eason, who along with N Steven Harris and Karl Bollers, was nominated for an Eisner for his work on the comic Watson and Holmes. I ran into Joe Illidge, whose upcoming graphic novel The Ren has got my heart palpitating. I also talked to Brandon Thomas, Geoffrey Thorne, Hannibal Tabu, Gary Phillips, Kevin Grevioux, and Reggie Hudlin, all of whom are amazing writers. You might not recognize some of these names, but that doesn’t mean their work isn’t top notch.

comictemplate3aI got to meet Ray-Anthony Height, whose comic The Midnight Tiger is one of the most impressive debuts of the new year. And though it was all too brief, I did say hello to Tony Puryear and Erika Alexander, whose upcoming Concrete Park is the comic I’m most looking forward to this year.

concrete-park-1-coverSpeaking of too brief, I barely got to talk to Keith Knight, an old friend, creator of The K Chronicles and (Th)ink, and one of the best cartoonists on the planet.

sdcc 2

Keith Knight. One of the best cartoonists in the game.

I got to finally meet Ted Lange IV in person, and his brother Turner Lange, both of who are comic creators (Ted’s series is Warp Zone, and Turner’s is The Adventures of Wally Fresch). I saw some incredible comic artists, including Sanford Greene, Khary Randolph, Robert Roach, Jason Reeves, Jamal Igle (whose book Molly Danger is killin’ it), and JJ Kirby (who drew an amazing picture of my character, Darius Logan). If you want to see what the work of these artists looks like, just do a Google search.

sdcc 3

Me, John Jennings, and William Foster, plotting to take over the world.

The highpoint of SDCC was spending time with artist/college professor John Jennings, writer/college professor William Foster, and writer/artist/badass Jeremy Love, creator of the critically acclaimed graphic novel Bayou. All three of these guys have some amazing projects in the works and, hopefully, some that will allow me to collaborate with them. I was with Jennings, Foster, and Love, when we had a truly amazing moment. I stopped to take a picture of a guy dressed as the superhero Static Shock, when artist Denys Cowan photo-bombed the picture. Cowan is the co-creator of Static Shock, and a founding member of the legendary Milestone Comics line.

sdcc 1

Legendary comic artist Denys Cowan photo-bombing a picture of Static Shock, a character he created.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the point that I’m trying to get at is that there are black folks out there making comics. You may not have heard of some of them, or the comics they are working on, but that doesn’t mean that they are invisible. It means that many of the creators like those I’ve mentioned—and those I haven’t mentioned (sorry)—aren’t getting enough press. Big publishers like Marvel (owned by Disney) and DC (owned by Warner Brothers) haven’t given that many black creators (especially writers) a chance. That has left it up to publishers like Action Lab, Lion Forge, and Dark Horse to give creators of color a break. And of course, some of us just self-publish, while fighting to get noticed.

This is just a brief glimpse at the people I ran into at SDCC 2014. Some are old friends. Some are people I just met. And, of course, there are those I didn’t list (again, my apologies). I encourage everyone to check out the work of the creators I’ve mentioned, as well as seek out the work of others. We are not invisible. We are just waiting to be seen.

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Black Captain America vs. Black Jesus (a.k.a. Don’t Mind Me, I’m Just Going to Vomit in the Corner)

black cap and jesusOnce again, I find myself on the slippery slope of pop culture commentary, in a position that requires full disclosure. Recently, I wrote a piece about Marvel’s announcement that Sam Wilson, a black man better known as Falcon, will be taking over at the new Captain America. I also admitted that I know writer Rick Remender, who will be chronicling the adventures of Black Captain America. With that in mind, it is only fair that I admit to knowing Aaron McGruder, creator of The Boondocks, as well as a new television series that is about to debut, Black Jesus.

My relationship with McGruder is far more complex than my relationship with Remender, to the extent that I’d say at one point Aaron and I could’ve been considered friends. We haven’t spoken in a long time, and based on his work as of late, I’d say that we exist in differing ideological universes. If that’s not the case, he is more than welcome to get in touch with me, as I’m sure he still has my number, and we can talk about how his work often makes me want to vomit in the corner.

Yesterday, shortly after I finished posting my rant about Black Captain America, I saw the trailer for McGruder’s new show, Black Jesus. Now, I want to be careful, and not jump to conclusions about how something might be, when I haven’t seen it yet. Black Captain America might turn out to be the best comic of all time, though I doubt it. And though the trailer leads me to believe that Black Jesus will be the sort of show that makes me cringe, all the while wondering if it simply wouldn’t have been better to get white people to perform in blackface, it might be a great show. It might not be the minstrel show it looks like it is going to be, and again, I don’t want to rush to judgment. Okay…I do want to rush to judgment…but I’m fighting that urge.

Now, before I go an further, let me make a promise to everyone. Here goes: I will buy the first issue of Black Captain America (not the real title, BTW), and I will watch the first episode of Black Jesus, and if either leaves me pleasantly surprised and forces me to rethink my initial reactions, I will admit to be a pre-judgmental jackass. But until that time, I’ve got some things to say, especially about Black Jesus.

Long before I met Aaron McGruder, I was a fan of The Boondocks—the comic strip that is, not the show. The show had some funny moments, but by and large it was a disappointment on many levels. I get why some people like the show, in the same way I get why some people like McDonald’s hamburgers, or drinking cheap beer until they black-out. That’s to say that even though I had problems with The Boondocks—just like I have problems with McDonald’s hamburgers giving me the runs—I’m cool with people liking the uncle ruckusshow. I just wish the show was more like the comic strip. You know…intelligent and not pandering for cheap laughs derived from low level jigabafoonery. I wish that the character of Uncle Ruckus was not a break-out hit of the show, because the market is already flooded with minstrel-like shenanigans. And if I thought Black Jesus was going to be anything other than minstrel-like shenanigans, I’d be excited. But the truth of the matter is that the minstrel—whether it be a white person in blackface, or a black person shucking-n-jiving—is alive and well, even though it needs to be laid to rest with a stake made of a fried chicken drumstick driven through its heart.

Look, I get that comedy is one of those things that can divide the room. What one person finds funny, another person finds offensive, and yet another person is left scratching his or her head, mumbling, “I don’t get it.” And while I have no doubt that some people will find Black Jesus funny, based on what I’ve seen so far, I won’t be one of them. Call me a bourgeois, hi-yella Negro, but I tend to shy away from anything that uses malt liquor as a comedic tool. But more important than that, I recognize the incredible power of comedy, both as a tool of oppression, and as a tool revolution.

For black people in America, comedy and music have been the two most powerful forms of social protest. Both comedy and music are the two greatest tools in shaping how black people are perceived—even more so than sports. Black music was the secret language we used to communicate with each other. Black comedy was the secret weapon we used to express our rage. This is part of the reason why I take black comedy so seriously—because it can either make black people, or break black people.

Most of the ideological views of the race and racism in America have been greatly formed by comedy. It was through the comedy of the minstrel shows of the 1800s that some of the worst stereotypes of blacks were introduced into American popular culture. White performers in blackface defined who black people were through a comedic framework, first on the stage, then in motion pictures. Black performers in the 1800s and well into the 20th century had to perform in blackface, simply to be accepted, at which time many of them were able to subvert some of the ideological conventions that defined blacks as inferior. But make no mistake, the paradigm of racial inferiority never went away, it just changed appearance.

stepin-fetchitPerhaps the best-known perpetrator of the myth of black inferiority as seen through the lens of comedy is Stepin Fetchit (Lincoln Perry). To be sure, Stepin Fetchit was a comedic genius. But his comedy was problematic then, just as it is now. It was comedy derived from the misplaced ideological belief that blacks are inferior, and that is a tool of oppression. My concern is that Black Jesus will be pretty much the same thing—comedy derived from stereotypes and ideological beliefs that keep blacks stuck in a role of inferiority. It may be a funny show, but if it doesn’t defy existing socio-political constructs used to define black people in America, then it is just one more thing to add to the already long list of things that can kiss my hi-yella ass.

To be perfectly honest, I’m looking forward to Black Captain America more than Black Jesus—though not much more. I already have a good idea of what Black Captain America will be like, and I know that it is just a gimmick that will be relatively short lived. And in the end, I’m not that worried that it will perpetuate damaging stereotypes. I suspect the worst we’ll see from Black Captain America is the same sort of writing that fails to give black characters real depth or resonance. And I can handle one-dimensional black characters written by white people, because to be honest, I’ve been raised on that crap. But it is the stuff like Black Jesus—or more specifically, what Black Jesus looks like it will be—that really gets me to worrying.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope Black Jesus is so intelligent that it raises the bar not only for what is expected from us comically, but how we are perceived—both by ourselves, as well as by others. I hope that it is a show that celebrates what is good and strong about black America, as opposed to mining the depths of our despair and depravity for some cheap laughs. Most of all, I hope the show doesn’t suck. But I ain’t holding my breath.

When all is said and done, the thing that bothers me the most are the limited options presented in the form of both Black Captain America and Black Jesus—not just for black people, but for everyone. What we’re being given are options that are about as limiting as the oft-asked question, “You want that original recipe, or extra crispy?”

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