I’m starting to feel like I’m going crazy—as if there is something seriously wrong with me—when the sad truth of the matter is that it is not me at all. It is you. And by “you” I don’t necessarily mean you, the person reading this, but I do mean someone other than myself—the crazy person running around pointing out the truth that You (though not necessarily you) don’t want to face. And the truth that I’m talking about is the simple fact that for all the complaining about the lack of diversity in comics—specifically as it relates to black creators—You don’t really want diversity. Instead, You want to sit around, writing blog posts and articles and leaving comments here and there about how few black creators are working in comics, and how You are so righteously indignant to the plight of struggling black creators who aren’t being given a chance to work for major corporations like Marvel (owned by Disney) and DC (owned by Warner Brothers).
A few days ago, Bleeding Cool ran a piece by someone named Devon Sanders entitled “Blood On The Tracks: Where Are The New Black Comics Writers?” Now, to be honest, I don’t know Devon Sanders, nor do I have an ax to grind against this particular writer, but this heartfelt commentary on the lack of black writers in the comic industry, though well intentioned, is the type of lazy—and dare I say irresponsible—“journalism” that does little to serve black creators. I say this with supreme confidence because, despite what some people would call my hi-yella complexion and talks-like-a-white-guy vocal inflections, I am, in fact, a black person. And I write comics. And I, along with a significant number of other creators are not mentioned in this article.
Sanders starts the article talking about how DC fired all of their two black writers in 2012, leaving no black writers at the home of Superman and Batman. Sanders then goes on to write:
Let that sink in; in one day, 100% of black writers working for a major entertainment corporation were let go. Neither has worked for DC Comics much, if not at all, since.
Marvel, at the time, had none to fire.
Dark Horse, Boom and others didn’t either.
Some of this is true. At the time, between DC and Marvel, there were no black writers working at the two biggest publishers in American comics. Off the top of my head, I don’t know if there were any black writers or artists working for Boom in 2012. But at Dark Horse? Well, let’s see…Sanford Greene was working on Rotten Apple, and if Tony Puryear and Erika Alexander hadn’t started Concrete Park yet, they were just about to. And then there was a little book called Number 13. I know this book well, because I co-wrote it along with the artist, Robert Love, who is also black. Robert recently wrapped another book for Dark Horse called Never Ending, and he was still black when he worked on it, even though no one bothered to mention it. I know, five measly comic creators many of you have never heard of doesn’t amount to much. But you know what? It amounts to more than Devon Sanders’s piece in Bleeding Cool mentions. And it amounts to more than the vast majority of other There’s-No-Diversity-In-Comics rants and raves ever bother to mention.
Look, I’m not trying to pick on Devon Sanders. Devon, for all I know, you’re a great human being. But let’s face it, you and a bunch of other well-minded critics have done a half-ass job of addressing the issue of diversity in comics. And if what I’m saying is infuriating or hurtful, put yourself in the shoes of Jimmie Robinson, Rob Guillory, Kevin Grevioux, and Brandon Thomas. Who are they? Well, they are among the black comic creators that are almost never mentioned whenever some critic decides to write about how there are no black creators in the industry. And though I’m not speaking for any of them (though I’m sure some of them would agree with me), I know how it feels to be marginalized as a black comic creator. It feels a bit like being marginalized as a black person, except every time it happens, you’re reading some article filled with righteous indignation that says you don’t exist (which is more often than not written by someone who themselves has probably been marginalized).
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—the American comic book industry is plagued by racism. This is not news. Racism plagues every facet of this country. No, Marvel and DC don’t have enough black creators (writers or artists), but neither does the film industry, the television industry, and just about everything else short of most professional sports (and even then, the teams aren’t owned by black people). But when it comes to comics, and let’s be honest, most of You only want to talk about Marvel and DC, there is NEVER (all caps for emphasis) going to be black creators working regularly unless You start supporting creators working at companies like Image, Dark Horse, IDW, Monkeybrain, Lion Forge Comics, or who are self-publishing.
The comic industry works a lot like professional sports teams. Seldom do you see a player drafted to the NBA, NFL, or MLB that hasn’t proven themselves either in high school, college, or a minor league team. Look at some of the biggest names in comics—Brian Michael Bendis, Jonathan Hickman, Kelly-Sue DeConnick, Ed Burbaker, Matt Fraction—all of them started out in the indie world or self-publishing, or both. They proved themselves, built a fan base, got support from critics and retailers, and in time, the big publishers decided they were ready to be called up to the “major” leagues.
If any black creators are going to get work from Marvel or DC (especially black writers) it is going to take the committed support of fans, critics, retailers, all working to build them up. But it seems that instead, most of You are more concerned with why there’s no black writers churning out corporate schlock at DC, where there will never be a level of diversity or creative freedom to make You (or me for that matter) even remotely not pissed off. DC is NEVER (again, all caps for emphasis) going to do right by the Milestone characters. And even if Marvel hired me personally to write and revamp Falcon, I’d never be given the freedom to make the character truly interesting, because Disney wouldn’t allow it.
Instead of wishing that Disney and Warner Brothers would deliver us, the marginalized, from our state of white-washed underrepresentation, it is time for You to start looking elsewhere for your dream fulfillment. Check out a series like Watson & Holmes from New Paradigm. Earlier this month, Watson & Holmes swept the Glyph Awards at ECBACC, and is now waiting to see how it does at the upcoming Eisner Awards in July. With less than ten issues published so far, Watson & Holmes has featured great work by black creators like Brandon Easton, N Steven Harris, Karl Bollers, and Larry Stroman, and promises to feature the work of more creators like Hannibal Tabu. And instead of saying that there are no black creators, maybe it is time for You to check out the work of all the people I’ve mentioned above, as well as Dawud Anyabwile, Enrique Carrion, Ken Lashley, Grey Williamson, Mshindo Kuumba, Ezra Claytan Daniels, Jamal Igel, Alexander Simmons, Ray-Anthony Height, Spike Trotman, Jennifer Cruté, and all the other creators I’m not listing (my apologies, brothas and sistas).
As a final note, at the end Devon Sanders’s piece on Bleeding Cool, Sanders evokes the name of the late great Dwayne McDuffie, basically saying that there have been very few black writers since McDuffie’s untimely passing. Having been lucky enough to know Dwayne during his life, I think it is safe to say that he would be one of the first people to prattle off all the names of creators I’ve listed, and at least a dozen more. Dwayne knew what I know, which is the same thing many other creators know…there are black people making comics. The problem is that You and so many others aren’t paying attention, which seems to prove a much larger point—no one really cares about diversity in comics.