On February 1, Black History Month began for the year. In the history of American superhero comics, I have never known one publisher to commemorate it in any substantial, meaningful way. But yesterday, The Washington Post announced the Kickstarter campaign for a timely, relevant comic book project called “BLACK.”
Created by the team of Kwanza Osajyefo, former digital editor at Marvel and DC Comics, best known for launching DC’s Zuda imprint, and Tim Smith 3, illustrator for Marvel, Archie Comics, Papercutz and DC, “BLACK” is the story of a Black teenage male who develops superpowers after getting gunned down by police and discovers only Black people have super powers.
“BLACK” could be dismissed as a cultural fantasy for the Black community, in the wake of an ongoing war between Black America and the collective American police force. A war that Black people are losing by virtue of not being bulletproof, by wearing certain clothes, walking in certain neighborhoods, playing with certain toys, and having too much Melanin in their DNA structure.
But “BLACK” is coming out the gate poised to be social commentary. Whether the premise of a world in which only Black people have super powers is more the nightmare of The American System than it is the dream of the Black man and woman remains to be seen. Two well-known artists who have collectively worked for industry giants Marvel, DC and Image Comics are establishing the aesthetic and visual storytelling for the series.
Jamal Igle, illustrator of many popular iconic superheroes including “Supergirl” for DC Comics and his creator-owned series “Molly Danger” published by Action Lab Entertainment. Khary Randolph, one of the illustrators of DC’s “Robin War” event, has amassed a body of work for clients including Marvel Comics, Marvel Animation and Robert Kirkman, the creator of “The Walking Dead.”
Less than 24 hours after the campaign launched, the Kickstarter for “BLACK” was 44% funded. Such a launch is indicative of a combination of quality, strategy and collective reputation. There are two other ingredients, the ones which act as the glue binding the other three together into a mixture of importance.
Authentic point of view: The team of Osajyefo, Smith 3, Igle and Randolph are Black men, living in America, cognizant of current affairs, of incidents of the last half-decade, and of violent acts against Black people for many years. These four men are not hiding behind cartoon icons or unrelated images. The Kickstarter video shows them as Black men for all the world to see.
Need: There is, unfortunately, no better time for a comic book like “BLACK” to be announced and created than right now, because the visual of the young Black man wearing a hoodie and being confronted by the gun(s) of police officers is burned into our collective conscious. It is the image of one of the most prevalent and gross generalizations of our times.
Crowdfunding is a Herculean task, and more dreams have been crushed under its attractive yet merciless heel, than have been realized. The fact that “Black,” within its first day, achieved over thirteen thousand dollars in support speaks to a belief in the story, the feelings which led to its creation, the goals of the team, and the potential impact of such a project.
As much as those of us who support “BLACK” through our actions and sentiment are thankful to the team of Osajyefo, Smith 3, Igle and Randolph, there are two other parties we would be remiss if we did not thank: Marvel and DC Comics.
We thank them for their (until recently) lack of regard for Black consumers as anything more than consumers.
We thank them for hiring between few and no Black writers after the passing of one of the most beloved Black male writers in the industries of comic books and animation.
We thank them for hiring fewer than two Black women to write comic books in their decades of publishing.
We thank them for sabotaging comic book series with Black heroes by having them illustrated with unattractive or bland aesthetic styles.
We thank them for putting the pressure of addressing diversity on the shoulders of only a few writers of color.
We thank them for decades of diminishing their Black characters through Chocolate Fantasies and stereotypical perceptions of Black culture on the part of certain narrow-minded, non-Black writers and artists.
We thank them for punishing Black people with strong opinions within their corporate structures.
We thank them for their decades-old legacy of institutional prejudice.
We thank them for neglecting Black History Month and Black History and American History.
We thank them for all of this, because all of those crimes, those actions, are the foundation upon which “BLACK” was born.
For the first time, we can smile at the collective package of injustices done against Black creators and businesspersons within the histories of the two top publishers of American superhero comics. If every action does, indeed, have an equal and opposite reaction, then “BLACK” is one result. One result of many.
2016 is going to be a revelatory year, and a perfect one in which to bet on Black.
Joseph Phillip Illidge is a public speaker on the subjects of race, comics and the corporate politics of diversity. In addition to his coverage by The New York Times, CNN Money, the BBC and Publishers Weekly, Joseph has been a speaker at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Digital Book World’s forum, Digitize Your Career: Marketing and Editing 2.0, Skidmore College, The School of Visual Arts, Purdue University, on the panel “Diversity in Comics: Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Sexual Orientation in American Comic Books” and at the Soho Gallery for Digital Art in New York City.
Joseph is the Head Writer for Verge Entertainment. Verge has developed an extensive library of intellectual properties for live-action and animated television and film, video games, graphic novels and web-based entertainment.
His graphic novel project, “The Ren,” about the romance between a young musician from the South and a Harlem-born dancer in 1925, set against the backdrop of a crime war, will be published by First Second Books, a division of Macmillan.
Joseph’s newest comic book project is the upcoming Scout Comics miniseries “Solarman,” a revamp of a teenage superhero originally written by Stan Lee.