NYCC's #BlackComicsMonth Panel Discusses Importance of Inclusivity

Cameron Glover from the Nerds of Prey podcast kicked off a completely packed panel room by thanking the various sponsors for the panel, including Greg Pak, Shawn Pryor, and publishers Lionforge and Dark Horse, all of whom had donated books which were given away to everyone in the room. She then introduced Tee ‘Vixen’ Franklin, the moderator for the panel. Franklin thanked the audience for attending their third annual panel which, she noted has grown year after year..

That said, she told the audience that this year she didn’t want to ask “what does diversity mean to you?” as usual, but instead wanted to focus on inclusivity - despite the fact that “certain places want to avoid it."

She threw the discussion first to Kwanza Osajyefo, whose $30,000 Kickstarter campaign for "Black," a comic that asks "what if only black people had superpowers?" hit the goal in three days and ended up raising over $91,000. He told the audience that this was a project which has been on the backburner for him for a long time, over ten years. Having worked at Marvel and DC, during that time "I was usually the only black guy in the room. And that sticks out." The person who inspired him to see that he has a place in comics was the late Dwayne McDuffie. When Osajyefo was 16 and Milestone started releasing comics, he realized, "Oh! Static looks like me!" and was compelled to call up Milestone and ask if he could pitch. They said yes, and he sat in an office with McDuffie for an hour and was told how the industry worked. "It drove home that there was a place for me in the comics industry."

Osajyefo recently held a pop-up sale in his home of Harlem in order to show people that "we are here, we create, and we have our own perspective on comics." The first issue has sold out, so he's now planning a possible second printing for it.

Franklin then turned to Wendy Xu, who co-creates the webcomic "Mooncakes." Xu said that she grew up watching a lot of TV shows about Witches on the Disney channel, and "Harry Potter" - "but those are British boarding school narratives with predominantly white characters, and so I wanted to make a comic about a Chinese-American character." It only launched it a year ago, so the panel marked their one-year anniversary. "It updates slowly, but it’s got a lot of our heart in it. I really hope people check it out and enjoy it," she told the crowd, adding that this is helped by support received through Patreon.

Brenden Fletcher was brought into the conversation to talk about the recent issues of "Black Canary," which brought Vixen into the New 52. "We had gone five years with no significant appearance for Vixen. I had limited control for what I could do, but at least now there are further opportunities for that character to appear in comics." Steve Orlando joined the panel at that time to talk about the recently-announced one-shot he's writing for the character, who will also be appearing in his "Justice League of America" series.

Fletcher called 2016-17 "the Year of Vixen," due to her comics resurgence, as well as her imminent appearances on TV in her animated series and Season Two of "DC's Legends of Tomorrow."

Franklin brought Ma. Victoria Robado into the panel discussion by pointing out, "When you leave your home and open your eyes, it’s not 'diversity' you see - it’s life. I’m a queer person of color, but I’m not 'diverse' - I’m just me. The fact we’re not represented in comics sucks, and that’s when you have to start doing your own thing." Robado is the artist for an upcoming story from Franklin called "Acceptance Letters," which the artist said came about through seeing a shared story on Facebook calling for submissions. "I started writing an email to you to ask if I could be part of it, but before I finished, you had already emailed me about it!"

Orlando was asked to talk about "Virgil," his queer revenge comic which was recently printed at Image. "When 'Django Unchained' came out, there was a lot of hype about it being 'risky' - but I found that strange. Saying 'racism is bad' is not a risky thing to say in 2013 unless you’re a jackass! If it was bold, Django would’ve been queer - there was no reason he couldn’t be fighting for his husband, rather than his wife. So this was something I wanted to make happen, a queer revenge fiction." Having come across stories about events in Jamaica, it was something he wanted to learn more about and spread the word about - he noted that "people should not be afraid of pushing forward representation, but I hope they develop a level of understanding. It's about talking to people - and that’s how I would want people to approach my own issues. When it comes to queer representation, please don’t be afraid of queer characters - but know what belongs to that community, and don’t pretend you know that story, because it’s ours."

Next was Juan Ferreya, the artist for a back-up story which he'll tell with Franklin in "Nailbiter" #27, which came about last year when writer Joshua Williamson offered the page space to her during an interview they were conducting. She texted Ferreya about joining her. He told her "I said yes without even reading your script - but when it came, it was amazing." When she pressed if they could perhaps work on more in future, he was receptive to the idea. She said "I gave Juan X-Y-Z... and he drew the whole alphabet."

Things were then thrown to a Q&A, with a question asked about companies giving established roles to characters of color vs making new characters - which was the better approach? Osajyefo answered "it’s a good thing for visibility because they are top publishers, but at the same time, yes, we need to create our own characters. Look to Milestone, creating characters who have their own perspective... we love you, Miles, but you’re wearing someone else’s clothes." Franklin said the recent story where Sam Wilson became Captain America "irked the hell out of me," and Osajyefo agreed. "He’s not Falcon anymore, and Falcon was legit."

Artist Soriah Chauvel came to the microphone to introduce herself, which prompted Franklin to announce that they were doing an upcoming story together as part of a "Princeless" anthology.

Asked if there was any advice they had on writing characters of color, Osajyefo said, "If you are not of that race - do your research. And this goes for all races, because otherwise, you’ll just have a two-dimensional character."

Franklin concluded the panel by announcing a second book to go alongside the upcoming Mental Health Comics Anthology, which will be seen next year. This will be a prose series of stories, with writing from people including Chuck Wendig, Shawn Pryor, Susan Eisenberg, Mikki Kendall and more. The proceeds will be given to charity. "A lot of people donating their time to make these books and talk about mental health. One in four people suffer from mental illness. I will do my best here to help erase the hell out of the stigma people have about it."

There will be an open submission process allowing anybody to send in work for consideration. On that, she thanked the panelists and the crowd, and closed the panel to wild applause.

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