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The Promise of Hope and a Better Comic Book Community

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
The Promise of Hope and a Better Comic Book Community

A number of you are angry, whether you’re from inside the business or the outside, within the mainstream or operating at its periphery.

You love comic books, and you see the truth, that this business is no different than any other business just because it’s operating on the dominance of stories about heroes.

Your idealism slammed up against the understanding that, even in comic books, there is no meritocracy. Partially because the fiction you loved when others dismissed it has finally achieved what you dreamed of, mainstream acceptance and high-quality translation to film and television.

American comic books are no longer part of the subculture, the social ghetto, no longer a secret to be kept inside comic book shops and long white boxes… and because of it, two corporations control the two most powerful American comic book companies, while some independent publishers took control of other independent publishers.

Higher visibility equals higher stakes and profit potential, leading to minimizing risk by way of decisions, sometimes made at levels we cannot see, by people we don’t know.

So the next step is to go after people you can see, people you can reach.

Informed, fair criticism of companies and the operational status quo is proper, and necessary.

Personal attacks are exactly the opposite, and should have no place in this community of ours.

When the attacks go to another place and achieve a threat level, those should have no place in society.

Abusive language and the people who utilize it should find no refuge here.

Neither should anger.

Two weeks before my eleventh birthday, I arrived home from school for my mother to tell me that my father was dead.

He had a seizure. He was an alcoholic, and stopped drinking cold turkey.

His body punished him for it.

My dad was taken from me, because he did the right thing.

I never went to his funeral, because I didn’t want to see the body.

I didn’t want the ultimate confirmation that he was dead, even though I knew it to be true.

Comic books were my refuge, because things made sense within the pages.

I used to be one of the smartest kids in the room and proud of my grades, then I hit the seventh grade, and suddenly my comic book fandom became my kryptonite. Girls didn’t like it, guys teased me for it, and being smart didn’t matter in the social scheme.

Comic books were my refuge, because things made sense within the pages. Intelligence was a gift, and most people who used theirs as a power were heroes.

After college, I was fired from a job, two days before Christmas and three days after being called “A Black bastard” by a customer.

Three months later, I started a non-paying internship at a new company called Milestone Media, Inc., a comic book company founded by five Black men.

Upon the end of my internship, I was hired for a part-time position, which would evolve into a full-time position, and start me on the career path which I still walk on today.

Comic books were my refuge, in the form of employment, education, and career aspirations.

I couldn’t tell you when I first became angry.

A number of people who know me from my high school years will tell you I was an Angry Black Man since then, so I guess that’s the starting point.

Even though I enjoyed working at Milestone, working to provide the world with comic books featuring a diverse world of superheroes, created and produced by a diverse group of people, making money, living on my own, dating, partying, living the dream… I was still angry.

Years later, I worked at DC Comics as an editor on the Batman line of books, working with a great editorial team on groundbreaking comics, adding more characters of color to Gotham and new creators to the world of The Batman… and I was still angry.

Anger was my weapon, a part of the arsenal in my utility belt.

When the editorial regime changed, and an environment of equal opportunity became an environment of favoritism, I didn’t handle it well, and responded with various degrees of anger and self-righteousness. The blowback from that led to me leaving the comic book industry… pretty damn angry.

So angry that for weeks afterwards, I had a pain in the center of my chest, occupying an area the size of a grapefruit.

At the time, a comic book industry executive told a friend of mine I would never work in comics again.

Never. Work. In comics. Again.

Four years later, I reengaged the industry on behalf of a book publisher, and started mending fences.

Two years later, I was hired by Archaia and became their Comics Editor, working with various creators on their creator-owned titles.

One year later, Archaia folded, their assets purchased, and I was out of the industry again.

Three years later, my mentor and friend died… and after the mourning came the beginning of the end of my anger regarding the comic book industry…

…because I acknowledged my piece of accountability, admitted that some of my actions, albeit for the right reasons, were executed in the wrong ways.

I realized how toxic anger was, that it was nothing to be proud of, and that the comic book industry owed me nothing for being a good soldier with ethics.

Life owed me nothing for being a good guy with good intentions.

The world did not owe me a debt for taking away my father.

I started on a different road, and it led right back to this industry, in which I’m now a writer, editor and columnist.

I defied the impossible odds others predicted for me, and gained clarity of thought.

All this is to let you know that I have done the dance with anger, as it relates to this business, and what I know for certain, is that we cannot let it dominate the narrative being forged in this industry every day and encompassing everyone.

The diversity narrative.

We are heading toward an era of change at breakneck speed.

We are also building towards an emotional fever pitch, ranging from the righteous to the horrifying.

There is real villainy in our community. Disturbed people who wish to scare, intimidate, diminish, and harm people. People whom have used the diversity narrative as yet another opportunity to spread their hatred and disturbing ideas, and attack people with them through harassment.

We cannot give them an environment of anger, within which to operate.

We cannot give them witch hunts, or anything that is tantamount to such.

With that, I’m going to take a handful of weeks to investigate more of the victories and accomplishments.

Widen the net beyond the two major American comic book publishers.

There are things to celebrate, and matters to be explored, throughout the entire landscape.

Things are getting better within our industry, within the fiction. Not quickly enough for our tastes, but it’s happening nonetheless.

Let’s acknowledge the good, while continuing to push the needle with sharp and open minds.

Purchase, praise and spread the word about the books and ideas we support.

Reject the parasites, the people who engage in scare tactics and ill-informed, exploitative vilification… and purge them from our industry.

I am hopeful for a better comic book industry, the one on the horizon within clear view.

Let’s work together to bring that future into realization, without letting the bastards come along for the ride.

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 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, 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, a production company co-founded with Shawn Martinbrough, artist for the graphic novel series “Thief of Thieves” by “The Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman, and video game developer Milo Stone. 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.

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