Awesome Con 2019 Panel: The Importance of the Black Voice in Comics
Moderator: Stephanie Kimou
Presenters: Tony Weaver Jr. of Weird Enough Productions
TJ Sterling of Rae Comics
Mikhail Hardy of Master Arts Studio
Darius Morgan of SpeekGeekUnlimited
Cytonius of SpeekGeekUnlimited
The topic of minorities in comics and in pop culture comes up often – though likely not nearly often enough. These five gentlemen sat down together, all with differing opinions to discuss this voice, or lack of, specifically in the comic universe and created an engaging discussion about the topic. Each came with a different background and different motivation, yet each man provided insight into their individual opinions. Though this topic could be one that could be discussed through a multitude of angles and lenses, I’d like to focus on some of the main points.
Black Women in Comics
The issue of women in comics has historically been the oversexualization. Women are drawn to fit certain standards identified as beautiful. While for the average white Jane, these standards seem mildly absurd, for a black woman these standards are exceptionally unfair. These ideas feed into the continued discrimination of natural hair in particular. Yet we see it time and time again that artists and writers stick to specific ideas when writing and when drawing about women. These ideas create more negative space for people of color and create one more weapon for an already confused young black girl trying to fit into society’s standards. Mikhail Hardy, creator and artist of Astral Black, a comic about a world of black warrior women protecting their city from a darkness, discusses the importance of putting women of color in comics in order to provide his daughter Zora and girls like her a role model that they feel attached to because they have a similar appearance. The goal of Mikhail as well as TJ and Tony is really to elevate the black character and make more black women characters visible and available for people. Darius made a really good point when he was talking about this topic. He said someone once asked him how to write a woman. His response? “As a person.”
History of Black People in Comics
I was absolutely blown away when Darius and Cyonius started talking about the history of black people in comics. I’ll admit to not being the biggest comic buff around, or even a moderate one at that, but some of the information these men shared had me Googling and searching everywhere for me. One of the ideas they presented was changing the narrative. Black people have existed in comics for almost 75 years. The problem is not that they haven’t been there, it’s that they have been pushed aside by mainstream and made to be less than the other characters by money hungry CEOs. If we begin to make more purposeful purchases and support these characters already in existence, we will begin to see a change in the faces on our comics and in our media. We can’t just pretend that it didn’t exist. Like in 1947 when All-Negro Comics was published for only one issue before being blocked by white publishers and distributors. It happened. But no one seems to know. Cytonius said it best, I think, “heroism is ethnocentric.”
Racism and Negative Black Characters
Darius talked a lot about black characters that are in comics and pop culture. He points out that everyone always remembers the villain. Who is Batman without Joker? If that villain is black, who cares? While there is power in the protagonist, there is also power in the antagonist. I have to disagree on this one, and I think Tony would be on my side.
Black people don’t need to see themselves as killers and as caricatures. There’s enough black stereotypes out there without adding to that with more black villains. I’m not saying that if a villain happens to be black it’s a bad thing. What I am saying is not creating characters based on black stereotypes that are villains. That isn’t helping. Along with that, I know every one of us can name dozens of these racist or negative black characters. We see them in comics, in movies, and in everything pop culture. Do we see some positive black characters? Sure. But those numbers are far limited by the Franklins (GTA5).
This idea came up and I thought Darius and Cytonius were going to have a fight to the death to decide who would talk on it first. Both apparently are passionate about this and have a strong dislike for characters being recreated or renamed from their original form (read: white) to essentially throw a bone to the black community. Create new characters. Don’t just create new characters to create though. Create black and other minority characters that are new and unique that are meaningful, well thought out additions to pop culture. If you don’t, those characters die. And it’s like TC said when we were talking – we’re not buying your new book just because it has a black character. We want to enjoy what we are reading and feel attached to that character.
Watch the video below and tell me what you think!