Heroes with a Black Face – Part 1

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Comic book creators work to battles stereotypes

By Brittney M. Walker

There’s been a lot of talk in my circle about the influence of media. Malcolm X said, “The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”

True statement, as much as many of us who think we really control our thoughts would like to believe. But that’s why I decided to become a journalist.

At a young age, I understood the influence, the power of a message presented from a public platform.

And so, as an adult and a producer of messages, I’ve been burdened with the responsibility of sharing information to an audience. That’s my job. That’s part of my purpose.

That said the most recent conversation regarding media influence was sparked at a Black comic book festival at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.

Like any other medium, comic books suffer the same racial divide, but more severely so, probably because it deals with fictional characters.

“White Scripts and Black Superman: Black Masculinities in Comic Books,” a film by Dr. Jonathan Gayles, explores the concept of race representation, stereotypes and the emasculation of the Black male figure in comic books.

Interestingly enough (or not) there has been very little advancement in roles of black fictional characters in mainstream series. Surprising? Perhaps not.

A few of the archetypes implored by mainstream in the more popular phases of comic books included the pimp, the gangster, and the disgruntled former inmate. Most of these big black allegedly powerful characters were battling crime in the hood, saving old ladies from drug dealers, and rescuing orphans off the street. In the meantime, Superman is saving the whole world.

Get it?

Like I’ve mentioned before, the real power in a mainstream production isn’t gladly given to the character of color. An allusion of power is given, however, in the confines of a troubled, crime-infested hood. The imagination of that character is limited to the harsh realities and stereotypes of impoverished neighborhoods.

“One of the patters you see in these comic books, as Bill Foster says, ‘Superman is fighting for the sake of the galaxy and ‘Luke Cage’ is chasing pimps and drug dealers,’” Gayles said during Q&A. “’Luke Cage’ is bound to Harlem.”

He then added emphasized that white writers often depicted black life into chaotic, depressive environments.

“They were saying slow eyed boys, who live off of Harlem, which is an animal, we live off of Harlem like a tapeworm. Well that’s not how people from Harlem describe Harlem. But that’s a popular idea of Harlem. ‘Black Lightening’ lives in ‘Suicide Slum.’ So these are the ideas about black life and black men in particular that do not reflect the broad reality of Black life.”

But the same thematic solutions are presented for issues like these.

Build your own.

The point of the comic book festival was not only to make people aware of the disparities on this platform, but it was also to share a response, a positive force moving to present alternatives.

Uraeus, black creator of the “Jaycen Wise” comic book series was inspired drew inspiration from ancient African history and his love for art to generate a black character that not only saves the world, but also teaches readers about the marvels black history has to offer.

Jaycen Wise is an immortal character that comes from the ancient kingdoms of Kush and he moves down in history,” Uraeus explained, adding that through this character he is able to share historical information through entertainment.

Describing his art form and story telling as part of his life’s purpose, he explained that he doesn’t rely on mainstream to tell black stories.

“[Marvel and DC] are companies owned by white males, producing content for white males,” he said. “There is no place for white women or people of color. I don’t expect them to speak to black issues and to black people. When I was younger, I was angry with them, but now that I understand how the world works, I am not.

“I think it’s important to share those stories and put those things on front and center stage. Comics are such a powerful medium. I think people should create what they feel. I know there are some black artists that have created white heroes or Asian heroes. I don’t think if it’s not in you don’t force it. But for me, it is and it is my responsibility. I think it is the responsibility of those with this calling. It’s my calling and I believe I was put on this earth to do it.”

Uraeus, like many independent comic book creators, deal with distribution on an independently.

Jerome Walford, a creative genius in his own right, also has taken a similar route. During the day he works as graphic artist out of his home and at night, he does his comic book thing.

The idea for “Nowhere Man” was inspired by his childhood fantasies of superheroes.

“I was born in Jamaica. My parents moved to the states in ’86. I was 12 by that time,” he reminisced. “I went to Erasmus School in Brooklyn. They had an arts program. You could actually major in art as part of your high school curriculum. I took classes on learning how to draw… I decided I wanted to do something like that [for a career].”

From there, Jerome’s imagination took off and he began to see the possibilities as an artist. He found himself working in advertising for a while and eventually started his own company in 2004. Business was booming then hit rock bottom with the economy’s downturn.

His creative juices started to flow again.

“I found myself being pulled back into comics,” he said. “About three years ago, I started to brush up on those skills because it’s a craft all its own. Over time, it started to become a lot more natural.”

“Nowhere Man” is a nine book series that follows a NYC detective named “Jack McGuire,” a second-generation police officer. His father died in 911 and now has taken on the legacy.

“He has these really amazing powers and uses them for his career to achieve the dream his father never did,” Jerome described the main character. “What makes a hero is a combination of their abilities and the things they’ve been through. Get to the heart of the hero and what make him what he really is.”

Together the elements of tragedy, victory, and humanity generate this regular guy turned hero in “Nowhere Man.”

Jerome’s main character is a black guy, but the character cast is quite diverse.

But like many others in the black comic book world, distribution is a challenge.

Read Part 2 here.

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