The future of the comic book industry
All print media is rapidly changing. Distributors, publishers, and newspapers are divorcing hard copy prints for digital media. Comic books are only forced to go the same direction. A greater challenge (or advantage), however, is that Black comic book creators have been struggling since the beginning to gain the respect from mainstream companies like Marvel and DC Comics.
Artists like Jerome Walford, creator of “Nowhere Man” quickly understood that inserting a bit of real diversity into the mainstream is a long hard fight. So, he started his own distribution company, Forward Comix, and decided to spread his message independently.
“They look at his Black guy on the cover and he’s the main character,” he said in a phone conversation with me. “The thinking became narrow very early on. Some [people] are positive, saying ‘It looks like a great new African American story.’ On the negative side they say, ‘Oh it’s only for Black people.’ How do you address that.”
Jerome’s comic series captures the life and heroism of one Black man, but the full character cast includes people from all ethnic backgrounds, giving readers an opportunity to relate on several levels.
“I had always intended it to be diverse,” he added. “I had the sense that I wanted this character to be completely submerged in the cop culture. You are approaching not just readers, but also distributors with what sells. And so for me, I have to prove that this is different, but there’s a market for it.”
And to make it easier to get the word out about his product, he’s also made Nowhere man available on digital platforms and is currently available on iBooks.
The East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention is a solution. Founded by Yumy Odom who created an association of Black artists in 1980, the organization evolved to accommodate a new era of thinkers and creators.
“The ECBACC convention that we do today follows that model of creating a network not only of artist but of writers, publishers, printers and more,” explained Akinseye Brown, VP of the org. “We work to create a self-sustaining cycle of success, which promotes ennobling Black African images through literacy and creativity, starting with confident youth who become successful adult creators.”
And for more than 12 years, ECBACC has giving audiences an alternative to mainstream, offering stories of black heroes.
Akinseye explained that distribution is simply a means to an end. Through the organization, artists and other professionals are able to educate, liberate, and expose young people to worlds the mainstream refuses to invest for the sake of young Black kids.
“Distribution is simply a vehicle that delivers a product to the public and it’s target market,” he explained, adding that mass production is also a struggle for Black artists.
The production process can be long and tedious. Artists are often forced to hustle – work a regular job and do their passion on their off time. And sometimes, they never seem to profit big enough to solely rely on their craft.
ECBACC helps relieve a bit of that stress in the meantime, helping artists distribute positive images and messages.
“There is a need for Black Comic books, because customers want them,” he stated. “And when education is added, potential customers want them even more. Black heroes are needed because there are people who desire to see, watch and read about and support ‘Black’ success.”
Some suggest companies hiring more diverse staff to resolve the lack of diversity. However, Akinseye suggests the opposite.
Nurturing a separate industry, generated with a specific audience in mind appears to be a better route, he says.
“People seem to think that a Black ‘boss’ means that business is going to change. The business has existed before and will exist after any new ‘boss,’” he reasoned. “The business is a part of or supported by a network of desires that consumers have. Until the ‘Boss’ can change the consumers desires nothing will change. We at ECBACC, see ourselves and community, attendees, vendors, customers as both the ‘Boss’ and the ‘System’. Affording us to have a good idea of what to provide, because we have a good idea of what we want. Anytime you have someone representing a system they do not belong to there are going to be issues.”
Point well taken.
Personally, I agree with the push to represent self. History has shown us that whenever mainstream (which is code for white media) attempts to represent stories of ethnic people groups, somehow things go array. But it shouldn’t be a surprise at this point. The outrage steaming particularly from the African American community doesn’t have to be wasted on mainstream media, because mainstream was not created with us in mind. Mainstream media has its own agenda, which may not (and most of the time does not) reflect the needs or desires of so-called minority groups.
Black comic book creators and industry supporters have it right as they continue to share our stories through our diverse lenses.
And so the future and success of the Black comic book industry is not dependent on the decisions coming from major corporations. It depends on the people, the support, the hunger and thirst from consumers. It depends on the artists’ capability to reach the masses and create platforms to infuse their passion with purpose.
With the right attitude and positive perspective, our stories will continue to thrive.
Check out Part one of Heroes with a Black Face here.
Black Comic Book Festival in Harlem 2013