Author Topic: The Black Comic Book debate  (Read 7228 times)

Offline Reginald Hudlin

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The Black Comic Book debate
« on: September 26, 2009, 08:00:21 am »
I don't always jump into debates on email chains, but I had to on this one.

It started with an email sent out to a bunch of people from the talented and classy Kevin Grevioux:

Okā€¦the language is a little too harsh for my tastes, but the over-all message is REALLY interesting.



So I click on the the link, and really dig the clip.  I feel hopeful when I hear smart racial analysis from white people.  I basically say such on the email chain.  

Then Vincent Moore responds with this:

I agree with Reggie.  Now the real problems are: how do you get a critical mass of white comics and/or game buyers to buy black product and how do we get more black people into buying black comics and games?  Or am I aiming in the wrong direction?

And another person responds with:

I enjoyed this.  Thanks Kev.  Bell Hooks talks about some of this type of thinking with Black women when it comes to film, in an essay called 'The Oppositional Gaze'.  Definitely makes things more hopeful.

Which is then followed by this statement:

First of all, I am humbled and honored to have been included in this forum. My sincere thanks to you all.
 
Vincent,
 
I believe that you're asking honest and appropriate, demographically-sound questions. The answer, in my opinion, has already been provided by Bill Cosby. The Huxtables were a dynamically appealing American family to most racial demographics that had a TV tuned in to NBC during The Cosby Show's heyday in the mid-80's. Everybody I recalled loved the Huxtables for who they were. The Huxtables just happened to be black. And I think this is where I'd like to make my point.
 
Producing comics and video game media featuring black main characters in stories, which will have the potential to attain the critical mass appeal that is aimed at white and black consumers alike can be done if the substance of these stories are specifically more oriented toward common-sense values and morals, which could appeal to most common sense consumers, and less ethno-centrically driven themes, which could likely marginalize your finished product. Take the Evans family of the '70's-era show, Good Times, for example. Another massively appealing family of levity during its time, too, but certainly far more popular among blacks Americans, due to fact that it was more culturally ethnocentric. Nowadays, I believe that focusing upon a character's character while deemphasizing the self-evident factor of that character's race may be the key to success. Author James Patterson has been extremely successful with this template with his series of novels featuring his hero, Alex Cross, who happens to be black.
 
Currently, I am developing several titles of comics that feature main characters that are black. The aim is to highlight who these individuals are individually and how their character is revealed in the context of the story each appears in, but with no emphasis on who they are ethnically. They are simply good men and women of character, who just happen to be black.
 
I believe, Vincent, that this may all or part of the answer you are seeking.
 
Happily & respectfully,
 
Quenton Shaw, Owner
QEW Publishing

Which then inspires Dwayne McDuffie to chime in:

I disagree. The "happens to be black" canard is disingenuous at best, and delusional at worst. We're creators, we make choices, among those choices is the race of our characters. If we create characters whose background and experiences don't inform their personalities and worldviews, we're creating Barbie dolls, lifeless plastic for others to project their fantasies upon. That doesn't mean this approach will fail, Barbie's very popular for precisely this reason, although I'd suggest she's not the best example of a way to improve the numbers and kinds of images of women available in the media.

The Huxtables didn't "just happen" to be black, they didn't just happen to have Romare Bearden paintings on their walls, or attend black colleges, or listen to Jazz and R&B, these were creative choices that stemmed from the decision to do a show about a black family. The specificity of those choices, the truth of those observations, are what helped to create the universality of identification across races. Using Good Times (a show that was as highly-rated among blacks as whites, probably because of Jimmy Walker's buffoonery) as an example of cultural ethnocentricity as opposed to The Cosby Show, which was at least equally ethnocentric, indicates one of our problems, the notion that black culture is entirely encompassed by the ghetto. We're both of those things and more.

Video games and comics face a much more difficult task than comedies, particularly action genres. Unlike comedies, action pieces have very little sugar to help the medicine go down. Moreover, for a distressingly large portion of the mainstream audience, heroic action from a black male protagonist is offensive on its face. Ask Mr. Hudlin how the audience reacts to a cool Spider-Man bit, verses how they react to an identical feat performed by the Black Panther. In the first case, Spider-Man is awesome, in the second, Reggie's shoving super negro down the audience's throat. Even black audiences have been trained to be skeptical of black heroism. If Rambo or James Bond dodges a hundred bullets while killing dozens of attackers, they're cool, if a black hero does the same, it's campy.

More comics featuring black characters are a good thing, but if the audience knows the characters are black, no amount of "just happens to be black" in the creative approach will immunize you from the portion of the audience that's not ready to accept the humanity of people who have a different skin color. We should stop worrying about those guys reactions and just tell our stories as honestly as we can.

To which I respond with this:

As usual, I agree with all Dwayne has said.  
 
Except for one point.  
 
White movie audiences today don't have a problem with black action stars.  From Wesley Snipes in BLADE to Will Smith in..well, most of his career, today's white people don't have a problem with black men doing superheroic feats.  In the world of music, there are white folks supporting very aggressive black artists, from Public Enemy to Little Wayne.  Similar to Dwayne's television analogy with GOOD TIMES and THE COSBY SHOW, there are many ways to cross over.  You can be James Brown or Dionne Warwick.  Both have large white audiences.
 
I think the problem is the white comic book buying audience.  They appear to be the deep south of the entertainment world.  
 
Which leads to the bigger problem.  The inability of comic books to be a popular art form.  It's as narrow as the Broadway audience.  
 
Have you ever tried to get a non-comic book reader to buy a comic?  They don't know WHERE to buy a comic.  They don't know HOW to buy a comic (one time?  monthly?  weekly?). They don't know how to read a comic (left to right?  up and down?  across the pages?  oh it changes from book to book..and from PAGE TO PAGE?).  
 
Maybe the future of black comics doesn't involve characters in tights at all.  Maybe they are romance books.  Because black women read a lot more than black men.  
 
Maybe they are not on paper.  
 
We are going to have to be as creative with our business practices as we are with our content.
 
rh
 
Then someone posts:

I've always felt the comics have the poorest distribution in almost all of entertainment. Most kids living in poverty or rural areas dont have access to comic stores and we wont even get into the Internet therefore have no access or any opportunity to be an audience to build on or solicit.

That being said there isnt a huge demand for books with a broad scope of black characters that the audience can relate to because that part of comics due to the small base is underdeveloped.

I think there are many Blacks and Hispanics that have had exposure to the characters on lunch pales, tv shows etc. but I dont think most people have actually purchased the books in there areas or might not have the means to get to a brick and mortar outlet.

Over the years this has led to many people feeling that they have a relationship with these characters but dont necessarily have them in their possession. Its one of the reasons I think the movies have done well now that those generations have gotten older wider accessability with games and film.

I dont think the infrastructure of comics can support them being on paper in a PROFITABLE way in general. I think this exposes the industries major flaw to ALL of its audience lack of accessibility. The major players have never created a sole entity that could help advance the industry and improve its bottom line. There are many opinions on "Why" that is, but regardless I thinks its too late in general to turn that around media is king.

On to the positive. I think the answer to distribution or an alternative to access is being built. I think whats next is a more media friendly solution and its more advanced that even Motion Comics because its more viral and easier to consume.

What I mean by consume is that everything that the consumer wants they want on the go, its hard to read comics on the go, on the plane ( getting it out of the carry on bag, or read it while driving etc. ) If comics were being delivered in a more media savvy way like film, but in a format perfect for IPhone, Sprint online sharing and collaboration with the creators now that would be something special.

Consumers want to be a part of their entertainment now theres no way to do that with a comic as they are being published currently. I feel that will change as well and for 5 years I've been working on the solution.

I've been building an alternative distribution channel for not only the comics but for how media is built and populated partially because I think in order for comics to return to glory they need to have multiple formats that are based on how consumers want to enjoy them. If less people read, then read them the consumer and if they dont want to listen make the pictures moving tell the story.

You know what they say "If your just pointing out the negatives and not offering up solutions your a part of the problem".

I want to be a major player in the solution, because I think the upside is tremendous and I think it will give EVERYONE an opportunity to consume the content.

Great entertainment is colorless and distribution is king. Comics as they are ( in general) are losing on both sides of this equation. Hopefully I can change that to some degree later this year.
 
Another post:

Everyone who has responded has raised some very good points. I've been thinking about this topic a lot lately, having completed my first novel, featuring a teenage black hero, and wondering if I will ever find an audience. I didn't want to have a character who "happened to be black" nor did I want a character whose sole defining trait was his blackness. Instead, I did what ever good writer should strive to do, and I made my character a complex human being. His blackness is a part of him and at the same time, it isn't something I shy away from.

As black creators, I believe our responsibility is to create compelling characters, period. If our characters are black, white or purple, they need to be well developed. This is the best way for any audience to invest their time (and money) in the stories we are telling. All too often, black creators fall into the trap of thinking that if a character is black, then that's enough. We've all seen these movies, read these books and comics. That is too much like the Tyler Perry School of Catering to the Lowest Common Denominator. And don't get me wrong, I don't hate Tyler Perry, I'm just waiting for him to make a movie that I can enjoy.

Which was followed by Scott Christian Salva, who responded to my post by saying:

Man...this is the best response so far (sorry to the other guys).
:)

As the...uh..."white guy in the room" I guess. I was comfortable sitting silently and trying to understand this a bit more from your perspectives.
I write both kids and teen graphic novels. I stay away from Super Hero books. And haven't worked for Marvel since I did Spidey back in 2002.

My books don't sell well in comic shops for (I believe) the SAME reason why Reggie is saying that comics with black characters aren't selling as much.
The audience.

Any time I see a comic shop (be it in NY, Los Angeles, or here in Nashville) it's owned and run by white guys, and populated by them.
Not kids. Not girls. And not much ethnic diversity.

So...my books don't sell well there.

But...in bookstores. They do.
In schools they do.
Online...they do.

Kids are in schools. They love the books.
Teens are online. They love my online webcomic.

Is it possible (and this is something Kevin and Mat and I have discussed at length) that we're killing ourselves trying to "fix" an industry that's too far gone...and going the way of the dodo bird?

Rather than trying to fix the old and tired "monthly pamphlets" system...why not be at the forefront of something bigger?
The next step?
Be it webcomics or a color kindle or bookstores...why not REBOOT the comic industry with a more realistic world view?

Hope this makes sense.
And thanks for letting me be a part of this thread of conversation.

which was followed by:


The answer to this, in my opinion, is maybe a little more simple than any of us want to admit, or are willing to except.

First, black creators need to upgrade their product.

Dropping content into this genre that is targeted at fitting in with "mainstream" productions and then competing for those dollars is starting at the bottom, and trying to push this dead truck up a proverbial mountain. It can be done, but in what time and at what cost? If our product is not visionary, and game changing, than we are wasting our time. The unaddressed market that we are speaking to expects more out of us than merely fitting in. Mr. Hudlin states "Maybe the future of black comics doesn't involve characters in tights at all." This I believe, speaks to the true heart of the matter. We all know that when adapting a comic property to film a reworking must be done... an enhancement for a seemingly more sophisticated media and audience. In actuality, the audience is the same, and the capability of a comic to pull off advance design concepts is at least equal to the other mediums. Why then are we relegated to men in tights, or rather, black men in costumes that imitate white men in tights?

Secondly, doing "Black" product is not self-sabotage, but is far too limiting for the problem to be addressed on any scale outside of family, friends and neighbors.

The problem here is "Black" product. When defining it and labeling it so, it is implied that anyone who buys it, is buying into the concept that they are joining a cause,  investing in a movement that may not be consistent either with their agenda... or maybe not what they want to think about when stepping into an escapist medium.

It is the time to produce content that features Blacks as well as other minorities in marque positions conceived by the people who are able to understand the subtleties in characterization enough to produce compelling portrayals... themselves. It is also time to address the short-sighted nature of black professionals within this industry. It is reactionary and backward, limiting itself by the rules of a construct that has discriminated
against, demeaned and insulted it.

We all have been guilty of this. It is part of the process by which we developed our individual skill sets, but enough already time to graduate.

The product created must address better design and more complete stories like other media productions do... not downgraded for what is perceived to be a mainstream audience... and geared toward affecting, or infecting, an international community with powerful intuitive concepts including sensitivities and sensibilities that can only come from the sociologically oppressed... like Blues, Jazz, and Hiphop.

Thirdly, addressing the medium of comics in relation to new technology is paramount to the success of the art form. Relying on paper and current paper distribution to address a modern electronic based market is just old.

Reginald Hudlin: "... Maybe they are not on paper.  We are going to have to be as creative with our business practices as we are with our content. "

Well said.

grey

There's more posts, and I'll add them later, but I thought this was a great, civil, already public discussion that needed a home, so I put it on the board. Sorry for not knowing everyone's name who posted.





  



Offline Seven

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Re: The Black Comic Book debate
« Reply #1 on: September 26, 2009, 09:21:22 am »
Wow. Awesome stuff. I agree with you, and Mcduffie. Also Scott Christian Salva had some very good points.

On CBR there is a debate there on something similar.

http://forums.comicbookresources.com/showthread.php?t=287113

Examples of the comic reader with issue of powerful black males...

Offline Mastrmynd

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Re: The Black Comic Book debate
« Reply #2 on: September 26, 2009, 09:27:12 am »
wow.
this is a great read.
i dont have anything to add that can outdo what has been stated.


Listen to my entertaining radio show, "The Takeover: Top 20 Countdown" at www.top20takeover.VVCRadio.com.

Right on to the real and death to the fakers!  Peace out!

Offline JLI Jesse

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Re: The Black Comic Book debate
« Reply #3 on: September 26, 2009, 02:14:19 pm »
I think the problem is the white comic book buying audience.  They appear to be the deep south of the entertainment world. 

That's too much of a generalization for my tastes. 

Offline Reginald Hudlin

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Re: The Black Comic Book debate
« Reply #4 on: September 26, 2009, 03:17:21 pm »
Jesse, you my man 50 grand, but how else do you explain the continued resistance to black characters by the broader comic book buying audience?  You can argue execution all day, but the fact that BLADE can't sell comics but can make a millions at the box office says a lot to me. 

I"m not saying white fans are chewing tobacco and going to Klan rallies...but there is a hostility to black leads that you don't see in broader entertainment venues.

Offline jefferson L.O.B. sergeant

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Re: The Black Comic Book debate
« Reply #5 on: September 26, 2009, 07:05:38 pm »
I think the problem is the White comicbook buying audience. They appear to be the Deep South of the entertainment world.

Reginald Hudlin

Sometimes you read something that resonates with so much truth that you have to pause. This was one of those times.

While the point has been made about the success of Black men in modern cinema, I think the point about the resistance of the White comicbook buying audience is made more apparent when you look at rap music.

The hyper-masculine standard in rap has been a pre-requisite ever since LL came out in 85. The imagery surrounding most of the prominent figures in Rap is clearly akin to the elements that are present in Superheroes.

The archetypes for Black males in rap stem from the Blackploitation period but they work in the same manner as the myth making around Superheroes.

If Rap can be the most popular genre of music in the world and have 80% of its sales attributed to Whites, why can't a Black lead in comics hold a title up in the top 20? 

Offline jefferson L.O.B. sergeant

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Re: The Black Comic Book debate
« Reply #6 on: September 26, 2009, 07:07:46 pm »
I'm stealing the Deep South line by the way. 8)

Offline Reginald Hudlin

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Re: The Black Comic Book debate
« Reply #7 on: September 26, 2009, 08:39:43 pm »
I'm stealing the Deep South line by the way. 8)

Just give attribution.

Offline jefferson L.O.B. sergeant

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Re: The Black Comic Book debate
« Reply #8 on: September 26, 2009, 10:48:58 pm »
I'm stealing the Deep South line by the way. 8)

Just give attribution.

This would negate the idea of stealing BUT I will stick to both the academic and HEF standard and do as you ask.

Offline BmoreAkuma

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Re: The Black Comic Book debate
« Reply #9 on: September 26, 2009, 10:55:01 pm »
hmmm very interesting convo. But at times i find it funny that a number of people would use "just happen to be non-white" comments about said characters. As long as they "don't announce their blackness". What I find on the bullsh*t of the response is that not all people act the same regarding their skin color.
With these choices, I felt that the American black man only needed to choose which one to get eaten by; the liberal fox or the conservative wolf because both of them will eat him.

Offline Reginald Hudlin

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Re: The Black Comic Book debate
« Reply #10 on: September 27, 2009, 03:59:38 am »
I think a lot of people project their personal preferences into generalizations about the marketplace that don't hold up in analysis.  They see the problem as executional, while I see it as structural. 

If the "Cosby" approach worked, John Stewart would be the main Green Lantern now.  He's always been a classy guy, and to most of the non-comic reading world, he IS the Green Lantern through the animated series.  But he was pushed aside for no good reason.


Offline JLI Jesse

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Re: The Black Comic Book debate
« Reply #11 on: September 27, 2009, 07:02:54 am »
Jesse, you my man 50 grand, but how else do you explain the continued resistance to black characters by the broader comic book buying audience?  You can argue execution all day, but the fact that BLADE can't sell comics but can make a millions at the box office says a lot to me. 

I"m not saying white fans are chewing tobacco and going to Klan rallies...but there is a hostility to black leads that you don't see in broader entertainment venues.

I don't know if it is so much resistance than just a choice they make based on their interest.  I think there is a difference there.  People tend to gravitate more towards what they know.  I think that is just natural.  I don't think there s any hatred there (other than the obvious morons).  Just like so many people here love Milestone...its something they can relate to (and I realize that their options fr black heroes are limited).

When thinking of the deep south comment, I'd imagine that they are not buying because they don't want to read about a black character.  I think in reality they just not particularly care about the character in general (though there is probably a bigger problem there, though I think that comes from lack of quality black characters).  Unfortunately, there are not many high profile black characters.  So when one of them gets a book, its somewhat of a gamble.  I could care less about Black Lightning...but I could also care less about Geo Force.  I wouldn't buy a Black Lightning book, but that has nothing to do with his race.  When it comes to Blade, I have tried, I think, two separate series since 2000. And with all due respect to the writers, I didn't think that any of those books were very good.  I stuck with them for a few issues and dropped them over quality.  I do the same with many books.

I know you didn't mean we were all at Klan rallies burning copies of District X, but I think it can be off putting to white audiences to hear things put that way.  I know I know, whoa as me the white guy  ;) but with the internet, all it takes is some idiot to put that comment out of context and all that nonsense starts up again.  I enjoyed most of that response and think it is important to get to the root of the problem, but think we should be careful when insulting the very audience we want to introduce the world of black characters to.

Offline JLI Jesse

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Re: The Black Comic Book debate
« Reply #12 on: September 27, 2009, 07:06:23 am »
If the "Cosby" approach worked, John Stewart would be the main Green Lantern now.  He's always been a classy guy, and to most of the non-comic reading world, he IS the Green Lantern through the animated series.  But he was pushed aside for no good reason.

Reg, I gotta disagree with you there too.  John WAS pushed aside for a reason. 

Hal Jordan. 

I know John was in the cartoon, but I didn't watch that; I read the comics.  For most of my comic book life, Hal has been THE Green Lantern.  Guy is my favorite, I like John and Kyle too, but it was always going to be Hal in the end, whether he was displacing John, Kyle or Guy.

I'd rather have John join GL Corp and get the time he deserves there.  He's proven himself to be a leader and I'd like to see him join the honor guard with Guy and Kyle.

Offline BmoreAkuma

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Re: The Black Comic Book debate
« Reply #13 on: September 27, 2009, 08:06:07 am »
That is good point because like Dmac stated the Cosby show didn't come off "just happen to be black". The show did demonstrate a number of "black themes". His second show did the same thing as well.  So what Im trying to figured out is what is the excuse for the shows today? Fresh Prince of Bel-Air pulled it off. Lincoln Heights is decent but then to make it seem it isn't a fully black show they forced an interracial relationship with one of the girls. Cosby was a black family and you didn't see any of the kids bringing home a person of another race. Nothing is wrong with that but at the same time I can't stand to look at token characters.

I ran into something interesting, if one does notice it a bit why do the majority of the black heroes/villians rarely wear a full costume or no costume at all. You would either see the Luke Cage type (no suit at all) , the john stewart type (black version of already established white hero), or the black lighting type (has a suit but only covers his eyes). Other than the black panther i think he is the only one that has a mask but then "black" is in front of his name.
With these choices, I felt that the American black man only needed to choose which one to get eaten by; the liberal fox or the conservative wolf because both of them will eat him.

Offline Vic Vega

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Re: The Black Comic Book debate
« Reply #14 on: September 27, 2009, 09:07:11 pm »
I've long said that the reason that new characters of color have had such a tought time in this marketplace is because fan audience is culturally identical to the creative audience-in many cases its the same guys-so fanboys have had a least a deacade of stuff being narrowcast at them.

So something written from a afrocentric veiwpoint or a female viewpoint freaks the fanbase out severely.

Marvel tries to market Arana to young Latinas who I'm sure never knew the book existed. Yet the Dora the Explorer creators are swimming in a sea of cash. So Latinas are buying stuff markted to them.

Marvel also tried to market the Tsunami line to younger readers-and only the most overtly super hero-y book of the lot(Runaways) stuck.

Marvel's now marketing a kidified version of thier Superhero line to the 8-10 market.

D.C's has a little more sucess with Vertigo mainly because of the Sandman book but even they have not been able to dupicate that title's popularity with women.

For the most part the brothers, Latinas and kids period are not in comics stores. Thies would be a problem since 98 percent of your product and the advertising for it is there.  

Let's see the big two try to get back on magazine racks with a magazine format like Source, like Latina and Giant Robo.
« Last Edit: September 30, 2009, 04:11:25 pm by Vic Vega »