Cooper’s 10-page comic book, “It’s a Bird,” became available digitally Wednesday. Illustrated by Alitha E. Martinez, inked by Mark Morales and colored by Emilio Lopez, the comic is the first issue of “Represent!,” a digital series from DC Comics that will showcase writers and artists from groups that are underrepresented in the industry.
“It’s a Bird” features Jules, a teenager given a pair of binoculars by his father and told to explore his surroundings. Jules, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of birds, is quickly harassed by those threatened by his presence as an unannounced Black man in an open space.
That and other moments of hostility evoke racial profiling that Cooper and other Black birders have experienced, but the story turns slightly mystical when Jules begins using his binoculars and sees images of Black people who have fallen to police violence, including Amadou Diallo, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
Cooper works as a senior editorial director at Health Science Communications and didn’t think he would wind up back at one of the superhero publishers so quickly, but here he is.
“I really appreciated it when [DC Comics] came to me and said do you want to do this comic, because I did have something to say,” he said in an interview. “It’s interesting how it slips into maybe this space in the DC Universe that isn’t normally occupied. It is a very magical-realist tale. There is something fantastical that happens in the course of the story. But it’s not capes. It’s not superheroes.”
“I haven’t been sitting around thinking I’m going to get into comics again,” he added, “But when this opportunity [was] presented I was like, ‘Oh, hell yeah. I want to do this.’ ”
Cooper said that when he began “It’s a Bird,” he didn’t know what type of comic book writer he would find within himself.
“I was very unsure when I first started writing it, because I haven’t done a comic in 20 years,” Cooper said. “But I started doing it, and I’m like, not only do I remember how to do this, but I actually think I’m doing a reasonably good job and I’m enjoying the hell out of it.”
Cooper gave Jules’s black binoculars a central role in the comic in part because, as a Black birder, having a pair in your hands invites ignorant eyes to assume they are a weapon. But the tool has a much deeper sentimental meaning to him. Cooper’s late father, a teacher, civil rights activist and Korean War veteran, gave him the binoculars he always uses in Central Park as a 50th-birthday gift.
“To me, those binoculars have an extra weight,” Cooper said. “They are more than just binoculars to me. And I wanted to weave that into the comic as well.”
As enjoyable as it was to reconnect with creating comics, Cooper had to prepare himself for the emotions of working on a story that wove in so much Black pain. While writing, no matter the subject, he said, he is always able to emotionally detach. That was the case while writing “It’s a Bird,” but not so when he saw Martinez’s illustrated pages.
“When the artwork came back and I saw the visuals, I literally gasped,” Cooper said. “It was almost too powerful. I think the one that got me the most was the Breonna Taylor image. That one kind of kicked me in the gut when I saw it.”
Any DC Comics fan can tell you that “It’s a Bird” is a clear nod to Superman (It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Superman!). But Cooper also saw the title as a way to pay tribute to the fallen Black lives he featured.
“At the end, [the story] takes that phrase that is associated with Superman and just launches to this other place, to this moment of grace that so many were denied in how they died and kind of giving that to them in fiction what they didn’t get in real life,” Cooper said. “I think that was very important to do.”
Cooper said he hopes that the “Represent!” series, which will have more titles in 2021, will reach new readers of comic books and discover new talent. And he’s looking to do more writing himself after this eye-opening experience.
“This reminded me that storytelling is your fundamental nature,” Cooper said. “Coming up with these wacko, fantastical things is what you are about. So why aren’t you doing it? So, absolutely. On my agenda is do more storytelling.”