IT’S NO LONGER difficult to find diversity among comic-book crusaders, of course, what with major comic book publishers tossing the mantles of some of the most well-known superheroes onto the shoulders of characters of color. But do these new heroes bring about significant change in the worlds they inhabit?
Not enough, says a team of industry veterans, who are hoping to bring about a change in narrative themselves when it comes to comic-book protagonists of color.
This morning, writer Kwanza Osajyefo and artist Jamal Igle are launching a $30,000 Kickstarter campaign that, if successful, in turn will launch the creation of their comic book “Black.”
“Black” is the story of Kareem Jenkins, a young victim of racial profiling who is gunned down by police but survives. Taking a bullet and living to tell about it, places Kareem in a secret society of sorts. He’s whisked away by a mysterious character named Juncture, who reveals to Kareem the world’s biggest secret: A portion of the world’s black population have superpowers. For centuries, the government has kept this a secret to avoid global war, as some in the world would seek to exploit these abilities.
Osajyefo says that in surveying the changes being made at such major publishers as Marvel Comics, a story like “Black” is still important, and necessary. Despite the fact that there’s a black Captain America and a black/Puerto Rican Spider-Man, Osajyefo thinks that such moves arent’ feel-good changes; they’re just business, he says, as a strategy to adapt to the changing complexity of the reading market.
Beyond that, Osajyefo believes a story like “Black” is significant amid the lack of diversity he sees within the diversity efforts.
” ‘Black’ is important because aside from age and abilities, I can’t distinguish between Sam Wilson (Captain America) and Miles Morales (Spider-Man),” Osajyefo tells The Post’s Comic Riffs. “I mean, I enjoy both characters, but they are very ‘Cosby Show’: cookie-cutter, inoffensive blacks who don’t reflect contrasts within black culture itself. Most publishers lack the internal insight to create content that expresses black culture in a way that really reflects us.
“It’s a double-edged sword, because comics’ bureaucratic homogeneity limits the perception of race,” he continues. “The whole mantle-passing is an example that becomes pandering if you consider that Peter Parker is still Spider-Man and Steve Rogers has resumed his role. It diminishes their torch-bearers to token positions.”
With the support of a Kickstarter fund, the creative team behind “Black” hopes to have a digital presence by midyear, with a printed graphic novel coming later in the year. The “Black” graphic novel will be an “exclusive limited edition.”
“We’re open to distribution partners for physical periodicals and the graphic novel, but whatever that latter product is, it will be different from this Kickstarter run,” Osajyefo says.
Igle, the artist on “Black,” will offer perks for the Kickstarter campaign, with donors getting the chance to obtain original sketches or perhaps be illustrated into the story.
As for the comic itself, Igle says that he’ll try to apply a grittier approach to this story.
“While I’m known for a certain aesthetic when it comes to my work, I try to bring a different approach to every project I do. It’s no exception with ‘Black,’ as well,” Igle tells Comic Riffs. “I’m going to try and introduce a grittier element to the pages — a more graphic element. I think the more grounded approach will make Kareem, Juncture and their struggle against the more realistic foes we’ve set up in this story pop.”
As to whether a tale like “Black” could ever be told at a major publisher, Osajyefo says the short answer is no. The main reason is, he says, is the continued lack of diversity in editorial positions in the industry.
“I think that the reasons why such stories have not been told by a major publisher is interesting to dissect,” he says. “In my 15 years of experience between Marvel and DC, I’ve only met two other black editors, and they were assistants — and no black women.”
“The point is that the absence of black characters is symptomatic of a systemic lack of inclusion among the stewards of these characters,” he continues, “That isn’t to suggest an intentional omission so much as a self-perpetuating environment lacking any perspective that isn’t white male – I think that pretty much sums up the comics industry for the past seven decades.”
So what else can Kickstarter supporters of “Black” can expect from the story? The creators offer a little more:
Kareem will be the central character, and he will be conflicted about the secret word he’s exposed to. Juncture is a former soldier of war looking to prevent conflict. And though there is no overarching villain, some may see evil in the actions of Theodore Mann, the head of a billionaire family that has benefited for centuries from exploiting blacks.
With social media now giving a digital voice to those who had none before, and having an impact in making issues heard, the creative team behind “Black” does hope that those voices can find the time to support their project.
“Black stories cannot be a commodity to benefit the whim of oligarchies, now that they’ve figured out there is money to be had from consumers of color,” said Osajyefo, while noting Marvel’s recent controversy over initial limited diversity among the ranks of its hip hop variant cover artists.
“The context of ‘Black’ reflects an experience that now has more visibility thanks to social media,” he says. “It may attract one demographic more than others, but it parallels current events – so it is a universal story. I do want the support of black people, specifically because we need to take ownership of our narrative.”