Emily Zinkin discusses Black Comics Month and celebrates black female comic creators
In its entire history DC has only had two black women creators write for them (Felicia Henderson and Angela Robinson), and Marvel’s record is only marginally better, with only a handful of diverse creators working on their titles at any given time. #BlackComicsMonth was created in 2014 by Tee Franklin, a black comics creator, during US Black History Month to highlight the comic creators who are underrepresented by mainstream media. This has since spawned annual panels at New York Comic Con (NYCC), which became the ‘flagship’ diversity in comics panel and has inspired similar panels in other conventions.
Franklin is tired of the word “diversity”, and wants comics instead to represent the world as it actually is, which is not predominantly white, straight, male and able-bodied.
This hasn’t stopped black women creators from bringing us some amazing work, and making sure their stories reach a wide audience, with many using alternative publishing platforms such as webcomics, and funding their projects through initiatives like Kickstarter and Patreon. Here’s just a selection of some of the amazing talent that’s out there. Hopefully in the future there won’t be a need for #BlackComicsMonth to encourage the publication of comics written by black women.
Tee Franklin is a queer, disabled woman of colour who is a vanguard in the campaign for representation in comics and the founder of NYCC’s #BlackComicsMonth: Diversity in Comics panel. Her work featured in Love is Love, the anthology published after the Orlando nightclub attack, and wrote A Blazin’ which was published by Beyond Press (founded and edited by Taneka Stotts).Franklin’s latest comic Bingo Love, is a love story about two queer, black grandmothers who first fall in love at their church’s bingo night, and then find each other and fall in love again decades later. Bingo Love started as a Kickstarter campaign which reached over $57,000 in funding and has now been picked up by Image Comics and will be published on Valentine’s Day 2018.
Mildred Louis studied animation, and whilst she didn’t go down the animation route she’s pursued her love of storytelling to give the world some pretty great stuff. Louis started publishing her webcomic Agents of the Realm in 2014, and continues to update it twice a week for free, though you can support her on Patreon. Agents of the Realm follows five women at college who not only have to deal with the usual ups and downs of higher education and life as young adults, but also have to defend another realm. It riffs off classical Magical Girl tropes whilst also presenting a nuanced story with characters who are diverse in attitude, appearance, sexuality and origin. This is a great coming of age comic with a central though subtle message that you don’t need to be stronger or better, you’re enough already as you are.Louis is also interested in tarot and her Oracle’s Crest pins and artwork aim to depict key figures with a closer focus on black mysticism. She also has a queer high fantasy graphic novel Bound Blades which is slated to be published in late late 2018, and I for one am very excited to read it.
Shauna J. Grant
Shauna J. Grant is a cartoonist and illustrator from New York City with a deep love of all things Magical Girls, who uses the genre to inspire her own artwork. Grant is passionate about diversity and her aim is to present girls of colour as cute heroes of their own stories, something mainstream media often fails to do. She has a degree in cartooning from the School of Visual Arts and has worked with publishers such as Boom! Studios. She was also on NYCC’s #BlackComicsMonth panel with Tee Franklin in 2017.Grant’s webcomic, Princess Love Pon may be the sweetest thing the internet ever gifted us. Following the adventures of Lia Sagamore, a high school senior who becomes a magical warrior after meeting an enchanted bunny, this is a webcomic that can be enjoyed by anyone at any age.
Having read comics and illustrated her own stories since school, Myisha Haynes is now a games artist by day and a comics creator by night. She started creating her webcomic The Substitutes in 2015. The Substitutes follows the adventures of three accidental heroes from our world who find magical weapons and have to take on more than they were bargaining for. The people the weapons were meant for also have to deal with no longer being the chosen ones and their fall from grace. A hilarious webcomic with beautiful art and amazing world building, and between all her other work Haynes still updates on a bi-weekly basis, you can support her on Patreon.Haynes is also involved in a number of projects including working on Gwenpool (an alternative universe mashup of Gwen from Spiderman and Deadpool).
If you haven’t heard of Roxane Gay you’re in for a treat. The author of Hunger and a prolific essayist and writer who has been published in The New York Times, Gay is known for her amazing prose and personal yet analytic approach to issues including body size and sexual assault. Last year Gay made her first foray into comics as a writer for World of Wakanda, bringing some serious literary credentials to comics.World of Wakanda is a new series centring on the fictional African nation of Wakanda, where Black Panther is King. Focusing on the fierce warrior women known as the Dora Milaje, you can expect to read about fierce warrior women in love, and politics in the world of superheroes. Unfortunately this series was cancelled around the same time that David Gabriel (vice president of sales at Marvel) made comments about diversity not being good for comics, and whilst readers are still mourning the loss, Gay will be writing for Lumberjanes shortly, and says she plans to write more comics in the future.
Juliana ‘Jewels’ Smith describes herself as a writer, cultural worker, and educator who focuses on the links between racial justice, gender equity, and political literacy. Whilst working in community colleges she decided that comics would be a great medium with which to reach her students, and began creating (H)afrocentric. She has since been honoured at the African American Library and Museum of Oakland with the first annual Excellence in Comics and Graphic Novels Award, and in 2016 received the Glyph Award for Best Writer for (H)afrocentric Volume 4.
She uses her platform to challenge presumptions about race, gender, class and sexuality, and has spoken about using comics to address these issues at the Schomburg Center, NYCC, Studio Museum of Harlem, Baltimore Book Festival and The Cooper Union.
Described by Smith as “a feminist version of the Boondocks”, (H)afrocentric follows “self-proclaimed black feminist” Naima Pepper and other students of colour through college as they try to tackle issues such as racism, patriarchy, and popular culture, whilst also navigating the complicated relationship between making a difference and trying to fit in. (H)afrocentric presents its characters as individuals, with different backgrounds, goals and aspirations, even as they unite around gentrification, police violence and rent hikes. Smith wants to turn it into an animated series, and in the meantime continues to educate; you can find out more about her work here.
Erika Alexander is an actress best known for playing Maxine Shaw in Living Single. Her graphic novel Concrete Park has been over a decade in the making, having first pitched it as a film over ten years ago with her collaborators Tom Puryear and Robert Alexander (her husband and brother respectively). They pitched it as a science fiction film with a predominantly black cast but were told by a studio executive that they’d need to change the race of the characters as “black people don’t like science fiction — they don’t see themselves in the future.”
Shocked by the executives’ blatant racism, they decided to turn the work into a graphic novel instead, inspired by Puryear’s love of the medium and so they could tell their story in a form that hopefully had less restrictions. Concrete Park was finally serialised in Dark Horse Presents in December 2011, and got a five-issue miniseries in 2014 thanks to popular demand. You can now get it in two collected volumes.
In Concrete Park mass overcrowding causes Earth of the future to ship its poorest youth to the planet Oasis to mine for resources. But nothing grows on Oasis and as resources run low gangs begin to form to fight over what’s left. Amidst growing hopelessness and despair the series explores tribalism, transformation, and the struggle to create meaning in world without hope.
Marguerite Abouet was born in the Côte d’Ivoire but moved to France when she was 12 and wrote her debut graphic novel Aya whilst working as a legal assistant in Paris, having been influenced by Marjane Satrapi, the author of Persepolis.
Whilst not autobiographical Aya is a coming-of-age style graphic novel based on the Ivory Coast Abouet was intimately familiar with, and the characters based on people she knew growing up. With Aya Abouet wanted to show an Africa rarely shown in the media; one that focused on the people and the everyday, domestic triumphs and tribulations, rather than solely focusing on war, famine and AIDs.
Aya has made waves internationally, winning the Angoulême International Comics Festival Prize for First Comic Book in 2006 and selling over 200,000 copies in France and 10,000 in the US.
It would probably be easier to talk about what Taneka Stotts hasn’t done than list everything she has. After spending several years as a spoken word artist, Stotts shifted her focus to comics and enjoys collaborating and creating. A champion of POC creators and independent comics, Stotts is the founder and editor of Beyond Press.Most recently she published the first book in Elements, a series of anthologies featuring creators of colours, which won an Ignatz Award for Outstanding Anthology, and she also edited Beyond: The Queer Sci-Fi and Fantasy Comic Anthology. She has written multiple webcomics such as Deja Brew (which was nominated for an Eisner Award), Love Circuits and Full Circle.
1. Cover image: an illustration of Tee Franklin with her hair tied up wearing a black shirt with #SeasonyourComics in pink writing (used with Franklin’s permission, the cover was created by Gisele Langace).
2. A cover of Tee Franklin’s comic book Bingo Love, with the title in bold font. Three circles with illustrations of two women at various ages, the top one with them sharing a milkshake, the middle with them linking arms outside of a bingo hall and the bottom with them sitting on a park bench together (used with Franklin’s permission).
3. A cover of Mildred Louis’ comic book Agents of the Realm volume 1. Five young women stand in a line looking off to the right whilst holding weaponry, with the title in stylised font below them (used with Louis’ permission).
4. An illustration of Shauna J. Grant’s character Princess Love Pon floating among clouds, wearing a tiara and flowers in her hair, a white and pink dress with a bow at the front and holding a wand with a bow and an orb with a heart at the top (used with Grant’s permission).
5. An illustration from Myisha Haynes’ webcomic The Substitutes. The inside of a subway carriage with three characters picked out in colour, a man and woman sit down holding a green sceptre and blue sword, and a woman with goggles on her head leans against a pole (used with Haynes’ permission).
6. A cover of Roxane Gay’s World of Wakanda volume 1, with the title in bold font at the top. Two women clasp each other’s hands at the top against a red background, a black triangle in the middle contains Black Panther in a defensive pose, and a green section at the bottom shows a woman with her hands in the air. (Image used under fair dealing from Marvel’s official website, http://marvel.com/comics/issue/61406/black_panther_world_of_wakanda_2016_1).
7. A cover of Juliana ‘Jewels’ Smith’s comic book (H)afrocentric volumes 1-4, with the title at the top. Seven characters face different direction and are picked out in different sizes, a woman faces away, a man looks up with his necklace swinging, a man stares straight ahead with his hand on his neck, a man looks at a screen, a man looks down to the left and another looks up to the left, and a woman stares straight ahead smiling and making a peace sign with her hand (used with Smith’s permission).
8. A cover of Erika Alexander’s Concrete Park volume 1, with the title in bold. A woman crouches holding a gun in each hand, wearing a yellow crop top and red trousers with a flower in her hair. The background is a street with a man falling backwards (used with Black Horse Comics, Inc permission, http://www.darkhorse.com/).
9. A cover of Marguerite Abouet’s comic book Aya, with the title in bold. A woman facing ahead looks to the left, her hair in a bun with cars, buildings and people in the background. (Image used under fair dealing from Drawn and Quarterly’s official website, https://www.drawnandquarterly.com/aya)
10. A cover from Taneka Stott’s anthology ELEMENTS: Fire with the title in bold at the top. A three-headed white tiger with flames coming off it stands surrounded by rocks (used with Stott’s permission, credit to Chrystin Garland, http://www.ladygarland.com/).