We’re Here: Black Women Working in Comics
I’ve been a writer as long as I can remember. My mother recalls me sitting quietly in the living room taking construction paper, a hole puncher, yarn, crayons and writing and illustrating my ‘first’ book at 6 years old. As I grew, the stories I wrote became more thoughtful, more complex and somehow I landed in the arena of comics. Comics became my refuge at an early age; granted I’ve always read different types of books and novels, but comics stole my heart. They combined art with the written word; I was just thunderstruck by the perfection of the blending of the two. Creating characters was an ongoing practice for me, at 10 years old I was certain that Marvel or DC would want to buy my characters. My mother even called the Marvel offices for me to see if they would be willing to. Now here I am several decades’ later, writing, creating and selling my very own line of comic books.
With all that said, in addition to being a writer and a business owner; I happen to be a Woman…a Black Woman, working in Comics. To some, that might seem like an anomaly, a fluke, a unicorn among purebred horses. But I am, none of these things, I’m just me; a person who loved comics so much that they wanted to write and create them. Nevertheless, there was some rigorous discussion this week about Marvel Comics introducing a new Iron Man; a 15-year-old black girl named Riri Williams. There was an overwhelming amount of support via social media, to see a young black woman take over the mantle of such an iconic character in the Marvel Universe. At the same token, there were equal concerns that the creative team did not include a woman, let alone a black woman, writer. To some, this fact doesn’t matter; the only thing that does is that the journey of Riri is done justice and that the story is thoughtful and engrossing. To others, they want the same exact thing from this revamped series, however, would like the addition of authenticity: a Black Woman telling the story of her fictional counterpart.
In a world whose history is filled with white, male writers who write or have written various books about multicultural people whose lives did not reflect their own; their perspectives, thoughts, and creativity is, (up until recent years), never questioned. However, when people of color question it or voice a desire to write their own narrative; it tends to fall on deaf, skeptical ears. As an Independent Comic Book Creator, I would be the first to tell you how important it is to create the books that you want to read; especially if you are writing books that marginalized audiences are hungry for. Before the massive amounts of revamps and reboots in mainstream comics that allowed the emergence of more visually diverse characters; there was and still is the indie comic book scene. We foresaw the need in the market for more characters representing marginalized communities- those characters reflected us; from our skin color, culture, gender, orientation and more. Our books and stories were a love letter to our communities simply saying ‘I see you’.
On the flip side, as a Comic Book Professional, the most important factor for a company, in general, is to hire whoever is the best person to tackle the job. Storytelling both visually and written should hold precedent above all else and it is the fans whose opinion matters most because they are the ones that will keep the book going and on the shelves. This is all relative; all companies want to make money, expand their business, and work with talented people. There are certainly plenty of talented Comic Book Writers that happen to be Black Women. They exist; we are everywhere. Although it seems to some that we are hidden or are far and few in between, our numbers are larger than people think. A few names are: Jewels Smith, Taneka Slotts, C. Spike Trotman, Micheline Hess, Shawnee & Shawnelle Gibson, Shauna J. Grant, Dani Dixon, Cheryl Lynn Eaton, Nilah Magruder, Vita Ayala and the list continues. Many of us are making and selling our own comics and are happy with that, others are open to freelancing and working with other companies. Having choices is amazing, but only if one would can be afforded the opportunity. We can’t attempt to play on the field if we’re not even considered for the game. Until that happens, we will continue to journey through this industry; steadfast and unafraid, making a way for ourselves to hone and succeed in our craft. If anyone really wants to find us, they know where we are.
For more information about Women of Color working in the Comic Book Industry. Check out these websites:
Cartoonists of Color: http://cartoonistsofcolor.com/
Women in Comics Collective International: www.womenincomicscollective.org