Tag Archives: black history month

Black (Comic) History Month: Ebony White a Comic Character You Should Know

the spirit ebony whiteWhen celebrating the history of something, I think it’s good to look at the good and bad. There’s a whole lot of good when it comes to “black comic history,” but holy crap is there also a lot of bad. Here’s one of those bad things. Created in 1940 by comic legend Will Eisner, Ebony White was a sidekick to Denny Colt, aka The Spirit. The character is a bit ambiguous, at times being an adult driving a car, and at other times he’s a resourceful kid. Many times the character disarms the villain, or excels in science, no matter the possible age. The character in a lot of ways is an early version of Batman’s Robin, living with The Spirit in his headquarters, having his education sponsored by the Spirit, and even being called his ward at times.

But, the age isn’t the biggest thing about the character. As you can clearly see, the character is designed with the racial stereotypes of the time. With large white eyes, and thick lips, the character is a cringe-worthy character design for an African-American character.

Ebony_White_First_Wave_001The character at the time was both praised and criticized. Eisner himself was mixed about Ebony White. He acknowledged the racial stereotype, but also didn’t apologize, feeling it was what was done during the time.

In the 2007 DC Comics Spirit series the character was updated a bit, and was a 14 year old who illegally drives a taxi. The rather racist history of the character was acknowledged at time with statements made to him, including one about being a lawn jockey. In another reboot of the Spirit, the character is a young girl instead.

Cringe-worthy or not, Ebony White is one of the earliest African American characters to appear in a superhero comic.

Black (Comic) History Month: Milestone Media, a Publisher You Should Know

milestone media logoOur Black History Month coverage continues! Milestone Media is a publisher everyone should know, and you probably know their creations.

Formed in 1993, Milestone Media was created by a coalition of African-America creators, Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Michael Davis, and Derek T. Dingle. The company’s focus was to create a new generation of characters stepping in to fill the void that was the lack of diversity in American comics. Through a partnership with DC Comics, the publisher created memorable series and characters like Hardware, Blood Syndicate, Icon, Static (aka Static Shock), Shadow Cabinet, Xombi, Kobalt, and Heroes.

There were some fundamental ideas the company focused on in their deal with DC Comics:

  1. that they would retain total creative control
  2. that they would retain all copyrights for characters under the Milestone banner
  3. that they would have the final say on all merchandising and licensing deals pertaining to their properties.

The deal wasn’t without controversy, as some saw the deal as a compromise of the founding of the company, to be an independent black comic publisher.

The characters were so important DC has attempted (with mixed success) to incorporate the characters into the DC Universe proper, with the most notable being Static who had his own series, and joined the Teen Titans.

With all of that triumph, Milestone suffered tragedy as well, when creator Dwayne McDuffie passed away almost four years ago at the age of 49 at the peak of his career.

Four years later, and it looks like Milestone Media will rise from that tragedy as Reggie Huddlin (the producer of Django Unchained) along with Cowan and Dingle will revive the publisher for a new generation to discover.

The plan is to bring back many of the classic character as well as introduce new ones. It’s unclear how this might work, considering DC Comics and Warner Bros. are working on a live-action Static Shock series. But sorting all of the business out, as well as building new partnerships is what’s being worked on.

The goal isn’t just to bring back their classic characters, and create new ones, but also develop new talent.

There isn’t a launch date, but there will be some more shown during this year’s San Diego Comic-Con.

 

Black (Comic) History Month: Cyborg, a Comic You Should Read

cyborg-sketch.150_580_54d444e41ee6b0.84559157Is it history if it hasn’t happened yet? Today, DC Comics launched their post-Convergence plan which will see 24 brand-new series joining their current 25 series that’ll continue. DC in their announcement has said diversity, in characters, stories, and creators is a focus this go around, and that’s evident by their choices.

One of the characters getting their own series is Cyborg, who will star is Cyborg. The series will be written David Walker with art by Ivan Reis. Walker should be noted is an African-American creator.

Cyborg debuted in DC Comics Presents #26 in 1980. Created by writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Pérez the character was primarily known as a member of the Teen Titans and has been a staple in the various cartoon depictions of those characters. He was thrust into the spotlight with DC Comics’ relaunch with the New-52 where he became a founding member of the Justice League.

In a revised origin, Cyborg is Victor Stone a high school student and football player who is hurt in an explosion and is fused with an alien technology by his father to save him.

The character is coming to movies with actor Ray Fisher taking on the role. He’ll first be seen on screen in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and will eventually get his own movie in 2020.

Black (Comic) History Month: Oliver W. Harrington, a Comic Creator You Should Know

harrington_kleinWe continue our Black History Month coverage with the first creator profile. I decided to go back in history and while going through some of the earliest cartoonists, I came across Oliver W. Harrington, a creator whose life was as interesting as his importance.

Nicknamed “Ollie,” Harrington was born in 1912 of multi-ethnic descent and passed away in 1995. Harrington was an American cartoonist and an outspoken advocate against racism and for civil rights in the United States, eventually leaving the country to live abroad living in Berlin, East Germany (where he received political asylum) for the last three decades of his life.

Born to a railroad porter, and an immigrant from Austria Hungry, Harrington was the oldest of five children and raised in the Bronx. His artistic talent was shown from a young age, and he used his talents to vent his frustration about the racism he faced growing up and began to take on a racist sixth grade teacher. No matter his talent he was sent to a high school to prepare him to work in the textile industry. But, Harrington focused on his art skill and the Harlem Renaissance. In 1931, he was able to enroll at the National Academy of Design in Manhattan. There, he refined his skills as an artist under the school’s accomplished faculty and earned a modest living as an actor, puppeteer, set designer, and cartoonist.

Dark-Laughter-Satiric-Art-of-Oliver-W-Harrington-Harrington-Oliver-9780878056569In 1932 Harrington began selling political cartoons to Harlem newspapers including the Amsterdam News where he caught the eye of city editor Ted Poston who hired him in 1935. There he used his skills as a cartoonist and political satirist where he created a series called Dark Laughter and then eventually changed the name to Bootsie after its main character. The character was an African-American dealing with racism in the U.S. and Harrington described him as “a jolly, rather well-fed but soulful character.” This strip is one of the first comic strips by a black artist to break onto the national stage.

Harrington’s left-wing politics was a focus of his political cartoons and he took a job as an art instructor with the Works Progress Administration. In 1942 he was named the art editor of the new Harlem newspaper People’s Voice where he created a new comic strip called Live Gray.

During World War II the Pittsburgh Courier sent Harrington as a correspondent to Europe and North Africa. In Italy, he met Walter White, the executive secretary of the NAACP. After the war, Harrington was hired by White to develop the organizations public relations department where he became an outspoken advocate for civil rights.

In his new-found role Harrington published Terror in Tennesse, a controversial expose of increased lynching violence in the post-WW II South. This lead to Harrington debating U.S. Attorney General Tom Clark on the topic of “The Struggle for Justice as a World Force.” He confronted Clark for the U.S. government’s failure to curb lynching and other racially motivated violence.

In 1947 Harrington had a falling out with the NAACP and resumed his career as a political activist and cartoonist where he revived Bootsie for the Pittsburgh Courier. In 1950 he was named the art editor of Freedom, a left-wing newspaper, and took a position as art instructor at New York’s Jefferson School of Social Sciences, a school with a prominent position on the long government list of purportedly subversive and communist organizations. His stance wasn’t helped at all when he went to the Soviet Union in the middle of the Cold War after an invitation from a Soviet humor magazine.

In 1961, he left Paris for East Germany where he requested political asylum and spent the rest of his life in East Berlin. The move was prompted by the death of Richard Wright, a friend of his in 1960 whom he suspected was assassinated and felt the American embassy had a deliberate campaign of harassment directed at the expat community.

In East Germany, Harrington continued his journalism and cartooning working for various communist publications. He illustrated and contributed to publications such as Eulenspiegel, Das Magazine, and the Daily Worker.

He returned to the United States a final time in 1994 as a visiting journalism professor at Michigan State University. After his death in Germany in 1995, Harrington was honored with the establishment of the Oliver Wendell Harrington Cartoon Art Collection at the Walter O. Evans Collection of African-American Art in Savannah, Georgia.

Black (Comic) History Month: Princeless, a Comic You Should be Reading

PL_V3_1_SMALLWe unofficially kicked off our Black History Month yesterday with our latest episode of Graphic Policy Radio which featured Ronald Wimberly. The coverage to expect for the next 25 days will feature a mix of interviews, profiles, reviews, and spotlights on characters and series.

When it came to the first comic series to cover, one immediately jumped out in my mind. Princeless, a series from Action Lab Entertainment and created by Jeremy Whitley, not only features a black main character, but a kick-ass woman too. It fits both Black History Month and Women’s History Month which follows in March. When something has so many positive aspects, it’s kind of hard not to be excited to run to the top of a mountain and yell about it to as many people as possible.

The series which sees its third volume out next week focuses on Princess Adrienne who decides to free herself from her tower and do the same for her sisters. She’s an empowered black woman who’s independent, strong, smart, and knows she can save herself.

In an industry that struggles to feature minorities as characters, let along lead characters, Adrienne is both black and a woman (and we can go into how she’s not drawn in an exploitative way).

The series’ previous volumes are all entertaining, perfect for both adults and kids alike. In fact, it’s the first series I recommend when asked for a comic to put into the hands of a kid interested in comics. The humor works on so many levels, taking jabs at society, the comics industry, and our preconceptions. Princeless might be a fairytale, but it has a modern sensibility about it.

Princeless’ Adrienne is a character we should all be rooting for, and one we should want our kids to look up to. She shows an empowerment, and positive face that’s a rarity on the comic page. She’s exactly what comics needs more of.

The latest volume, Princeless: The Pirate Princess #1, hits shelves next week.

Aspen Comics Celebrates Black History Month

Aspen logo MLT_Aspen Comics will celebrate Black History Month throughout the month of February on multiple social media platforms. The publisher will spotlight Black creators with whom they’ve collaborated three times a week on their website, official Facebook page, Tumblr, and Instagram alongside each creator’s picture and a showcase of their work. The project includes creator spotlights on Koi Turnbull, Khary Randolph, Talent Caldwell, Emilio Lopez, Hannibal Tabu, Eric Battle, Rob Stull, Larry Welch, Saleem Crawford, Keron Grant, Marla Johnson, and Khari Evans. Fathom: Sourcebook writer Tabu compiled each profile, and with them Aspen hopes to honor each and every one of the Black creators with whom they’ve worked in both the past and present.

In the release announcing the project, Tabu said:

I have to give it up to my editors, Andrea Shea and Vince Hernandez, who came up with the idea to have this happen. In a time when some people are giving lip service to diversity, Aspen is showing how it’s worked towards that for years. I’m extraordinarily proud to work with everybody at Aspen. It was an honor to help spotlight and honor the overwhelming talents involved in this project. Reading comics and looking at names that seemed like the ones in my neighborhood made me wonder if there could be a place for me on comic book shelves. Now that I’m on those shelves, I am happy to share these voices, these hands, these people and their stories, especially if there’s a Black child out there looking at these pages and asking the same questions. To paraphrase the work of someone I followed, Dwayne McDuffie, “I can fly … so can you.” I can’t wait to see who comes asking me to participate in this for Aspen in twenty years.

Aspen will be posting these creator spotlights every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of the month at 9AM, starting February 3rd.