I would like to start by saying I bear no ill will toward any independent creators, black or otherwise. Along the course of this article, some may assume I have the ‘crabs in a barrel’ mentality, but that is the furthest from the truth. My only wish is to see my fellow creators succeed and tell the stories that need to be told.
Building a Better Brand
Comic book companies, such as Marvel and DC hire up incoming talent to write monthly books, which allows them to churn out a decent living by doing what they love. I’m not going to talk about why no people of color write for either company, but I will pose the question, why can’t they, people of color, have a piece of the pie? Besides them having larger marketing machines, they have familiar stories, and characters so beloved, that fans of the old stories end up becoming writers of the new ones. Despite the tales being similar, they assure that the same fun had in the past by most fans is enjoyed in the present. So what can the independent creator of color do to even things out, how can we possibly compete with 75-60 years of familiar storytelling? The answer is telling better stories, and no matter how good an idea you have, everything is in the way you share it. As with all groups, the world tends to associate black people with certain behavioral patterns, and those associations begin to stick over time. There are a number of good black writers, but a number of other would be writers who have great ideas, but poor delivery. This coupled with mediocre art, in some cases land black comics in the dark corners of local shops, if at all. If we want top shelf visibility, you need to produce top shelf quality and though the color of your skin shouldn’t matter as far as the product goes, it does.
Buying Black Because…
Buying black is the practice of purchasing goods and services from people of color because; the consumer is a person of color. While a great show of solidarity, a problem emerges when the producers of products take their consumers for granted and expect them to buy anything, regardless of quality. If a creator expects anyone to spend their hard-earned money on a comic then it is that creator’s job to show their best work. I don’t want to spend 2.99-3.50 on a story riddled with exposition and poor character development. Black creators have it especially hard because no one expects us to have literary ability, we don’t benefit by proving the stereotype right. The difference between our counter parts and us is, unless we’re stellar, our work is considered bad, they’re mediocre work can convince readers to buy another issue. What’s worse is that our penchant for creating stories and characters, which resonate with us often gives the comic book buying majority an excuse to dismiss our work as stereotypical or culturally alien. When other black people refuse to buy black they are usually said to be self-hating or unsupportive, which can be true sometimes but other times we’re not humble enough to smell what we’re shoveling.
We’re Not Crabs, We’re People
Sometimes people say or do things to undermine our progress. As black people we’ve gone through this in and outside of our community for many years, but we can’t always be the victim and in some instances must shoulder blame. No one who is black, white or otherwise deserves anything. We sometimes think that the world owes us something because of how our people were treated, but the universe is indifferent in most matters and everything has to be earned. I learned this first hand when veteran writer, Karl Bollers tore one of my scripts to shreds. It was the first time it had happened, and I couldn’t be more thankful that it did. A pat on the back is nice, but can lead to a false sense of accomplishment and stroke the ego. This bolstered pride can make a creator resistant to constructive criticism regardless of the source. Saying that people do not ‘hate’ on the dreams of others would be a bold lie, however that can’t always be true. If someone who has more experience in a particular field than you do offers advice, listen to them. There’s a reason we take writing classes in college and it’s not to pass the time, writing is a craft that must be studied, tested and honed. If a veteran writer reads your work and tells you, it could be tighter, test the observation and look at your story. When you’re writing, things make sense to you the writer, but the rest of the world isn’t behind your eyes, and they can be left confused. A good idea is worthless if it’s not conveyed properly and remember; you’re writing isn’t just a critique on you, but every other black comic writer out there. Read a book on writing, take a class, remember that all characters need an arc, and to show not tell. Take it from me, it’s better to learn your mistakes now and correct them, than to make a habit of it later. Lastly, having an editor is always a good thing, especially if they’re a writer themselves.
Haste Makes Waste
One of the most important things I’ve learned in my experience as a comic writer is, take your time. Black folks are a show me people, whether it be money, clothing or cars we always have to look like we’re about it. However, when it comes to writing, everything you do should be drafted and redrafted. Something’s make sense years after you think about them; others seem like the stupidest idea in the world once you give them some thought. Take my first published comic “The Hierophants”, I wanted it out so bad, to prove to myself that I was a writer, the main character’s first name wasn’t even mentioned in the issue. Looking back at it, I shudder to think that I was so oblivious of my own mistakes, but I was, and I’ve learned from them making me a better writer all around. There is no shame in taking your time and reviewing your work, because though quick release maybe satisfying in the short-term, it’s often hollow in the long run.
The Race Yet to Run
While many of us are still finding our way in the world of comic book writing, trying make a dollar out of fifteen cents, we need to make sure we’re above-board. We know we have to work three times as hard and twice as long to get anywhere near the other half. I won’t say we should beg for jobs, but I will say we need to give them some competition. I believe we can do it with a little care and a standard, one we create, by which our work can be judged.