February 7


Black History Month Feels Empty at the Big Two. But Why?


February 7, 2024

It’s February, and the Black History Month tributes are pouring in. Target’s Black Beyond Measure TV spot has been placed in front of every video I’ve seen on Tubi this week. There’s a great selection of vaguely ethnic pottery strategically placed on the end caps of most big box retailers. And Marvel and DC just put out their annual BHM anthologies — Marvel’s Voices: Legends and DC Power 2024 — our annual reminders that Marvel and DC have hired black freelancers and created black characters before. It’s all part of the post-George Floyd commercialization of allyship, and I’m having a hard time digesting any of this as more than a fleeting moment of pandering for dollars.

As a Black man in the comics media space, my relationship with it all is… complicated. I became a comics fan in 2019. I had recently brought my daughter to a Free Comic Book Day event, hoping she’d be inspired by the local artists giving out free sketches. By staying connected with the shop on social media, I ended up winning a copy of House of X #1 in a contest months later. I picked up my winnings, went home and read the book, and got hooked. I’ve been in that comic shop every Wednesday since.

As my infatuation with the medium grew, I naturally turned to YouTube to learn more. Among the genuinely helpful comic reviews, reading orders and story guides, I also found something darker. A group called Comicsgate. They’d grown disenchanted with mainstream comics and the corporate push for diversity and representation. Their rallying cries ranged from somewhat understandable concern to outright racism, misogyny and fear-mongering. Spider-Man is white, Miles Morales is the devil, and Carol Danvers is lying about 9/11. It all became incredibly exhausting. Part of the reason I’m here now is because I got tired of watching 6 minutes of a comic review, then looking for the remote because someone clearly switched to the EIB Network when I wasn’t looking. But despite all the noise and outrage online, comics are still pretty white. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some numbers.

Of the 75 comics published the week of January 31st, just 8 were written or drawn by an African-American creator. If we take away the independent/creator-owned books, that number drops to 4. Stephanie Williams’ backup story in Batman/Superman: World’s Finest 2024 Annual, Victor LaValle’s co-plotting of Wolverine #42, and the aforementioned Marvel’s Voices and DC Power anthologies. As I write this, there are just two Black writers assigned to an ongoing comic at the Big Two — Bryan Hill on Blade & Ultimate Black Panther, and Cody Ziglar on the outstanding Miles Morales: Spider-Man title. There are zero Black creators with ongoing assignments at DC Comics.

In general, creators of color seem forced to bankroll their own productions, or destined for a life in miniseries purgatory, having to string together freelance work in animation, television and other media just to keep their lights on while they wait for the next call from a Big Two editor. Those facts make it hard to get excited about Marvel’s Voices or DC Power. Which is a shame, because both are very well done.

Angélique Roché has been doing great work documenting the contributions of minorities for Marvel’s Voices podcast and anthology comic series. John Jennings wrote an awesome introduction to this year’s installment, right before David F. Walker kicked things off with a brilliant story featuring Elijah Bradley, The Patriot. I loved reading the biographies and interviews included as supplemental material in Marvel’s Voices: Legends #1, and can’t wait to pick up a copy of My Superhero is Black, a historical overview of Marvel’s Black characters and creators due out in 2025. These professionals are doing work they should be proud of, and I’ll gladly support them with my dollars. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that the Marvel’s Voices series is full of out-of-continuity stories that they have no plans to incorporate into the general publishing line.

I can see the conversation with my daughter now…

“Hey! Misty Knight looks cool, right? Where else can you find her? Umm… well she’s kind of in the Miles Morales book, but it’s not really about her. Maybe they’ll do another story with her next February.”

Despite the resurgence of Milestone Media, things don’t get much better at the Distinguished Competition either.

For the second year in a row, DC Power editor Marquis Draper has made it a point to spotlight up-and-coming creators of color, pairing them with industry legends and giving them the chance to work on some of their favorite characters. Last year, a story in DC Power led to Milestone Initiative alum Morgan Hampton being assigned a 6-issue Cyborg miniseries. But how long before these creators are called up to the big leagues? Greg Burnham. Chuck Brown. Brandon Thomas. Stephanie Williams. Don’t the powers that be know all these names are legends on the convention circuit already? Is it fair that they still have to sell comics out of the trunks of their cars to stay afloat? As these anthologies so eagerly point out, it’s not like there’s a shortage of characters for them to work on.

Lonzo Starr’s Konkret Comics Universe

Its worth noting that it’s not all doom and gloom in the Black comics space. Abrams Comicarts tapped John Jennings to curate Megascope, a publishing imprint focused on speculative and historical fiction featuring creators and characters of color. One of their works, Queenie: Godmother of Harlem was nominated for Outstanding Graphic Novel at the 55th NAACP Image Awards. Rodney Barnes has been killing it through 32 issues of Killadelphia. Lonzo Starr finally got direct market distribution for his Konkret Comics publishing line in 2023, and we’ve seen tons of independent success via Kickstarter and other direct-to-consumer efforts in recent years.

Perhaps those are the things I should be focusing on, instead of waiting for the Big Two to put their money where their anthologies are…

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  1. Christopher Priest’s Superman Lost just wrapped up last month and with that you’re most right about DC on that end. Jamal Campbell is doing Superman, mostly covers at the moment. I agree with your take on that black comic creators are not getting many opportunities on major titles. Cody Ziglar will be helming the new Deadpool run which I think is a great fit. I love Miles Morales but sometimes his writing is a little forced on the urbanization of him and his friends. I’m from L.A. of hispanic heritage and its works here and there but I really just want a good story and not how many times Miles can say Bruh! To be honest I really just want great stories from great creators. The real take away I got from this well written op-Ed is what can we do to spread the word on the great black comics creators that are out there? Me being Hispanic I see many many amazing artists compared to writers. I would love to see more Hispanic writers tackle main stay titles as well. I loved the post keep it up BJ!

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