On Friday night, I had the honor and privilege to attend the opening gala for the latest exhibit at the Geppi Entertainment Museum in Baltimore. Curated by Milestone Media co-founder Michael Davis and Tatiana El-Kouri — with John Jennings consulting, the exhibit “Milestones: African Americans in Comics, Pop Culture, and Beyond” was a showcase for the artists who make up the African American pop art experience. Representing a true cross-section of popular culture, the pieces on display spanned decades and demonstrated the vastness and diversity of African American artistic expression.
The reason why it is so important to shine a light on this work and these creators can be summed up by actor/singer/host/television personality Wayne Brady, who appeared in a prerecorded video welcoming visitors to the exhibit:
Growing up an avid comic book kid in the late ‘70s — early ‘80s, the impact of seeing someone who looked like me in a comic book was just as important as seeing someone who looked like me on the big screen or TV. I remember being so stoked at seeing Falcon, Luke Cage, and Black Panther. Finally we had our Supermen and things would never be the same again. I didn’t have to fight other kids on the playground to be Batman! I had a choice.
The show has been in the works for more than a year. The Geppis — the family that runs the museum, as well as Diamond Comic Distributors, the world’s largest distributor of comics and pop culture collectibles — first approached Davis to curate the show in early 2012 and the plan was always meant to showcase up and coming artists in addition to more established ones.
It was also important for Davis to shine a spotlight on aspects of popular culture beyond comics. As he said in his address to the assembled crowd, “African American art and pop culture isn’t just a ‘black thing.’ It’s an American thing.“
Davis said as much in the months leading up to the opening:
I also want to see non-black artists who have worked on or been influence by black pop culture. That means you don’t have to be black to have a piece in the show. But… You have to come correct. That means your work must have a real appreciation and genuine respect for black culture.
In fact, one of the honored attendees at the opening, the legendary writer Don McGregor, is probably best known for writing The Black Panther in the 1970s and creating one of the industry’s first graphic novels, the transcendent Sabre, which also happened to feature an African American character as the eponymous lead.
It really was a humbling experience to be in the presence of so many talented (and legendary, let’s be honest) artists. And much respect goes to Steve Geppi and Missy Geppi-Bowersox for utilizing their space to show off such important work. “Milestones: African Americans in Comics, Pop Culture, and Beyond” is scheduled to run through April 2014, and who knows, if the show proves popular enough, maybe it’ll run longer?
In the meantime, if you happen to be in Baltimore any time in the next four months, make sure you swing by Geppi’s Entertainment Museum to catch this exhibit.
- Hard N.O.C. Life: A Milestone Anniversary (thenerdsofcolor.org)
- Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Milestone Comics (thenerdsofcolor.org)
- Marvels & Monsters: Yo, Is This Racist? (thenerdsofcolor.org)