Comics & Graphic Novels Origins

Genius Co-Writer Marc Bernardin’s Nerd Origin

As you know, Image/Top Cow releases the hotly anticipated weekly series Genius today. Before  you head out to your local comic shop, make sure you check out Shawn’s very nuanced endorsement of the series.

The co-creator of the book and friend of the blog, Marc Bernardin, was a guest on Hard NOC Life recently and talked briefly about the series.

He was also asked by Wired to “write a piece charting his childhood voyage through the nerd-culture landscape — a landscape that rarely felt like a place he belonged.”

Since we’re a sucker for nerd origin stories here at the NOC, I wanted to share a few excerpts from Marc’s piece.

On realizing pop culture wasn’t made for him as a kid in the ’70s:

You had to search far and wide to find good representations of Black people. There was Roots, Morgan Freeman’s Easy Reader on The Electric Company, Jim “Black Belt Jones” Kelly in Enter the Dragon, Boomer on Battlestar Galactica. Of course, as a kid, you don’t miss what you’ve never known, so I simply latched on to the things that appealed to the nascent geek: kung-fu movies, KISS, Godzilla, The Dukes of Hazzard, The A-Team, and Knight Rider (which is basically The Dukes of Hazzard with 75 percent less Daisy Dukes and 100 percent fewer blazing emblems of hate painted on the car’s roof). And Star Wars. Always Star Wars.

On his first introduction to comics:

My first comics were Marvel’s black and white Savage Sword of Conan magazines. In a black and white comic, everyone is basically the same color, but Conan’s flowing locks made it obvious that he was a white dude. It was equally obvious, though, that he was an outsider. Most people didn’t like him when they first encountered him. He was from someplace else. Not quite the last of his kind, but close. Conan, in turn, greeted that antipathy with scorn and strength. He just did what he did and took what he wanted, to hell with what anyone thought of him.

On the lack of representation in the pages of the comics he read:

The metaphor at the center of the X-Men is like chum in the adolescent water: Our bodies are changing in ways we don’t understand and aren’t prepared for; we all want to be special, but more than that, we want to be special together. We want kinship and purpose, and to have the power to lash out at those who hurt us as well as the restraint to not.

For all of that inclusion, you still didn’t encounter too many black faces in the pages of comics. For every African Princess or African Prince or Inner City Disco Mercenary, you had… well, a princess, a prince and a hero for hire.

On why his comic stories tend to feature characters of color:

When I first got the opportunity to write comics — with my writing partner, Adam Freeman — I wasn’t consciously trying to inject diversity into the books we were writing. But our first book, a graphic novel called Monster Attack Network, featured a gay black man as the lead’s best friend. Our second, a DC miniseries called The Highwaymen, was about an elderly black guy — and his white sidekick — trying to remember what it was like to be a hero. We did a high-school reunion book called Hero Complex in which the Big Bad was basically Will Smith: charming, smart, ruthlessly driven and African American. It wasn’t an agenda, it’s just what happens when your default is different from the norm: The books don’t look like the norm.


On the reaction from most comic publishers when he pitched the idea for Genius:

A book with a black female lead (the very definition of anathema in the comics world) who would be gunning down police officers? “No, thanks” was the response we got from everyone.

Everyone but Top Cow, a division of Image Comics — one of the last real bastions of creator-owned comics.

These are just some of the highlights from Marc’s piece. I urge you to head over to Wired and read the whole thing.