Originally posted at The Fool’s Crusade

If you haven’t heard by now, Marvel Entertainment has announced a Black Panther movie and the Black geek community has gone bonkers with virtual high-fives and backflips about the fact that they’re finally getting a big-budget superhero movie with a Black lead.

I’ve never been a fan of the Black Panther (my favorite Black superhero from Marvel was Night Thrasher from the New Warriors) but I will definitely check out the movie when it is released.

One of the unforeseen developments since the announcement of the film is the fear that this will overshadow the efforts of Black indie creators because the Black genre fans out there will have gotten what they’ve always wanted from the Marvel/DC entertainment machine: recognition.

Black-Panther-Official-Movie-Logo

A prominent Black indie comics creator wrote:

Great for DC, great for Marvel… It’s about time. But it’s only scratching the surface. There are so many talented creators out there who need support from the various comic book and film communities. How about we post more about them instead of giving so much more free advertisement to the ones who already have mega promotional vehicles?

And another wrote:

Will independent Black comics matter after Black Panther is released? They just released one image and a title treatment — and I see a giant M-shaped shadow eclipsing an entire movement.

And another:

What does it mean, really, that we are getting a Black Panther movie? I mean, not just a knee-jerk reaction, but for comic movies with Black characters in general? There are many ways this film could go wrong so fast, but with the proven track record of Marvel Studios, I have to have some form of confidence in their ability to show this character the dignity and respect he deserves… what does having a film like this mean for the future?

If you’ve spent any time on Black geek Facebook groups, message boards or blogs, you’d see repeated demands for mainstream studios to validate the existence of established Black superheroes to the point where it comes off like begging. For the last five years you couldn’t see a post about a Marvel movie without seventy-five pages of speculation of whether or not there was an Easter egg hidden in the background that spoke to the existence of Wakanda (the home of Black Panther).

Is this Klaw? If it is then Black Panther is close behind.

This phenomenon has been problematic for the Black indie comic book creator because whenever we’ve attempted to provide a quality alternative for these fans – our efforts have been generally met with apathy, cold shoulders, misplaced aggression and an overall assumption that our work is going to be shitty.

Worse, you’ll end up labeled as “bitter” or “angry” or “mad that nobody is buying what we’re selling.” (Things people actually said to me).

Last year, there was an article published from the Shadow and Act website (which focuses on Black cinema worldwide) that discussed something called the “Devil’s Eye Syndrome” which was defined as:

…the deliberate critical rejection of Black independent film by Black spectators which manifests itself as a severe and bitter criticism of a Black independent film to the degree that no other commercial White studio film would be able to withstand nor would these Black spectators dare apply such “high standards” to a White film.

If you swap out the word “film” and replace it with “comics” then you’d get a good idea of what I’m getting at here. I wrote a blog piece describing this as Black Geek Stockholm Syndrome and it definitely applies. We’ve got at least two generations of Black geeks unwilling or incapable of giving Black indie comics a chance.

Over the last few years I’ve learned that the great majority of Black geeks/comic book readers aren’t really fans of Comic Books, they’re mainly fans of the Marvel/DC brands. They have zero interest in indie Black material and no matter what we do or say, it will not move them in our direction. There will always be that 5% that is willing to give our material a chance and we should make sure our product is top-notch for those folks who will support us.

The solution is to start reaching out internationally. I’ve begun to make connections with folks in the Caribbean and Asia because Black geeks in the U.S. have been hardwired since their youth to only accept Marvel and DC as viable means of graphic novel entertainment. It doesn’t matter how horribly these fans are treated by Marvel and DC, it doesn’t matter how few Blacks are hired behind the scenes, it doesn’t matter how awful the storytelling is, these fans only want the same titles from the same sources regardless of quality.

We have to keep creating and figure out ways to get a return on our investment. All the arguing, and pleading, and guerrilla marketing techniques have widely failed. Without a massive marketing budget for indie projects (because repetition of advertisements equals “higher quality” for those brainwashed by media) things aren’t going to change.

Solutions?

  1. Go international.
  2. Attend as many local Black Expos as possible.
  3. Connect with elementary and middle schools and see if you can have your work featured in their libraries… if your work is age-appropriate with decent subject matter.
  4. Continue to get coverage with mainstream comic book and media sources.
  5. Send packets to local universities to see if they are willing to bring you in to speak about your projects. This opens you up to a new audience without having to spend thousands of dollars you don’t have on marketing.

My colleagues have begun to focus their efforts away from the Marvel and DC crowd. It’s such a waste of time to engage these folks because they’ll simply never change.

Please don’t take any of this as negativity, I wanted to provide a clear stream of thinking for those deeply concerned that the emergence of the Black Panther movie(s) will further obscure the existence of Black independent comic book creators.

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13 thoughts on “I’m Happy for Black Panther… However…

  1. There’s an assumption being made here that the customer and not the product is at fault, which seems like a sure-fire way to lack appeal. I don’t know that many would rather read a bad superhero book than a good indie book, I know I wouldn’t, but while I’ve supported black creators and books with black main characters, I don’t know that I’ve ever supported anything that could be classified as a black independent comic.

    It’s not Black Panther being a big deal that’s going to inform the decision to purchase, or not to purchase, the books you’re talking about though.

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    1. I hear what you’re saying. I happen to have had many interactions with those who WOULD rather read a bad superhero book than a good indie. I wouldn’t have written that essay in a vacuum. Trust me, I wish me and my colleagues wouldn’t have had the experiences in the industry that we’ve had. You don’t have to take my word for it, ask folks like David Walker, Geoffrey Thorne, Brandon Thomas and I could name a whole bunch of other Black indie creators who have critical acclaim but extremely low sales – and it’s not because of a lack of marketing.

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      1. Fair enough, but I still feel that we’d benefit from comparing like for like in this instance. In much the same way as the Shadow & Act article (good read btw, thanks for sharing) compared “white” blockbusters – the only kind of blockbuster, really – with black independent movies, comparing mainstream superhero comics with black indie books isn’t really going to reveal anything. Comparing indie books to indie books is what should be going on here, really. I think once you start to talk about “black indie comics” as well, you’re essentially talking about a subgenre, right? Not just an indie book from a black creator featuring black characters, but an indie book that emphasises black culture in its narrative, and any kind of specificity like that will absolutely narrow the audience. One of the few titles I’m reading at the minute with a black main character is BKV & Marcos Martin’s THE PRIVATE EYE, in which the race of the lead is incidental, and that’s had fairly broad appeal. The cache of the creators of course helps in this instance, and neither of them is black. Ordinarily I’d say that’s beside the point, but it’s very much the point here, so worth acknowledging.

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      2. Mr. Eaton. Why can’t fans have both? I’m rereading “Shadowlaw”as I type.
        Black indies will have to make it in the US first before going overseas. Why, those audiences will want the US validation.

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  2. From my perspective, it’s just totally different markets. People who dig Black Panther are generally superhero fans first and foremost. The same people who stand in line on opening night for the new Marvel movie are probably just not often the same people who go to an indie con and buy a weird-looking comic about old people from my table. I mean, I’m a blip, but I have absolutely no concern about how Black Panther will effect my book sales or exposure. In fact, if anything, it’ll draw attention an industry most people don’t know exists. I think high-profile work in any genre only benefits work in its periphery because people who are into it are going to want more.

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  3. I didn’t know there is such a group who would rather read trash than support indie comics I don’t understand that.however what I do believe in is a standard namely “milestone”. with the exception of vince white,and a few others I don’t see many milestone level indie books around qualitywise,I’ve been a rick leonardi fan for years before I knew he is black,as a non american black creator I have been critiqued for posting “anglo saxon characters providing cheap publicity for the big two,it felt like Ray charles forbidden from playing before a segregated audience,like a jim crow situation, I felt bad. The situation is made clearer here, we can do better.

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  4. I’ve been thinking lately and is this really “that serious”? Why are many folks of color are acting as if this is the second coming of Christ? Not too long ago the higher ups in marvel were talking about “how hard it is to create wakanda”. Remember the fan backlash or did people forget already?

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    1. Having a character like Black Panther is huge for superhero representation. As for the exact reasons why that differs from the range of fandom that’s out there. But in terms of budget, a super-advanced city with flying cars and high tech buildings is not cheap for VFX. Shooting anywhere in Africa is not the issue. The very look of Wakanda could be a hit or miss for the audience. Snyder’s Krypton did not convince me to watch Man of Steel. Star Wars’ Planet Corusant didn’t fell real until Attack of the Clones.

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    2. Who cares that he’s black??? I don’t. I like comics and enjoy movies! Why do certain people have to take the fun out of that with race? It’s so silly realy… Lol

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  5. In terms of libraries, please don’t just look at school libraries. Public libraries carry graphic novels of all age-levels, and some of our most voracious readers are comics readers. My system has a good number of indie titles on the shelves, and we keep getting more because that’s what our patrons want. I’ve ended up following a lot of indie titles because I found them in the library first.

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  6. Wow.. Really?!?! An article being happy about a black mainstream super hero… With worries about black indie?? How bit just enjoying the movie. Lol. Or let’s just talk about how iron man is hurting white indie comics.. Wait…nobody cares!! My point exactly 🙂

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