The Black Comix Returns Kickstarter has just a few days to go, but it has already more than doubled its funding goals. Unsurprising, considering the success of the first volume, published seven years earlier. If you’re lucky, you might find a copy of the latter on Amazon for a cool $300. As of writing this piece, the Black Comix Returns Kickstarter is inching towards its next stretch goal which will see the hardcover book bundled with a DVD of the Black Ink documentary. The Black Ink Kickstarter is now receiving 15% of all of Black Comix Returns earnings over $18,000.
Celebrating African American independent comic art and culture is the goal of Dr. Damian Duffy and Professor John Jennings’ labour of love and clearly, they are succeeding with a 200-page book that showcases sequential art “framed by articles examining their broader historical and cultural context by some of the leading writers and scholars in the field.” The Black Comix projects are part of Jennings and Duffy’s long list of accomplishments and contributions to the comic industry, along with their recent graphic novel collaboration on the adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred.
After seeing Jennings and Duffy at the San Diego Comic-Con panel where they announced the return of Black Comix alongside several of the book’s contributors, I was pleased to have the opportunity to dig a little deeper behind the scenes of the project with Duffy.
The return of Black Comix was announced at your panel on diversity at the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con and the Kickstarter is now approaching its final days. How long has it taken to put the project together?
We’re at eight months and counting. After the Kickstarter, there’s production, printing, and fulfillment, which is the province of the masterful Mike Kennedy, publisher of the Magnetic Collection at Lion Forge (previously Magnetic Press).
Were your plans discussed at the recent Black Comix Arts Festival?
John and I actually filmed a video for the Black Comix Returns Kickstarter video at BCAF 2017 (shout out to Corey and Kali from the SF Black Film Festival for shooting that footage!) Although, we were reading a script off our cell phones, so mostly just the audio made it in. It was kind of rushed. John is a co-founder of BCAF so he does a lot of running around during the entire festival.
100 artists and writers were invited to participate in this project, some new, some returning from the previous volume. What steps did you take in curating this incredible pool of talent?
Along with David Dissanayake, John and I contacted a lot of artists; some we know, some we came across through online research, some we met at various conventions. Some people also got in touch and sent us work directly. And the people who got us work before we ran out of page space are the ones in the volume. Please know that, for every artist in there, there’s three more we just didn’t have room for. We hope people think of these books as a starting point to exploring more black comics art and culture.
You’ve chosen not to reprint the first Black Comix, though it will be made available for the first time in digital format to Kickstarter backers. With the successful funding of the Kickstarter already achieved, is there any possibility of reconsidering this decision? (Read: My bookshelf would really appreciate it.)
We were originally talking with David and Mike about doing a reprint, but we decided dedicating our resources to putting together a new volume made more sense since black indie comics culture has grown by leaps and bounds in the intervening seven years since the first book came out. Also, there were some issue with the publisher of the original volume over the rights for another publisher to reprint the first book. So, my apologies to your bookshelf!
The Kindred Graphic Novel was recently released. Presumably you were working on both projects at the same time. Did you find any overlap in terms of themes, the collaborative process, etc?
Even though it just came out in January, we actually finished production on Kindred last year, a bit before starting the bulk of the work on Black Comix Returns. Thematically, I think a major area of overlap between the two is that both projects are concerned with cultural activism. With Kindred our goal—beyond, of course, making the story into comics in a way that did justice to original—was to create a graphic novel that would also hopefully function as an introduction for new readers to Octavia E. Butler’s larger body of work. Similarly, with Black Comix Returns, we’re advocating for the recognition that there are many talented creators of color that too infrequently receive the attention and appreciation commensurate with the quality of their publications. This is actually a thread that connects most of my decade-plus collaboration with John, in that a lot of our work has been about advocates for the legitimacy of comics as an art form, and the importance of more equitable representation of race, gender, sexuality, identity in the medium, and in popular culture in general.
You put a lot of focus on the print quality of the product and have now surpassed the $18,000 goal in order to upgrade to a hardcover product, citing greater library appeal. Where else do you intend to promote the book?
Since the book will be distributed through Lion Forge, I’m sure we’ll be promoting it in direct comics market and the bookstore market. I’d like to see the book in spaces like art museum gift shops as well.
It is important that we see diversity in all of the mediums we consume and offer children of colour the opportunity to see themselves as not only the heroes, but the creative forces as well. Given the large number of African American talent showcased within the two volumes, do you feel that anthologies like this can help shape the industry and encourage more mainstream publishers to more closely consider their hiring practices and the products they produce?
I don’t know to what extent our books shape the industry and/or encourage mainstream publishers to alter hiring practices. Some artists in these art books have been working for Marvel and DC for years. Others have never had the opportunity. Others have never had the interest. The “x” in “Black Comix” is there because the focus is on independent work, which often means work sold outside or alongside the local comics shop market. Indy comics are put out by everyone from amateur artists to storyboard artists to fine artists to commercial illustrators. Some work is self-published, or only published online.
That being said, I know of at least a couple people in the first volume who received interest from employers who saw their art in the book. And I have had a few of the artists in the current volume tell me how they were inspired by the first book to start or continue making comics, which I suppose can’t help but shape the various comics industries in comic shops, in bookstores, online, etc.
But I hesitate to take too much credit for that. If anything, I think we’re just lucky enough to have the opportunity to document the achievements of some of the people who are doing the work of moving comics forward towards more equitable representations of people of color, both in terms of the content of comics, and the people creating that content.
Not a backer yet? Visit the Black Comix Returns Kickstarter to learn more!