Black Comix Returns
Damian Duffy (curator) & John Jennings (curator)
The Magnetic Collection at Lion Forge (Publisher)
Release Date: February 20, 2018
The comics world is often a homogenous mix of the same white male writers and creators, making the same comics. Often PoC are not recruited to tell their own stories. In 2017 Roxane Gay, a black female writer, was the first black woman to lead a comic at Marvel. Let that sink in, the first.
In a world where the black creators and storytellers voices often get lost, Dr. Damian Duffy and John Jennings decided to create an anthology starring marginalized creators and their artwork, and then make a sequel with Black Comix Returns. Black Comix 1 came to fruition after the two had curated an art show, Damian Duffy recalls the moment;
“The original volume grew out of a misguided notion that John and I could do something the easy way. In the few years before BC1 [Black Comix 1], John and I had co-curated these two art shows called Other Heroes and Out of Sequence, which both featured art from voices and forms of comics we felt were underrepresented in the contemporary discourse around comics art. So we already had a lot of digital files of awesome art from black artists that hadn’t made it into the catalogs for the two art shows, and we thought, hey, we could make an art book with these.”
And Black Comix 1 was born. BC1, as Duffy refers to it, has now gone out of print and with that Jennings and Duffy decided maybe they should let the book fall to the recesses of time. But in a case of serendipity, Black Comix popped back into their minds when they were visiting a comics shop.
“As John will no doubt tell you, this began when he was in a comic shop, happened to have a copy of the first Black Comix book for some unrelated reason, and showed it to the guy behind the counter. That turned out to be David Dissanayake, who also was working at the time for Mike Kennedy’s Magnetic Press (now the Magnetic Collection at Lion Forge Comics). We talked with Mike and David about putting the original book back in print but, just watching the explosion and rapid evolution of black independent comics over the past several years… there was SO much more new stuff out there. The universe just seemed to command a new volume.”
The universe was right. Black Comix Returns is a beautiful anthology with amazing art from creators like David F. Walker, Tanna Tucker, C. Spike Trotman, Brandon Thomas, Christina ‘Steenz’ Stewart, Stacey Robinson, and so many more. When going through the book I found that I only knew a handful of these creators and that the beauty of this book is the new worlds of comics it opens up. When talking to Duffy about my experience reading Black Comix Returns, he was excited to hear what I took from the book, but I was also interested in what criteria they used when curating the essays and artist to include in the book. Jennings hilariously referred to the process of getting the artist to sign forms and send high res picture of their art like, “herding cats who can teleport, and are on fire.”
All funny, flaming cats aside, putting together an anthology of this size and scope is a big job. With over a hundred pages of and 100+ contributors. It was a herculean effort in the black indie comics scene to get all the moving parts into the sleek book we see on the selves. Duffy goes into more detail on the process of bringing this book together;
“In answer to your question, the qualifications of the artists for this particular book included:
- Either John, me, David, or Mike already knew of a comics creator’s work, or the creator contacted one of us and we thought their work was a worthwhile contribution to the book–indicative of some kind of visual style, storytelling, and/or subject matter that was striking and unique to the overall volume.
- Some people on the list from the first volume, either people we’d wanted to include but couldn’t or people whose work had progressed in leaps and bounds, whose achievements we wanted to recognize.
- People our overworked brains remembered to contact during the time frame we were working on the book, along with our roughly six billion other projects.
- And, especially, people who responded to us, wanted to be in the book, sent us high-resolution images, and signed the release form to allow us to (re)print their work within the time allotted for production.
“Instead of a list, a word cloud might be a better representation of how people are chosen to be in the book. The process is somewhat messy.”
Black Comix Returns is not only for black comics artist but also black comics writers. In an anthology like this, the writer who is not also an artist is often left out. Not many people want to see comic scripts or essays, but rather sketches and gorgeous illustrations. But what I found great about Black Comix Returns is the inclusion of essays. Written by Damian Duffy, Regine Sawyer, Joseph Illidge, Brandon Thomas, Shawn Taylor, and Enrique Carrion. Each an insightful look into various topics of importance within the black indie comics scene.
“We tried to be mindful of the fact that comics aren’t paintings,” said Duffy, “and the best way to categorize them isn’t always by a particular visual artist. Some of the entries are by black writers working in collaboration with other artists because some projects are initiated or sustained by the writer. Some are the effort by a large creative team. That’s just how some comics are. We’re creators ourselves, so we definitely tried to be cognizant of the diversity of ways comics are made in curating and organizing the work.”
The culture of black comics has been pushed into the spotlight recently with the release and the Success of Marvel’s Black Panther. Now people are taking a closer look at stories created by and starring black people. With this new wave of positivity flowing for black made fiction and comics, I was curious what the co-curator of Black Comix Returns thinks this renewed interest could mean for black comics creators.
“I honestly don’t know about the impact of the film on comics. I certainly think there are many smart, independent creators using excitement surrounding the film to draw attention to their own work, which is great. But I also know that superhero movies tend to not impact the sale of the comics, or at least the monthly comics. I think it’s clear that Black Panther is different, that it is a historical cultural moment all its own, and maybe it will mark a tipping point for the cultural advocacy work a lot of people have been doing around greater diversity in media, but whether that will extend beyond movies and movie tie-ins, or beyond Marvel, or beyond superheroes… I don’t know. I hope so.
“And I always hope publishers that have not historically done so (continue to) pick up more stories by black creators. But I also think that, to a certain extent, it doesn’t matter. For Black Comix Returns, I wrote an article about C. Spike Trotman, owner/operator of Iron Circus Comics, the largest alternative comics publisher in Chicago. She puts out all kinds of diverse books, pioneered funding through Kickstarter, and stays successful. She did that herself. A lot of people do that themselves. In a lot of ways, Black Panther’s just now catching up to them.”
Pioneering is something that Duffy and Jennings have in common with Trotman, Black Comix Returns isn’t just a gorgeous anthology but a gateway for young readers and artist who haven’t seen themselves represented in mainstream comics media. A book for kids to find stories featuring people who look like them. Having the representation of black artist and creators out there making wonderful comics is something all little black kids should be able to see and because of this anthology that gets to happen. When I read Black Comix Returns it opened me up to a wider world of black indie comics that I didn’t know was so vast. There are creators for every genre of fiction you could possibly think of, all mixed in with great essays and intriguing snippets of comics. I have found so many new favorite creators and stories just because I pick up this amazing book.
I asked Duffy what would he want people to take away from Black Comix Returns? He replied, “You know how you said you found a bunch of creators you didn’t know about and looked them up and checked out their work? That.”