By Devon Sanders
It happened just over two years ago, just a few short days short of the Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday. It was an ending.
DC Comics announced the cancellation of six of the books launched in their “New 52” initiative. With the cancellation of two of their titles, 100% of African-American DC writers, Eric Wallace and Marc Bernardin* of Mister Terrific and Static Shock, respectively, were laid off.
Both of them.
Let that sink in; in one day, 100% of black writers working for a major entertainment corporation were let go. Neither has worked for DC Comics much, if not at all, since.
Marvel, at the time, had none to fire.
Dark Horse, Boom and others didn’t either.
I need to say this and it needs to be said loudly and clearly: the lack of black writers does not reflect any sort of malice or even a lack of consideration from either DC or Marvel. What it simply points out is the lack of inclusion in one creative aspect of the comics medium.
I realize there are a number of talented people of many colors and genders doing many different jobs within the comics industry. Shawn Martinbrough is doing stellar work on Image’s Thief of Thieves. Olivier Coipel, in the span of a decade, has gone on to become Marvel’s go-to event artist and Dexter Vines can always be counted on to ink Marvel’s top-tier pencillers but when it comes to writing? There’s just not much going in the way of presence on the comics stands.
This is the writer’s name, the one you see above everyone else’s and when you count black writers actively working for Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, etc. it comes down to less than the number of digits on Nightcrawler’s hand.
Marvel has one African-American writer, Felipe Smith, currently writing All-New Ghost Rider. Check it out, it’s quite good. DC, currently, has none. Between DC and Marvel, both owned by multi-billion dollar corporations, Warner Bros. and Disney, respectively, they have one African-American writer between them.
That’s not much.
The question has to be asked; why is this and better yet, where are the chances for anyone to get a shot?
The process where one could submit writing samples to Marvel or DC has long since passed, locking out many a potential writer. In the current editorially-driven comics climate, if you don’t already have an accessible comic published by a smaller press, self-published or simply creating some sort of buzz, well, nowadays, you may as well be writing fan-fiction.
What’s simply needed is more accessibility; more chances to create in the broader comics realm. In an increasingly editorially-driven comics market, many comics feel more like love letters done by new creatives to their childhoods and for shots at the corporate IP. Nothing wrong with that. Especially if it manages to get you a foot in and more importantly, through the door.
In today’s writers market, you get in where you fit in. There’s probably a better chance, if you happen to be of color, that you’re potentially writing a Luke Cage mini because well, it speaks more to where they think your talents lie. If you’ve created a comic where many of the protagonists are of color, I suspect you probably won’t get asked to write say, Supergirl. And then, if you do get a foot in the door and no one responds, well, the answer was that they tried.
What’s needed more is the outside-of-the-box thinking that looked at Matt Fraction and thought he’d be great on Iron Fist. The outside-of-the-box thinking that knew Gail Simone would kill on Secret Six. Where’s the person who makes the conceptual leap that Tim Seely of Hack/Slash fame could be writing Grayson, a character with nearly 75 years of history behind him and not much of it particularly horror-driven? Why isn’t someone taking that chance with more persons-of-color?
Where are the new talents of color that potentially could be hailed as the next Marvel Architect? Where’s the opportunity for a black person to be in a position to write a Storm series? Better yet, where’s the opportunity for a black person to have enough work or lack of desire to actually turn down a Storm series? Where’s the opportunity to work? Hell, where’s the chance to even be let go? To paraphrase Neil DeGrasse Tyson, “Where is the blood on the tracks?”
What’s needed is a place at the writer’s table.
A chance to following in the steps of Dwayne McDuffie, the late and beloved writer of The Justice League in comics and animation; a chance to be a Christopher Priest, who wrote not only Falcon, Power Man and Iron Fist and Black Panther but also wrote Green Lantern.
That’s two. I wish could give more examples but that’s really been about it for a good long while now.
*Bernardin, however, will be doing his own five-issue series from Image Comics, Genius, starting in August. The premise is a bit of brilliance. I encourage all who enjoy good fiction to give it a look.
Special thanks to John Shine and Andrew Aydin for the extra pairs of eyes.
Devon Sanders wants sleep. He would also like to play Black Manta in a live action Aquaman movie. One is more important than the other. Black Manta.