Recently, the Schomburg Center in Harlem held its Third Annual Black Comic Book Festival. This event featured panel discussions, film screenings and workshops. Many artists and writers from across the country participated and displayed tables featuring their work. The festival is presented by the Schomburg’s Junior Scholars Program and co-produced by artists Jerry Craft and John Jennings.
For decades, black people have had to deal with disgusting, negative, stereotypical depictions of themselves. This was not only in films, but in comics and cartoons as well. Fortunately, many more are at least now, controlling their own images.
Successful comics and animated series like The Boondocks and Black Dynamite, have brought more attention to black comic creators and black characters. Despite this fact, many still haven’t received the mainstream attention and notoriety that they deserve.
Writer and creator, Alex Simmons, was one of the participants at the event. He discussed how he has contributed and helped bring more diversity to the already established and iconic comic book Archie.
Alex Simmons: I started working for Archie in 2007. One of the first stories I did for them was Archie World Tour. I got to diversify the group a bit by taking them out of the country to Europe, to Africa, and to add additional characters like a new professor, Mr. Adams, who’s African American. He helps to organize this journey, so they go to five different cities in ten days and there’s an educational thing but there is also some fun. They get involved in a mystery where spies are following them. It was extremely enjoyable for me to do. That was the beginning of my journey with Archie comics.
Simmons also discussed why he created and wrote, his own comic book series, Blackjack.
AS: I grew up reading and watching a lot of films, movies, and stories, about the 30s and 40s. In a lot of the adventure films, we were either not in them or we were servants, or porters on trains and so forth. Yet I know historically, we had been sailors, soldiers, mercenaries, and explorers. So at a certain point in my life, I wanted to create a character who is African American having those adventures, and yet have it be for all audiences.
The Schomburg Center is famous for its extensive archives of material pertaining to the history of the African Diaspora and is primarily a research library. In fact, the center has a vast comic book and comic strips archive in their collection.
Having an event like this at the Schomburg not only exposes more people to black artists who you may not be that familiar with, but it also gives credence to the fact that comic books definitely belong in our educational institutions. It emphasizes the fact that comics have an intellectual and cultural impact that one cannot deny.
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is located at 515 Malcolm X Boulevard New York, NY, 10037
Olumide was born and raised in East Harlem, New York City. He loves talking and blogging about comics, food, travel, films, and music. He is also a musician and filmmaker and produced a documentary about the late Al Feldstein (former editor of Mad Magazine and co-creator of some of the most popular titles of the E.C. Comics line). Olumide is also in the process of writing a yet to be titled web series.