In an incredily emotional speech to begin this year’s annual Black Panel at San Diego Comic Con, its founder Michael Davis began by saying “over the last year, there have been a lot of changes in my life” building up to his realisation that “The world doesn’t know I created Static Shock.”
Talking through the details, he was specific about how all the character’s family are all based on his own family. Hee took us through the details. “My sister Sharon, the inspiration for Sharon Hawkins, was murdered and the character was created in homage of her” and it was the same with Michael’s grandmother, who also inspired a character in the show. One of his joys was telling his mother that his sister lived on in Static and they watched the cartoon together. Last year his mother died after a very swift illness and at the funeral his met brother and sisters he never knew he had. He doesn’t know his father, “I think it’s the guy who owns Microsoft” – and the place in tears burst into laughter. Meeting his neices and nephews, he found those who liked Static, but somehow knew that he didn’t create him.
He’s talked about a growing problem with not getting the credit for co-creating the character, in the media, from peers, from the new Milestone, and how it keeps exacerbating the problem.
But he emphasises that his issue isn’t about credit. It’s about his sister. Describing the show as “the most popular African American character created by black creators.” and Sharon Hawkins as the most popular character on the Static Shock cartoon, “Sharon Hawkins is the star of that show” – now he feels has been estranged from that. He found out Warner Bros were doing a Static live action series by reading it. Same about the return of Milestone.
He talks about his absolute darkest pain, of calling his mother and forgetting she was dead, putting a gun in his mouth and pulling it to find that it was empty. Thinking about loading it, he answered the phone to fellow panellist Tatinia El-Khouri, who helped him at that so difficult time.
He says he is done with the whole soap opera thing. How can we create a force that means something and is inclusive..”It’s time to go back to being happy and black and shit.”
We met the rest of our panel, Tatinia El-Khouri, veteran comics creator Don McGregor, director and graphic novelist Eric Dean Seaton and editor, creator and columnist Joe Illidge.
Don McGregor was described by Michael Davis as the finest black comics writer of his day, though he happened to be white, talked about the Black Pather series, and being told by Marvel to include more white people would say “it’s your mythos”, it’s a hidden African city, where are the white people meant to come from. But he told different stories, and was called into the offices when he included the Klu Klux Klan, to be asked what he was doing. “For two years you’ve been telling me to include white people, well…”
We learned tricks that the white guys use that the black guys do too, how there are many routes to pursue to success that aren’t the obvious ones (such as selling comics through black church networks), and creating a mutually supportive network, not just to promote but to make each other better, to mentor, to train and to teach. Successful examples included getting work into libraries, the importance of hiring an attourney – and that a lot of black creators had been creating black superhero characters long before Marvel decided to make Sam Wilson Captain America. And that they deserve equal love.
“It’s not about diversity, it’s about equality. Everyone telling stories about everyone.” – Joe Illidge.
Michael Davis is a host of tonight’s Eisner Awards.
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