I first heard the phrase from Larry Wilmore on The Nightly Show last year, self identifying himself as a “blerd” – a black nerd. I’ve just discovered that one Hassan Parrish has registered a trademark for “Blerdcon”.
It has been a truth universally acknowledged that a comic book geek or a sci-fi fan was a white cis male girlfriendless basementdweller. And while examples exist, sure, that has never been generally true.
And now it’s demonstrably untrue. Women make up the majority of comic book readers and the contingent of people of colour at convention gatherings has been slipping up the CMYK scale for some time. And the popular superhero characters are starting to catch up with the audience.
But this week things seem to have come to a head, in a positive way.
A report on Alalgam Comics And Coffeehouse on Bleeding Cool, spotlighting Ariell Johnson, the first female black comic shop owner on the East Coast became the most popular post of the week, and attracted all manner of reporters to cover the shop and its owner.
Last night, the Northeastern University Center For The Arts held a day-long symposium about the politics of race and identity representation in comics, “Why Comix? Drawing the World You Want to See”. Participants included Marjorie Liu, John Jennings, Moya Bailey, Stacey Robinson, Keith Chow, Barrington Edwards, Nettrice Gaskins, Whit Taylor and Terry Marshall.
John Jennings, comic creator an associate professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, told the college,
“Reading and writing are two different modes of literacy and so are comics… When we are absorbing information we are looking at images and texts constantly, and comics are a great way to prepare for a media-rich environment.”
And his exhibition “Visible Noize” on display at Northeastern’s Gallery 360 until March 13 is entended to look at changing “the stigma around comics while also disrupting racial stereotypes within the medium.”
“There is a great book called Revenger that I stumbled across about this black woman whose entire family is killed, and she becomes a one-woman A Team and it is very bloody,” Jennings explained. “It is over the top…and it is great. But you would never see that in mainstream comics.”
And Jennings must be in transit right now because Saturday sees the fourth annual Black Comic Book Festival at New York’s Schomburg Center.
It will feature the art and design exhibition Unveiling Visions: The Alchemy of the Black Imagination curated by John Jennings and Reynaldo Anderson.
Presented by Deirdre Hollman (Schomburg Education & Junior Scholars Program) in collaboration with Jerry Craft (Mama’s Boyz) and John Jennings, it features pletny of exhibitors, creators and dealers, and programming including White Scripts and Black Supermen: Black Masculinities in Comic Books, Alex Simmons Kids Comics Workshop, Creating Socially Conscious Comics, AfroFuturism 2.0: The Rise Of Astro-Blackness, Blerds And Bleeks Speak: Celebrating, Archiving and Reporting on Black Fan Culture and a Tribute To Guy Sims and Traditional Publishing vs. Self Publishing with Jamal Igle, Paris Cullins, Guy Sims and David Walker.
And then John Jennings is crossing coasts for Sunday and Monday for the Black Comix Arts Festival at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and at the San Francisco Public Library and it looks like he’ll be dragging David Walker with him.
Humanities lecturer at the Bay School in San Francisco, Ayize Jama-Everett is finishing the final installment of his superhero saga The Liminal People, The Liminal War and The Entropy of Bones will be speaking there.
He told Berkleyside.com “It’s a great time to be a person of color in comics,” he said. “We just want to hype that and give people the space to display their work.”
“If you’re a black guy and go to the comic bookstore, there’s always one or two other black guys there. That doesn’t mean you guys ever talk. [BCAF] is the place where all the geeks of color get to come together and hang out and not just listen to great panels and pick up great work, but also talk to each other about the stuff they’re interested in and why they’re into it.”
So if anyone explains that the reason there aren’t many black comics creators in the mainstream comics industry is because black people aren’t really into making comics… the next few days should really dissuade them.
And in the mainstream, Miles Morales is the new Spider-Man, written by a man with mixed race children. Black Panther will be written by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Power Man And Iron Fist comes from David Walker (who also writes Cyborg) and Sanford Greene. DC Comics are reviving Milestone Comics (albeit it sans Michael Davis). There’s a Black Panther movie on the way directed by Ryan Coogler and DC Comics has Cyborg lined up too. Ms Marvel is a smash hit from Marvel, Totally Awesome Hulk has an East Asian star and creative team and Captain America; Sam Wilson isn’t doing badly either.
But from another side, why not listen to this Iowa Public Radio discussion between Deborah Whaley, Phil Hester and Charity Nebbe hosts a discussion about how black women are represented in comics and graphics novels, as well as their influence on the industry?
And further afield, Comic Republic is a Nigerian comics startup creating a universe of superheroes for Africans and black readers around the world.
The cast of characters—”Africa’s Avengers” according to some fans—ranges from Guardian Prime, a 25-year old Nigerian fashion designer by day who uses his extraordinary strength to fight for a better Nigeria, to Hilda Avonomemi Moses, a woman from a remote village in Edo state who can see spirits, and Marcus Chigozie, a privileged but angry teenager who can move at supersonic speeds.
And it’s not even Black History Month yet. I believe it’s time, whatever your colour, creed or nationality, to get your blerd on…