Madeline Ricchiuto writes for Bleeding Cool…
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze, Christopher Priest, Don McGregor, Axel Alonso, James Iglehart, Aletha Martinez, and Run DMC’s Darryl McDaniels got together this morning to talk about Black Panther in honor of the character’s 50th Anniversary.
Black Panther was Marvel’s first Black superhero, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1966. When asked what drew them to Black Panther, panelists agreed that Panther was a black superhero who could stand up against the likes of Captain America, Batman,and Iron Man and was a king, not just a poor black man from the Bronx. McGregor was drawn to the character because it gave him a chance to write a black character in the 70s who was human, who had flaws, but wanted to do the best for his people. Alonso enthused about how Panther was an icon for all comics readers who weren’t white- “I was shocked to find out he wasn’t Mexican.” All of the panelists were fans as kids, which is interesting to note. “He had the coolest costume” was also a big selling point.
McGregor told a story about other Comics bigwigs giving him a lot of trouble about writing an all-black cast in a time where Marvel didn’t want Killraven or other black villains on the cover of Black Panther to avoid being racist. When he wrote the KKK stories, he was called in to be yelled at for writing such a politically motivated script. “For two years you’ve been bugging me ‘where’s the white people?’ Well, here they are.”
Alonso danced around the question of “why did it take so long to see other characters of color?” Trying to toe the line of admitting fault while not outright calling his company racist – “Comics were pitched to a specific audience… And later became a part of the cultural zeitgeist…” Then something, something, hip hop. Priest jumped in to point out that he was the first person of color to work in Marvel’s front office in 1978 and DC in 1993. Priest also brought up that he was the first black man to write Wonder Woman and that no person of color has written Super Man in over 75 years of that character’s history. “Now that there are people of color in those offices we are seeing more diversity in comics.”
Coates called out America’s racist problem as the reason for the lack of diversity. Then pointed out that the first Iron Man comic he read was during Secret Wars, was James Rhodes. “The only place to see black heroes in my childhood was in comic books.” Iglehart brought up comics’ ability to be an escape from the world. “Everything’s fine even though the worlds about to end, I know they’ll fix it by the last page.” And spoke about using Panther as a role model. “I’m not going to slap a cop, when I get stopped, I’m going to speak like a Wakandan King.”
Behind the scenes stories followed. Ivohart joked that he was supposed to play Panther in the movies. Stelfreeze brought up the Wakandan’s tendency to be “so black, they’re blue” and how he wanted to write that Wakandan society values darker skin as more royal, while being stunned that Alonso and Marvel would stand behind him. McGregor brought up a story of getting called out by Tom DeFalco for possibly getting an artist fired for writing a scene where Monica Lynn was wearing skimpy clothing. Alonso brought up the time a writer told him the Panther temple must look like a middle finger to the rest of the world.
Q: Ta-Nehasi, could you elaborate more about the intersections of race and LGBT where you can have back queer people. How do you deal with that ?
A: I credit Don with this a lot, when I went in there was already a world… I went to look for who his supporting cast would be, and I took this stance from Don where you need to expand the world of Wakanda. And I knew it was going to be the Dora Milaje… Brian and I talked about this a lot… I didn’t want to have a male gaze centered on these two lesbian characters.
Q: What makes a good Panther antagonist?
A: Priest- I was angry that DC wouldn’t let me write Batman so I was writing Marvel’s Batman… But a good villain is one who pushes the hero and balances that.
Q: Is it hard to get Black Writers on Black comics or is it cool to let Brian Michael Bendis write every black character?
A: Alonso- It is very important to us… I’ve worked with a lot of black writers. This is not a PC thing… I think it is important that comics reflect the world around us.
Q: Where is Marvel moving next?
A: Alonso- We are announcing things at this con. Ta-Nehisi is talking to us about some future stuff. Look out for an announcement later today at 2:30-3:00.
There was also a request to get the BET series theme song in the Black Panther movie.
After the panel, BC’s Jason Borelli said “For the most part, I was impressed, and I’m hoping to meet Priest without embarrassing myself.” Personally, I walked out amused but also vaguely disgruntled. There wasn’t much to the panel which was a disappointment, but disgruntled cynicism is also my default setting.