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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Racism In the Comic Book Industry Part 3- The Untapped Audience of Black Women

Black women are one of the largest markets in the trade paperback business. Since the mid 1980’s they have made numerous authors like Terry McMillan, Walter Mosley and Connie Briscoe into household names. However, the comic book industry has not capitalized on this large demographic of underserved readers.

It’s no secret that African American female characters are few and far between in comic books. I can probably count all the Black female characters in comics on all my fingers. Worse, not a single Black female has had her own ongoing comic book series at the big two publishers Marvel and DC.

Most Black female characters today are relegated to team books or serve as supporting characters to White characters. In the late 1960’s and 1970’s Sistas like Storm, Misty Knight, and Bumblebee were supporting characters in second-tier titles like X-Men Iron Fist and Teen Titans.

Around the same time Nancy was playing a minor supporting role in Archie comics while Valerie replaced Pepper in Josie and the Pussycats as a major supporting character.

Back in the 70’s DC Comics’ Vixen was slated to be the first Black woman to carry her own book, but due to the DC Comics implosion of 1978 she was relegated to a back-up feature.

Later in the mid-1980 she was placed on the Justice League America team. Unfortunately, it was one of the most forgettable runs.

The character received a more positive response in issues of Suicide Squad and later in the Justice League Unlimited Cartoon as the love interest of Green Lantern John Stewart.

Around the same time Monica Rambeau was given the title of Captain Marvel and membership on Marvel’s premier super-hero team The Avengers. Unfortunately, she didn’t get much in the way of character development. She was just a placeholder to preserve the trademark.

In the 1990’s Rocket was the Partner of Icon in Milestone Media’s Icon. Rocket had one of the strongest voices in comics at the time. She was a character with lots of potential to breakout and be just as popular as Static.

Unfortunately, her growth as a character was hampered by the revelation of her being pregnant at the end of the second issue. While subsequent issues explored the issues of teen pregnancy tastefully, Having Rocket being stigmatized as a single teen mother prevented many a Black female reader from relating to and identifying with her. I don’t know if there were misogynistic undertones in making Rocket pregnant, but making her a single mother wasn’t good for the long-term development of the character.

On the Villain front Black women are less prominent than the Black female heroines. Outside of Marvel Comics’ Nightshade (complete with Afro Puffs) and DC Comics Amanda Waller, and Green Lantern Villain Fatality, there haven’t been many Sistas taking on the heroes or the heroines in American comic books.

Out of all these Sistas, the most popular Black female character in comics Storm has been a major part of the X-men for close to four decades. However in spite of her decades of popularity she has never headlined an ongoing monthly title like teammate Wolverine has.

Sadly in spite of all these Black Female characters at Marvel, DC and Archie having varying degrees of popularity, the only Black female to headline her own title was Dark Horse Comics’ Martha Washington in the 1990’s.

Is there potential for a Black female character to breakout and Join the comic book A-List? Is there potential for a Black woman to become an American comic book Icon? I always thought there was. In fact, I always thought that Black females were an untapped market for comic book publishers.

As I stated before Black females are one of the largest reading audiences in the trade paper market. Sistas spend billions of dollars on paperbacks. Would they be interested in reading comics?

I believe they would be if the right stories were presented to them. In fact, it was one of the reasons I was inspired to write my second novel and enter the African-American fantasy market.

My family was at the dinner table one Sunday in 1998 when my sister asked me why there were no major Black female superheroes.

I couldn't answer her question.

Being dumbfounded back then I wanted to make sure that other little girls wouldn't have to ask that question. So at the ripe old age of 25, I began working on designing a Black female super heroine.

The end result was Isis.

Mixing Egyptian Mythology and African-American History I wanted to create a female lead character that was strong, intelligent and had a sense of humor. A heroine who Black girls could relate to and identify with.

The graphic novel I planned back then was to be a gateway for young Black female readers to get into comics. The only thing that held me back was talent and money. While I could write, I can’t draw that well. Outside of a few concept sketches, I couldn’t draw panels.

So I self-published the story in 2002 and took it to the paperback market.

Isis comission by Terry Beatty I had made to
celebrate the 10th Annversary in print.
But that's what she looks like when  I
Imagine her.
But could it have worked as a comic? Ten years after the book went to print I still think it can.

One of my long-term goals in life was to turn Isis into a graphic novel. And I still think it could be one of the gateways to bringing Black female readers into comics. I know there’s an audience of Black women who enjoy sci-fi and fantasy. I think they’d be eager to give comics a chance if they were offered material tailored to them.

But the only barriers to reaching that market are comic publishers’ misogyny towards women. Black female readers aren’t going to buy comics featuring pregnant single mothers like Rocket. No, sistas want to see heroines who are just as cool and have great adventures like their male counterparts.

I believe if comic publishers made a serious effort into reaching the Black female audience it could be part of the breakthrough in reversing the two-decade long slump in the comic book industry. Black women spend billions of dollars in the book market. If comic publishers could get just a few thousand of those sistas to come into the comic shop and try comics, it could open up the industry to a whole new audience of readers.

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