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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Creating Black Comic Book Characters Vs. Creating Comic Characters That are Black

In the Comic book industry there are often complaints about the lack of diversity in between the panels of the funny books. And the result is publishers usually creating “Black” characters to fill the void in the seemingly all-White world of Comics. Unfortunately the result of creating these “Black” characters is usually an ancillary token character most readers of any race don’t relate to or identify with outside of the color of their skin. Walking, talking stereotypes or underdeveloped supporting characters that get next to no direction and really don’t grow past a certain point. Characters whose dialogue can be exchanged with another Black character and they could say the exact same thing.

 However, when a writer and creator like myself creates a character who is Black we see the content of their character. That allows the reader to have a richer more multi-dimensional reading experience as they develop and evolve in a story.

What’s the difference between creating a Black character and a character who is Black? A big one in the creative process for writers like myself. When a writer is creating a character who is Black there is more of a focus on the content of their internal character traits than the color of their skin. A writer focuses more on personality, “voice” and the internal components of the character more than the race of the character.

And when these internal components of the character are pushed to the forefront readers relate to and identify with a character on a personal level. And instead of race, they start seeing people they can connect with and experiences that are just like theirs. From my experience seeing characters from this perspective has a direct impact on the story and how it’s told.  

I started writing using this technique with a screenplay I wrote called All About Marilyn in 2007. And as I applied this technique I saw a significant change in how I was telling the story. As I focused more on the internal content of Marilyn Marie’s character her “voice” was a lot stronger than that of previous Black characters I’d created and the character had a lot more depth and dimension.

Because of the focus on the content of Marilyn’s character readers were drawn in and became more immersed in the story than previous stories I had written. Literary elements like irony, foreshadowing and symbolism became a lot clearer for the reader to see and the story being told was a lot clearer for the reader to see. The end result was a richer, more multi-dimensional reading experience. When I published the All About Marilyn paperback in 2009 readers of all races were able to relate to and identify with her story and connect with her on a human level.  

Over the years I refined this writing technique on fantasy novels such as The Temptation of John Haynes, contemporary novels such as The Thetas and the books in the modern Isis series. In every book the result was a richer reading experience for readers where readers saw Black characters as people, not their skin colors.

Just recently when I used this technique on Isis :Wrath of the Cybergoddess I found myself so immersed in the story that the characters came to life as I wrote them! “voices” of the characters were strong, and the action scenes practically wrote itself. And instead of it being a story with “Black” Characters it became a story about people.

When a writer writes a story seeing characters as Black they aren’t watering down their creative process. Yes, a writer is still talking about Black issues and Black culture in the characters’ adventures. But the primary focus is telling a characters’ individual story not telling the story of the entire Black race. So the pressure is OFF the writer or creator in making a Black character that represents ALL Black people to the world. They can just tell their stories without thinking it is going to be THE story of the Black experience or THE character that represents all Black people, but one of many stories about Black people and the many Black cultures in America.

The big problem with creating just “Black” characters is that they are designed to represent one monolithic view of Black people and Black culture. And oftentimes due to a nonblack creator having limited experiences with Black people the result is a very underdeveloped character that comes from a very general view of Black culture. That really limits diversity when it comes to story. There are many unique and different experiences and stories that never get any exposure in this model, and that prevents readers from getting the diversity that will give them a broader perspective on the Black culture and the Black experience.

But when a writer or creator like myself designs characters that are Black they get that broader perspective on Black culture and the Black experience. Readers get to see a diverse world of Black people who share different views and different perspectives. That diversity gives them an insight into how others see the world.

When I apply this process to my character creation and character development the result usually are balanced humanized characters that have a lot more depth and dimension than a traditional Black character. Characters that are Black evolve into people the reader wants to be their best friend or their girlfriend. Readers form relationships with people they like and care about and they want to spend more time with them when they read my books. Some even ponder if that character will be back for another story!

With African-American characters I find there’s a desperate need for balance in their creation and design in the comic book and fantasy industry. When a writer or creator like myself focuses more on the content of a character’s internal character traits rather than the color of their skin it allows readers to see them as people instead of stereotype caricatures. From the different viewpoints the characters express the reader gets to experience true diversity that flows organically into a universe and makes the stories in that world all that more richer. 

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