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Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Challenges of Creating Black Female Superheroes


I’m starting to understand why there aren’t many Black female superheroes or comic book characters. The obstacles a creator has to face in presenting a Black woman in a solo book can be frustrating and even overwhelming at times.  


As a creator of Black female superheroines like Isis and E’steem, I’ve run into so a lot of resistance. And sadly, most of it comes from Black people.

One of the big challenges I run into is when some Black people try to turn things regarding Black female superheroines into a lightskin/darkskin debate. Instead of judging characters like Isis by the content of their character they only look at the color of their skin. And they use skintone as an excuse to not read any of the material I’m presenting to them. For them a character like Isis or E’steem just isn’t “Black” even though they’re created by a Black man and are rooted in African-American history and culture.


However, a Black character like Storm and Black Panther created by Jewish and White men are considered “Black” by those same Black masses.


Latest Isis book! 
After telling me that Isis  isn’t “Black” these same people launch into shaming tactics and ad-hominem attacks telling me that I’m colorstruck. Some will even go on to say I prefer light-skinned women in real life. A few will tell me I even hate Black women.


Even though the White haired blue-eyed Storm doesn’t look anything like any of the Sistas on the block. Nor does she act like them.


Because many never give Isis a chance they never get past the surface to learn about the substance of the character. If they stayed to read the stories, they’d come to understand that Isis’ golden skintone is supposed to symbolize or reflect on her Heliopolitan heritage. In Ancient Egypt and Nubia statues of the gods were made of gold and adorned with precious stones to show how much they valued their relationship with the gods.


Moreover, Isis’ golden skintone is to add a little diversity to the ranks of Black heroines. In comics and fantasy Black comes in more than one shade and that’s not really reflected in genre fiction and comics. Almost every Black character is the same shade of brown. And when it comes to the genre someone needs to make the statement that we all don’t look alike. 


And if they stayed to read the stories they’d find that the goddess next door is a lot like them and has their experience in her adventures. I make every effort to incorporate not just Heliopolitan mythology into the Isis series but African-American history and Black culture into the stories. Much of what’s unique about being a Black woman is featured in every Isis series story, and many miss out on some great stories because they judge the character based on a skintone instead of judging the content on its merits.


A few Black people I’ve encountered who don’t “get” fantasy try to project their reality into the life of the character. Many Black people just can’t allow themselves to suspend their disbelief about a Black female heroine existing. Instead of just reading the story and enjoying it as is, they start trying to pick apart the concept. Saying this wouldn’t happen. Or that wouldn’t happen. Some even start getting angry and start talking about what they’d do in a particular situation.


Some will tell me that Isis can’t be the daughter of Osiris. However, these same Black people will go out and buy Monster High Dolls for their kids and have no problem believing it’s actually biologically possible for undead creatures like vampires and dead beings like mummies can have daughters like Draculaura and Cleo De Nile. Again, because Monster High comes from a White Corporation, Black people have no problem accepting the concepts as believable in the realm of reality.


However, these same Black people will have a problem accepting a concept of Osiris having a daughter. Or that Osiris’ daughter would identify as a Black woman. A few would even dare to call her a White woman based on an image.


Even though in the first Isis story she clearly says that the people with skin her color and hair her texture were Negroes. Even though she says in Chapter 15 of the first Isis story that she experienced racism and White Supremacy first hand in the 1800s’ during her travels in the North, had her home in the South burned to the ground by the Ku Klux Klan and even witnessed her husband being lynched and saw her son murdered before her very eyes before these same urban terrorists before they tried to rape her.


If that’s not Black enough for some of these Negroes I don’t know what would be considered “Black” for them.


What I’ve run into with Isis with some Black people regarding Isis and E’steem are the clearest cases of cognitive distortion I’ve ever seen. Because the concepts are coming from a Black man they have a hard time believing it.


Because Isis is a Black heroine not sanctioned by the White liberal mainstream media many Black people just have a problem dealing with the ideas presented to them. For many Black folks, unless a White liberal in mainstream media approves of a Black concept it’s not safe for some “Black” people to embrace.


Another challenge I run into is Black people trying to project their values on the characters. With the E’steem series some will complain about E’steem still having a demonic visage.


However, these same people will have no problem embracing a White demonic character such as a Ghost Rider, the Demon Etrigan, or Chaos! Comics Purgatori. And most people of all races will embrace Todd McFarlane’s Spawn without thinking twice about it.


On E’steem some will say I’m trying to promote Satanism. Others will say that I’m trying to promote devil worship.





When it’s not any of those things. E’steem was inspired by my love of Salli Richardson Whitfield’s acting. Back in 1995 when I was watching Gargoyles, I learned she was the first Black woman to land a lead in a Disney project. Inspired, I wanted to create a character that I believed would show her acting range. With bad guys being more memorable than heroes in Disney movies, I thought E’steem could be on the same level as the Ursulas and Malefecents. Besides, what better villain to take on a Heliopolitan goddess than a she-demon?


As the character evolved, she became her own person. And as she changed I tried to give readers a more balanced picture of the character to make her a bit more multidimensional than your standard Disney villain. That was one of the reasons I brought the character into The Temptation of John Haynes and put her through her own character transformation arc. 


What’s even sadder is that many of these same people will get upset about E’steem becoming a Christian at the end of The Temptation of John Haynes and grouse about her still having her demon powers a the conclusion of the story. Not understanding that I’m crafting a second character transformation arc, where the character changes and grows over time, they insist that the character turn into some Maude Flanders type character who bullies and shames people into seeing the same light she’s discovered.


What’s even stranger is that these same Black people will look at a White character such as a John Constantine who deals in occult, magic, demons and religion like E’steem does and praises him as a complex multidimensional character. And they’ll have no problem embracing a White woman like Zatanna who also uses magic and deals with the same issues E’steem faces in her adventures.


When it comes to Black male heroes I don’t see half the obstacles I’ve run into with trying to create Black female superheroines. With a Black male character, readers will embrace them without question. However, when it comes to creating a Black female heroines, I’m finding there’s a huge wall that I’ve had to climb to try to reach readers of color to show them what the sistas have to offer them.


Black women are strong and courageous. And we rarely see that strength of character and courage depicted in the pages of comic books and fantasy fiction. Over the past few years I’ve been trying to balance that picture out by presenting those stories of strength and courage in the Isis and E’steem series.


I’d like to think Black women could do better than being a supporting character like Storm, Rocket or Misty Knight or an ancillary character like Bumblebee or Vixen. I’d like to believe that a Black heroine had the richness and complexity to carry her own book the way Isis and E’steem do and tell their own stories about being a Black heroine the way Isis and E’steem do right now. I’d like to believe that little girls can imagine themselves as goddesses and see themselves as taking the lead in their own world than being in the background of someone elses’. That’s how I imagined the world over 15 years ago when I created Isis and E’steem, but I don’t know if any other Black people share my vision for the future.


I believe there is an audience for a Black heroine in comic books and the fantasy genres. And that’s why I’ll keep persevering in the face of all the obstacles in front of me. The more I struggle, the more progress I believe I’ll make.


To get readers into the adventures of Black heroines, I’m offering the Isis/E’steem crossover on Kindle Unlimited and in paperback this summer. In both stories readers will see what makes Black heroines great and what makes their stories distinct. And I’m planning a major story in the Isis series that will be completely immersive in Black culture and the Black experience. Something I think will get readers to think about what’s truly distinct about the experiences of Black women in genre fiction and comics.




8 comments:

  1. Shawn,

    You falling into.the super talented, but a bit hard headed category.

    Dont you understand ? Blacks are extremely color sensitive when it comes to portrayals of themselves and justifiably so. White supremacy has had centuries of tell Blacks that they are unnattractive and.can only.be attractive if they are"light, bright, near white".

    It is interesting that you say the Esteem was based on Sally Richardson and your admiration/desire for her. In case you didnt notice, Sally Richardson is Mullatto !. She does not in any way shape or form look like most Black women. You have merel6 confirmed what
    many suspected.....you have a 'thing' for the light skinned women and use them as inspiration.

    Clearly you must understand that this is clearly unsettling to Black people, but Black women in specific. How can you ask them to overlook that when that issue is one of the main ones Black women and Black girls deal with ?

    You are being myopic and insensitive to your target market. They perceive it as disrespect. What you intend in your mind is irrelevant. The recipients of the message are offended.

    As a businessman and a conscientious person you should make some changes....even as a experiment just to see it works to increase sales.

    Dont cut off your nose to spite your face.....pennyqise and pound foolish.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Shawn,

    You falling into.the super talented, but a bit hard headed category.

    Dont you understand ? Blacks are extremely color sensitive when it comes to portrayals of themselves and justifiably so. White supremacy has had centuries of tell Blacks that they are unnattractive and.can only.be attractive if they are"light, bright, near white".

    It is interesting that you say the Esteem was based on Sally Richardson and your admiration/desire for her. In case you didnt notice, Sally Richardson is Mullatto !. She does not in any way shape or form look like most Black women. You have merel6 confirmed what
    many suspected.....you have a 'thing' for the light skinned women and use them as inspiration.

    Clearly you must understand that this is clearly unsettling to Black people, but Black women in specific. How can you ask them to overlook that when that issue is one of the main ones Black women and Black girls deal with ?

    You are being myopic and insensitive to your target market. They perceive it as disrespect. What you intend in your mind is irrelevant. The recipients of the message are offended.

    As a businessman and a conscientious person you should make some changes....even as a experiment just to see it works to increase sales.

    Dont cut off your nose to spite your face.....pennyqise and pound foolish.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Deek Salli Richardson calls herself Black. And she has done more for Black women than some so-called Dark skinned women. In addition to getting that lead in Gargoyles, she has helped numerous Black Causes and has worked with directors like Ava DuVerunay when she was obscure and unknown. I go by her record in the community and that's why she's a major inspiration for me.

    That whole lightskin/Darkskin nonsense is one of the reasons why Black people can't grow. Black is Black IMO, And these color issues keep people from seeing the quality of content because there's so much focus on skin color.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Shawn,

    What Sally has done is irrelevant. The bottom line is that she does not look like what 90% of Black women look like ....period. She is mulatta.

    Why is it so hard for you to have cover art that reflects approximately what your target market looks like ?

    You say that the lightskin/darkskin thing is nonsense....well that is just you being tone deaf and willfully blind. It is not nonsense.....sufficient numbers of Black people have told you this already.

    For Black people living in a White Supremacist society it is not nonsense.....especially for females..
    It is near impossible for Black women darker than a paper bag to get consistent work of any kind in media/entertainment....and when they do it is usually as a nanny, maid, cook, slave, etc...

    You as a Black man should know better. Your willful ignorance is telling. Blacks cant grow because they fail to take stock of reality like you are doing now.

    You insist on pushing the 'light' girl on your covers even though it is costing you sales. That is irrational behavior. You are impeding your own progress.

    Do not trivialize 'color issues' . White Supremacy is alive, well, and all too real. How about you stop focusing on white/near white women and give the Black readers someone they can identify with....or at least an image that wont alienate them.

    Is is that important to you to have a white/mulatta woman on your covers that it costs you money and exposure ??? If so, then you fit the definition of being color struck....another sad victim of White Supremacy who has internalized negative feeling about women who have the same color and features you do.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Shawn,

    What Sally has done is irrelevant. The bottom line is that she does not look like what 90% of Black women look like ....period. She is mulatta.

    Why is it so hard for you to have cover art that reflects approximately what your target market looks like ?

    You say that the lightskin/darkskin thing is nonsense....well that is just you being tone deaf and willfully blind. It is not nonsense.....sufficient numbers of Black people have told you this already.

    For Black people living in a White Supremacist society it is not nonsense.....especially for females..
    It is near impossible for Black women darker than a paper bag to get consistent work of any kind in media/entertainment....and when they do it is usually as a nanny, maid, cook, slave, etc...

    You as a Black man should know better. Your willful ignorance is telling. Blacks cant grow because they fail to take stock of reality like you are doing now.

    You insist on pushing the 'light' girl on your covers even though it is costing you sales. That is irrational behavior. You are impeding your own progress.

    Do not trivialize 'color issues' . White Supremacy is alive, well, and all too real. How about you stop focusing on white/near white women and give the Black readers someone they can identify with....or at least an image that wont alienate them.

    Is is that important to you to have a white/mulatta woman on your covers that it costs you money and exposure ??? If so, then you fit the definition of being color struck....another sad victim of White Supremacy who has internalized negative feeling about women who have the same color and features you do.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Here is a suggestion.

    How about you do a KICKSTARTER campaign for some new cover art featuring Black women.

    This way it wont affect your profits...

    ReplyDelete
  7. I contributed to one of your prior kickstarters.... but it didnt work out....

    I would love to buy your books for my girls and nieces etc.....but in good conscious i cant....not with those images....

    ReplyDelete