There aren't too many black superheroes, judging by the stars of summer blockbusters and the faces seen in mainstream comics.
The mission of the annual East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention this weekend is to push for greater representation of blacks in comics — and to promote youth literacy along the way.
“They're basing the movies on the stories most people are familiar with,” says Yumy Odom, who founded the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention in 2002. “It's really about having a range of characters, that's what's missing. A lot of it is stereotypes and [black characters] who are secondary and tertiary characters in the stories. They're turning out a black Batman, who needs that? Why not make an entirely new character?”
Artist and writer Jack Kirby is considered a trailblazer for black characters — his Black Panther was the first black superhero in a mainstream title when he appeared in the “Fantastic Four” in 1966 — but the Panther started an unfortunate trend for Kirby. He gave several of his black characters the prefix “black” for their superhero names.
Creating comics from a white perspective is a deep-rooted condition, Odom says: “Sometimes black artists will have the same mind frame as some of the other people and never draw a black character.”
The convention opens with the Glyph Comics Awards, which recognizes the best in comics made by, for and about black people in the last year. On Saturday, it's a day of networking, panel discussions, film screenings, a comic book marketplace, workshops, and a "cosplay," i.e. costume play, event. Highlights include a screening of the documentary “White Scripts and Black Supermen,” which will be followed by a discussion with filmmaker Jonathan Gayles.
“We're celebrating black-themed comic books and trying to get people on board with the 21st-century,” Odom says.