C2E2: WALKER, SEATON, JENNINGS & ROBINSON TALK BLACK MALE REPRESENTATION IN COMICS

Stereotypes are “almost like logos for people, and they function very well. When you’re talking about a system of images that are built to erase humanity, you end up with this situation that endangers us. You think about somebody like Trayvon Martin, who was a ‘thug,’ right? Because of how he was dressed and the skin he was in, he’s characterized, he’s read as a danger.

Actor and A Place of Change Church pastor Mark Smith led a spirited conversation at C2E2 about Black male representation in American comics. Over the course of the presentation, the panel addressed issues of distribution, education, and more. On hand for the panel were “Power Man and Iron Fist” and “Cyborg” writer David Walker; director Eric Dean Seaton, creator of the graphic novel series and short film “Legend of the Mantamaji;” John Jennings, writer of “Kid Code: Channel Zero” and the graphic novel adaptation of Octavia Butler’s “Kindred;” and “Kid Code: Channel Zero” and “I am Alfonso Jones” artist Stacey Robinson.

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Smith began by asking the panelists why it is important to confront stereotypical representations of Black males in comics, with Walker quickly answering. “Because that’s almost all there is,” he said, describing the racial bias as “dehumanizing.” “Even some of the best black characters exist within this ideological framework,” Walker said, explaining that pushing back against stereotypes is “about trying to reclaim our humanity.”

Smith began by asking the panelists why it is important to confront stereotypical representations of Black males in comics, with Walker quickly answering. “Because that’s almost all there is,” he said, describing the racial bias as “dehumanizing.” “Even some of the best black characters exist within this ideological framework,” Walker said, explaining that pushing back against stereotypes is “about trying to reclaim our humanity.”

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“The root word of stereotype is stereos, from the Greek, which means hard and fixed,” Jennings added. Stereotypes are “almost like logos for people, and they function very well. When you’re talking about a system of images that are built to erase humanity, you end up with this situation that endangers us. You think about somebody like Trayvon Martin, who was a ‘thug,’ right? Because of how he was dressed and the skin he was in, he’s characterized, he’s read as a danger. Not able to present himself as an individual, because the stereotype is standing in for everyone who looks like us.” The need, then, is to “construct alternative images to re-teach peoplehow to see us properly.” Stanton added that this also “teaches us to see ourselves.”

Asked whether any of them had received pushback on elements of their work, Walker, who has done the most work with mainstream publishers like DC and Marvel, noted subtle but systemic conflicts. “Not to compare myself with anybody from the Harlem Renaissance,” he began, to considerable laughter, “but one of the big problems the artists of the Harlem Renaissance faced was the problem of patronage. They were white patrons by and large, and the moment their art went too far into their blackness, a lot of patrons started pulling out their money, saying, ‘You’re doing this wrong,’ or, ‘This isn’t a good representation of blackness. You don’t know what it means to be black.’ I haven’t got a lot of that, but some will say, ‘Oh, it’s not like this.’ And I’m like, no, it islike this. So there are certain arguments — and there are younger people in this audience, so I won’t say howI typically respond to those arguments

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Walker said when he’s told “this is how black people act,” he responds, “No, that’s the stereotype, and I’m not here to write the stereotype for you.” He noted that the problem originates in there being so few African Americans in the publishing chain of command at mainstream comics publishers. “If I have to go all the way down to the mailroom, or talk to the guy who’s mopping the floor to get another black person to say, ok, my reference to ‘The Invisible Man’ has nothing to do with H.G. Wells and everything to do with Ellison — the problem is, that’s not my problem. I don’t care that you don’t get me; I’ve earned my place in the room, take your ass down to the library or go on the Internet and figure it out.” click to continue

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