Marvel

4 Black Comic Book Creators Discuss Diversity And The Future Of The Super Hero

'I do think pop culture needs to diversify itself and I think that’s already in progress,' says Brandon Thomas, creator of 'Miranda Mercury.'

In honor of Black History Month, MTV spoke to four black comic book creators who are not only changing the demographics of the characters in comics, but also opening the doors for future comic book creators to tell diverse and inspiring new stories.

REGINALD HUDLIN

Ingrid Hertfelder

Reginald Hudlin is the president of Hudlin Entertainment, producer of “Django Unchained,” former President of Entertainment for BET, and has written Marvel’s “Black Panther.”

MTV: What first got you interested in comics?

REGINALD HUDLIN: My older brothers read them so why not read comics? Great stories, great art… I feel like the world is catching up to what fans have always known.

My parents were supportive of us reading and never threw comics out. I still have our collective collection, which now has its own room.

MTV: How does African-American culture and identity shape your comics?

HUDLIN: The best comics were always culturally relevant in the times they were created, just like music. You plug into universal relatability by working out of your specific experience…because people aren’t really that different.

MTV: Have you faced prejudice for being African-American in the comics medium?

HUDLIN: The majority of my encounters have been very positive. Part of that comes from me entering the business when there was a changing of the guard at the top, and part of that comes from me entering comics after having a successful career in movies and television.

It’s more about overcoming historical challenges in the marketplace when it comes to black characters. Any time you do a book that reaches beyond the existing comic book fanbase, it’s a problem for publishers because they don’t know how to connect to that bigger audience who likely doesn’t know there are comics that they would like if they knew they existed and knew where to buy them.

MTV: Superhero movies have been doing really well lately. Do you think more black superhero movies can help make a paradigm shift for comics and movies culture?

HUDLIN: Sure. I think seeing President Palmer on “24" helped a lot of Americans visualize what a successful presidency by an African-American would look like, making it easier for them to vote for President Obama.

There are plenty of white, Latin and Asian people who grew up loving “Black Panther” and “Static Shock.” When those characters are seen in live action movies and TV shows, we can’t really measure how big the global impact of that positive imagery will have on people.

MTV: What do you want people to take away from your comics?

HUDLIN: They should have fun. If you read a comic and get pumped, have a laugh, feel inspired and get hit in the feels, that’s a total entertainment experience!

MTV: What advice do you have for a young person looking to break in to this medium?

HUDLIN: There are way too many people doing derivative work. Ironically, I see it a lot in creator-owned work. Folks are either trying to knock off their favorite comic, or they are being “different" in the same ways everyone else is.

JERRY CRAFT

Hollis King

Jerry Craft is the creator of “Mama’s Boyz” and “The Offenders: Saving the World While Serving Detention!” and is a five-time winner at the African American Literary Awards.

MTV: What first got you interested in comics?

JERRY CRAFT: My brother and sister had a comic collection. I was not a book reader, so comic books were really the only thing I enjoyed reading. To this day I have my collection, which is probably over 5,000 comics.

MTV: How does African-American culture and identity shape your comics?

CRAFT: It is paramount. I usually look to fulfill a specific need. When I created my “Mama’s Boyz” comics, I had only seen a few comic strips that had African-American characters in starring roles. A lot of the time there would be one incidental character, like how “Peanuts” had Franklin.

MTV: Have you faced prejudice for being African-American in the comic industry?

CRAFT: Yeah. I think the biggest one is what we call the Highlander Syndrome where “there can be only one.” A newspaper can have three talking dog strips or three talking cat strips, but the “black strips” ... a lot of papers and syndicates will say, “We’ve got ours. We don’t need any others. We have ‘Curtis.’” There were very few newspapers I saw that ran more than one. It’s the same for books. It really did teach me that if I wanted to reach my audience, there was a lot I had to do on my own.

Jerry Craft

MTV: Superhero movies have been doing really well lately. Do you think more black superhero movies can help make a paradigm shift for comics and movies culture?

CRAFT: You know, I think it would be great. I think if they were done with the same budget and quality as “Avengers” and “Iron Man” movies, they would be successful.

MTV: What do you want people to take away from your comics?

CRAFT: When we put on the Black Comic Book Fest in Schomburg, one of the best things about it is that it’s not attended by the normal comic fan. We have a lot of families bringing their sons and daughters to the event and you have not only kids saying, “Wow, I want to do this,” but we have a lot of moms and grandmothers get very tearful and say, “You know, all my son does is comics. And I’ve been telling him it’s stupid, and now I see this really is an industry and I’m going to encourage him.”

JAMAR NICHOLAS

Pedro Leal

Jamar Nicholas did the graphic novel adaptation of “Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun” and his newest graphic novel, “LEON: Protector of the Playground,” will be available this spring.

MTV: What first got you interested in comics?

NICHOLAS: Watching the live action “Spider-Man” television show. At the corner store in my neighborhood in West Philly, they used to sell repackaged comic books. They had Spider-Man comics there and I stumbled into that at one point and fell in love with them.

MTV: How does African-American culture and identity shape your comics?

NICHOLAS: Being African-American informs everything I do, especially creatively. All the characters I create and stories I do generally revolve around African-Americans. They’re just stories about people who happen to have brown skin and it’s not an issue.

MTV: Have you faced prejudice for being African-American in the comics medium?

NICHOLAS: That’s always touchy because I could easily say, “I didn’t get something because of that.” You’re never really sure. I think I’ve gotten more discrimination from some fans and their comic book tastes. As an example, I had a comic book signing in the middle of Texas. I got a lot of weird looks while sitting at the table. Another hurdle I have to jump over is making things accessible to people who don’t really know they want to read it. It’s a lot easier to sell a book with a Caucasian face on the cover.

Jamar Nichols

MTV: Superhero movies have been doing really well lately. Do you think more black superhero movies can help make a paradigm shift for comics and movies culture?

NICHOLAS: Sure, sure. With the “Captain America” movie you had the Falcon in it and that’s all cool. I was just at a comic book convention in Harlem on this panel and someone in the audience asked how we as creators felt about there not being more black superhero main characters. My answer was, “Well, that’s all fine and good, but are you still reading comics with that kind of content?” People will always talk about the movie, as if that’s the ultimate form of entertainment. But if people aren’t buying the comics, then it’s easy for people to say, “Well, no one’s interested in this, so why should we make a movie?”

MTV: What do you want people to take away from your comics?

NICHOLAS: Strong stories from a voice they may not be familiar with.

MTV: What advice do you have for a young person looking to break in to this medium?

NICHOLAS: People have been saying this from the beginning of time: tell your story. Write and draw about what you believe in and what you love, because your passion will come out.

BRANDON THOMAS

R. Wagner

Brandon Thomas has written for Marvel, DC and Dynamite and created Miranda Mercury, a female black science heroine. He also promises he has something big on the horizon.

MTV: What first got you interested in comics?

THOMAS: My father was into comics when he was a kid and he used to bring me comics from the train station. When I was 12-years-old, he took me to my first dedicated comics shop and basically turned me loose.

MTV: How does African-American culture and identity shape your comics?

THOMAS: Well, it shapes my life, therefore it shapes my comics. I think one of the primary things I keep in mind is it gives an extra layer of responsibility I feel, as a black creator, to do what I can to improve the images and viability of black creators and black characters.

MTV: Have you faced prejudice for being African-American in the comic industry?

THOMAS: Without getting too far into it, I do think in certain instances it’s helped my progress and in certain cases it’s impeded my progress. I think it’s something the comics industry overall is still struggling with. But it does seem they’re realizing diversity would be an asset and progress is being made. Maybe not as much as we’d like, but I’ve always been a big believer that you have to acknowledge progress and take the win. There’s usually a lot of hand-wringing and complaining, but I think you can’t be so focused on the things that have gone wrong in the past that it blinds you to the future, which is very much possible.

Archaia

MTV: Superhero movies have been doing really well lately. Do you think more black superhero movies can help make a paradigm shift for comics and movies culture?

THOMAS: Absolutely. I think we’re already seeing that. Look at what’s happening with TV this year: “How to Get Away With Murder,” “Empire,” “Black-ish.” I do think pop culture needs to diversify itself and I think that’s already in progress.

MTV: What advice do you have for a young person looking to break in to this medium?

THOMAS: [laughs] I would say with the advent of digital comics, it’s never been “easier” — and when I say “easier,” I mean “easier” in quotes — to break into comics. I think if you want to get into the comic book industry, you should make comics. Don’t wait for someone to come along and publish your work. With digital comics, you can show other fans, other people, other publishers, that you can make comics.