The New York Comic Con was host to “The Black Panel” on Saturday afternoon, where a variety of black voices in comics and animation discussed their upcoming work. At the panel were BET’s Vice President of Animation Denys Cowan, musician Prodigal Sunn, AllHipHop.com CEO/Founder Chuck “Jigsaw” Creekmur, Jackie Ormes Society’s Cheryl Lynn, Blockhedz creators Mark and Mike Davis, and BET’s President of Entertainment Reginald Hudlin. Several of the panelists seemed to be late additions, since they were not named in pre-con announcements.
The Davis twins showed off an animation test for Blockhedz, which showed the same melding of styles from the source comics, combining hip-hop music videos and anime to produce something distinct and innovative. Mike and Mark Davis stated that the music would be incorporated as part of the storyline, and that the animation test was a way to figure out a production path to bring Blockhedz into a full-fledged animated production. After the Blockhedz video clip, Reginald Hudlin spent a few minutes recapping his long way around to become a comic book writer. His initial entertainment successes were as the director of House Party and Boomerang and producer of the animated TV series Bebe’s Kids. He recounted how working with legendary comics artist Neal Adams led to a meeting with Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada and Marvel editor Axel Alonso, where Hudlin stated, “Spider-Man is the Beatles, and as much as I love the Beatles, we live in a hip-hop era.” Ultimately, he was handed the reins to the Black Panther monthly comic book title. Hudlin discussed the recent events in the title, such as the Panther’s role in Civil War, the marriage of the character to Storm of the X-Men (joking that, “Storm actually admitted she was was black”), and a trip of Marvel’s black superheroes to post-Hurricane Katrina reconstruction and relief. He garnered applause when he stated that the Black Panther and Storm would be leading the Fantastic Four in the aftermath of Civil War. Michael Davis reminded audiences of his new comics imprint named Guardian, which will be the spiritual successor to the Milestone line of comics, and also noted his weekly column on the ComicMix website. He also said that he is doing a graphic novel on the Underground Railroad coming soon from Dark Horse Comics. Musician Prodigal Sunn then updated audiences on his plans for a cartoon that would challenge conventional wisdoms and openly address a variety of taboo topics, saying that he was “going to touch all the things people don’t know” and adding that enlightening audiences about injustices, both open and secret, is the first step to instigating the drive for change. There was no word on when the cartoon would be going into full production. Panelist Cheryl Lynn announced the Ormes Society, dedicated to the promotion of past and present black female cartoonists.
The society is named after the first female African-American syndicated cartoonist, who created Torchy Brown as a working woman several years before the debut of Brenda Starr. She noted the organization’s goals of raising awareness of current black female cartoonists and the long and largely unchronicled legacy that they are upholding. Chuck “Jigsaw” Creekmur of AllHipHop.com stated that he co-founded his website due to his love of music, hip-hop, and comics. He is currently developing a comic/cartoon titled which he described as in the same vein as comic strips like The Boondocks or Dilbert.
Denys Cowan closed the organized portion of the panel by recounting his past history in the comics industry, stating that he was standing on the shoulders of the black comic book artists that came before him such as Billy Graham. He also reminded panel attendees that he will be returning to drawing Batman for Batman Confidential.
The first question during the Q&A section was the perennial favorite on how to break into comics, although this time from the perspective of a black creator. Mark Davis responded that it required working harder, and that in a lot of cases you had to do things yourself. Jigsaw also stated that picking up on new technologies is a powerful way to gain leverage in the industry, citing the success of his own website as an example. He went on to note that it’s helpful to “hang around like-minded people,” and emphasized the importance of dialogue across many different people.
One questioner noted the strong anime influences on Blockhedz, and asked about the cultural crossover between Asian- and African-Americans. This generated an enthusiastic response from the panelists, with Samurai Champloo and Afro Samurai being cited as successful crossovers between the two cultures. Hudlin noted that the Black/Asian crossover was beginning as early as the 1970’s due to Bruce Lee, stating that his “Holy Trinity” as a boy was, “Malcolm X, Bootsy, and Bruce Lee.” He went on to say that the hybrid cultural products, such as Rush Hour and several of Jet Li’s American films, have proven to be creatively explosive and commercially successful. Mark Davis noted that the growing mainstream acceptance of anime meant that many artists could acknowledge its influence far more openly than before, stating that anime was successful in the ‘hood well before it was in the mainstream and that the success of the Wu-Tang Clan successfully commercialized the synergy. Denys Cowan added that he had no issues working with the Korean animation studios for BET’s productions, calling them professional and competent and saying he’d love to go back to work with them again. Cheryl Lynn noted a darker side to the crossover in the form of ugly stereotypes in many earlier Japanese manga, but added that in her experience, this was a racism born of ignorance rather than malice. She stated that when she blogged about how much one manga upset her, she received many supportive and apologetic e-mails from manga readers who said they were not aware of how hurtful these depictions were. Hudlin concluded this question by saying that, “Love is in the room, and from love comes beautiful things” (a point reinforced by Michael Davis, who noted that his wife is Asian). A question was raised about homophobia in Black and Latin popular culture, and asked whether comics or animation would challenge this issue. Lynn pointed out that DC Comics’ Renee Montoya was black, Hispanic, and lesbian (at which Hudlin joked, “She’ll never get a cab”). However, the point was well received by the panel attendees, with Michael Davis pointing out that Milestone had several gay characters and that he wanted Guardian to be written by people who have lived the experience. Hudlin also cited the work of the Hernandez Brothers as exemplary in this regard.
Reginald Hudlin was asked several questions about his work on Marvel Comics’ Black Panther. He stated that he essentially had free rein to create past history for Marvel’s black superhero characters, asking “Why didn’t Black Panther and Luke Cage ever talk?” He also fielded a question about the marriage of Storm and Black Panther, quipping that the first step for the pair as a power couple was to go into rehab. He did answer more seriously, dodging whether kids were in the immediate future. He did say that one of the functions of a king and queen is to make princes and princesses, which led to a joke about naming the kids “Thundercats.” He added that he doesn’t own the characters and final say on what happens is not in his hands, but that his goal was to stay on Black Panther long enough that it would be hard for any future writers to break up the Storm/Panther marriage.