whimsicalnobodycomics asked: What are your thoughts on why there is such a small number of African-American female "indie" cartoonists? Or are we just not hearing about them?
No, I think that the number is actually just really small. It bothers me so much. I’ve looked and looked but I’ve only found a handful of African American women cartoonists. I haven’t even been able to wager a solid guess as to why we see so few black women doing comics.
It is obviously a cultural problem of some kind. In our kind of comics, there isn’t anybody to overtly prevent anyone from participating. There are no cultural gatekeepers to exclude or dissuade black women from participating in indie comics. So the question of why black women are not nearly as represented in indie comics seems to be a question of access or exposure.
This ties into my yelling about public comics such as newspaper strips, poster-comics and the like. If comics as an art form are contained to a cyclical ecosystem, we need to intentionally break comics out of that ecosystem. Explore new venues to put this work into the grasp of all people, everywhere. If some groups of people don’t frequent places where comics are found, then find those people and bring comics TO them.
That’s how I feel about what should be done to cultivate a more widespread interest. But I’m still terribly hazy on the initial question of how it came to be this way in the first place.
Black people go where we are wanted—or at the very least, tolerated. This is not due to laziness, or the lack of a desire to push beyond the boundaries of what is “suitably black.” This is done to protect our lives, our livelihoods, and our income.
The reason why black people do not have a larger presence in comics now is because we were actively pushed out then. White newsprint makers refused to sell newsprint to black comic publishers such as Orrin C. Evans. White creators used anti-black caricatures such as Ebony White (derived from antiquated slave imagery depicting black people as hideous beats) in their works. Finally, the demise of the black newspaper meant that the one place openly hospitable to black cartoonists had been lost. Of course, there were white organizations such as Esquire who would hire African American artists, but the race of the gentlemen (not women) hired remained an industry secret. To the mainstream public, the comics industry was simply not an option for black people—and was a place where they could be ridiculed for entertainment purposes. And for the rare black individuals who forged ahead anyway? It was undoubtedly rough.
But you’ve asked about black female indie cartoonists and you’ve asked about the present, not the past. But the answer is the same, we go where we believe we are wanted or tolerated. And we know it’s safe when we see positive reflections of ourselves. Those reflections are found mainly in mainstream superhero books. Of course, there are no black women working at the “big seven” in a creative or editorial capacity, but we are there within the panels. And those panels get a great deal of publicity. Storm and Vixen are brought to the mainstream via Marvel’s and DC’s PR behemoths. Black women see these characters and assume that there is a place for them (leading to disappointment upon the discovery of the true mainstream industry behind the four-color curtain). These women add to mainstream comic culture through fan art and fanfiction—and some move onto original superhero characters.
The indie/DIY scene is actually more hospitable to black women than the mainstream industry. Anyone is welcome to grab a pen, hang a shingle, and do their own thing. You can actually find a small number of black women creating and editing comics. But these women aren’t broadcast to the public. The image of the indie scene that is pushed to the public—the media focus—is one of the navel-gazing white guy. The black women hustling on the web? The ones trying to make things happen via Kickstarter? They are invisible.
I founded the Ormes Society in the hopes of making these amazing women visible to the mainstream. It is my hope that the followers the Ormes Society has attracted will sample the works of these women after perusing the latest scans of Storm or Vixen—that not only will they absorb positive images of fictional black women, but they will read the words of real ones as well. The more these women are seen, the more other women will follow.
(I plan to drag as many in as I possibly can.)
Darryl’s tumblr essays are always thoughtful. Also, do head to that Ormes Society link.
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