About a year ago I was leaving New York City Comic Con late at night, staring at a Wonder Woman print I got from Marco D’Alfonso, when I noticed some graffiti on the ground I had stepped on. I took a step back and saw a tag on this block of cement that read, “What if only black people got super powers?” Dude… I didn’t know what this was about — whether this was street art, an advertisement, or something else — but that question stuck with me for days on end. Needless to say I Instagramed the shit outta that tag. I was telling all my friends about it too, when a few months later I came across Black.
Black is a graphic novel focused on a kid named Kareem Jenkins who, after being gunned down by police, realizes he has superpowers, which is common trait in most Black people that the government (of course) was trying to keep under wraps. Off the strength, this is the shit I’ve been waiting for. This is the shit I’ve been 6-God Prayers Hands’ing to be blessed with for the longest. As the call for diversity and better representation continues on the forefront of entertainment we’re starting to see more characters as people of color in popular books, which is great, however, the majority of their narratives are still being written by White writers.
This shit right here, though? I said this shit right here, my fangirls and fanboys? The atmosphere on this shit right here be so Black. This is a project of comic vets coming together to hop in the booth and laying down greatness on panel, page, and press. We got the creator Kwanza Osajyefo putting down bars, co-creator Tim Smith designing this mofo, Jamal Igle on interior illustrations, and Khary Randolph putting the body kit on with the cover art. This is a story being told by a Black creative team about Black characters reflecting present-day topics in the Black community.
“An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.” -Nina Simone
Y’all don’t hear me though. I said these cats goin’ straight for the jugular with what’s happening in present day and keeping it one hunned in the translation on page. As I’ve grown with comics I’m more and more interested in those where art imitates life. To me this project is what the X-Men were trying to go for as they debuted in the Civil Rights era and mutants were used as a metaphor for minorities… but the only way for America to grasp that message was making White folks with powers the mutants (read: “minorities”). Professor Charles Xavier and Magneto are modeled after MLK and Malcolm X’s ideologies but (ironically enough) not their ethnicity, but it was a different time then, right?
Maaaaaan listen, this is 2016 baby, no more sugar coating. No more walking on egg shells for your relative that is “from a different time.” Fuck all that. This graphic novel is putting us straight up in the thick of it. Our protagonist Kareem is going to have to decide what he is going to do with his new found powers: hide them, or become something more. And this is why I say this book is straight up art imitating life — isn’t that always the choice when it comes to our blackness? To hide it or revel in it? Each with their own separate consequences.
There are other characters listed in the project’s Kickstarter that are sure to be just as interesting as Kareem, each seeming to represent a path he could follow. The one that stands out the most to me is O. He is labeled as “The terrorist” and “America’s worst nightmare,” which gets me thinking who’s America are we talking about? I don’t know what my man is up to but I’m not even going to lie… I’m fucking here for it and rooting for his ass already.
I’m probably getting ahead of myself in assuming that O is the Steve Biko/Jean-Jacques Dessalines of the collection who is just FED UP, but that is coming from my own bias. This book isn’t even out yet but the creators have made it so easy for the reader to put themselves into Kareem’s situation. This is a universe where only the soul of Black folk have super powers; where the have-nots finally have the power to take; where the laws and bullets protecting the oppressors and the one-percenters can get paper thin real quick.
Listen, I wanted to keep it neutral in reporting this, but my dude, if I got super powers? Me? On my life I’d be on my Magneto shit the very next day. No fighting to protect those that fear and hate us either. NOOOOOOOOOPE, ’cause I’ma tell you like Gary Jackson’s “Missing You, Metropolis” told me…
“…someone must be a villain for the dead”
As gritty, real, and blunt in the approach of only Black people having super powers and the way in which Kareem discovers his after being gunned down, I can already tell that Black is going to be that graphic novel I go back to when need for self-care arises. I think that’s probably where much of the anticipation for this project to drop comes from. The death of another Black body and the parading around of it by a faction of desensitized media at such a constant rate — it leaves this space where we start over with a new body, a new woman or man, and a growing sense of cynicism for a justice system we’re seeing doesn’t care, or work, for us.
There’s this speechlessness that occurs in the midst of all that, this void in which everyone finds themselves in order to cope with what’s happening. Our Editor In Chief touched on that with in discussing binge sessions of anime when the news became too much. I can see Black becoming that refuge for a myself and perhaps others as an anchor for self care.
Find the Kickstarter for Black right here (and their twitter account here). It’s funding goal has been doubled because trill recognize trill, so don’t let that stop you from backing this art. The proceeds are going towards publishing, illustrating, and delivering this raw to us, the consumers. If all goes according to plan we’re looking at a mid-2016 drop and it will be released in 6 chapters. I don’t know how else to say it, this is a story for us, by us, that we’ve been asking for.