First of all, I want to say: Justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Nina Pop, and David McAtee. These are just the most recent names in a long line of individuals who have lost their lives to systemic racism. They will not be forgotten.
This has been a really rough year. And the last few weeks have brought it well past the tipping point, and it’s been increasingly hard to find inspiration.
When I sat down to write this article, I wasn’t sure what to do. It didn’t feel right to write something that didn’t address what was going on. This is a time for action. And that can be done in a lot of different ways. Something I’ve seen a lot on Twitter the past week are threads from and about Black creators and their work in an effort to bring light to them and support them during this time. So instead of posting a black box on Instagram, let’s amplify some Black creatives and the stories that they give us. This is a short list of creators I actively follow.
James F. Wright
James is one of the kindest people I’ve met in my short time navigating the world of comics. He’s genuine, nice, and a damn good writer. He and Josh Eckert created a one-shot called Contact High that to this day remains my favorite one-shot of all time. It’s a constant well of inspiration for me. It was also nominated for an Eisner so that should tell you how good it is.
Contact High is eerily relevant right now. It’s about people’s rights being taken away in a world where it is illegal to touch one another. And while that may sound bleak, it does have a positive outlook by the end. It’s like a Black Mirror episode that doesn’t leave you in shambles. Contact High is the queer sci-fi horror story that you never knew you needed. I can’t overstate how good it is.
I'm still tired and still raw but a couple years back my friend & I made a queer scif-fi comic about, among other things, the inhumanity of incarceration, so now we're donating all sales to bail fund efforts in our communities. Give it a read or share.https://t.co/IULGAKwJUm
— just james (@chuckspear) May 31, 2020
Taneka is active in both comics and animation, and she’s an advocate for diversity in both fields. She doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk. I met her at Emerald City Comic Con a few years back, when Elements: Fire, the comics anthology that she co-created and edited had just come out.
The Elements anthology is a really dope book. It’s made up of creators of color, and each anthology focuses on a certain element. The stories are all black and white except for the color that corresponds to that particular element. It ties all the stories together visually, even if they may differ thematically.
Now that's what I call a beautiful sight. *chef kisses*
Covers by @ChrystinGarland!
— Taneka Stotts @ OFFLINE (@TanekaStotts) May 15, 2020
Flipping through its pages, you can feel how important it is to give people from different cultures the opportunity to tell their own stories. There’s a level of authenticity that you simply don’t often see in comics. Personally, it gives me a lot of inspiration knowing that people like Taneka are creating spaces for people like me in an industry that is so white male-dominated.
John Jennings is an educator and illustrator. He and Damian Duffy have recently taken on the task of turning Octavia Butler books into graphic novel adaptations. They’ve done this for Kindred and Parable of the Sower
What makes their work so interesting is that it thrusts Octavia Butler into a new realm. For those who have read her work before, it allows them to revisit it in a new light. And for those who haven’t read her work before, it serves as an introduction into one of the best science fiction writers of all time.
As I said, John is an educator as well as an illustrator, and some of his other recent work in comics has been curating the back matter of Bitter Root, a comic you should check out if you haven’t yet.
Bitter Root, from the creative team of David F. Walker, Chuck Brown, and Sanford Greene, is about a family of monster hunters in the middle of the Harlem Renaissance. It’s as educational and reaffirming as it is entertaining.
At the end of each issue, there are a few pages dedicated to Black history as it pertains to what’s going on in the context of the story and world of Bitter Root, and that’s all John Jennings. Aptly titled Bitter Truths, Jennings curates essays and observations from other educators and intellectuals in an effort to show the audience an aspect of Black culture that they may not know much about.
If you’ve navigated Black twitter or comics twitter, you’ve undoubtedly come across Stephanie Williams. Her tweets are absolutely hilarious and uniquely relatable, and they represent what it means to be a Black nerd in a nutshell.
She channels all of this energy into her webcomic on Webtoons called But What If Though? which is her version of Marvel’s What If? series.
But instead of asking the question “What if The Fantastic Four were Russians?” Stephanie uses her comic to ask the questions we all really want to know, like “What did Steve Rogers really do when he returned back to his time after Endgame?” Each comic is short and digestible, like a quick snack. But they’re always filled with a compact story despite only ever being a page long.
— Rideshare to FREEDOM 💣💣💣 (@Steph_I_Will) May 6, 2020
Vita has been about that life for a while. Their work can be found at just about every major publisher, and you can be damn sure that if you’re reading a story by Vita, you’re reading something that takes diversity very seriously. If you haven’t read any of Vita’s work, you should change that soon. They’re going to be a voice in this industry for a while. They are the writer on Submerged from Vault Comics and The Wilds from Black Mask.
On top of that, they actively advocate for creating more spaces for creators of color in the comic book industry and seeing someone like that doing their best to give back is hella inspiring for me. Even as we speak, they’re signal-boosting Black creatives of all types on Twitter.
Drop your portfolios, book/comic links, soundclouds/spotify links, youtube channels, twitch links, etc below.
— ✊🏾Vita Ayala🇵🇷🏳️🌈 (@definitelyvita) June 2, 2020
These are just a few of my suggestions for creators to look into but don’t stop there. Use this as a jumping-off point to find other Black creators you’d like to support not just now when tensions are high and you want to show solidarity but later as well. They’ll still deserve our attention and engagement when the world isn’t burning. And their work will be just as important.