Comics With Black Characters
I recently rediscovered the joy of comic books. They are a fascinating medium of storytelling, combining both visual art and dialogue. As such they make a great entry point for people who want to get into reading but struggle to visualize the words as an immersive world which the author has created. Traditionally, comic books are meant to be something you grow out of at a certain age, but now there are many comic book stories which are targeted at adults. The most well known type in this category are known as graphic novels.
But if you don't have access to these, there are countless web comics accessible online, many are free, others not. I've decided to write about a few of the ones I discovered here, and specifically works which have a strong presence by a black character. I selected this category because when I was growing up, I rarely found characters in either books or movies who represented my race and/or gender. Times are changing!
I admit that I underestimated the significance of representation, until I squealed with joy when I encountered a character who reflected, in some small way, my story. Unexpectedly, hair took a huge role in my selection (or perhaps I shouldn't have been shocked), because if you are, or know, a black woman, you may pick up that our hair has huge political significance. The most well known widely embraced black female characters in media, like Storm from X-men, do not have natural curly afro hair. So when I found some new comics which are embracing the naturalista image, I had to get the word out there. I picked a handful of comics which piqued my interest:
I love this comic because of the diversity, humour and how it deals with growing up challenges. The title Doodling Around comes from the first plotline where the characters introduce themselves as high school kids who team up to (ironically) create a comic book. It is written in first language Spanish and translated to English, so although some of the English is awkward it is easy to understand, and the creators are aware and plan on improving with professional assistance. I like how they are still humble enough to reply to comments on their posts. Every now and then, they post guest posts by the artists of sister web comics, so sometimes the artwork will look different - although the characters are the same.
The plot is well connected, with the writers keeping consistent with the characters' relationship developments and referencing past events. If you are unfamiliar with how web comics work, most tend to release page by page on a regular cycle (weekly on average) and have the latest page displayed on the home page. Now this might be confusing to a new reader because you'll likely start in the middle of an ongoing plotline. I highly recommend you set aside some time to start from the beginning of Doodling Around in the archive section to fully appreciate every aspect of the story.
The most memorable plotlines for me were when they attended a cosplay event dressed as other comic book and video game characters (so awesomely meta), like the Flintstones, Super Mario, and the ninja from GI Joe; when they encountered bullies at school; and a whodunnit murder mystery where they all assume alter egos.
However my favourite one so far is the current plotline, which is refreshingly centered around the black female character Vixen. I was struck by how they captured the emotions and insecurities of a black girl struggling to accept her natural hair in a world which invalidates it daily. It was incredibly relatable, far beyond the (shallow) depth which is usually offered by the "sassy black best friend" stereotype in mass media.
In the plot, Vixen is nervous about her coming of age ball called a quinceanero, a tradition in Spanish culture, and reveals a heartbreaking story about the source of her anxiety:
I personally cannot wait to see her overcome this baggage. I love how all her friends act quickly and sometimes fiercely to cheer her up and validate her self-worth. I would love to do a follow up review post when they conclude this plotline.
Celflux is a sci-fi comic, about a team of reluctant heroes led by the priestess Okira who all wake up in a lab with no memory of who they are. This comic is still on my wishlist as it's difficult to make online purchases in Malawi... but I love the artwork, I am intrigued by the sample pages, and excited by the awesome video trailer.
One of the pictures on their websites hints at a wish for Lupita Nyong'o to play the role of Okira, and the resemblance looks almost intentional. From the matching TWA (Teeny Weeny Afro) to the formidable combination of beauty and strength, I believe they made the right casting choice (even though it may be purely wishful).
The sample artwork reveals that she aquires and rides a large pet feline creature, which is simply badass.
This comic is the closest to home, an African based story by a South African creator. The artist's name is Loyiso Mkize, and the work he has done on the comic is bold and striking. The picture I selected from the comic is my favourite, perhaps because of the symbolism of Africa as a powerful force to to reckoned with. We are finally portrayed as the strong protagonist.
Kwezi is the title character, a young township dwelling young man who uses his powers to frustrate the efforts of criminals around Johannesburg. He is soon joined by a team of supernaturally talented young Africans, and from what I see in the artwork, one of them is female. I would like to get myself a copy soon to learn his backstory.
The Pack is a horror story about werewolves in ancient Egypt. The comic delves into the African mythologies which were collected as first hand research by the author, who decided to create a world which he related more to than those of mainstream media. Considering it is a labour of love project which is in need of funding and sales, the artwork feels highly textured, with a depth which can make the reader feel they can reach into the images as they are merely a windowpane to another world. I can't comment on the plot until I get myself a copy, but I am already fascinated at the concept.
These ambitious works have given me renewed hope for story diversity in our generation, and much more relatable stories. I encourage you to search online for stories close to your home and heart because they are now more likely than ever to have a voice and a space to express it. If you can't find any? Create one.