Monday, March 19, 2007

Black Like Me

When people ask me to describe The Highwaymen, I launch into The Pitch: two guys in the sunset of their lives who used to be the best at what they do are called back into service for One Last Job. And when I describe what's unique about the story, I talk about how, unlike most comic book heroes, they're old. And an underlying theme of the book is one of fighting the gravitation pull of obsolence.

What I almost never mention is that the main character is black.

Maybe its because I think the book is interesting for a whole host of other reasons. Maybe it's because the life I live is a fairly integrated one and it just never occured to me that Able Monroe's race is something of note. And then I read this story in the Toronto Star, which talks about the dearth of black heroes in mainstream comics.

"According to their own figures, the Marvel universe contains more than 5,000 characters, yet even a generous count reveals that only 100 or so of these are black – less than two per cent of their fictional population. This pales in comparison to the nearly 14 per cent that the U.S. Census says makes up American society at present."

I've never been the type of cat who rallies to causes. Or takes part in movements (of the non-bowel variety). And so the fact that 1/2 of The Highwaymen is an older African-American gentleman is not a statement. It's not meant to be a corrective. I don't have a soap-box that I want to get up and stand on. In the story, Able's race is a non-issue. Not that race shouldn't be an issue—I was really impressed with The American Way, by John Ridley and Georges Jeanty, which deals with a Negro hero during the Civil Rights era—but for me, The Highwaymen isn't 48 HRS. It isn't about partners overcoming the racial divide and getting the job done and learning to respect each other. It's about partners getting the job done and finding a place in a world that might've passed them by.

The fact that Able's a black man is just a natural extention of the story I wanted to tell. And isn't that the best way for change to happen, organically?

And I realize that when it comes time to start the PR machine, one of the threads of the Highwaymen quilt that will get tugged on is the fact that I'm a black comics creator, one who put a black man front and center—and on the cover—of a mainstream comic book. Because I'm a mercenary bastard who wants his first book to do as well as it possibly can, I will chocolate-milk it for all its worth.

(Know what? There's a black dude in Monster Attack Network as well, the hero's No. 2. More grist for the mill. He didn't make the cover, though.)

What's that? Ebony magazine on line 2? Be right there.

1 comment:

Ringwood said...

Milk that shit for all it's worth. If it sells more copies and gets people actually reading the damn thing, it's worth it.

There will always be people who care a little too much about a character's race/sexual preference/whatever, and a trip through the DC message boards circa Firestorm's reinvention can confirm this. They usually begin with a phrase like "Now I'm not a racist...", which -- I don't have to tell you -- is kind of a red flag. The phrase "PC" will probably show up three or four sentences in, too, letting you know just what class of mental heavyweight you're dealing with.

These people are stupid, cowardly, and growing fewer by the day. (At least I hope.) Ignore them. I agree with you that organic growth is the best way to go. And I'm looking forward to the book.