Tag Archives: Artists

Who (should we) be wit?

I watched…no…experienced the farewell words of President Barack Obama.  Before a standing audience of almost 20,000 and millions across the nation and around the world, Mr. Obama brought to the people of the United States a message of continued hope, a call for increased engagement, and for all of us to seek the very best for our country.  Beyond touting his achievements, he laid bare missed opportunities and painful losses but, in his measured tone, reminded, these are things that come with democracy.  With his last formal goodbye, among cheers and tears, the whispered hopes and unimagined dreams of our ancestors, waded into the crowd, marked the countdown to his last days of office, and began the solemn steps into history.

This saddened me, but that sadness was turned into a silent rage when I came across a newsfeed about an upcoming “fight” between actor/singer Chris Brown and rapper Soulja Boy.  My mind was now, as a disabled airplane, descending rapidly from cultural and national pride to the depths of nonsensical marketing.  To go from a man worth of admiration to a situation worthy of admonishment, that is where I crash landed in the span of a few seconds.

Normally, in most articles, this is where one would take the time to explain the nature of the beef between these two talented, accomplished, and admired artists.  I use the term artists because both of these young men demonstrate their God-given talents through various mediums and rightfully earned their title. So, as artists, as accomplished men, it is difficult to dignify their profane rationales for a fight which can only be characterized as middle school dissing. Their need to express their virility of sexual conquests, and their ability to rag on one another…not face to face…but through the safety of Instagram posts represents a disturbing continuation social engagement.  If you want to know all the trifling details, there are other sources to visit.

Whether this fight is real or just a marketing ploy to play consumers to purchase the music that follows this minstrelistic calamity, it doesn’t matter.  We are at a place and time in this country where the promotion of the destruction of one another should not be packaged as entertainment.  This is not a professional fight where individuals who have trained in this sport are competing for a prize; it is an exhibition of the worst kind of exploitation, the selling of self-destruction.

The self-destruction spoken of is not just between the two faux-combatants, it is between all of the fans who are sucked into this pseudo-rage.  Fans who are asked to be participants through their hard earned dollars.  Fans who can’t wait for somebody to be destroyed…to get “F**ked Up!”  The worst part of this whole internet-based charade is that the Chris Brown and Soulja Boy know this.  They will be laughing to the bank while the audience cheers for something that isn’t even real.

Every day in this country, families are impacted by gun violence.  Every day in this country, families are torn apart by domestic abuse.  Every day in this country; assault, murder, road rage, physical and mental abuse…and it is all free for you to see on television, on the web, and in the newspapers.  You have to ask yourself, Haven’t I’ve seen enough?  Do I now want to pay to see two talented men, with futures, and money, and influence slap each other for about thirty seconds before they’re bent over huffing and puffing, all the while calling each other a punk-ass this or a Nigger that?  Are we that starved for entertainment?

The next generation for beef resolution has to be who can get more people registered to vote.  Who can organize the most feed the homeless programs?  Who can get kids to read the most books? Who can fix up the most neighborhoods (I’m sorry) the streets…which they both claim to be from.

In a couple of days, a new administration is set to enact policies that will negatively impact people all across the country, those without the means or those just holding on…and especially people of color.  While these two are going tit for tat, get ready for Stop and Frisk to go national.  While these two growl and grit like two pit bulls goaded into a fight, people will be fighting to get base level health care.

We just can’t laugh this one off.  KRS-ONE and the crew said we’re headed for self-destruction.  Sometimes you have to ask yourself.  Are we already here?

Guy A. Sims is the author of the novel, Living Just A Little, and the crime novellas, The Cold Hard Cases of Duke Denim.  He is also the head writer of the Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline comic book series and the Brotherman graphic novel, Revelation

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One Look at the Black Comicbook Consumer

 

By Guy A.Sims

After reading two very interesting pieces in Bleeding Cool and supplementary comments from artists, writers, and fans alike, I would be remiss if I didn’t add my voice and commentary to the topic of the disconnection or misconnection of the African-American (Referred to from now on as Black for this piece) comic book consumer and the Black comic book creator.  It is an interesting dynamic that for some time has intrigued me.

First things first.  While the big two, Marvel and DC, are part of the equation, as well as some similar media outlets, they do not represent the entirety of this cultural and economic question.  Marvel and DC have done an outstanding job of creating, promoting, and maintaining images and mythos for more than eighty years.  Kudos for their efforts. They should be lauded, and the blueprint for their success should be studied.  Let’s be clear, there’s not hate or shade being thrown in their direction.  Now, to the question at hand.

The two articles in question which continue to circulate among artists of color are the September 27, 2015, article, Larry Stroman On When Black Fans Avoid Black Creators at Comic Con and Asking Why Black Fans Avoid Black Creators At Comic Cons- The Pros Speak (both September 29, 2015).  Both articles are insightful, probing, and not afraid to challenge notions of race, imagery, ownership, and cultural inclusion.  Interestingly, the questions presented in these articles, although almost a year ago, continue to be raised at the many comic cons and comic festivals today, but more apropos to the discussion, has been the experience since our creation of the comic book hero, Brotherman, back in 1990.

Before going further, it is important to note that across the United States, only about 1% of the population reads comic books (watching comic based films and TV shows don’t count), which is roughly 3,000,000+ people (US Census, 2015).  Blacks represent approximately 40 million in the United States.  For the sake of the conversation, if the same percentage of Blacks as the general population are comic book readers, the number of that demographic sits at about 400,000—not a lot of Black comic reading customers.

I added the above to, as identified in sociological circles, present an operational definition or simply, an understanding of the commerce environment in which Black comic artists find themselves.  So, to the question, why do many Blacks avoid Black artists at comic conventions?  Before one can delve into that question, it is important to understand that the vast majority of Black comic book creators and sellers do not travel within the mainstream comic-con circuit.  As independent artists and entrepreneurs, the cost to attend many of those events is financially prohibitive.  Many, if not most, attend neighborhood-based festivals or smaller-sized comic-cons, HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) vendor days, or sell at local barber and beauty shops, etc.  Unfortunately, the question remains the same, even among predominantly Black shopping populations.

Here are my thoughts on the challenges we as an artistic community face and must overcome.

  1. Reality Based Exposure and Experiences

When my brothers and I first brought Brotherman to the market at the New York BlackExpo in 1990, we received a strong and positive reception from a diverse consumer population who found our book to be both refreshing and needed in the pantheon of traditional comic books.  This is not to say that everyone felt this way.  We also experienced a segment of the population who felt challenged by an image and presentation that was counter to what they were accustomed.

The first comment that left me scratching my head came from a woman, who after leafingbroterman-face quickly through the book, told me without hesitation, “This isn’t real. I’ve never seen a black man in a suit.” (Not a costume mind you, a suit) Caught off guard, I asked her to repeat herself which she did. My only retort was to ask her if she had ever been to a wedding or a funeral? Other questions put to us included: Does he fight drug dealers? Does he help the community? Our kids need role models; does he do that?  These and other similar exchanges helped me to realize that there is a segment of the Black culture challenged to see themselves in presentations that are not based in reality.  Case in point, in 2013, the themes of the top ten films targeted toward the black demographic, six of the films were either based on historical events or historical personalities, three were contemporary comedies or dramas, and one was social satire (in a contemporary setting).  It is a similar landscape for 2015 and so far for 2016. The themes of books of fiction directed toward Black readers tend to be the same. Take a look.  An interesting observation of mine, when asked to name a fantasy film targeted towards the black demographic, the response is the same, The Wiz.

Clearly, there is a dearth of stories of Blacks adventuring in space (by themselves), adventuring in the jungles of wherever looking for treasure, time traveling.  We still question, where are the tales of creating artificial intelligence (eventually going berserk), communicating with alien life, encountering new dimensions, living in lands of dragons and swords, or being the administrators, teachers, and studying in schools of magic?

  1. The Monolith Myth

The Black comic buyer is like a box of chocolates—a box of assorted chocolates with different interests, different tastes, looking for a product that appeals to different bcafsensibilities.  Like their Caucasian counterparts, some look for traditional/mainstream heroes, others anime; even others seek out indie productions.  Some favor images that reflect their culture while others submerge themselves in worlds of dragons, talking dogs, faeries, or whatever.  This poses a marketing challenge for black comic creators.  A decision must be made as to understanding and reaching the customer that will help them achieve success.  This does not mean changing your stories or adapting your characters.  To the contrary, the artist should stay true to themselves while concurrently working to expand the circle of interested parties.

I have attended a major mainstream comic convention, a major Black comic convention, and a swell of neighborhood and local festivals.  The reaction has been the same.  There are some Black patrons who walk right on by, others who take a glance at the art and keep going without missing a beat, those who glance at the art and come over, and those who make a beeline to our table because we are what they want.  That is just consumerism.  While we may not be able to capture the ones who walk right on by (for now), those who come with curiosity may walk away a little more familiar or as a new fan.

  1. Mainstream Validation

Another challenge producers of Black comics have to contend with is mainstream validation. In short, many Black comic book characters are not as well-known as those from companies like Marvel and DC. (Note to self: Even those characters may not be as well known as I thought. Check this video: Name 3 Black Superheroes.  I was pulling for the guy in the Star Wars shirt)

 

Therefore, Black consumers (like many general DDconsumers) need to draw a comparison to what is already out in the market.  Is this like a Black Batman?  That question was asked of us for years as we continued to introduce and re-introduce Brotherman to people. Without a major marketing firm to constantly promote our images and stories, it fell to us on a daily basis to work to get our character to stand on his own.  It can be frustrating for independent artists to respond to questions like, especially with their personal connection to their creations. Unfortunately, that is the nature of things that are new and different.

  1. Brand Value

Related to #3, many consumers, even Black ones, may consider “Black” products to be inferior to mainstream products, even similar indie products.  That kind of culturally-ingrained bias is not new.  It affects and impacts all kinds of markets: food, clothing, services, etc.  The original series of Brotherman was in black and white, clearly the best bmancopsfinancial option for us.  Many Black consumers looked at our book and questioned why was the book presented this way. Their early and uninformed comments implied a cheapness or lack of quality while our mainstream counterpart’s b/w books were looked upon as artistic or avant-garde.

 

 

This piece is not designed to discourage but to encourage Black writers and artists to seek out strategies to reach audiences beyond the usual demographics.  You can remain true to yourself, your culture, your opinions, ideas, and your dreams while connecting with others who do not share your experiences or perspectives.  If your works are engaging, exciting, dramatic, or humorous, you will connect with the world on a human level—on your terms.

The battle for the market share continues.  It is one that is daunting, relentless, long on hours, and often, short on rewards.  But to the committed, to the dedicated, and to those focused on the bigger picture, the goal of creating and delivering to the universal cultural repository of ideas will find a success unmeasured.

DON’T BE DISCOURAGED!  KEEP ON DOIN’ YOUR THING!

Guy A. Sims is the author of the novel, Living Just A Little, and the crime novellas, The Cold Hard Cases of Duke Denim.  He is also the head writer of the Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline comic book series and the Brotherman graphic novel, Revelation. 

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Hey Scholastic! Keep the kids writing!

“Writing is an extreme privilege, but it’s also a gift. It’s a gift to yourself, and it’s a gift of giving a story to someone.” ~Amy Tan

“If you really want to know yourself, start by writing a book.” ~Shereen El Feki

“If a nation loses its storytellers, it loses its childhood.”
~Peter Handke

Kidswrite.jpg

Kids are Authors is a wonderful writing contest for K-eighth grade students, sponsored by Scholastic, Inc.  You know Scholastic, don’t you?  The book fairs. The order sheets stuffed in book bags. Scholastic is a major staple of the American educational system. The Kids are Authors contest is designed to encourage students to work in teams (an important value) to write (my favorite activity) and to illustrate (my brother’s favorite activity) their books…not just a story…but an eventual published book.

What a thrill for kids to see their works in published form. It’s motivating. It’s encouraging. It lays the groundwork for the writers of the future. Unfortunately, after this year, the Kids are Authors contest is coming to a close.  Like a good book, it has reached the end. (Say whaaaatt?)  Yes, it has come to an end.  For almost a decade, kids from all over sat down, fired up their imaginations, and wrote, re-wrote, and wrote some more.

So what does this contest mean to the kids?  Here’s story (don’t pardon the pun).  A small group of students from the Rose Hill Boys & Girls Club (New Castle, DE) entered the contest and wrote/illustrated the book, The Story of Velma.  Their book was based on the real-life Dr. Velma Scantlebury, the associate director of the Kidney Transplant Program at Christiana Care and the first African American female kidney transplant surgeon. Out of 1,000 entries, the Rose Hill kids were the only ones recognized in the state of Delaware.

 

Rosehill

Rose Hill Boys & Girls Club kids and their book (Oh yeah!)

 

Okay…kids wrote a book.  Big deal!  IT IS A BIG DEAL!  We hear hundreds of stories of children without direction, without discipline.  Kids spending hours in front of the TV or gaming systems.  Kids not having any sense of who’s making positive impacts in their community.  These young authors made a commitment to a project, identified someone of note, did the research, cooperated and collaborated…and most of all…had a finished product that they, their families, and community could be proud of.

If you are a writer or artist, you know how important opportunities like this are to the kids.  All of us who spend hours working on our craft remember how it was when we first started out.  You know the feeling when there is encouragement after crafting the first poem, story, or painting.

Let’s get together and encourage Scholastic, Inc. to keep that feeling going in our your authors.  You can help the next generation of writers by sharing this with friends, posting it with the hashtag #WriteOnScholastic or by dropping and encouraging note to Scholastic.  Maybe Scholastic cannot sustain the program, but it is important to let them know the program has significant value to the writing community.

Guy A. Sims is the author of the novel, Living Just A Little, and the crime novellas, The Cold Hard Cases of Duke Denim.  He is also the head writer of the Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline comic book series and the Brotherman graphic novel, Revelation.  

 

 

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