Black Fights ‘Cookie-Cutter’ Portrayals of Black People in Comics

Cover of Black. Image courtesy of Kwanza Osajyefo and Jamal Igle.

The world of superhero comics has been justifiably proud of itself for becoming more racially diverse in the past few years: There's a new Spider-Man who's half-black and half-Latino, there's a black Captain America, and there's a Pakistani-American Ms. Marvel, to name a few notable examples. But critics have accurately pointed out that these nonwhite characters are all too often written by white creators — and that their stories rarely take on real-life racial issues. Writer Kwanza Osajyefo and artist Jamal Igle want to change all that, and they think their new Kickstarter-funded comic Black will be a step in the right direction.

The comic will follow a kid named Kareem Jenkins, who somehow survives a racially motivated shooting at the hands of police. He then finds himself at the heart of a massive conspiracy: A significant percentage of the world's black population is superpowered, and the government has been suppressing that information. The Kickstarter is looking for $29,999, and the comic will be released digitally, followed by a physical print.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Osajyefo — who was previously an editor at Marvel and DC — took issue with the aforementioned black iterations of Spidey and Cap. "I mean, I enjoy both characters, but they are very Cosby Show: cookie-cutter, inoffensive blacks who don’t reflect contrasts within black culture itself," he said. He added that one of the reasons race is so hard to deal with at major publishers is the "systemic lack of inclusion among the stewards of these characters": "That isn’t to suggest an intentional omission so much as a self-perpetuating environment lacking any perspective that isn’t white male — I think that pretty much sums up the comics industry for the past seven decades.”