ReAnimation and ReInvention
Similar to the portrayals of African Americans in the earliest days of television and film, early Black characters in comics were largely relegated to background roles or were characterized by racist stereotypes. As more Black characters came to the forefront of these stories, their depiction began to disrupt the narrative of vulnerable, incompetent, and weak Black characters and normalized the idea and visual depiction of Black power. Afrofuturism is visualized within these comic creations as Writers and illustrators from all backgrounds now utilize the limitless domain of Afrofuturism to create worlds where the Black diaspora and science fiction intertwine.
Black superheroes continue to star in comic books from major publishers like DC and Marvel, sometimes as reinvented classic characters such as Miles Morales in the Spiderman comics, and other times as entirely new characters like Cyborg. Black comic book authors and illustrators have also thrived in small presses, releasing independent comics and graphic novels to great success. The popularity of these characters has led, in part, to comics conventions focused on Black collectors and comics, which in turn helps to form new communities around these inspiring characters.
Non-stereotypical Black characters were incredibly rare in comic books until the 1960s and 1970s, but early Black comic book artists have been even harder to find. Comic book scholars have begun doing the difficult work of searching for these early figures through complicated archival research, identifying artists who published anonymously or under pseudonyms. This research helps rewrite the perceptions of comic books’ Black pasts.
In the 21st century, Black artists and writers have continued to create new Black superheroes and to reshape older ones. Writers like Roxane Gay, Eve Ewing, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Jason Reynolds were internationally recognized writers before trying their hand at Black Panther or Spiderman. These and other well-known writers have collaborated with renowned Black comic artists like Afua Richardson and Brian Stelfreeze, who also bring their own visions to these comic’s legacies.
Sometimes people say “there are no black superheroes” or they only know about Black Panther and Storm, and I think that’s such a shame because there are lots of really interesting black characters out there. They maybe just haven’t had the same opportunities to be front and center…
Eve E. Ewing on writing the character RiRi for the Ironheart series