Celebrating Diversity in Comic Books

A festival featuring black creators, artists and publishers draws thousands of fans

| 27 Jan 2020 | 11:43

The Black Comic Book Festival celebrated its eighth annual convention at the Schomburg Center this month, its biggest draw being its promotion of diversity.

With about 10,000 attendees over two days, a mostly black gathering of comic fans showed their respect for black comic creators.

As New York City's only exclusively black comic book convention, the free Harlem event at was a creative outlet for people of color to participate in panel discussions, film screenings, cosplay shows, competitions, and exhibits, with representation being its primary objective.

Black Comic Book Professionals

Being a minority in the comic book industry has its challenges, such as being unrecognized and overlooked among predominantly white creators and characters. However, the festival provides a creative outlet for independent comic artists and merchants of color.

Andre Batts, who has attended six out of eight events, owns his own publishing company, called Urban Style Comics, in his hometown of Detroit. His creation, Dreadlock, a blind African-American superhero whose powers come from the sun, is a series he has been working on since 1996.

Batts said he has been a comic fan for most of his life, and pursued a career in the industry because he felt there was a lack of representation."There was nothing relating to [African-American] struggles, so I created something," Batts said.

The Festival is one of Batts' most profitable conventions as a vendor. Considering that his art has been featured at several mainstream conventions, Batts credits his success to convention-goers who appreciate his pro-black themed comics.

"It really depends on the crowd, who you're catering to," he said. "An event like this, between 80 and 90 percent will buy [my comics] whereas at [predominantly white conventions], maybe five percent will buy [my comics]. My success comes from the people that I meet. When people hear that I have been doing this for so long, it motivates the youth to go out and do their own thing."

Joamette Gil, a first-timer at the Festival, is a queer Afro-Cuban cartoonist, illustrator, publisher, and writer promoting her comic, The UnCommons. "The UnCommons is the story of a girl named Iris. She is from a fantasy version of Western Africa, where she is from a civilization of magic warriors," Gil said.

Gil would not be considered a newcomer in the comic scene, having a Prism award-winning, Kickstarter series called "Power & Magic: The Queer Witch Comics Anthology," a collection of short fantasy comics by women of color and woman-aligned, non-binary people of color. But she said the Black Comic Book Festival is important to signal comics like hers for specific people.

"I feel having a series like ours, we are creating an intentionally diverse world with a strong black-lead female character, Gil said. "Even though people who want that kind of story exist everywhere and go to conventions all over the country, this is a specific space that has been created for that type of person who lacks that kind of representation."


Another independent creator at the festival was none other than Darryl McDaniels of DMC, a founding member of the legendary hip-hop group Run–D.M.C.

The acronym DMC has four definitions: it's the initials of McDaniels' real name and his alter ego, Devastating Microphone Control. It also stands for his independent publishing company, Darryl Makes Comics. And, finally, it is the name of his main character and the namesake of the comic series.

DMC, the book series, takes place in an alternative universe set in New York City. Its stark influence of 80s hip-hop culture and contemporary problems during that time gives it superheroes a retro, yet modern feel as it addresses social anxieties with superpowers, i.e. vigilantism vs heroism during the AIDS epidemic.

As of now, there are only three DMC comic books available since its first debut in 2014. The character DMC is an Adidas tracksuit and sneaker-wearing, masked vigilante who fights with brass knuckles.

DMC's editor-in-chief, Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, has also created his own comic book, La Borinqueña.

La Borinqueña

Miranda-Rodriguez is the creator of "Ricanstruction: Reminiscing & Rebuilding Puerto Rico," an anthology featuring contributions from writers and artists from the comic book industry supporting Puerto Rico.

In Ricanstruction, Mirdanda-Rodriguez got the chance to collaborate with DC Comics to join forces with La Borinqueña, an Afro-Puerto Rican superheroine who tackles environmental issues.

“La Borinqueña is an original superhero I created in 2016 as a direct response to what the real effects of climate change would be in Puerto Rico,” Miranda-Rodriguez said. “How the current economic crisis which came from a $74 billion debt was actually crippling the island’s way of being and also leading to a humanitarian crisis.”