Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Is America ready for a Black Superhero like this?
"the more you see us in a different light, the more doors that open up for African-Americans," says Jerry Craft, the award-winning creator of the Mama's Boyz comic strip, which chronicles the life of an African-American woman raising two teenage sons. The strip has been syndicated by King Features since 1995.
Craft is one of three black comic-strip artists who offered FOXNews.com exclusive drawings of what they would like a black superhero to look like.
Hopefully seeing us as more positive members of the community, and not just the people you see on the news or 'Cops,' will get them to expand their horizons to include us," said Craft, who has worked for Marvel and Harvey Comics and was editorial director at Sports Illustrated for Kids.
The first black superhero was Marvel's Black Panther, who showed up in a 1966 Fantastic Four story and has gained some popularity. Another Marvel character, Blade, earned big-market attention when Wesley Snipes personified him in a film version of the comic. Some characters have vacillated between races — both Spawn and Catwoman were black in certain iterations, white in others. And characters like Storm, Luke Cage, Static, and Bishop have enjoyed a certain level of celebrity, but not the kind that has netted others their own big-budget Hollywood films.
But with Obama establishing a new role model for blacks in America, traditional depictions of blacks in popular culture could get a makeover, said culture critic David Horowitz.
"I think having a black president will have a positive impact on black images in the popular culture and will move that culture away from some of its politically correct absurdities," he said.
Comic book creators, authors and artists have many explanations for the historical absence of black superheroes in mainstream pop culture.
Savage Dragon creator Erik Larsen, a former Spider-Man author for Marvel, says, "I think part of that is that there hasn't been a breakout character that transcends race the way actors Will Smith and Eddie Murphy have, or the 'Cosby Show' did, or, frankly, Barack Obama has.
"The characters in comics are often too ethnic for a white audience and too embarrassing for a black one."Adds Craft: "I don't think that the black superheroes of the past were all that interesting. Since most of the creators were white, they based their characters on their perception of black men and women. They definitely were not built to stand the test of time." Political correctness has also been an impediment. "I think that their creators tried hard not to offend blacks and made many of them too perfect," Craft said. "Many were army heroes or Olympic athletes who were fighting a noble cause. They had no character deficiencies or internal conflicts that are usually needed to make a story interesting."
Before Obama won the presidency, blacks were largely implausible as superheroes, Craft said. "I think that there is a perception of black people that America is comfortable with, and I'm not sure the hero role was it," he said. "We can be athletes and rappers, but not Superman. Thor saved the universe, Captain America saved the country, Spider-Man saved the city, but Luke Cage saved 125th Street (in Harlem) between Frederick Douglass and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevards." P.S. Jerry Craft and I have been friends for 28 years, he is the illustrator of my newly released children's book, "Looking to the Clouds for Daddy" and my poetry book entitled "Take me to the Water" Kudos to you Jerry, you're my HERO!