So… Tim Burton said something that got out on social media and it seems to have disappointed a good number of black folk. Something about the lack of black characters in fantasy fiction? I don’t know because I haven’t read it. The only gist I’m getting is that he doesn’t think they fit. Or something. I’m gauging what he said on how some black folk are taking it. I’m not looking any further into it. I’m tired of exposing myself to yet another white person opining why I should be separated from yet another human experience because I’m black. (You just have to believe me when I tell you that I’ve had a long life of that and it has scorched me to the bone.) To know whatever Burton actually said, please feel free to Google “Tim Burton black characters” and see what you’ll find.

But I was inspired to come blog because of this twitter thread by Ashley, a fellow black person on social media. Her multitweet reaction to Burton’s statement was passed along by a Cuban-born (and voice of color champion) writer, Daniel Jose Older, and I’ve trusted his judgement for a long time. I was right to do so tonight as well. Ashley expressed that growing up, she and her little sister never saw lead character representation in our genre movies, so she would write stories with black female lead heroes for her sister. She expressed the importance and the emotion behind seeing someone like themselves being the hero. You should really read it for yourself. It’s fantastic.

What it did for me was realize that in that scenario, I’m my own little sister.  I grew up an only child, but in Spring Valley I had a brother-sister pair of fellow nerds to dream and play with, with whom I am still friends today, 30+ years later. Eliel (the brother) would play Tunnels & Trolls with me. He would lend me his Amber series books by Zelazny. We would play fantasy wargames, we would play space battle simulation games, we would read comicbooks. We would make our own comics. I would continue doing so when I went back to my mother’s apartment across the courtyard. The Annihilators. The Space Lords. The Starblazers. Future Shock.  And in those comics, in those teams, I would make black people. I don’t even remember a time when I didn’t think I should. I remember I had a married couple in the Annihilators called Teleman and Telewoman. The man had a mustache like Fred Williamson. His wife had processed hair with wings and curls and her real name was Cheryl. They had all the “tele-” powers. The character of Future Shock was a black man with a big afro, silver bodysuit, black speedos, and a red cape. He was a starchild of some sort.

I don’t remember much about their stories, or even how many of them I wrote. I remember having them with me as a part of the portfolio I submitted to Joe Kubert when I interviewed at his school in ’82. They were drawn on 8.5 x 11 ditto paper, inked with black ball point pens, and colored with magic markers. I don’t remember creating them as a stand against anything. I don’t remember feeling angry or resistant against the other comicbook heroes. I loved the Fantastic Four; adored the family aspect. The fact that Sue & Johnny were blonde-haired, blue-eyed siblings never bothered me. I want to see that portrayed onscreen in that exact image to this very day.

But I never thought that black people didn’t belong on the same stage. Why should I? *I* was on the same stage. Or so I thought.

Marvel Comics hired their first black female writer for a print comic only THIS year. 2016. 34 years after my interview with Joe Kubert. Only in the last two years have the hiring of David Walker for Cyborg and Power Man/Iron Fist, and the hiring of Ta-Nehisi Coates for Black Panther been made news items because of the dearth of representation of color in the big two comic companies. This isn’t to say there haven’t been others. There have been black creators and artists (mostly male, however, it has to be said) employed by DC & Marvel within the last 34 years as well. Dozens (I hope). And all along, I would hear & read that the black folk in the industry struggled with racism. I didn’t understand how. I wasn’t on the inside. My only knowledge of being a comic professional was when I wrote and drew my own stuff while keeping my head down. I never experienced the racism. Or so I thought.

When I stopped pursuing a comics career in the early nineties, I took myself away from possibly being exposed to racism as a comics professional. I was a reader again. I loved my X-Men, my Teen Titans, my Fantastic Four. I never gave a second thought to the fact that all the lead characters were white, and the secondary or even tertiary characters, dotted here and there, were the black-like-me ones. The best friends, the sidekicks, the wise negro, the brutish body sluggers. I accepted it all, with no problem. And years turned into decades. And some black characters were elevated. And then disappeared. And resurfaced. And resubmerged. It was all comics to me. Happy as a lark, I was. And then in 2012, I picked up the pen again, and started making my comic once more, out here in this brave new world.

And I learned some stuff. Tonight’s Tim Burton info was just another chapter in the volumes of books I’m now learning about race relations in 2016. About the place of skin color in comics, both behind the scenes and on the page. And here I am with my head down, making my comics, commenting on social media, retweeting memes, and lending my anger to the cause, then coming back to my comicbook as if nothing happened. Or so I thought.

I had to face a truth tonight. I’m making a comic about black people. I always have. And tonight I’ve been made to realize, THAT MEANS SOMETHING TO SOMEBODY. Representation MEANS something. Of course, I knew that. That’s why I’m doing it. But I didn’t think that it’s also important to SOMEONE OTHER THAN MYSELF. I hadn’t been thinking about them.

But I am now.

You’ll hear from me more often about this, both inside the comic and out.

Thanks for your time.