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Black Comix Day returns to WorldBeat Cultural Center

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Aaron Nabus
Attendees enjoying the last Black Comix Day back in 2020 at WorldBeat Cultural Center. After a two-year pandemic break the convention will return this weekend. Feb. 22, 2020

Black Comix Day returns this Saturday to the WorldBeat Cultural Center after a two-year pandemic hiatus. The free two-day event celebrates Black comic book creators.

Black Comix Day returns to WorldBeat Cultural Center

Origin story

Keithan Jones runs Kid Comics, is the creator of "The Power Knights" comic book, and freelances as an artist. That is more than a full job right there. Then in 2018 his mom asked him to do something for Black History Month at the Malcolm X Library.

"At first I wasn't going to do it because I was super busy," Jones said. "I'm still super busy just publishing my own books and being a freelance comic book artist. But I thought about it for a moment and came to the conclusion that this might be something that can be very helpful to the community and to artists like myself who are trying to be seen among the thousands of other creators in the world of comic books."

So Jones reached out to other artists and creators he knew and the day after Marvel released the "Black Panther" movie in 2018, Jones held the first Black Comix Day in San Diego at the Malcolm X Library.

The event picked up steam over the next three years but the pandemic put it on hold since 2020. This weekend, however, Jones is excited to finally be back in person for the fourth Black Comix Day.

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Aaron Nabus
LaWana Richmond (left) and WorldBeat Cultural Center founder/executive director Makeda 'Dread' Cheatom (center) at the 2020 Black Comix Day at the WorldBeat Cultural Center. Feb. 22, 2020

Black Comix Day returns

This weekend, Heroes Rise IV will take place at the WorldBeat Cultural Center in Balboa Park. Jones sees the venue, which highlights Black history, Black art and Afrofuturism among other things, as the perfect venue for his free, all-ages event.

"Think of it as San Diego Comic-Con but a more focused event," Jones said. "Whereas San Diego Comic-Con is a smorgasbord of all kinds of artists from all over the world. This being Black History Month, Black Comix Day is more of a focus on specifically Black creators, where you can meet, greet, interact with them, see the stuff they've been producing over the years."

There will be artists and creators from Marvel Comics, DC Comics and Image Comics as well as from Black publishers.

"I think that's going to be really exciting for people who have not seen that in the mainstream or in general," Jones added. "There will be everything you can think of whether it's science fiction, action adventure, biographies, I mean, everything that you would see in your local comic book shop. It's also here. It just so happens to be created by Black creators. That's really the only difference. And it's from their point of view, which is where the uniqueness of it comes. The best artists always put a bit of themselves in their work, whether it's fiction or nonfiction. You put a piece of yourself in it."

Black Comix Day highlights Black creators this weekend
Two-day mini convention is free for all ages

LEDE: Black Comix Day launched in 2018 just as Marvel’s Black Panther hit theaters. The free mini-convention returns to the WorldBeat Cultural Center this weekend after being on a forced two-year pandemic break. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando has this preview of Black Comix Day: Heroes Rise Four.

CLIP Wakanda forever…

Marvel’s Black Panther gave mainstream audiences a Black superhero they could celebrate. Keithan Jones used that film as a jumping off point to launch Black Comix Day back in 2018.

KEITHAN JONES You see all these big comic book movies, but you don't really see the folks who created these characters. You don't see what's going on behind the scenes. And this show kind of uncovers that a little bit.

It also uncovers the breathtaking diversity of characters beyond Black Panther. That Marvel superhero was created by two white men and Black Comix Day highlights the work of Black comics creators.

KEITHAN JONES And the fact that it's a Black focused event makes it even more special for people who are able to see themselves not only in the work, but in the creative force behind it.

MAKEDA CHEATOM I think that Keithan is my superhero.

Makeda Cheatom is the founder and executive director of WorldBeat Cultural Center.

MAKEDA CHEATOM Telling Black history through comics, that's so important. To see all the Black comics and the people that are interested in this genre, it's important to our people and all people and how we tell the story.

Jones says WorldBeat Cultural Center with its Afro-centric focus once again provides the perfect setting for the event.

KEITHAN JONES This being Black History Month, Black Comix Day is more of a focus on specifically black creators, where you can meet, greet, interact with them see the stuff they've been producing over the years.

Creators like Rodney Anderson, Jr.

RODNEY ANDERSON, JR. For black children to see that they don't just have to be consumers of this content. They can be creators as well… And seeing black creatives in one space, seeing so many under one roof, helps to drive that point home.

And it’s about more than just providing young people with characters who look like them, says LaWana Richmond.

LAWANA RICHMOND It creates all kinds of possibilities in their mind, not just in the realm of comics, but just in life in general.

Richmond will be on two panels at the convention. One called Empowered addresses the challenges of being a Black creator.

LAWANA RICHMOND Unfortunately, when you're a creative, a lot of times your family wants you to get a real job.

But Jones wants kids as well as adults to see that a real job can also be your dream job. That’s why he has people like Jason Reeves on the panel.

KEITHAN JONES He's actually started a distribution company, a Black-owned distribution company, to help black creators get their books out into stores across the country.

Because creating a comic is hard work, says Anderson.

RODNEY ANDERSON, JR. I want people to understand it is not easy at all, the long hours required to complete that work, which means especially if you're working one, two, three other jobs can be tough, stealing time for this passion project.

His passion project is a comic called Trinity Blade.

RODNEY ANDERSON JR If you have a story in your heart and you want to tell it, do it. Don't hesitate. Put pencil to paper. Be a writer, be an artist, be a colorist. Whatever you can do, you can create that story that you imagine you can create.

Jones is proof of that. He runs Kid Comics, freelances as an artist, and is the creator of The Power Knights, yet he still finds time to organize Black Comix Day because he’s passionate about showcasing the smorgasbord of content currently coming from Black creators.

KEITHAN JONES I mean, everything that you would see in your local comic book shop, it's also here. It just so happens to be created by black creators… And it's from their point of view, which is what I think where the uniqueness of it comes.

That’s what makes Black Comix Day a cultural experience rather than just a comic book convention.

KEITHAN JONES You're coming here to experience something outside of your own culture, and maybe even if you are black, it's outside of what you've been previously taught or been previously exposed to. So just on that alone, I think it's worthwhile to come to the show and just have a different experience and have an educational experience and also have fun and be entertained.

And discover that superheroes exist not only on the pages of comics and on the big screen but also behind artist tables at Black Comix Day.

Beth Accomando, KPBS News.

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Jones faced the added challenge this year of having recently suffered a heart attack. But he has overcome his health issues to see Black Comix Day back in person.

"Just seeing the response of the folks who come into the building and see us all here and doing our thing it's just when they're happy, I'm happy because I feel like all the work, all those long hours I put into it was worthwhile," Jones stated.

Makeda "Dread" Cheatom is the founder and executive director of WorldBeat Cultural Center. She said, "I think that Keithan is my superhero. Telling Black history through comics, that's so important. To see all the Black comics and the people that are interested in this genre, it's important to our people and all people and how we tell our story."

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Aaron Nabus
Rodney Anderson, Jr. is one of the Black creators highlighted at Black Comix Day. Here he is seen at the 2020 convention. Feb. 22, 2020

One of the artists telling stories is Rodney Anderson, Jr.

"For Black children to see that they don't just have to be consumers of this content, they can be creators as well," Anderson said. "And seeing Black creatives in one space, seeing so many under one roof, helps to drive that point home."

But it’s about more than just providing young people with characters who look like them. Black Comix Day showcases Black professionals and artists.

"I creates all kinds of possibilities in their mind, not just in the realm of comics, but just in life in general," explained LaWana Richmond.

Richmond will be on two panels at the convention. One focused on Black women in comics that looks to how intersectionality can come into play.

"We know that anywhere intersectionality comes into play, there's a dynamic that people who aren't having an intersectional experience may not necessarily realize," Richmond said. "So intersectionalty kind of classically is when you have two marginalized identities. So I am Black and I'm a woman, and the intersection of those two identities creates an experience that is very different from if I were a black man or if I were a white woman."

Her second panel is called Empowered and looks to Black businesses.

"Unfortunately, when you're a creative, a lot of times your family wants you to get a real job," Richmond said.

But for Anderson, a real job can be a dream job.

"So this is my comic book 'Trinity Blade,' it’s a good old-fashioned swashbuckling, sword-swinging, magic and of course dragons," Anderson said.

But a dream job is also hard work.

"I want people to understand it is not easy at all," he added. "There are long hours required to complete that work especially if you're working one, two, three other jobs, it can be tough stealing time for this passion project. But if you have a story in your heart and you want to tell it, do it. Don't hesitate. Put pencil to paper. Be a writer, be an artist, be a colorist. Whatever you can do, you can create that story that you imagine you can create."

It was important for Anderson to create a Black hero that looked like him. And that's what makes Black Comix Day a cultural experience rather than just a comic book convention.

"You're coming here to experience something outside of your own culture, and maybe even if you are black, it's outside of what you've been previously taught or been previously exposed to," Jones said. "So just on that alone, I think it's worthwhile to come to the show and just have a different experience and have an educational experience and also have fun and be entertained."

And discover that superheroes exist not only on the pages of comics and on the big screen but also behind artist tables at Black Comix Day.

Black Comix Day will also have special activities for kids as well as daily panels.