Black Com!x Day celebrates its 5th year
Black Com!x Day returns to the WorldBeat Cultural Center this weekend for its fifth year. The free miniconvention celebrates Black creators and artists from Marvel and DC, as well as Black-owned independent companies.
Keithan Jones sets Black Com!x Day in the month of February to coincide with Black History Month. But this year the timing proves even more fitting as it arrives on the heels of the new comics "Blacula: Return of the King" reviving the 1970s Blaxploitation character, and "Silver Surfer: Ghost Light," creating a new Black superhero for Marvel. Also having the creators, Rodney Barnes and John Jennings respectively, appear on a panel called "Get Shooked! New Masters of Horror."
The panel takes its name from a new Black horror anthology featuring the work of the three panelists: Jennings, Barnes and Kevin Grevioux.
Jennings, professor of Media and Cultural Studies at the University of California, Riverside described "Shook" as "an anthology of horror very much influenced by the old school EC Comics, they used to do these morality tales, but put them in the form of horror comics. All of us grew up reading ... and being interested in this kind of stuff."
Jennings also grew up reading "Silver Surfer". He is also excited about creating a cosmic powered Black superhero inspired by the Marvel character of Dr. Alvin B. Harper, who appeared in "Silver Surfer #5" and sacrificed his life to save the world. Silver Surfer was so impressed by Harper's actions that he pays tribute to him with a cosmic flame.
"I was going through this, and I asked Marvel, 'why can't we bring this guy back?' and so they said 'yes,'" Jennings said. "I concocted this wild story about Dr. Al B. Harper, and I brought him back as a Black superhero called Ghost Light."
Barnes, who also served up a vampire tale in his "Killadelphia" comics, wanted to revisit the 1972 Blaxploitation film "Blacula," in which William Marshall played an African prince turned into a vampire by Count Dracula. Blaxploitation films were low-budget, sometimes even studio-backed films in which Black characters carried the stories and drove the plots.
"But a lot of times they didn't have great scripts or great budgets," Barnes explained. "There were some really cool ideas in 'Blacula.' Even as a kid, when I saw the movie, I always said, 'if I ever had the chance to do this again, I would take out this, I would do that,' because underneath Blaxploitation, there was this subversive idea of what was happening in society, that was like the Civil Rights movement and the Pan-African movement. There was this feeling of revolution that was under all of them with the Afros and the fashion and the music. There was this tone that was there and if you look at what's happening in American society right now, there's a similar thing with the Black Lives Matter movement, and so I felt like there was a way to speak to a little bit of what's happening today and build a bridge between yesterday and today."
Black Com!x Day origin story
For Jones, Black Com!x Day is also about the future. He started the convention at the urging of his mother and realized its value.
"I thought about how important it could be to the community to have an outlet where they can actually see people that look like them doing stuff in the comic book culture," Jones said. "I think it's a good thing to inspire kids' creative juices and to hopefully send them off in the right direction. Maybe not just comic creators, but just entrepreneurs or whatever they're into. And that's what I'm hoping to do when I speak to kids, just to inspire them to follow their dreams like I did and realize them one day. I think the icing on the cake is (for them) to see actual folks from our community working for companies like Marvel and DC and Warner Brothers and Disney."
Jones is a comics creator himself and founded the company Kid Comics to publish "Power Knights," inspired by a story he created as a kid. Jones was inspired by the things he loved as a kid — "Star Wars," "Transformers," "G.I. Joe." His comics do not push an overt social message.
"But that's not to say that there's times where I do want to get into some heavier subject matter, because like I said, it's important to me," Jones said. "And that's the reason I created Black Com!x Day, because Black Com!x Day is my statement when it comes to race relations, when it comes to civil rights, when it comes to social commentary on what's going on in the world today. Black Com!x Day is my idea of getting everyone together in one space from all cultures, all races and commingle and have a good time and see that we all like the same kind of things."
WorldBeat Cultural Center
Makeda "Dread" Cheatom, owner and founder of WorldBeat Cultural Center, says, "It's so important that we teach our own history, our history, not 'his story.' Our story. And what Keithan is doing is just enlightening all of us with illustrations and fiction and things that our kids can learn about to be writers and illustrators. We're for him, and we're behind him."
The center will become a welcoming space for artists, writers, creators and fans.
"It's for all ages," Jones added. "Artists set up at their booths where you can congregate with them, see their merchandise, buy their merchandise, ask them questions. And young artists, I encourage you to bring your portfolios if you want some feedback or who knows, it could lead to a job. It's going to be fun."
Black Com!x Day is a free event but you are encouraged to register in advance to reserve a ticket. The event runs Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. each day. On Saturday the panel will be "Empowered: Old Vs. New" and on Sunday it will be "Get Shooked! The New Masters of Horror." Each panels runs from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. There will also be delicious (I can personally vouch for that) food on site.
Also listen to my three-part Cinema Junkie podcast featuring the Get Shooked panelists: Part One with Rodney Barnes , Part Two with John Jennings and Part Three with Kevin Grevioux.