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Welcome to the Negro Leagues.

It’s Black History Month.

Well, here in the US of A, anyhow. For the next four (maybe even five) weeks, we will be examining webcomics that have black people in them, or that are created (at least in part) by black people.

Well, black people other than me, anyway. I don’t intend to review myself at any time soon.

As if that weren’t enough, we’re trying something totally new (well, for this section of the Internet, anyway- interviews! Well, more of questionnaires, really, but still, it’s creator involvement.

But enough of that, on to the comics!

(I’d like to point out that as a black American, perhaps more importantly a black American living in New York City, I might not be entirely qualified to intelligently discuss matters of race, especially as it relates to countries or locales other than my own, which is more cosmopolitan than many. However, I will do the best that I can to maintain a level of impartiality and objectivity this month, and I apologize to any non-American readers out there.)

Admittedly, when I first came up with the idea to do this theme month, I was forced to realize that I didn’t know of any comics that satisfied my criteria, save one, which led to the decision to make this attempt- and we will be looking at that comic later in the month.

With nowhere else to turn, I went to my peers, and canvassed several message boards, the Webcomic List’s board chief among them. There was a startling amount of suggestions, and an almost as startling number of people coming forward with their own comics, some long-running, others just starting out.

This month of reviews and interviews is in no way, shape or form meant to be indicative of the best black webcomics or anything like that; it’s really just a question of who was in the right place at the right time, and how much time I have to read them all. At the same time, this fact does not make them any less worth your time.

The comics that have been presented to me range from subtle (or not-so-subtle) social commentary to simple gags to flights of fantasy. And everything in between.

The comic that we will look at is a bit of the first and a handful of the third. (And before I give you a link, I’ll just mention that this comic is another one that’s a little more maturish than the majority; it’s got enough gunplay for a Quake deathmatch, and rather colorful language.)

The Devilfish Project, written by Byron Jackson (a black man) and illustrated by Ronny H. (an Indonesian man, while not exactly relevant to the nature of the theme, as this month does center on race, it is interesting to note), is about, in Byron’s own words:

‘The year is 2096 and the world has taken a turn for the worse environmentally and socially. The sudden depletion of our natural ozone layer has wiped out 22% of Earths [sic] population and plunged the world into a massive depression sending crime rates soaring world wide.

The story is focused on 2 Federal Bounty Hunters 2 of only 12 sanctioned in the USA. They are new branch of government that are bound by very little law when it comes to bringing in or taking down ultra violent criminals on America’s most wanted list.

‘When an Illegal Government [sic] experiment goes wrong the Bounty Hunters find themselves thrust into the dark world of self preservation and political corruption beyond human comprehension.’

As it is now, (the comic is only 20 pages long as of this point,) there might have been nothing to lend it weight for consideration in this particular, aside from Byron’s own testimony concerning the main characters, and his outlook on the medium:

Me: Does your comic have an all-black cast?

Byron: No

Me: If so, what was the reasoning behind that choice?

Byron: For the broad world setting it would not have been realistic

Me: If not, who are the black characters in your comic?

Byron😕 There are 2 main characters a black male and a white female the complete book is a rainbow of race

Me: How conscious of a decision was it to make them black?

Byron: There will always be a black main character in every book I write male or female. That’s just my general rule.

As promised, Devilfish takes the reader into a post-cataclysmic (with 78% of the population surviving, it can’t really be called post-apocalyptic,) setting which, without that particular exposition, might not have come across as anything aside from another futuristic bounty hunter story. Even the hardware that the characters duke it out with isn’t terribly advanced-looking, relying on projectiles instead of lasers, or shockwaves or’ something.

The exact circumstances that led to things being the way that they are will hopefully be revealed before the story goes too far to be bogged down with a lengthy explanation, but in truth, the event chain seems to be a bit much.

In my opinion, as it is so far, the Devilfish Project succeeds without scientific puffery, instead drawing the reader in with fast-paced, tight action sequences, and a pair of bounty hunters who look mighty sexy in not-quite-functional body armor.

Feared and reviled by everyone, especially the miscreants that they make their living by apprehending, Adrian and Tonya (who as it turns out, according to Byron, is actually white, but from the way that she’s drawn, I assumed she was black, go figure) are almost startlingly human when the guns are put away. (As an added bonus, Tonya appears to be a lesbian, covering another subculture/minority/group of people.)

Finally, I asked all the creators that I contacted their opinion on the need to examine or discuss the subject of race/ethnicity/whatever in webcomics.

Personally, I could do without the discussion, for reasons that I will likely end up discussing later in the month.

However, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t bear discussing, or that there’s nothing to be said. So, I asked Byron and everyone else that I could get a hold of:

Me: Being as honest as possible, do you think that this is even a topic worthy of discussion?

Byron: Absolutely’ somewhere out there, there is a someone who flips through a comic book in a comic store and puts it back on the shelve [sic] because they don’t like the race of a main character, and I find that ridicules. [sic] Now, if you’re a black man looking for a black hero you’re putting back a lot of comics ‘LMAO’ And what I do is try to balance that ratio.

Me: To clarify: do you think that a perceived lack of black (or any other minority, more specifically, those who are not ninjas) characters is something that needs to be addressed, for lack of a better term, or discussed?

Byron: I don’t think there is a lack of black main character in comic books I’d say the balance is running equal with the movie industries with the presence of black main characters [sic] presence ever so slightly rising with time.

Me: If so, do you have any ideas as to how it could possibly be addressed? Do you feel that your webcomic is addressing this issue?

Byron: Yes I believe my web comic, books, Graphic Novels, and eventual feature films will always contribute to increasing the black presence in entertainment.

To someone who does a comic about angsty, primarily non-human imaginary friends, these are interesting points.

Does Byron’s theoretical comic-flipper need to be appeased because they are an ‘untapped market,’ or perhaps more altruistically, because their beef with characters that do not look like them is legitimate?

In either case, as creators, is it our responsibility (or merely to our advantage, in the case of the former,) to do something about this?

As for myself, I do not know. Nevertheless, it is definitely worth considering, I think.

I’ll see you next week, if not sooner.

2 Responses to “Welcome to the Negro Leagues.”

  1. On February 2, 2007 at 7:15 am
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