A Different Kind of Hero: The Culture of Black Comix
Growing up, I always found the few Black faces in superhero comic books fascinating, like rare birds. Luke Cage, aka, Power Man, bristled with attitude like Shaft on steroids. Black Lightning bolted through the air with an electrified Afro. The Falcon soared beside Captain America as a dark sidekick. Each of these heroes personified stereotypes as they tried to transcend them as heroic role models. Today, a whole new generation of cartoonists has drawn a new generation of Black heroes. Damian Duffy and John Jennings’ Black Comix: African American Independent Comics, Art and Culture collects the artistry and ambitions of these artists hoping to express the essence of their culture while finding a place in the medium itself with a different kind of hero.
“From third grade to seventh I collected Marvel and swore by them,” admits Dawud Anyabwile, creator of Brotherman. “In seventh grade I recognized the disproportionate amount of black heroes to non-black in their books and also realized how stereotypical they were and tossed my books in the fireplace.” Brotherman and other African-American heroes take on villains in the form of racism, classism, sexism, and poverty. “African-American heroes can be a conscience of sorts for comics,” argues Stacey Robinson, creator of Abraham the Young Lion. “Our heroes don’t wear masks. Why? Simply put, our heroes represent realistic ideals. Justice, freedom and equality don’t wear masks.” The passion for social justice behind many of these heroes shines through in the art, which flies off of the page with a boundless energy and thirst for social justice not found in even the biggest mainstream heroes of the big comic companies. Duffy and Jennings examine the thinking behind these heroes and profile deeper thinkers such as William H. Foster, III, and the African-American academics known collectively as “Critical Front.” When the “Critical Front” academics take on personae such as Anthroman and Mad Law Professor, you get a sense of how this is serious play (or fun philosophy) in action.
Duffy and Jennings present the artists in alphabetical order, which seems the most democratic thing to do. All of these artists stand together as a multifaceted, diverse snapshot of the intersection of such forces as hip hop and manga in the artwork and writing of African-American independent comics. For the most part, the images are allowed to speak for themselves, but extra attention is given to standout figures, such as Anyabwile of Brotherman fame and Richard Tyler, II (aka, Uraeus), creator of Jaycen Wise, an immortal traveler “charged with the lofty responsibility of battling the forces of ignorance and darkness, to ensure the eternal preservation of knowledge, truth and light.” You’ll find yourself flipping back and forth throughout the book, lingering over different images every time. For someone unfamiliar with the realm of African-American independent comics, Black Comics opens up a whole new world of heroic possibility.
“The good news is we are here, and we are growing,” artist Turtel Onli, “the father of the Black Age of Comics,” announces. With their own conventions and even a museum of Black superheroes, Black comics are, indeed, present and increasingly accounted for by the Black audience they primarily serve. The next step, which Black Comix should help happen, will be to rise even further into the consciousness of mainstream America. Only then will Brotherman, Jaycen Wise, and others battle the injustice they were created to fight against at its source.
[Many thanks to Mark Batty Publisher for providing me with a review copy of Damian Duffy and John Jennings’ Black Comix: African American Independent Comics, Art and Culture.]
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- Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
- Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
- Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
A new Gallup polls shows the rising support for socialism in the United States.
- Socialism is experiencing a boom in support among Americans.
- 43% of Americans now view socialism as "a good thing".
- There are also more people (51%) against socialism as political stances hardened.
A new study shows that some men's reaction to sex is not what you'd expect, resulting in a condition previously observed in women.
Is this proof of a dramatic shift?
- Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
- Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
- A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses
Dramatic and misleading
Image: Reddit / SICResearch
The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.
Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.
The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.
Let's zoom in:
- It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
- By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
- Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
- In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
- Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
- By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.
Image source: Reddit / SICResearch
This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?
- "The end is near."
- "The idiocracy grows."
- "(It's) like a spreading disease."
- "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
- "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
- "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
- "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
- "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."
Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:
- "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
- "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
- "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
- "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."
"Old people learning to Google"
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)
But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:
- "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
- "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
- "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
- "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."
A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.
The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.
One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.
Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.
It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.
CNN, Fox and MSNBC
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison
For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):
- Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
- MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
- CNN: 706,000 (-9%)
And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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