Eye Trauma Comix’ Other Heroes exhibition at Mississippi’s Jackson State University starts now and will run until April 25th. The event serves as a showcase of work by African-American comics artists juxtaposed against the image of Black characters existing in the medium as well as serving as charity event for the poor that lost their homes to Hurricane Katrina – all profits of the Other Heroes catalog will go to Scholarship America, which will provide tuition support to low-income residents.
One of the Other Heroes contributors–amongst the likes of Kyle Baker and Lance Tooks–is Dawud Anyabwile, the creative mind behind Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline, who we had the fortune of wrangling up for a brief interview. Mr. Anyabwile gave his thoughts on the state of African-Americans in modern comics, what needs to be done to see more diversity in both faces and storyline.
We understand that you’re going to participate in The Other Heroes showcase. Could you tell us about your contribution to the show?
I will have a few reproductions from some of the original Brotherman comic books on display. They will be enlargements of a couple pages selected by curator Prof. John Jennings.
Traditionally, Black superheroes in mainstream comics usually fell into one of two categories: the angry, “I’m angry at White society” reluctant hero, or the poor, ghetto dweller that acquired powers. Do you see today’s minority characters breaking that stereotypical mold?
Yes. I think it is happening at a more rapid rate then when I was coming up as a teen. I do see a variety of Black hero images in the independent comics as well as television and other media. We still have a long way to go but the change is happening. I think the independent comic explosion of the 1990’s was the seed for this dynamic change. The major publishers always had access and power to create a wealth of positive black images yet it took the efforts of independents like us to demonstrate that there is a market for a variety of black heroes.
I agree, but what do you think needs to be done to foster more diversity in the type of Black characters that are presented?
I think we need to expand our thinking. Incorporate more creative and clever thought into our works. We cannot get locked into hood stories and gun toting. That’s fine if done well but there are so many stories to tell that are rooted in our history, our future, our spirituality and so many other genres that make up a people. Too often the easy route is taken which demonstrates that the writer may need to read more or the artist needs to refine his/her skills more. I challenge myself all the time to do better. We all need to do that in order to expand and evolve.
So what led you to create Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline?
The seed was planted as a child when my father recommended that if I wanted to see a Black superhero on TV or in the comics then I better not wait, but instead make it myself. Of course Brotherman did not come into mind at that young age, actually not until 1988, when I drew a character in my sketchbook and called him Brotherman. I would say it was a lifelong journey of various experiences that culminated into a production that began as a promotional gimmick for a storefront that my brother and I were operating in East Orange, New Jersey. Immediately after we introduced the book at the Black Expo in NYC it gained a huge following and we took it more and more seriously and developed the stories more as we went along. The story was always a tribute to the real ‘Dictators of Discipline,’ which are the men in our communities who fight, struggle and teach positive values to the youth but may never get recognized for their efforts. They have no super powers but they do uncanny deeds on a daily basis. The comic began as a parody of the traditional superhero but as Big City evolved and the characters within it, it took on a whole new meaning. You can see the difference between issue #1 and issue #11.
As a kid, I always thought it strange that so many blacks read comics, but upon going to conventions, there was a startling lack of black creators. Do you think that there has been a stronger black representation nowadays than in years past?
Definitely. I may not be the best to answer that because after I burned my comics in the seventh grade I no longer had an interest in them so I did not attend a comic convention until we came out with our book in 1990. However, I did see a difference from when we first came out and when I go to a convention now. Very big change in representation for creators and participants.
For more information on Other Heroes, check out Eye Trauma Comics’ page for a list of participating artists and room location.