Editor’s note: This is Marc Bernardin’s fifth and final post for us here at Blog@; over the last couple of weeks he has interviewed Matt Fraction, Tim Leong and his Genius collaborators, Adam Freeman and Afua Richardson, as well as shared his three best celebrity encounters. I want to thank Marc for spending time with us here. If you want to hear more from him, you can check out his personal blog as well as Entertainment Weekly’s Popwatch blog, where he posts on occasion (when he isn’t actually editing and writing articles for them, of course). Genius hits stores today, and Marc and Afua will be signing copies of it at Jim Hanley’s Universe (the one by the Empire State Building) this Friday. Tell him I said hi if you go.
by Marc Bernardin
It has come to my attention that I’m a Black comic book writer.
Not that I suddenly realized that I’m a Black dude; it’s not like I’ve been living my life in some bizarre racial version of that “Eye of the Beholder” Twilight Zone episode. It’s just that for 15 years or so, my professional identity has existed apart from my racial identity. I’m a magazine editor, and the places I’ve worked are diverse enough—or the people are enlightened enough—that it’s never been an issue.
I’m also a geek. And, in my experience, being a geek is a color-blind vocation. Because, up until very recently, we’ve been in the minority, and minorities—when faced with a harsh majority—tend to stick together. I’ll let you in on a little secret: Whenever you see a couple of black guys walking in opposite directions on the street, and they nod at each other when passing, it’s not because they know each other. It’s a tacit declaration of “If anything funky happens, I got your back.” Being a geek felt the same way: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Geeks are too happy to find someone else who shares their love for dodecahedrons and Morlocks and kaiju to let skin color get in the way. In my experience, geekdom is like a college town: safe haven for the different.
But now I’m a professional geek. I’m getting paid for making that thing that I love: comic books. And after co-writing (with my longtime compadre Adam Freeman who, for the record, is melanin challenged) two books last year—The Highwaymen and Monster Attack Network—we were nominated for a Glyph Award. Rising Stars. It may have had something to do with the fact that both of those books featured strong African American characters. It may have something to do with the fact that I’m black. But before I’d been nominated, I never once thought about the fact that there was an award specifically designed to reward books featuring black characters or books by black creators. I find that both encouraging and sad. Encouraging, in that it’s good to recognize people working diligently to present a more inclusive world to comics readers. Sad, in that people who do just that aren’t already recognized by geekdom at large. Because I thought we were cool like that.
So I’m a black comic book writer, who has now written his first comic book specifically about African Americans. Genius is out today, and it’s about a young, gifted and black girl from South Central Los Angeles who uses her natural strategic brilliance to lead the united gangs in a war against the Powers That Be. It’s the first book I’ve been involved with that could make someone think that I’ve got some sort of agenda; that I’m writing from a place of political or social activism. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Adam and I were just following where the story led us—and if that meant we had to kill a LAPD officer on Page One, then so be it.
What does it mean, to me, to be a black comic book writer? I’d like to say that it doesn’t mean anything different than before I put the “black” in there: That I treat my work seriously, even when it’s about something as inherently silly as giant monsters destroying island cities. That I treat every character I write with the dignity they deserve, even if it’s Lobo. That I don’t hide behind the color of my skin and let it serve as a shield, a nut-guard against criticisms of inauthenticity in the same twisted, ridiculous way that I can use the N-word and others can’t. But I can’t deny that I feel a bit of a responsibility to present characters of color in a way that I wouldn’t be ashamed to show to my mother. And as much as I would, at some point, like to get to write characters like Nick Fury, or Lex Luthor, or John Constantine, I’d also like to try my hand at Ororo Munroe, Franklin Pierce, or—yes—Brother Voodoo.
What does it mean? I don’t really know. I’m figuring this out as I go.