Why aren’t there more black writers in the comics industry?

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Former DC editor and current Comics Alliance editor-in-chief Joe Hughes kicks off Black History Month by baldly stating a shameful fact about the US comics industry::

This is the first week of Black History Month, a four-week celebration and remembrance of the significant events and people of the African diaspora. For many, myself included, it’s a month to reflect on where we’ve been, as a people and as a nation, and to contemplate exactly where it is we’re going. In terms of the comic book industry, an obvious interest and passion of mine, there is one glaring and sobering fact that needs our attention: There is currently not a single black writer working on a monthly series for either of the two biggest comic book publishers in the United States, and precious few working for any of the others.


The whole piece is s must read, but a few more excerpts just to make sure you get the message. Although The New 52 did start out with a laudable attempt at diversity, writers Eric Wallace and Marc Bernadin were gone after the first few passes. Marvel NOW! never even got that far:

That’s two major initiatives over the past 18 months from the two biggest comic publishers in this country meant to update their brands in an attempt to better reflect the world we currently live in. Yet somehow, from the angle of a black writer trying to break into comics, this current era in the industry looks quite a bit like the one we were supposed to be leaving behind. For what it’s worth, publishers like Dark Horse, Image, IDW, Valiant, etc. are currently not faring much better, which is also a concern. Marvel and DC often hire writers after they’ve had some commercial or critical success at smaller publishers. If these publishers aren’t hiring black writers either, it could certainly be argued that it lowers the chances of Marvel and DC doing so.


Hughes compares the push for black writers to the much more visible push for female writers—it’s much easier to promote women because they are more easily identified. But the lack of a more diverse voice for mainstream comics hasn’t gotten nearly as much play as it should have:

So where is our collective outrage about our current situation? Why isn’t any of this being discussed more? There are certainly many reasons behind that, some of which go well beyond the comic industry and reflect America’s current climate and the changing (and perhaps diminishing) discourse on race, but the biggest factor may simply be a lack of voices. In the past Dwayne McDuffie was arguably the most recognizable and vocal figure on the topic of black creators in comics.


And for about the 400th time you say to yourself, “I wish Dwayne was here.” But even this formidably talented and intelligent man could not singlehandedly reverse the trajectory of the Big Two—although he and his friends tried with Milestone, an entire line of comics written mainly by and starring people of color. David Brothers has a parallel project naming ALL the black writers who have written more than one issue at the Big Two. It’s not a particularly huge list.

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The lack of black writers is especially odd given that comics have a huge minority readership. Marvel, in particular, has always had a strong crossover with the rap community—even when Marvel was suing them. Storm and The Black Panther are arguably the best known black superheroes, aside from the TV-only John Stewart Green Lantern. DC has made many attempts at diversity, as with the now vanished Mr Terrific book and even VOODOO—even if the execution of these concepts has often drawn criticism. But behind the page, it’s almost impossible to sustain a career as a black writer in comics.

Now of course there are many reasons for this. And one of them is racism. Americans are racists. Our society is divided sharply across racial lines, and even having a black president hasn’t changed that. In fact, I would say that having a black president has actually ENTRENCHED tribal reactions against diversity and the internet has given voice to the most hateful and paranoid racial fantasies.

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But while the issues of sexism in nerd culture are aired every five minute, racial roles are rarely given the same examination. For instance, this piece by cosplayer Chaka Cumberbatch—who happened to be black— about a photo of her playing Sailor Venus is astonishing:

“For a black cosplayer (not to be racist) she did an amazing job!” the original Tumblr post read. It was later was edited to include “I love her skin tone” after all hell broke loose.

Personally, I’ve always been stuck on those first few words: “for a black cosplayer.” As if the bar was set lower for us, as if we weren’t expected to perform on the same level as white cosplayers.

[snip] I lost track of how many times the post was liked, reblogged, linked to other websites — even now, nearly three years after the picture was taken, complete strangers will come up and reference it to me at cons, and it’s even come up in job interviews. My Venus became the unintentional face of the cosplay race debate online, an unwitting example of “Black cosplayers doing it right,” as if 9 times out of 10, black cosplayers were doing it wrong by default.

What kills me is that in person, nobody has the balls to say a word about whether or not they think darker-skinned people should cosplay lighter skinned characters — but online is a completely different animal. Online, I was “Nigger Venus,” and “Sailor Venus Williams” because I am black.
My nose was too wide, lips were too big, I had a “face like a gorilla” and wasn’t suited for such a cute character, because I am black. My wig was too blonde, my wig wasn’t blonde enough, or, my wig was ghetto because I was making it ghetto, by being black and having it on my head.


That the woman in question happened to be playing a character that was a space alien disguised as Japanese girl makes the whole argument more surreal. That cosplay is an empowering fantasy to allow you to inhabit a make believe role to have fun is ignored. The reactions to black Sailor Venus completely overlook the purpose and spirit of dressing up, and reinforce the rigid roles that people of various races are supposed to play.

For another example of stereotyping, basketball legend recently Kareem Abdul Jabbar wrote a very smart piece about the HBO sitcom Girls, including its racial messages. The world, myself included, reacted with amazement. Part of our amazement was jealousy—it is surely unfair that the greatest basketball scorer of all times, and a man who fought onscreen with Bruce Lee, should also be a talented writer of insight and nuance. But Jabbar responded to the amazement with a reminder not to judge people too quickly:

What do people expect when an ex-jock discusses pop culture? “Hmmm. Magic light box have good shows. Me like some. Others make me puke Gatorade. Me give it three jock straps.”

Maybe this will help: I have a degree from UCLA. I’m an amateur historian who has written books about World War II, the Harlem Renaissance, and African-American inventors. I read a lot of fiction as well as non-fiction. I watch TV and movies. I have acted in both. I have been a political activist and an advocate for children’s education. How should an aging, black jock like myself know anything about pop culture? Man, I am a living part of pop culture and have been for nearly 50 years. Beyond that, I think pop culture expresses our needs, fears, hopes and whole zeitgeist better than some of the more esoteric and obscure forms of art.

What can I say to those critics except, “Don’t judge me by the color of my team jersey, but by the content of my articles.”


The takeaway from all of this is clear: if only Kareem Abdul Jabbar would write some comics, everything would be solved.

On a more serious note, while reading the comments on any of these threads (and doubtless this one) is an exercise in despair about the future of America, after dipping into the CA one for 5 seconds I came across this frequent bingo card entry:

Same question I asked over at CBR – who do you suggest we look at? Are there any writers out there we aren’t hearing about whom we should? Let’s skip over the Whys and wherefores, and come up with examples of people who can and should world for the Big Two, and then perhaps start wondering allowed if they should get a shot, and maybe why they haven’t.


In the spirit of getting the ball rolling—called it Django Unedited—I invite people to nominate others or themselves in the comments. (And yes I will rigorously police this thread. Haters stay away.) Are you black? Do you write comics? Speak up! Do you have an industry horror story? Email me at comicsbeat at gmail com. Names will be withheld but no anonymous emails.

The way to be inclusive isn’t to stand around talking about being inclusive…you have to actually include someone. A diverse industry is a stronger industry.

Comments

  1. I wish Christopher Priest was still writing comics. And Eric Jerome Dickey’s Storm series continues to be a nice little evergreen trade seller for my store.

  2. Alice says:

    Raven Gregory, Executive Editor of Zenescope and writer of “Wonderland” (currently in development at the CW with McG), “The Waking”, and a bunch of other things, is, to quote George Carlin, “openly black”.

  3. I nominate myself. I have written Total Recall: Life On Mars for Dynamite. I also write the Omnium Gatherum column for Comics Waiting Room (cwr.comicswaitingroom.com) whenever I get a chance. And I have written for Comic Book Resources.

    I don’t have any industry horror stories but I will say there is a serious Catch-22 situation going on in the American comics industry. If part of getting into the game is being social, then black creators can often find themselves on the outside looking in or being the only or one of the few black faces interacting with editors and other nonblack creators at various BarCons, Drink and Draws and what have you around the scene. But these are the places where deals are made and work is given. It can be very daunting to face, as I saw one year in San Diego at the Hyatt, the sea of white faces of the industry socializing with each other. The history of the US shows that is it much, much easier to socialize with your own than with another group.

    I would say to aspiring black creators this. First, be great, don’t settle for low standards in your work. Second, make your own comics so you are not pinning all of your hopes and dreams on the Big Two. Webcomics, print on demand books, getting in with smaller publishers. Third, get out there and interact with the larger comics industry. You never know what may come of it. Be open with the industry and it can be open to you.

    And to the Big Two and the comics industry I would say just try to find ways of opening up to those black creators out there. There are tons of black, brown, and beige fans out there. Do not ignore them, embrace them. They are where growth is happening and they are from where new voices will come.

  4. I am Black. Spirit willing and the creeks don’t rise, I’ll have Menthu: The Anger of Angels available digitally and from Diamond in May 2013.

    You should know:
    – Geoffrey Thorne and Todd Harris. Genre19.com and Journeymen in Dark Horse Presents. I can’t even get into how good they are.
    – Brandon Easton. His Glyph Award nominated OGN Shadowlaw.
    – Brandon Thomas is writing Voltron. Yeah, he’s Black.
    – Enrique Carrion’s Vescell at Image is wonderful.
    – Jimmie Robinson, believe it or not, writes Bomb Queen. Yep, Black too. He’s got a new book coming out this year.
    – Dani Dixon and Tumble Creek Press. Indie sensibilities, pro level quality.

    If I sat and Googled a while I could likely come up with a lot, lot more. I’m just wilded out by the fact that only twenty Black people have written more than one issue for the companies representing 70% of the marketplace. That’s … wow.

    I’m writing a piece on this for Komplicated at the Good Men Project for next week, and I’ll surely link to this one as well.

  5. There’s a few Black writers in Hollywood who have been working in TV, animation and film that also have worked in comics. For example there’s me (Brandon Easton – writer on the newest Thundercats series and Transformers: Recuse Bots) and I had a critically acclaimed graphic novel Shadowlaw released last January and a bunch of other stuff coming out in 2013. There’s Geoffrey Thorne (writer for TNT’s LEVERAGE and just got a deal with Dark Horse). There’s Vince Moore (writer of the TOTAL RECALL comic from Dynamite). There’s Kevin Grevioux (creator of the UNDERWORLD franchise, who also has done stuff for Marvel). There’s Enrique Carrion (writer of Image’s Vescell). There’s Brandon Thomas (writer of Miranda Mercury, and writer for the new VOLTRON comic series at Dynamite). Not to mention the extremely diverse creators on IndyPlanet.com.

    And there are others whose names escape me at this time. My point is that it seems that once Dwayne McDuffie passed away (RIP), everyone pretended that no other Black writers existed.

    We’re out there in greater numbers than you think. It’s just slow going.

    Best,
    Brandon

  6. Priest on Batman. Marguerite Abouet has talked about her love for Spider-Man as a young girl. I’d put her on the Ultimate version though because she’s amazing with younger characters. I’d like to see another Hudlin go-around with Spidey as well. Perhaps a movie tie-in? Spike. Carol Burrell. Marc Bernardin on Gen 13–immediately. Baker on Lobo. Doselle Young. Shonda Rhimes on a Year One Wonder Woman graphic novel would be nice. Angela Robinson on Birds of Prey for an arc or two? I’m also going to sneak Junot Diaz in here and hope no one notices!

  7. blacaucasian says:

    I’m struck by the fact that when I think of black creators writing major books, aside from Dwayne McDuffie on JLA and Felicia Henderson on Teen Titans, I can’t think of any stand out instances where a black creator has written anything beyond books with or centralized on black characters.

    I think Reginald Hudlin, I think Black Panther and then later Storm. Eric Wallace was writing Mr Terrific, another black character. Marc Bernadin writes Static Shock, another black character.

    To me, the problem, in these examples specifically, go beyond acees to black writers, because even when given the oppotunity, these companies seem as if to say, we’ll give you a shot, but not on any of these characters over here. You can work on the black ones.

    How many black people have written Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, Captain America (WITHOUT the Falcon), Wonder Woman even?

    As a half-black kid growing up in the Boston suburbs, learning Kyle Baker was black rocked my world because it gave me hope that this was something I could do to. By a lack of African American creators not being pursued by the major two, you create your own self fulfilling prophecy – that no younger black kids think they have a shot in this game.

    When we see “the next hot name” shoot up (Scott Snyder, Jeff Lemire, Jason Aaron) it always seems it’s the same kind of pedigree. It’d be nice to see Marvel attempt something a little more accurately out of the box then Kieron Gillen on Young Avengers or DC try something a little more out of the box then Jeff Lemire on Green Arrow.

    (Please no I hold now ill will towards any of the creators above. I”m huge fans of them all.)

    But it doesn’t seem that DC and Marvel are interested (or perhaps they are just too scared) to truly start thinking outside the box.

  8. John Shableski says:

    Maybe the scope of this should spread beyond the world of the superheroes? I know a few guys like Alex Simmons(Archie Comics) Jamar Nicholas(Stick,Fist, Knife, Gun) and Jerry Craft(Mamas Boyz) who would qualify as ‘Black’. With Cheryl’s mention of Junot, he actually inspired our Color of Comics themed programming for Miami Book Fair International a couple of years back. We had this great conversation on how powerful it would be for some kid to sit in the audience and see, he put it: “a vato like me” sitting up there on the stage with other artists.
    I have a librarian friend out in Alameda County(SF Bay Area) who is looking for Comics of Color creators who can come talk with her kids in the juvenile detention center about the craft of making comics. Would be cool to hook her up.
    Nice to see this conversation starting up, again.

  9. Writer/Illustrator Gerimi Burleigh is a creator that deserves way more notice and credit than he’s getting. I thoroughly enjoyed his “Eye of the Gods” self-published GN.

    And, I’ll second Vincent Moore’s self-nomination, too.

  10. Writer/Illustrator Gerimi Burleigh is a creator that deserves way more notice and credit than he’s getting. I thoroughly enjoyed his “Eye of the Gods” self-published GN.

    And, I’ll second Vincent Moore’s self-nomination, too.

  11. The Beat says:

    Here’s a name that hasn’t come up much: John Ridley, whose The AMerican Way mini series for Wildstorm was one of the best Not-Watchmen Post Watchmen real life superheros books AND a book witten by a black writer that didn’t just feature black characters.

    Also Rachel Renèe Russell author of the Dork Diaries; her daughter helps with the art. I know these “Wimpy Kid-like” books occupy a “twilight area” but they are insanely popular and definitely include a strong visual component. She doesn’t identify as a cartoonist though, as Jeff Kinney does.

  12. I recommend Vince White, currently writing/illustrating/self-publishing his own comic book “Will Power,” a fresh and inventive take on the superhero concept.

    http://www.willpowercomic.com/

  13. blacaucasian says:

    John Ridley is so awesome, sometimes he’s on Morning Joe on MSNBC.

  14. Silly but True says:

    Second Priest. Might as well go for the gold, then: Priest + ChrisCross. You heard me right – looks like it’s time for New 52 Xer0.

  15. To go back to Joe’s original point, the task of “nominating” is made a lot harder if the smaller publishers aren’t more inclusive. If we’re to think of every non-Big-Two press as the farm team (which is what we’re told in every “how to break in” article ever written), and they’re mainly white . . .

    Also, to spin off what Vincent Moore said, the problem can be a long way towards resolved if publishers switch from the “waiting for black creators to come to me” strategy to the “let me go out and actively embrace/collaborate with/encourage this community to be a part of my business” strategy.

    It reminds me of a conversation I once overheard at an anarchist bookshop in Boston, while the store’s activist collective was having a meeting about how to “attract more people of color to our group.” The store was in one of the whitest, richest neighborhoods in one of the most racially segregated cities in the country, and everyone in the meeting was white, and their plan up to that point was to sit there wondering why no people of color accidentally showed up on their own.

  16. Charles says:

    The only major black creator at Marvel I’m aware of is Olivier Coipel.

  17. Brian Wood says:

    Gary Phillips: ANGELTOWN for DC, COWBOYS for the DC Crime Line, HIGH ROLLERS and THE RINSE for Boom!, SHOT CALLERZ and MIDNIGHT MOVER for Oni, I think some GI JOE for Image.

    Great guy, great writer, very absent from this discussion.

  18. Hi. I’m Steven Forbes, eic of ComixTribe, and I’m black. (And I feel like I just introduced myself in a 12-step meeting…which may be very true in a sense, and all the more sad because of it.)

    I write two columns at my site: Bolts & Nuts, which is a how-to column on comics, generally for new creators with a pretty big focus for writers, and The Proving Grounds, where I edit scripts for public consumption. Both of these have been running non-stop for the past two years.

    There is a problem with race here in America. We all know it, even though we try to put it behind a veneer of acceptance. We are only acceptable as long as we aren’t being what we are. For some reason, being an actual black person is to be an outcast.

    Look around you. We influence a lot: from the physical (tanning, lip injections, thoughts on male virility), to the fashionable (mode of dress), speech, and music (it goes a lot further than just rap). However, despite this influence, we’re largely ignored by those around us. Because we’re black.

    In comics, we aren’t the force we could be. There are precious few of us that are telling quality stories with an eye toward a larger audience. An audience with buying power. We would love to tell stories about our own experiences, but the achievements of Milestone has shown us that first, there aren’t enough of us with buying power to sustain a series, and second, that those with the buying power don’t understand the stories we would tell.

    I don’t think that is going to change anytime soon.

    Then, there are the pressures we put on ourselves. Instead of doing the work and being happy that someone is getting a check and recognition, black people accuse other blacks of selling out. This is a huge pressure we needlessly put on ourselves. Asians aren’t accused of self-hate racism (there aren’t many Asian-looking characters in the manga and anime my kids read and watch), yet if we don’t do something for our own upliftment, then we’re “wrong.”

    All I would like is to be able to tell my stories. I have a lot of them. I would love to be an editor at a publisher. (Yes, I submitted to IDW. Thanks for posting it, Heidi.) I would love to have a conversation where my race didn’t matter, and where the quality of my work is gauged on its own merit, and not due to the color of my skin.

    Since that isn’t possible today, we have to deal with what we have. We start with this discussion. So, there’s a problem, and we recognize that. The next step is to start thinking about solutions. Explore the problem from every angle conceivable, and then start working on a remedy.

    Milestone was a milestone in many ways. Is it time for a revival of the sentiment if not the universe? Or, even bolded: can a reverse of Eminem be pulled off?

    What are some solutions? They should be practical, thus, workable. Broad in scope, casting as wide a net as possible, so that there is as much inclusion as possible.

    Thanks for listening.

  19. george says:

    From an article about Larry Tye’s book about Superman, at the website Every Day Is Like Wednesday:

    Tye interviews Louise Simonson, the writer who created Steel with artist Jon Bogdanove, and she reveals something I had never heard before, having read Steel’s comics from back-issue bins, rather than off the new racks:

    “I was told I was fired because I had sent Steel into space and he should be an earthbound character,” Simonson says. “I think I was fired because if there was any publicity related to the movie they didn’t want a middle-aged white woman being the face of Steel.”

    And check this out:

    Christopher Priest, who took over, is African American, but he says he “wrote John Henry a lot whiter than Louise wrote him. I made him droll.” It didn’t matter, Priest adds, because few at DC still seemed to be paying attention, and not many readers were, either. As for making Superman more appealing to black readers, Priest says that would have been difficult sixty years into the legend. Superman, he explains, “represents white culture in an intensely megalomaniacal way. To many blacks, he is not Superman so much as he is SuperWhiteMan. There’s no sign on the comics shop window that reads WHITE POWER, but the sensibility is implied.”

  20. John Shableski says:

    well put, Jesse!

  21. John Shableski says:

    Steven, it’s great to hear your voice in this conversation. To me the opportunity for Black story tellers is much greater than most can comprehend. I get requests from educators and librarians around the country for contact info for ‘Creators of Color’ who can come in and speak to the kids. Going back to the statement by Junot Diaz about kids seeing someone on the dais who looks like them, he added that it didn’t have to be a blatant program focused on a certain race but that a guy/girl “who looked ‘like me’ showed me that my world now meant that I could draw comics too”.
    There was one program I set up for a school in Chicago a couple of years ago that really drove this point home for me. Jerry Craft(Mamas Boyz) and Geoffry Hayes(Benny & Penny) both did drawing workshops for a library full of elementary school kids. As the kids filled the seats you could see the black kids light up when they realized that a black man was there to draw comics! Seriously, it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.
    Jerry owned the show because he could literally draw everything the kids asked from Sponge Bob to Michael Jackson. He owned the room with each workshop.
    I guess the point is that the audience you might be looking for is actually much younger than you are aiming for.

  22. Was not aware Jimmie Robinson is black. I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing more work from him. I know he has a new mini-series in the works (which has already been ordered).
    Has Denys Cowan ever written any comics? I know he has drawn quite a few. Did he write any of the Milestone books? I’ve always enjoyed his work quite a bit (especially his work on The Question). I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing him take a run at writing a series.

  23. blacaucasian says:

    “Going back to the statement by Junot Diaz about kids seeing someone on the dais who looks like them, he added that it didn’t have to be a blatant program focused on a certain race but that a guy/girl “who looked ‘like me’ showed me that my world now meant that I could draw comics too”.”

    This is so much more important than anyone will ever realize. For instance, it never occurred to me as a youth that being a person of color I should play any sort of rock music until I saw bands like Bad Brains, Living Colour, and Fishbone actually doing it. I think this realization for younger people is universal and carries over through to any and every career. It seems like a very simple correlation, but visualizing doing something like this can make all the difference in the world to a younger person who never thought of it as an option to them. The same can be said of teachers or scientists or mayors or even Presidents of the USA.

  24. M. P. O'Sullivan says:

    Dave Walker is a comics writer, as well as filmmaker and historian. He’s working on Number 13 at Dark Horse right now.

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/NUMBER-13/347290674744
    http://www.badazzmofo.com

    Oh, speaking of Dark Horse… Tom Morello is the writer on Orchid, right?

  25. johnbeddings says:

    Why does talk about diversity always focus on black writers.

    What about Hispanic, Indian Asian etc

    Also why are whites always lumped together as one monolithic culture. Eastern European, protestant and Latin cultures are quite diverse.

  26. Doug Abramson says:

    “Might as well go for the gold, then: Priest + ChrisCross. You heard me right – looks like it’s time for New 52 Xer0.”

    Don’t tease. I loved that book.

  27. blacaucasian says:

    “Why does talk about diversity always focus on black writers.

    What about Hispanic, Indian Asian etc

    Also why are whites always lumped together as one monolithic culture. Eastern European, protestant and Latin cultures are quite diverse.”

    I think this specific discussion is based around black writers because it was at the center of Joseph Hughes article link above and because he wrote it around the fact that this is black history month.

    You could also absolutely expand this argument to any of the racial groups you’ve mentioned. However, I would argue to say that Hispanics are much better and maybe have for many years, been much better represented as creators for books from the big two through the years. I Think from the top of my head Fabian Nicieza, George Perez, Phil Jiminez, Los Bros. Hernandez, even the two most recent editor in chiefs of Marvel, Alonso and Quesada – I mean that list alone is certainly much more representative of Hispanic population then we currently see of blacks in comics right now. Still not perfect and there could always be more.

    Sociologists much more learned then I will ever be are much better suited to answer your second question completely. Suffice to say, we could always do a much better job of delineating the divisions of diversity you have noted as well.

  28. You could easily expand the argument to other minorities (and should, obviously) — but I don’t think that’s the argument here; in fact, I think it dissipates it a bit. Hughes points out a very specific fact here.

    Diaz hits the importance of this beyond any political lean. In comics class today we read Giant-Sized X-men #1. The class ripped Thunderbird, saying he was a racist stereotype in costume and depiction. Everyone piles on until one young woman raises her hand: “I liked him.” Turns out she is part Native American. And liked that he had a chip on his shoulder.

  29. Philip Clark – Thanks for the Nom
    Vincent Moore – I + his Nom. He brings thought-provoking ideas to the page and in real life.

    I feel like this is reminiscent of Black struggles in all industries. Traditionally we have to be twice as good to get half as far. Is it shameful that we are so under-represnted at the Big Two? HELL YES!

    But them’s the breaks. We’ve been ballin with one hand behind our backs since the Emancipation Proclaimation, so why stop now. The question is, what are we gonna do about it.

    Other creators has said as much already in this thread. We have to go out and make the best comics we can. If we can’t work for Marvel/DC, go work for Dark Horse, Image, IDW, Dynamite, etc. If you can’t work for them, self-publish. If you don’t have any money, make a webcomic!

    Tell the stories you want to tell, regardless of your ethnicity/gender/religion or the ethnicity/gender/religion of your characters.

    Most creators toil in obscurity for a while. Yours might be longer than others, but don’t forget. We’re doing this because WE LOVE COMICS!

    Not for the approval of the mainstream. Let me ask you this… if you knew you would NEVER get work from the Big Two, would you give up on making comics?

  30. Synsidar says:

    Isn’t the absence of minorities as professionals in superhero comics connected to superhero comics being a niche in the publishing industry? Reading superhero series is a hobby, not a casual, leisurely activity, and identifying (or over-identifying) with a hero to the extent of dressing up as him and eagerly following his adventures restricts the audience to a few personality types.

    If someone had asked back in the ’70s, “Why aren’t there more ____ in the board wargaming industry?”, the answer would have been that the wargames didn’t appeal to anyone except history nerds who had hours and hours of time to devote to playing them.

    Employment stats in an industry are meaningful when the industry is concerned with a broad cross-section of society.

    SRS

  31. Colson Whitehead.
    Nisi Shawl.
    Lamar Abrams.
    I’ll second Alex Simmons and Jamar Nicholas, and add Kyle Baker (is it because he’s such an obvious choice that nobody has suggested him here, yet?)

  32. Matt Jeske says:

    I would like to see more mainstream (or for that matter independent) work from Christopher Priest, ChrisCross, Denys Cowan, Reggie Hudlin, Ronald Wemberly, Lesean Thomas, Kyle Baker, Keith Knight and Aaron McGruder. Oh, and Trevor Von Eeden!

  33. The Beat says:

    F YEAH Ronald Wemberly — his PRINCE OF CATS GN was one of the criminally neglected books of 2012.

    Keith Knight could probably write a great GN but he is so busy with all his daily strips that I doubt he’d find time.

    Thanks to everyone for the hugely positive and INFORMATIVE comments here. I’ll keep this thread open as long as I can.

  34. Cheers for the mention Steve! For anyone who is interested here’s the interview I did with Comic Beat about the Unseen Shadows Transmedia Project.

    http://comicsbeat.com/interview-barry-nugent-live-at-thought-bubble

  35. Does it matter if there are black writers as long as there are black artists/letterers/colorists/etc?

  36. Yeah, that black guy badmouthing Green Lantern has a point. I mean, GL only saved the entire planet and everyone on it dozens of times over. What a racist.

  37. Quinton Peeples says:

    I’m nominating Dani Dixon, talented writer who has been publishing great series for years. Here’s a link to her appearance at SDCC: http://www.comicrelated.com/news/7473/danni-dixon-at-comic-con-international

  38. The problem with that Green Lantern panel, famous though it is, is that it loses the point without the rest of the story. Hal has just “saved” a white bad guy from a group of blacks trying to get justice. The point is that Hal automatically assumed the white guy was good and the black guys were bad- and that’s why he’s getting the tongue lashing.

  39. I’ve wondered when we’re going to see more comics work from Nnedi Okorafor. She won the World Fantasy Award in 2011, and then wrote a short story for the Mystery In Space one-shot. She is also a huge comic book fan– her author photo on her novels is a picture of her wearing a Batman shirt standing in front of her shelves of TPBs! She’s a fantastic writer and while I’m sure she’s busy being a novelist in her own right, I think DC (or Marvel or Dark Horse etc) would be stupid not to pursue her more.

  40. Mr. Hughes,
    Sadly, this is nothing new…A quick glance at the industry tells you that anyone with talent that is a man or woman of color has been stepped on, and blatantly pushed to the back of the bus.

    I know this to be true, because I tried several times to STAND UP when it came to people of color in the industry. My intentions from people who were NOT of color were questioned with statements like…”Why are you slumming, Mazz?”

    Frankly, This industry gives second chances to the worst of the worst bad boys, and stoners you could possibly find, but…refuses to acknowledge the accomplishments of creators of color. It’s worse than Apartheid. It’s shameful, revolting and disgusting…and yes, that’s a WHITE MAN calling out his fellow man. FIX IT.

    For your reading pleasure try this article:
    Multiculturalism and the suppression of Silent Racism
    http://atlasunleashed.com/?p=543

  41. Johnny Memeonic says:

    Since I don’t see it posted, check out this Dollar Bin interview with Christopher Priest from 2010. Guy gives a great interview:

    http://www.thedollarbin.net/shows/interview-christopher-priest-part-1.html
    http://www.thedollarbin.net/shows/interview-christopher-priest-part-2.html

  42. Synsidar said:

    “Isn’t the absence of minorities as professionals in superhero comics connected to superhero comics being a niche in the publishing industry? Reading superhero series is a hobby, not a casual, leisurely activity, and identifying (or over-identifying) with a hero to the extent of dressing up as him and eagerly following his adventures restricts the audience to a few personality types.”

    So ydo you dispute Heidi’s statement that superhero comics have a “huge minority readership?”

    And even if that proportionate readership is relatively small, are you assuming that every reader of any race chooses to express character identification by cosplaying?

  43. Synsidar says:

    There is no current superhero comics series that attracts a mass audience. Setting out to attract a large number of readers for some series would result in many of the same changes in recruitment practices and subject matters that addressing diversity complaints would.

    Suppose that Marvel, DC, and the other superhero comics publishers were a cable TV channel that aired programs only on theoretical physics and had about 300,000 viewers. Few people would care what the channel’s business practices were unless they were grossly offensive. Setting out to attract more viewers by offering new types of programs would make much more news.

    SRS

  44. It is kinda astounding when people argue that not enough black people read comics for retailers and publishers to bother. Gee. Is it just me, or is saying an excuse for not having black writers and characters is that you don’t see black kids and adults in comic stores a self fulfilling prophecy? If you build it… Really, if DC and Marvel and anyone defending them say black people don’t read comics and have no interestin them.. well.. first that is a flat out lie. And yet even if black people didn’t read comics or not a good percentage do (and at this point no good percentage of any demographic is reading comics), it is your damn job as a publisher and a retailer and anyone in this flailing industry to reach out to new readers and new groups of people and share thia medium you love and bring more readers into the fold. Unless you want to put up a big ‘whites only’ sign or declare you have no interest in selling comics to black people, you are failing at your job of selling comics to people, any people of any color be they black or white or neon green.

  45. Since Synsidar doesn’t care to defend his cosplaying comment, I gather he’s withdrawing it.

    Kudos to Steven Forbes for the best take on the matter:

    “What are some solutions? They should be practical, thus, workable. Broad in scope, casting as wide a net as possible, so that there is as much inclusion as possible. “

  46. Thanks, Gene. I appreciate it.

    Identifying problems will always be the easy thing. Coming up with workable solutions will always be the more challenging thing. Few people want to step up and work against the machine. It is much easier to just go with the flow. I term these two types of people the vocal minority and the silent majority.

    Again I ask: what is a workable solution to the identified problem? There is no single solution, we all know that. The answer isn’t “be good,” or “be better,” because both good and better are highly subjective. Is one of the answers “be visible doing good work”? In today’s highly connected, possibly over-sharing age, being visible is also a challenge. The signal to noise ratio is low.

    Marvel and DC are telling creators to get noticed other places first. Create your own buzz. Then they’ll be more apt to hire you. However, how to do that?

    Heidi has a LOT of power. Her space here reaches what, tens of thousands in repeat readers? More than that in drive-by’s? Her job is to report (such as it is in comics journalism) and pass along the news (such as it is in comics)…but there’s also the crush of “news” in the form of press releases that come on a daily basis. How much of that is deserving of her time, and how much of that is from a black voice?

    And that’s just here. Now add in Newsarama and CBR, the other two major comics news sources. The same if not more traffic, getting the same if not more press releases, but the question remains the same: how much is deserving of their time, and how much of that is from a black voice?

    Questions without answers? Maybe. But if we were to put a spotlight on it, I’m sure there would be something approaching an answer forthcoming. Then the question becomes, who’s both willing and able to step up to the plate?

  47. Frankly, once I realized I don’t need the Big Two for anything, I stopped worrying about this “issue” beyond the hypocrisy of the people who continue to claim the business of comics writing at either of these giant companies is a meritocracy. If you’re going to lie, make it a good one or you’re insulting my intelligence (which is never a good idea).

    Beyond that, feh. Who needs ‘em? Bendis is writing the HELL out of the new X-thing. Waid is doing the same with Daredevil. Hickman is great. I’ll buy if the combo of writing and art is good.

    But, i’m also finding the best work on that front is, increasingly, to be found in Indie world too. So, if they don’t keep their end up, I’ll likely drop all Marvel products as I’ve already done with DC.

    in the past “indie” comics by “minorities” could be written off as thinly veiled screeds focused on their issues with the business at large or poorly executed proxies- black versions of Superman, the Flash, etc.

    That was a LONG, LONG time ago.

    Now we make books that are as good, as diverse and, yes, often better than the output of the Big Two. Hard to believe, I know, but it’s a simple matter to see for oneself.

    Bottom Line: My partner and I make great comics together. We will continue to do so and we will own everything we make.

    If you want some great fun, buy them. If you’re addicted to the Bat or S-man, boy, girl, dog, cat, horse etc. and can’t abide stepping out of that cradle, feel free to indulge yourself there. We’re not mad at you.

    But you’re missing out.

  48. Torsten Adair says:

    Coulson Whitehead wrote a great superhero novel which most people have forgotten: John Henry Days

    Keith Knight is an amazing talent, and he is working on a biography.

    Robb Armstrong’s Jump Start is a fun strip.
    For a great, almost-graphic-novel story, go find a copy of “Jump Start: A Love Story”.

  49. I am a black writer who has written a few comics in my day and I can tell you to be black and get a job as a writer in comics is to scale a Mount Everest without oxygen. Except for the stuff I did for Milestone (most notably Hardware #9) everything else was gotten in some sort of backdoor way. In some cases the editor wanted to work with an artist who was a friend of mine and I was able to piggyback my way into a job.

    http://avp.wikia.com/wiki/Predator:_Strange_Roux
    http://www.darkhorse.com/Comics/97-595/Abe-Sapien-Drums-of-the-Dead

    Here’s something interesting. Back when Milestone started out Dwayne McDuffie offered me a job doing a fill-in issue with the possibility of more work. At this point I had been trying to break in to comics for 7 years. I was ecstatic and went to my local comic book store to tell the owner from whom I’d bought books from since I was a kid that I would be working for Milestone. I thought that he would be excited for me, but he just looked stunned like I told him he had cancer. I wish I was exaggerating, but I am not. He looked like a computer being confused by Captain Kirk. After a few stunned seconds he said, “They are just going to hire black writer are they? Because that wouldn’t be fair, that would just be reverse discrimination.” That was his first response. Not a word of congratulations.

    Turns out this was an industry-wide rumor. There was no truth in it. Writer/Editor Matt Wayne work for them. So did artist John Paul Leon as well as others, but these facts did not stand in the way of paranoia. I was standing next to Dwayne McDuffie at the DC both at Comic-Con in San Diego when a very famous writer came up to him to say he liked the Milestone books and would love to write an issue or two. Dwayne was very excited about the prospect and said so. The writer then said, “But of course I can’t because…” Dwayne had no idea what he was hinting at. Then the writer said, “Because I’m white.” Dwayne said, “We hire white people all the time.” This was true.

    This unfounded rumor persisted. But when confronted with actual numbers that prove that it is hard for a black writer to get into comics there are those who refuse to believe it.

    Back when Image Comics first started (I won’t say which studio) a friend of mine told me they were looking for writers because they writers they had working for them where always late. They were young guys hired by young artist and the writer had little to no experience. The company was loosing money because late books were returnable.

    My friend told the editor about me and I went down to see him. I walked in the door with samples of some of my published stuff. The editor was told I was there and came out to meet me. When he saw me he stopped dead in his tracks for a few seconds and then said to me, “Sorry we only work with established professionals.” Then he left.

    For 13 years I tried actively break into comics. Maybe I’m not good enough. Let’s play Devil’s advocate and say that is true, how would an editor know that just by looking at me?

  50. Tracey Claverie says:

    I have self published two books on my way to completing the four book series and selling it as a graphic novel. I haven’t experienced any rascism at this time. But in the back of my mind when I send my book out to be reviewed, I feel comfortable because my last name doesn’t look like a black last name. Even with my name being Tracey, I think my chances go up because I think everyone would be more willing to give a female a chance because like it was mentioned before, it’s easy to market.

    I read all of these names of black writers writing in comics and find myself surprised. My brother and I attend San Diego Comic Con every year. He has commented on a few occasions abut how open comic fans are. I remember a panel we went to on horror comics. One of the main players there, was an editor for dark horse. At the end of the panel my brother went to the editor and asked, ” why aren’t there black writers in the genre?” He gave truthful response. He said he didn’t know. He also said he hasn’t received much from black writers in horror. After that he gave my brother his card and he talked to my brother through email. He gave him books to read and really took some time with him.

    In the last couple of years with my books in circulation, I found it hard to put myself out there and call myself a writer. However last year at the Con, my brother and I started walking to the host hotels and attended some of the mixers. We were able to meet some cool people and we are planning to do the same this year. Sooner or later the confidence will come and we’ll get something.

  51. I also nominate myself.
    African-American brother in Philly, working on nearly twenty (20) creator-owned comic book ideas. I recently had my sci-fi/super-hero/urban blast story featured in philly’s best lit mag, Apiary.
    http://apiarymagazine.com/apiary-5/alex-smith-the-three-known-tales-of-hatim-muzumbo/

    Just finished work on the first issue of my self-published fanzine A R K D U S T which features my own sci-fi and speculative fiction stories. I’ve started an ideahouse/studio with my partner Shane Jenkins (also featured in A R K D U S T) called The Dangerous Loom where we are developing screenplays, comic book scripts, stories and organizing events for writers in Philadelphia. Speaking of events, I’m reading April 3 and April 26 at the A-Space, first in support of novelist Imogen Binnie’s new novel “Nevada” (you could say i’m the opening act for her book tour) and secondly at LASER LIFE, a queer empowered sci-fi reading that is standing room only at the A-Space in West Philly. In May i’m reading at RADAR+++, a comic book/sci-fi reading i’m curating with Philly’s best comic book store, Locust Moon, as well as facilitating SYNERGY, another writer’s reading series at ECBACC. For any info on this contact me at the email addy provided.

    I would also like to nominate my friends in The Xion Network Facebook group like Shawn Alleyene, Eric Cooper, Willie Smith, Arell Rath Crow, Chris Taylor and everyone else

  52. THE, Brian McDonald? They accused YOU of not being a professional? Wow! I have read two of your books and they blew my mind, man. Invisible Ink was especially amazing. Sucks there are so many close minded people out there, but at least you used the adversity and created something (White Face).

  53. Hey Chad Kuffert , yes I guess I am “the Brian McDonald” through I do not like to think of myself like that. But, yes, I wrote Invisible Ink and other books. I tried hard for over a decade to break into comics and almost never worked. As far as I am concerned it’s basically a Jim Crow industry when it comes to writers. Sometimes they hire one or two people to be able to “prove” that they are not racist. And I don’t know if these editors would ever think of themselves that way, but if they were card carrying members of the KKK the results in hiring practices would be just about the same.

    I was told i was not professional before I got my name out. The man didn’t know anything about me. Well, he knew one thing, and I guess that’s all he needed to know.

    Thanks for reading my book, man.

  54. Mr. McDonald,

    I am curious if you have made any attempt at the comic industry recently? Perhaps you have no desire to write comic scripts any longer, but the success of your novels must carry weight in the pitching process.

    I apologize if this question is too personal, or direct, but career development may tie into this blog post and the ensuing conversation. If your success with Invisible Ink still leaves you knocking on closed doors, it would make the state of the comic business seem all the more depressingly racist.

    Lastly, your personal response to my prior post has made my day! You rock man!

  55. Chad Kuffert,

    Glad to have made your day with my response, but I’m a writer just like you and still have a hard time comprehending that I have fans. I do very much appreciate any fans I am lucky enough to have. So thank you.

    As for comics, after more than a decade a hard work trying to break into comics I got tired of beating my head against the wall. In fact, I have recently realized that I can’t even walk into a comic book shop without feeling a little melancholy. Almost no books on the shelves are written by people who look like me. When it comes to writers the industry might as well put up a sign that reads “Coloreds Need Not Apply”. Every now and then someone breaks through, but not very often. And almost never for a long run on a series. I could make a strong case for a black writer on the X-Men. The X-Men is about a group of people marginalized because of who they are, but I don’t think any person from a marginalized group has ever been a regular writer on any of the X-titles.

    Name drop alert: This reminds me of something August Wilson told me about his Pulitzer Prize winning play Fences. He said that a studio wanted to make the film and wanted to pay him a huge amount of cash for the rights to his play. He insisted on a Black director and they said no. He said that the reason he wanted a black director was because they would understand the characters and their points of view more readily than someone else. They said no, but he insisted. They said, “But, August this is an important movie.” August walked away from the deal.

    I once received a call from a production company that read a spec I wrote for a sit-com. They loved the script and asked me if I wanted a staff position on a hit show if a spot opened up. They also said that if not on that show then on another hit show.

    Shortly after that I happened to meet a black woman who was a writer for a black show and I told her about the possibility of myself working on this hit show. She said to me, “Have they met you yet?” When I told her no she said that once they saw that I was black they would never put me on the show. She was right. I dropped off the script for my, then unproduced, film White Face. After they saw me they never returned another of my calls.

    The comic book industry is, I think, worse than film or television and none are great. I have been knocking at these doors since 1986 and have barely made a dent. It doesn’t matter how many awards I win or how many books I write or how many high profile people praise my craftsmanship, somehow my work is always seen as not as not up to snuff.

    In fact, I once got a call from a comic book writer I knew to teach him how to write a story because he did not know how and was going to lose his job. So, I was not working and he was and I had to teach him what a story was.

    I was once talking to an editor at an unnamed comic book company and mentioned to him in passing a series proposal that I had sent to them years ago and he said, “That was yours! We show that to people as an example of what a proposal should be!” But somehow this proposal was not good enough to get me any work.

    I love comics and think I could tell some worthwhile stories in that form, but nothing in my experience shows me that I will get that chance. Yeah, I could do my own books, but I gotta eat and it sure would help if I could get paid for my work the way so many of my friends and acquaintances have. I think I deserve that opportunity.

    Maybe you will have better luck. Tell you what though, find as many pictures as you can of comic book writers for the major companies and count how many look like you. There won’t be many, if any at all.

    Here’s what I say about comics is this most of the time you can count the number of working black writers on one finger — one finger in particular.

    Good luck out there, man.

    — Brian

  56. By the way, Robert L. Washington III did a good job on Static and should have worked more after Milestone folded. I have little doubt that he would have worked if he wasn’t black: http://robot6.comicbookresources.com/2012/06/static-co-writer-robert-l-washington-iii-passes-away/

  57. Dwayne McDuffie on the realities of the Black writer in the comic book industry: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u16sKK-1oLQ

  58. Mr. McDonald,

    I am not a writer “just like you”, you are a pro.

  59. Chad Kuffert,
    The only thing that makes me a “pro” is time. I’ve just been at it a long time.
    You wanna be a pro start thinking of yourself as a pro now because a paycheck will only make you feel like a pro for about 5 minutes. Just put in the time, man. That’s the secret no one believes for some reason. Just out in the time it takes to get good. And be hard on yourself.

    You may want to look at this old post on mine:
    http://invisibleinkblog.blogspot.com/2010/08/working-hard-for-money.html

    — Brian

  60. Donovan Shelley says:

    The Woods Brothers of New Myth Comics are two black writers to watch. Their independent publishing operation which has been around a few years is becoming seasoned and moving to the next level. I previewed upcoming issues of their current titles and some of the new titles they’re releasing next year and I guarantee the game is about to change for New Myth. http://www.newmythcomics.com

  61. @ Brian – The X-Men have had several Jewish writers, I dunno if that fits the criteria for marginalized or not. But currently Bendis is writing two books, Stan Lee obviously created them, and Peter David has written X-Factor on and off for years.

  62. Zach,
    You are quite correct, Jewish people have certainly been marginalized throughout the world and throughout history, but American comics have strong Jewish roots and have had since the beginning. Jack Kirby (Jacob Kurtzberg), Stan Lee (Stanley Martin Lieber) Will Eisner, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (co-creators of Superman), Bob Kane (Robert Kahn) and many more are just a few of the talented Jewish creators who basically invented comics. I do not want to take anything away from those guys.

    But since the founding of American, and even in colonial America there has been a special place in the under class for black people. This is from the first American edition of Encyclopedia Britannica (1798):

    NEGRO, Homo pelli nigra, a name given to a variety of the human species, who are entirely black, and are found in the Torrid zone, especially in that part of Africa which lies within the tropics. In the complexion of negroes we meet with various shades; but they otherwise differ far from other men in all the features of their face. Round cheeks, high cheek-bones, a forehead somewhat elevated, a short, broad, flat nose, thick lips, small ears, ugliness, and irregularity of shape, characterize their external appearance. The negro women have the loins greatly depressed, and very large buttocks, which give the back the shape of a saddle. Vices the most notorious seem to be the portion of this unhappy race: idleness, treachery, revenge, cruelty, impudence, stealing, lyng, profanity, debauchery, nastiness and intemperance, are said to have extinguished the principles of natural law, and to have reproofs of conscience. They are strangers to every sentiment of compassion, and are an awful example of the corruption of man when left to himself.

    The seeds of what black people deal with in America were planted early and we, as black people, are still trying to prove our humanity. In this country we know from brain scans that many whites show less empathy for blacks. We saw this in the infamous Hunger Games tweets: http://jezebel.com/5896408/racist-hunger-games-fans-dont-care-how-much-money-the-movie-made

    Or there are these studies:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFbvBJULVnc

    http://www.psmag.com/culture/study-confirms-unconscious-association-of-blacks-with-apes-18970/

    So, I guess, I should have been more specific when I said marginalized. I guess I meant blacks and other marginalized people such as Latinos or Native Americans. People who haven’t had their perspective presented much in comics. Not really. There have been a few characters of color, but often not conceived or written by folks of color. There have been a few, but very few. Some of us have a particular set of experiences that give us a perspective on things like the law and the justice system. We know what it’s like to be thought of as unintelligent or somewhat less than human. All of the grotesque distortions of us listed in the Encyclopedia Britannica 1798 edition are still the perceptions of ourselves we must fight against every day.

    I have lived in my apartment for several years and am one of the long time renters here, but virtually every time a new person moves in ( I am the only black person) they are visibly shaken to see me in the hallway. I mean sometimes they jump as if I had said, “Boo!”

    This kind of thing is an everyday things and gives one a since of the world that one does not have if it is not their everyday. Imagine someone with this reality writing The Thing in the Fantastic Four — a human on the inside who people perceive as a monster on the outside. A person who has had this experience many times in their lives could bring nuances to the character that others never could.

    What is stop-and-frisk if not the perception that one is a potential monster just because of one’s appearance? What does it mean when a white felon is as likely to be hired as a black man with a clean record if it doesn’t mean that one is being judged more harshly based on assumed inferiority? http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2008/08/09/study-black-man-and-white-felon-same-chances-for-hire/?hpt=ac_mid

    I have never in my life successfully hailed a taxi. Never. Not once. Living a life in black skin teaches one something about humanity. It gives one insights that might deepen the emotional content of some comic books and some characters.

    In the end, when I say “marginalized”, I guess mean folks whose voices, wisdom and observations of life have been underrepresented in comic books.

  63. Erik baker says:

    Sad to say but I’ve been looking for black owned comic publishing companies for awhile now and it’s been quite challenging. When I contact the white owned ones they start calling me immediately and courting me like I’m some kinda rock star. I mean constant emails and calls and wanting to discuss all the different pub packages and so on . (Of course they want to know how much i have to spend ) but When I find the black owned company it’s either more into the romance novels or straight revolutionary focus. That’s all good but I can’t find no strong black comics and nothing established as well as Milestone was. Man I feel I have something great to offer and I’m trying to find an up and coming black owned company to publish my work with. Where do I look, can somebody help me?!?

  64. Erik baker says:

    As far as why nobodies hiring,to me the answer is simple ;they can’t afford to take a chance on someone who might have say Black Panther and Storm tie the knot.lol! Meaning we just might stray from the agenda of deifying them and dumbing down or feminizing our own. You see how quickly they fixed that Storm and Black Panther union after Hudlin left. But we as creators,artist and writers can’t give up and we have to learn from the mistakes of previous black owned ventures cause the readers are hungry for something fresh and I don’t mean white characters remade as black!

  65. stufff says:

    Point of order.

    Sailor Venus isn’t a “space alien disguised as Japanese girl”. She is a Human Japanese girl. It isn’t clear that the original Sailor Senshi actually lived on the planets they represent or not, but it is clear that the current Senshi are girls born on Earth with the souls of their predecessors.

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