Black Comic Book Art—Coast to Coast

Saturday, January 17, 2015 was the 2nd Annual Black Comic Book Festival at the Schomburg Library in NYC’s Harlem. In actuality, it was the 3rd time the event was held at this historic location—but only the second under this banner. Once again, Jerry Craft, John Jennings, and their associates produced this gala gathering of graphic artists, writers, and publishers.

In 2013, the Festival was a quiet success with over 1000 patrons attending the gathering of black comic book artists and educators from around the country.

The 2014 crowd saw a sizable increase, but this year over 2200 multi-racial fans, poured through the doors of the landmark Schomburg Library to find the old favorites and new voices in comics. They also found fun and informative panels, as well as workshops in creating comics.

Artists, vendors and publishers traveled from around the country to attend this gathering such as the master of Afro-futuristic art Mshindo Kuumba from Atlanta; comic and graphic novel illustrators, as well as Jamal Nicholas, Shawn Alleyne, and Ashley Wood from Philly.

Tim Fielder debuted his Afro-futuristic-all-age comic book heroine, MATTY’S ROCKET.  Alex SimmonsBlackjack Returns Campaign continued with the second of a 3-book action-adventure anthologies, Blackjack: Shooters, written by Alex Simmons and Christopher Ryan.

Artist writer, Jennifer Crute’, whose poster for the event was the buzz of the Internet, was there, along with author/writer/activist Zetta Elliot. Zetta was one of voices of information, reason, and inspiration on the Publishing Panel, along with John Jennings, Tim Fielder and myself. And illustrator extraordinaire, Alitha Martinez, shared her experience as part of the “Controlling Our Image” panel.

Also in attendance was N. Steven Harris, whose work can be seen in the Eisner nominated series, Watson and Holmes, a clever urban spin on the Conan Doyle’s famed detective. Steven is also known for his work on the series “Ayala,” which he co-created with writer Ron Garratt.

Author/writer/activist Zetta Elliot was one of voices of information, reason, and inspiration on the Publishing Panel, and comic book illustrator extraordinaire Alitha Martinez on the “Controlling Our Image” panel.

And what better way to symbolize the family connectivity of comics than to have writer/cartoonist Jerry Craft on a panel with one of his sons, Aren Craft, discussing how they worked with Aren’s brother, Jaylen to write the popular middle grade graphic novel, THE OFFENDERS.

The desire to explore imagination, culture, and creativity was evident not only in the frenzied purchases of comic books, posters, and novels. That need for images and knowledge, about heroes of color, was also reflected in the two-third’s full panel discussions, and the sixty plus children and parents who attended the how-to-create-comics’ workshops.

I could go on, but I won’t because others will, and have.  And because you just should have been there.

Some participants of the NY show, like John Jennings and Tim Fielder, departed early to catch flights to San Francisco to attend the Sunday/Monday, west coast sister event, the Black Comic Art Festival, part of the annual NoCalMLK SF Library (North California Martin Luther King) arts exhibition.

As remarkable as New York City’s Black Comic Book Festival proved to be, the Black Comic Art Festival was an equally inspiring event. Aside from artists and publishers, BCAF also had a healthy roster of West Coast personalities, like Kevin Grevioux (writer/actor, as well as creator of the “Underworld” film series); author and screenwriter David Walker (currently writing the new “Shaft” comic book series), to name a few.

Thousands of people were privileged to be part of the first bi-coastal, three-day celebration of black fiction and visual artistry. And word is already in the air of more programs, projects, and events coming this year.

The BCBF is not the only comic convention of this type. There’s the Black Age Comic Con in Chicago, organized by Turtel Onli, which is over 20 years old; the East Coast Black Age of Comics in Philadelphia (in its 14th year); and the Onyx Con in Atlanta, which is over 5 years old.

Such events, which welcomed everyone, clearly inspire more people of color to share stories, not only within their communities, but also with the world at large.

The growth and success of such exciting multi-media events promise fun, excitement, and illumination for all.

—Alex Simmons

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