FabAfriq Magazine

The third annual Black Comic Festival NYC

The Black Comic Festival was organized by graphic artists Jerry Craft, Jonathan Gayles, and John Jennings. The festival started in Harlem at Hue-Man bookstore in 2012.  After the closing of Hue-Man, the event moved to the Schomburg in 2013. Last year the festival had over a 1,300 visitors.  The festival hosted special events, panel discussions, film screenings, and comic merchandise. The historic Schomburg Center for Black Research and Culture, in New York City is a great setting for this event.

There was also an increase in attendance by young female comic artists and enthusiasts.  Many parents attending  were impressed with the educational applications of comic art. The turnout for this third festival exceeded the previous year, There were more artists promoting their work and a lot more visitors as well. The variety and scope of the comics being presented at the festival show how rich the genre of Black comics is. Among the presenting artists were ; Floyd Hughes, and his daughter who are originally from the U.K. The father and daughter collaborated on a graphic novel titled; One Tuesday in September. They tell the story of their experience on September 11, 2001. Hughes, lives in Brooklyn, and is a Professor at Pratt Institute.

We also met Comic artist Odera Igbokwe . Odera's is of Nigerian heritage, and studied at Rhode island School of Design. He draws from Myth as inspiration for his work. There were too many amazing artists, writers, and educators at this event to do them all justice here. We would however like to present some insights into the genre of Black Comic Art by some of the artists that create it.

Odera Igbokwe
OI: My name is Odera Ibgokwe , and I'm an illustrator based in Brooklyn. The work I brought  here toady has all been created over the last two years

F: Tell us about the inspiration behind your work.

OI : I'm really interested in mythology, specifically the Africa Diaspora. I explore how mythology can be contemporary, it can also be ancient. I look at things like the mythology of a song, versus the mythology that our ancestors created and told over the years.story.

F : What role does your culture and identity play in influencing and impacting your art?

OI : Both of my parents are Nigerian so the culture has always surrounded me growing up. So sometimes it's as simple as using a Nigerian textile for an outfit or a pattern. Sometimes it's actually a Nigerian narrative or story. Of the concept of duality, exploreing my identity as a Nigerian, and as an American. I think it's so important because representation is such a powerful thing, some people take it for granted.

N. Steven Harris
NSH : I am N. Steven Harris,  live in Brooklyn but I'm originally from Jersey. I've been an artists since I was in the second grade but I've been doing it since 1991. My inspiration came from cartoons and films.

F: Can you talk about some of your recent work?

NSH : I'm the co-creator of Ajala series of adventures which is a story about a young teen who finds out that her parents were once a part of a secret organization in Harlem. She decides she also wants to be an agent and in following her training we get to find out more about her and her family. We also learn about the agency in Harlem.

F :  How do you reflect your culture and identity in the comic art you create?

NSH : I didn't write Ajala but whether I'm writing a story or drawing it I want to reflect the nuance of African American culture, and African culture in the diaspora. At least in the way it looks such as clothes, hair styles, all the characteristics that make us special. I want to show us as three dimensional people not just two dimensional cookie-cutter sheets.

F: How important is this event in building your brand and your business?

NSH : It's been important because it helps to get the word out to people. It's hard doing comic  themes around black people, around black culture. The main stream is afraid of it, or doesn't understand it. They don't have confidence in the marketability of it. So the strategy of the comic creators is to bypass the comic book companies, and and take our comics directly to the community. Whether they buy comics or not we want to educate them that we're here. We want to get the people involved. We want to make new fans, and let them know that we want to represent them  in a positive light.

Jules Smith
JS : Hi my name is Jule Smith and my comic is called (H)afrocentric.
F : So tell us about (H)afrocentric
JS : I describe afrocentric is a feminist version of the Boondocks, it features five or six main charachters all disgruntled undergrads  of color set a fictitious  university called Ronald Regan University.
F: So what kinds of stories are taking place at this campus?
JS : It's illustrated by Ronald Nelson. A lot of the story lines revolve around gentrification, and racial profiling .
F : How difficult is it to adapt and incorporate themes like that into a comic?
JS : It's done with humor so everything and everything is infused with humor and satire

Jerome Walford
JW : My name is Jerome Walford, and I am the Founder of Forward Comix. Our premier title is Nowhere Man which is a crime drama based in New york City The inspiration for NOWHERE MAN and the main character Jack Maguire is an amalgamation of things I would like to see in a comic book story.

F : So what is the story of NOWHERE MAN?

JW :  It follows a character who is living life on the edge. He's living a life that is falling apart, though he is inspired by his father’s memory to be great, he has difficulty living that out. He comes into possession of an object that might enable him to become a great superhero. The question is, what does he have to sacrifice to achieve that goal?

F : How important is this event in gaining a wider audience for your work?

JW : An event like the Black Comic Festival is a great venue to introduce new kinds of stories. It's about new original stories from small publishers like myself who are onto something that's new and fresh. It's a place to find not only new material, but also fresh talent. For me it's been a journey trying to introduce a new type of story. You know that you are onto something special that would be beneficial for people to read, it's really hard to find a venue to do that. So I really appreciate this event for providing n opportunity to introduce my work to potential fans.

F : How does the diversity of stories effect the larger audience for comics and graphic novels?

JW : It's really important for people, and media consumers on a whole to know that there are different kinds of stories available. If you are consuming the same type of material all the time, you end up with a very narrow view. We have to be able to absorb different kinds of narratives, and learn how to relate to those narratives because that process makes us more human.

Mark Hair
F : Please tell us about your program.

MH : Hello my name is Mark Hair and I' CEO of 12 Comics. At 12 Comics we do academic support through custom comic books. What that means is that the better a child does in school the more powerful their superhero becomes
F: so how does the program work ?

M H : Just for participating in the program, they get a colorful biographical comic book. so if there are 10 students in the calss they would all be featured collectively in the bio comic book. If they reach certain bench marks they become eligible for additional rewards, and incentives.

F : So the rewards increase as the student makes progress?

MH : The basic incentive for maintaining a C average is a trading card. the card itself can grow based on ho well the student does in school. A student that is doing extremely well would receive a professionally illustrated comic book.

F : How has the program grown, have you been well received by academic institutions, and are there options for students who don't have such a program at their school?

: We currently in about 15 schools in New York, and New jersey. One of the concerns was from people who said said my son is not in the program. I see the other children receiving the comics and other incentives. How can my child take the program if he can't get it in school. We developed a private program online so that kids anywhere in the world  can take the program online. So basically we are incentive project based learning. The project is the comic and the trading cards, the professionally illustrated comics. those are the incentives, those are the rewards. It's all based on how well the student does academically.

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