(originally posted on tumblr)
The second guest on my interview series is none other than the impeccably dressed Joseph P. Illidge. ( I have never seen this man in sneakers, seriously). For those of you who don’t know, Joe has worked for Milestone, DC Comics, his own company Verge Entertainment and he also contributes a weekly column called THE MISSION over on CBR.
But today we’re not going to talk about all that.
Joe and I met about 4 years ago at a mutual friend’s art show and I was introduced to him as “The girl that’s into comics I was telling you about.” (Thanks Jason). Joe and I proceeded to talk for the next hour about Wonder Woman and the fantasy dominatrix concept of her character (and costume) as told by the white male dominated comic book industry and why they just can’t seem to make a movie about her.
Um…but we’re not actually talking about that today either.
This interview was inspired by a series of DMs on twitter we shared about the lack of support for not just characters of color, but the people who create them. We were both lamenting the need for constructive criticism of not just the way mainstream comics deal with PoC (People of Color, and no that term does not just apply to Black folks) but also of the quality of work that comes from many indie creators of color.
I asked a few questions and Joe (in true fashion) went in. So make yourself something to eat, (or drink, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere) and sit back and learn something.
Q1. In light of the current issues with “the big 2” and PoC right now, what are some of the issues that you feel are being overlooked or overshadowed?
Online harassment and victimization – This affects every one of us. I think the industry powers need to join forces and take the problem head on. Come up with a unified protocol for their companies’ online presence, work with the various journalism websites, talk with their creators and staff, and establish the posture that will act as the line against the trolls and the bastards.
Basically, the Prime Directive for the G-7 Nations of the comic book industry.
Financial intelligence and retirement programs – What the comic book companies can do, in terms of creating programs akin to a 401K or IRA, to help prevent any more stories like Robert Washington the Third, who was practically penniless when he died while Milestone’s Static was being printed and reprinted by DC Comics.
Creators help publishers make profits with the comic books and beyond. The reciprocal action of helping to make sure creators in general have some kind of financial savings when the industry considers them unmarketable or obsolete would be a visionary step.
Something as simple as companies allowing freelancers limited access to their internal financial advisors would go a long way, because too many freelancers out there are living in the danger zone financially.
A great organization called The Hero Initiative has some programs along these lines, but they can’t do it alone.
Not at all. THE MISSION is an examination and celebration of diversity and equality, and analysis of the lack thereof, in comic books and entertainment. The coverage of mainstream companies should help inform the creators of the independent sector, and it also helps bring attention to them from time to time.
I’ve mentioned the upcoming “Niobe” by publisher Stranger Comics and the years-old “Ajala” by creators Robert Garrett and N Steven Harris in my column, through themes connecting them to mainstream comics.
I buy independent books of high quality, and sometimes acceptable quality with characters I love. I spend as much, if not more, money outside of the Big 2 publishers than I do with them.
It’s actually the same world when you’re a consumer and see the relationship between the two sectors.
Q3. Why do you think many African-American comic book artists aren’t well supported? Even by their own?
For one thing, I believe most Black consumers of comic books feel no particular loyalty to Black creators, nor do they want to concern themselves with a social issue like diversity/equality within their landscape of refuge. They have to deal with that in the real world, so they want to escape that responsibility in the comic book industry.
Additionally, there needs to be an increase in the number of independent Black artists putting out competitive work. Getting a consumer to not succumb to their programming of automatically buying DC, Marvel, etc., and buy your book instead is a Herculean task. At the very least, your work has to be able to stand next to theirs. Your competition is the pull list of your potential customers, which brings me to the next matter.
Distribution. If your comic book is not in comic book stores because it’s not distributed through Diamond, then a business strategy beyond travelling throughout the nation to conventions is required. Creators need to think outside the box, and find businesspersons, marketing and PR people, and legal people to be their allies.
Do not assume the general populace will find your comic book or graphic novel. Figure out 21st century ways to reach your audience.
Q3. Can you speak to the issue of “quality” in the indie comic and graphic novel world?
I’ve seen independent comics with sub-standard art, so I never made it to the writing, which may have been exceptional but was damaged by the association.
I’ve seen independent comics full of typographical errors, even though they have a named proofreader in the credits. Typos are like speed bumps, in that they’re annoying and if you encounter enough of them, you want to end the journey immediately.
Bad lettering, bad coloring, uninteresting publication design…all of these work against being taken seriously by consumers who purchase from publishers ranging from DC Comics to Image to Valiant to Boom! Studios. They also repel editors looking for new (to them) talent for upcoming projects.
Some years ago, a generous, intelligent woman now working for one of the industry’s top independent publishers said to me “Gimmicks don’t last. Quality is what lasts.”, and even though it seems obvious, it’s not to everyone.
Think about the lasting power of “Brotherman”. That’s about quality and an authentic vision, not ploys or stunts.
Stagnation is death. Every next storyline needs to show something different, an evolution or example of courageous creative experimentation and effort.
I guarantee you not one of the exceptional creators working for Marvel or DC Comics is satisfied with their work to the point where they don’t push themselves in the very next issue or storyline.
“Note to independent creators: If you don’t think you need a qualified editor on your books, reconsider.” – Joe Illidge
Q4. Can you please name 10 creators who are PoC that you feel are being overlooked right now?
Ten creators of color whom I feel deserve greater awareness within the comic book industry are:
- Jon Tsuei, writer and co-creator of Image Comics’ “Run, Love, Kill” http://jontsuei.tumblr.com/
- N Steven Harris, an alumni of the Big 2 publishers and artist/co-creator of “Ajala: A Series of Adventures” http://nstevenharris.deviantart.com/
- Eric Battle, another alumni of the Big 2 publishers, now working for Legendary Comics (Harvester, Godzilla) http://www.comicvine.com/eric-battle/4040-22901/
- Anthony Piper, creator of “The Trill League” http://staticbrown.tumblr.com/post/91639950493/the-trill-league-by-anthony-piper-this-has
- Grey Williamson, past illustrator for DC Comics and Valiant, creator and illustrator of “Val-Mar: Gifted and Cursed” http://www.carbon-fibre.me/
- Alitha Martinez, past illustrator of Marvel’s “Iron Man”, now working for Archie Comics and her own indie work at http://www.ariotstorm.com/
- Jason Reeves, illustrator http://133art.deviantart.com/
- Enrique Carrion, writer/creator of Image Comics’ “Vescell” http://www.enriquecarrion.com/
- Erika Alexander and Tony Puryear, the creator duo of “Concrete Park”, published by Dark Horse Comics http://www.concretepark.com/
Whew! did y’all get all that? Thank you so much Joe for stopping by and giving us some ofyour invaluable knowledge! Also, a personal thank you for being such a huge supporter, (not to mention my very own comic book wiki) Please support Joe by checking out his info below…
And please support all the above listed artists as well.
Joseph Phillip Illidge is a public speaker on the subjects of race, comics and the corporate politics of diversity. In addition to his coverage by the BBC and Publishers Weekly, Joseph has been a speaker at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Digital Book World’s forum, Digitize Your Career: Marketing and Editing 2.0, Skidmore College, Purdue University, on the panel “Diversity in Comics: Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Sexual Orientation in American Comic Books” and at the Soho Gallery for Digital Art in New York City.
Joseph is the Head Writer for Verge Entertainment, a production company co-founded with Shawn Martinbrough, artist for the graphic novel series “Thief of Thieves” by “The Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman and video game developer Milo Stone. His graphic novel project, “The Ren,” about the romance between a young musician from the South and a Harlem-born dancer in 1925, set against the backdrop of a crime war, will be published by First Second Books, a division of Macmillan. Joseph’s newest comic book project is the upcoming Scout Comics miniseries “Solarman,” a revamp of a teenage superhero originally written by Stan Lee.
You can read Joe’s commentary on race and social issues in the comic book industry in his weekly column on Comic Book Resources, THE MISSION.