Saturday, June 4, 2016

ECBACC 2016: Part 2 of 3

One of the most striking things about the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention is how it honors the past while looking forward. The Pioneer/Lifetime Achievement Awards are an great example of the former. This year’s winners were:

Numidian Force (1990) by Kamal Shariff and Kamite Comix was hailed as “the first full-color, independently published Afro-futuristic superhero team in American history.”

Ania Publications (1993) was an organization of Black publishing companies wanting make a mark in the comics industry from a “more Afro-centric perspective.”

The Last Word/Andre LeRoy Davis (1990-2007). Davis wrote and drew this column “in the preeminent Hip-Hop magazine, The Source. Davis has the table next to mine at the convention itself and was selling great prints of his illustration. My son Eddie bought one featuring dozens of hip-hop artists. Eddie managed to identify many of them, which delighted Davis.

How to Draw Afrakan Superheroes by Akinseye Olaseni Brown (2007). This manual, which I’ve seen but sadly do not own, is a wonderful instructional tool for overcoming the bane of comics artists black and white, drawing characters who look like one another and not as distinctive as they should be.

The Urban Voice in Comics (2007) by publisher Ron King and writer Rich Watson. The short-lived magazine has been described as “Wizard meets Vibe.” It covered the Big Two (DC and Marvel) and the quality independent work often ignored by other comics magazines.

Black Comix by John Jennings, Damian Duffy and publisher Mark Batty (2010). I have this somewhere in my Vast Accumulation of Stuff and it’s a terrific collection of comics art presented with historical and cultural context.

APB: Artists Against Police Brutality (2015) by Bill Campbell and Rosarium Publishing. I reviewed this outstanding collection back on December 5 of 2015. Described as a comic book anthology with the primary goal of showing pictures and telling stories to get people talking, it is a powerful work. Campbell was at ECBACC, which gave me a chance to chat with him. He gave me a copy of DayBlack by Keef Cross and I gave him a copy of Black Lightning Volume 1. I’ll have a review of DayBlack coming up soon.

That’s an impressive group of winners. This year and in the past, I’ve been asked to suggest potential honorees. I’ve already made my suggestion for next year, but, whether my pick makes it our not, I know ECBACC will do a fine job of selecting worthy candidates for this great honor.

ECBACC also looked forward. This year’s opening ceremony heralded the first annual Heruica Character Creation Awards which provides “a venue for graphic artists (character creation) to be placed in the spotlight. Sponsored by First World Komix, the nominees for the first award were Everard J. McBain, Jr., Terrence J. Moore, Norwick Robertson, Dixie Ann Archer-McBain and Jamar Flowers.  Who won the award? I’m embarrassed to confess I somehow neglected to write that down in my notes. I’ll include that information as soon as I locate it online or elsewhere.

Besides these awards, ECBACC also hosts numerous workshops for kids and older creators...and they host these year-round. The past and the future are equally respected by the organization.

The convention itself was held on Saturday, May 21, from 11 am to 7 pm at The Enterprise Center, a small but very comfortable venue. Before driving into the city, Eddie and I had a nice breakfast at the Hawthorn Suites and chatted with Milton Davis, writer and, with Balogun Ojetade, one of the editors of Steamfunk, a prose anthology that infuses steampunk science fiction with an African sensibility and heroes of color. I’ve never been a steampunk buff, though I do love the steampunk cosplay I’ve seen at conventions, but this take on the genre fascinated me. I bought a copy of the anthology, which I hope to read over the next few weeks.

I brought Black Lightning Volume One to sell at the convention and was gratified by the reaction to the collection and the character. There’s a lot of love for my creation out there and his fans want to see more of him and in every venue imaginable. Fortunately, the current DC Comics management seems to love the character as much as we do and certainly much more than the previous management. I have been and remain confident that there are good things in our hero’s future. Don’t stop believing.

The most moving moment for me came when a dear woman who I’ve met and other ECBACCs and who always greets me warmly told me something she had never told me before. When she was a child, Black Lightning #1 (1977) was the first comic book of any kind that she ever bought for herself.

She saw in on a spinner rack. She was amazed and thrilled to see a comic book that starred someone who looked like her. She’s been a fan ever since.

Moments like that remind me that both DC Comics and myself have an awesome responsibility with Black Lightning. He is a legacy hero.We must do better by him and his fans in the future. We must be the best that we can be to make him the best he can be. I will make no apologies for how I feel about Black Lightning. He has been and he remains my proudest fictional creation.

I barely got settled behind my vendors room table when it was time to head to my one panel of the day: Writing Challenges and How to Break Them. Alex Simmons, of whom I have often spoken glowingly and will speak glowingly of many times in the future, was the moderator of the panel. My fellow panelists were the aforementioned Milton Davis, Regine Sawyer (creator/writer of Lockett Down Productions), and Robert Garrett, creator of the Ajala comic books. I recall the panel being informative and lively, but it’s difficult to take any notes while on a panel. Remind me to recruit someone to do this for me at future conventions.

From there, it was back to the vendors room where I signed a bunch of books, sold a few copies of the Black Lightning collection, answered question, talked comics and movies with the fans and my fellow vendors and took advantage of my son’s good nature to wander the room talking with people and buying books and comic books.

Among them...

Professor William H. Foster III was there with his wife Gretchen, doing a great business selling comics and other items. I traded him a copy of the Black Lightning book for his Dreaming of a Face Like Ours, a collection of his columns and other writings on blacks in comics. Professor/Brother Foster is a dear friend. I have solicited his advice in the past and will do so in the future.

Jerry Craft, the creator of the “Mama’s Boys” comic strip and many other works, was down the aisle from the Professor. I love Jerry’s work and its always a joy to talk with him.

Tayo Fatunla was a new friend I made at this year’s convention. A former student of the Joe Kubert School, he was born in Nigeria and now lives and works in London. His “Our Roots” is an illustrated educational feature on African Heritage worldwide. He was selling a collection of the strip. I bought it and, glancing over to one of my reading piles, I’ll be reading and reviewing it in the next few weeks. Tayo is an amazing talent and a good man. I’m really glad we got to talk.

When I’m having a great time at a convention, I suck at taking the notes that would make reports like this so much more useful to me and my readers. I didn’t write down the name of the comics shop at the far end of the aisle where I was set up. But it had a terrific display of comics featuring characters of color, often written and drawn by creators of color.

Writer Karl Bollers was at the comic shop’s tables and we chatted. In a stunning example of old man brain fart, I asked him what he’d been doing lately. Which was stupid on account of what Karl’s been doing is Watson and Holmes, one of the best comic books out there. I’ve read issues and reviewed them favorably. But I had never read a complete story arc because even comics I really want to read can vanish into my Vast Accumulation of Stuff. Fortunately, Bollers had  the Watson and Holmes trades for sail and I snapped them both up. They are also on my reading piles, though, since Eddie expressed an interest in them, I may have to put them under lock and key until I read them, lest they disappearing into my son’s Vast Accumulation of Stuff. It must be in the genes.

That’s all for now. Come back tomorrow for the conclusion of this ECBACC 2016 report. See you then.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

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