Friday, December 13, 2019


I’m sometimes asked why I so vigorously demand Black Lightning be treated with integrity and respect. Especially when doing so puts me at odds with DC Comics. I’ve always taken considerable pride in my having creating DC’s most iconic black super-hero. But it’s far more than that.

Several years back, at a comics convention, a woman came up to me with tears in her eyes. She hugged me and told me Black Lightning was the first comic book she ever bought for herself because it was the first time she saw herself in a comic book. In that instant, as I also got teary, everything changed for me. I became acutely aware that Black Lightning was far bigger than me, that, as the creator of this hero, I had a responsibility to readers like that woman. It is a responsibility I continue to accept and try to fulfill despite the consequences to my career.

The above has not been a solitary experience. It has been repeated many times since. It occurred most recently when Jennifer Riker - the amazing actor who plays Dr. Jace on the TV series - and I did a panel at the Grand Rapids Comic Con. I was so pleased my friend Jennifer was there to see the impact Black Lightning has on readers and viewers. I daresay that, if the executives at DC Comics, ever had these experiences, they would understand why I fight for this character.

I don’t champion Black Lightning for personal gain, though few in comics understand this. I get why they don’t believe me. We live in very cynical times and, while I do benefit financially from the success of Black Lightning (though nowhere near as much as people assume), that is not my primary consideration in my fight for the integrity of my creation. It’s because I recognized how important he is to all those who see themselves in him.

Reader Will Byron also recognizes the importance of Black Lightning and took action. He is far more humble about what he’s been doing than he should be. I asked and received permission to share the e-mail he sent me.

I hope you are on the mend, sir. I wanted to drop you a line about the use of your character and your stories in some progressive charity work I am a small part of. This is in no way any kind of humblebrag whatsoever especially since I don't advertise a lot of my activist work. This is simply to tell you what a continued contribution YOUR stories are making.

A few months ago, I became aware of the urgent need for reading materials for prisons, mental hospitals and correctional facilities. Understandably, many people are loathe to donate if at all to such places because they worry about rapists and racists and child molesters and such obtaining these materials. Well, I'm happy to report the system is a bit more complex than that, and, when you donate to several places, it only goes to inmates with no hate crimes and so forth and generally to those inmates actively trying to improve their reading, further their educations and build something of themselves.

I was surprised to hear many prisons will accept graphic novels. I just assumed any action scenes or such might be triggers. But, no. They are allowed and welcomed.

My friend Sasha said - I'm paraphrasing, but this was the gist - “I just wish there were more comics to send these guys with some values of being altruistic and weren't just violence and continuity."

She said that and it triggered it for me. Values. What creator always stands by the principled values of his hero? I had absent mindedly bought a couple of Shazam! collections, but then it hit me. I had to get Black Lightning stories. I had to get the real Black Lightning stories.

I did. I went on, with whom I’m not affiliated,  and bought copies of Brick City Blues and Cold Dead Hands. Then, I began to ship them out. I recently received some very grateful messages from the librarians affiliated with these facilities. I am happy to pass on their contact info to you if you like.

Many inmates, especially of color, are housed over infractions like having marijuana and have so much going against them. I really don't think it's corny or an understatement to suggest that stories with hope, optimism, and heroism and, yes, core values would be a help to these men and women behind bars. It might make all the difference. After all, they aren't diluted with other forms of entertainment for the most part. In isolation, they have all the time to read, absorb, and reflect.

My friend Greg, who I am gonna tease a bit here- said to me, "Oh yeah, Tony Isabella is gonna be real thrilled that you're sending his guy to prisons."

I said, "I think Tony Isabella WILL. These are going directly to inmates who need inspiration and escapism. How does it look bad?!"

This isn't a submission for inclusion, but if you ever want to share these programs with your other fans, all of these places accept graphic novels and comics. So if any one has beat up TPBs they are thinking of unloading, they could consider donating to these fine places. Just no hardcovers or spiral-bound stuff.

Bedford Hills Correctional Facility
247 Harris Road
Bedford Hills, NY 10508

Books Through Bars
4722 Baltimore Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19143

Western State Hospital Library
9601 Steilacoom Blvd SW
Lakewood, WA 98498

St Martin Parish Correctional Center
PO Box 247
St Martinville, Louisiana 70582
Attn: Warden

I stress not every correctional facility accepts donated books. Some demand they come directly from a publisher. But these ones I have all had success with and I have sent Black Lightning trades paperbacks (Written by you, so it's the REAL Black Lightning.) to these facilities with success.

I don't mean to speak for you, but I wanted to let you know less that I did this and more that the people these collections are reaching are responding to it well and I am gonna continue to do it. You should see a steady spike in Black Lightning TPBs going up, so I hope DC does the right thing and keeps them in print!

I hope this message finds you well and I'm sorry it's so long.

Wow! That was my reaction on reading this e-mail. You can’t imagine how it feels to have a reader react in this way to my work and to know that my work is finding new readers who will, hopefully, learn and be inspired by it.

One of the librarians wrote back to Will. She said his note about values and inspiration is why they work so hard to curate their library system, adding how popular the books are. Her day is made when a young resident finds the courage to reach out and ask her what a word means, thus expanding their vocabulary.

Another librarian told him there's a queue for the Black Lightning collections in their facility, and that's it's the only book she "sees the tenants sit down and pay attention to".

Will added, “I feel your stories have a social consciousness that is important. They are not obvious or preachy. There's still great super-hero escapism there.”

Will doesn’t donate these books to gain recognition. I don’t share his very kind words about my work to toot my own horn. The reason for today’s bloggy thing is to reinforce what most of you already know...

Black Lightning, as DC’s most iconic black super-hero, has touched the hearts, minds and souls of many readers. He deserves always to  be treated with respect and written in a manner consistent with his core values. Period.

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2019 Tony Isabella