Black Superheroes in Early Comics: Exploring Stereotypes Through Documentary by Georgia State Expert at Comic-Con 2014

Released: 22-Jul-2014 1:00 PM EDT
Source Newsroom: Georgia State University
Contact Information

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Newswise — Just in time for one of the largest gatherings of comic book, sci-fi and fantasy fans, Jonathan Gayles, associate professor of African-American Studies at Georgia State University, examines the portrayal of early black superheroes in comic books in an award winning film, "White Scripts and Black Supermen: Black Masculinities in Comic Books" this week during Comic-Con 2014 in San Diego.

The film is scheduled for screening at 7:40 p.m. Friday, July 25, in Marriott Hall 2 of the Marriott Marquis & Marina. Gayles will be in attendance for the screening. His contact information is available to registered Newswise reporters who are logged into the system.

Gayles' primary research areas include the anthropology of education, educational policy, black masculinity, race and ethnicity, and critical media studies.

A lover of comic books as a kid, Gayles was raised to think about and consume media like comics critically.

He explains:

"It became difficult to ignore the general dearth of superheroes that looked like me. Eventually, I tired of the sense that I was dreaming someone else's dreams rather than my own. I dismissed comic books as a artifact of my youth that I could no longer afford as I matured into a young man. A few years ago, I picked up a trade paperback collecting the first few years of Luke Cage, one of the favorite African-American superheroes of my youth. I was struck by what I read. I found much of it distasteful and racist. And yet, he was one of my favorite heroes. I quickly realized that I was so starved for self-affirming images in the genre that I ignored the profound problems in the manner in which Luke Cage was represented. After discovering the growing body of scholarship that places comic books squarely within the realm of popular culture, I decided to produce a documentary on the subject. After conducting more than thirty interviews with illustrators, writers, scholars and fans, a documentary examining the representation of the earliest African-American comic book superheroes took shape and two year later, "White Scripts and Black Supermen: Black Masculinities in Comic Books" was born. 

What becomes clear is that ideas about Black men and super-powered Black men in particular influence the way in which people responded to these characters as well as the way in which these characters were represented. Lobo, created by Anthony Tallarico was likely the first African-American comic book hero with his own title. Unfortunately, local distributors took one look at the cover and the comic never saw the light of day. Luke Cage is a career criminal whose superpowers are the result of a prison experiment. He escapes only to become Harlem's "Hero for Hire," severely limiting his superheroic potential.  Black Lightning lives and "works" in "Suicide Slum." The Black Panther spends much of his early appearances as little more than a glorified bodyguard for a diminutive White man named "Mr. Little." Green Lantern John Stewart is angry and impulsive. Despite the later success of the animated version of John Stewart, he was not featured in the live action film. This is reminiscent of the tragedy that befell Lobo decades earlier.  There a many such examples addressed in the documentary. Ultimately, the documentary explores the degree to which common stereotypes about Black men emerge - even in this fantastic and imagined realm. While we have made progress in this area, there remains much work to be done."

For more about "White Scripts and Black Supermen: Black Masculinities in Comic Books," visit http://http://blacksuperherodoc.com/. For more about African-American Studies at Georgia State University, visit http://www2.gsu.edu/~wwwaad/.


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