“There’s some people who they don’t even need to kick out because they’re never going to let them in the front door of the mainstream anyway.”J. A. Micheline
“Nobody owes you a job.”Standard Internet Response
After listening to the Ignorant Bliss podcast I participated in I just wanted to elaborate on a point that I brought up during the discussion. Comics—storytelling—is a rough and insular business. And it is that way for every novice writer regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender—a fact that is brought up frequently when individuals attempt to discuss anti-blackness within the industry. Anyone with even a superficial understanding of the industry would not dare refute that, for rejection is ubiquitous within any entertainment field. You try repeatedly and hope for the best, but sometimes—often times—things just don’t pan out.
Black writers are not demanding jobs “owed” to us, but are requesting the opportunity to apply for jobs—to pitch. The industry does not accept blind submissions. You must be invited to pitch by an editor. I have received one invitation to pitch. And luckily, my pitch was accepted and resulted in an 8-page story. I cannot begin to impress upon you how rare that opportunity is for black women. And I am honored and humbled to have received it.
Because the application process in comics is not blind and uniform but is dependent on an editor taking notice of you and wishing to establish a rapport with you, it is deeply impacted by a large number of societal factors that have nothing to do with one’s skill level. And yes, race is one of those factors.
Black individuals are not in the social circles of those in the position to hire creators. This means that black writers are denied the opportunity to “work our way up through the ranks.” To be frank, editors only briefly consider black writers when there is a story about a black character that is deeply defined by one’s racial or ethnic identity. At the moment, there are two characters who fit that description—Black Panther and Luke Cage. And given that both are A-list characters, they cannot and should not be handed to novice writers or writers without large fan followings. And so books featuring these characters are understandably handed to older established black writers (of which there are only two men—Walker and Priest) or black celebrities from television, film, music or non-comics publishing circles. I can’t find fault with this process when men like Coates and Hudlin are the result.
But the sad reality is that to have a career in comics as a black writer or to even be considered for the opportunity to apply for a job you must first become famous somewhere else. It is a rule that applies solely to black individuals. How insane and arbitrary it is that in order to write an 8-page story, one-shot, or miniseries about a D-list character I must first establish a career as a journalist, screenwriter, producer, rapper, academic, politician, or poet—one long and fruitful enough for an editor to consider my social status a desirable asset. But it is what it is.
The purpose of this post is not to effect change amongst editors and publishers. I honestly don’t believe that is possible any longer. But it is my hope that it results in a change in how fans and non-black creators respond to black writers who discuss the matter. Because we are often met with anger and are accused of demanding handouts when all we desire is equal access to be considered—to be treated like everyone else.