Black women have been present in the comic book industry for years and they continue to shape and grow the industry.
During this Women’s History Month, we take a look at Black women who are contributing to the comic book industry. Whether showcasing black characters as super heroes and adventurers or opening the door to fantasy from a Black LGBTQ perspective, these women are changing the face of comics. Here are some of the Black women giving a multi-layered voice to the industry from the past and present.
One of the first African-American women to work as a professional newspaper cartoonist was Jackie Ormes, who became well-known for her comic strip Torchy Brown in “Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger” and “Dixie to Harlem”. “Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger” saw the adventures of two sisters, which ran 11 years in the Courier. “Dixie to Harlem” was about a Mississippi singer who finds work in Harlem’s famous Cotton Club. Her work also ran in the Chicago Defender. She worked as a writer and proofreader for the Pittsburgh Courier before she published her first comic strip.
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Shequeta Smith has brought fiction its first Black stand-alone superheroine in graphic novel series “Rayven Choi”, which tells a story about an African-American girl orphaned and sent to South Korea in order to save her life. After 20 years, Rayven is ready to face her fears, which leads her back to America to seek revenge on the hitman who robbed her of her family and a happy childhood. Smith has worked in the recording and screenwriting industry becoming a finalist in the Sundance Filmmaker’s Lab with her very first screenplay. Some of her work has been placed in programs such as Nickelodeon, AFI Directing Workshop for Women, and Tribeca All Access. She has scripted television shows like the CW’s hit, “Everybody Hates Chris,” as well as reality shows, “VH1’s Flavor of Love” and “The Surreal Life.” Smith started Rayven Choi Films in 2008 to produce fun, smart, high concept projects using low to modest budgets. Based in Los Angeles, Rayven Choi Films has already begun to make multiple short films that have shown in festivals all over the world.
Marguerite Abouet’s graphic novel series, “Aya” utilized the author’s childhood memories of Africa’s Ivory Coast during the 1970s.The Aya books depict life in Africa in a way that wasn’t typically portrayed outside negative images. The Aya books have sold over 200,000 copies in France and over 10,000 copies in the United States. It also won the Angoulême International Comics Festival Prize for First Comic Book in 2006.
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Micheline Hess is the writer and artist of the all-ages fantasy adventure “Malice in Ovenland” and the iPad comic “The Anansi Kids”. She spends her spare time developing graphic novels, short stories, and interactive iBooks for kids. Hess was also a colorist for the now defunct Milestone Comics, an African-American founded publication company. Hess has always been fascinated by the visual narrative in books and film and aims to tell stories featuring characters of color that engage youth in sci-fi, fantasy, and real-world science.
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Erika Alexander is an actress and writer well-known for her roles as Maxine Shaw from sitcom “Living Single” and Pam Tucker from “The Cosby Show”. She is the co-creator and co-writer of “Concrete Park”, a science-fiction graphic novel with husband Tony Puryear. On February 28, the first issue of her “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” comic book spinoff “Giles”, was released as part of a four-issue miniseries, which Alexander has co-written with Buffy creator Joss Whedon.
Known mostly for portraying Rue in the 2012 film “The Hunger Games”, Amandla Stenberg co-created the Niobe books with Sebastian Jones, founder of Stranger Comics. The graphic novels merge fantasy and exploration of modern issues like racism and religion. In 2015, it was the first internationally distributed comic with a black female author, artist, and central character. Stenberg and Jones released “Niobe: She Is Life” and later “Niobe: She Is Death.”
Angela Robinson is a writer and filmmaker who has written for the HBO series “Hung” and “True Blood”. She is also known for writing the first four issues of DC Comics “The Web”. She has also directed “D.E.B.S.”, an award-winning film that centered the stories of lesbian and bisexual spy school prodigies.
Myisha Haynes is a mobile game artist, writer and creator of webcomic “The Substitutes”, about 3 substitute superheroes who find magical weapons not meant for them. The video game artist has been reading comics and illustrating her stories since elementary school. Haynes likes creating characters that reflect her background as woman of color and brings that to her craft. She has also been a penciller for Marvel on four issues of “Gwenpool”.
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Felicia Henderson is an award-winning screenwriter, producer, and director. Henderson worked on DC Comics’ “Teen Titans” and “Static Shock”. Some of her work includes several popular television shows such as “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, “Family Matters”, “Sister, Sister”, “Moesha”, “Fringe”, and is the creator of the “Soul Food” TV series. Henderson also co-writes and executive-produces BET’s “The Quad”.
Regine L. Sawyer is a comics writer, editor and founder of Women in Comics NYC Collective International and owner, writer, and creator for Lockett Down Productions, a small press company that employs all-female comic book artists of women of color. Her production company has published comics such as “The Rippers”, “Ice Witch”, and “Eating Vampires”.
Taneka Stotts is a writer and editor of multiple comics titles in which she creates characters and voices for underrepresented people in comics. Some of her works include “Elements” and the “Beyond: The Queer Sci-Fi and Fantasy Comic Anthology series. She is also the writer of the webcomic “Full Circle” and other titles “Love and Sprockets” and “Deja Brew.”
Brian W. Carter contributed to this article.