Creativity, News, People

Comic book heroes from the other side


Hero-Dreadlocks first edition

Comic book heroes aren’t all named Clark Kent, Peter Parker or Bruce Wayne. They all don’t live in palatial mansions and drive tricked-out cars. Some look a little different than you may be used to seeing – they’re black.

On Saturday, September 29, the annual Motor City Black Age of Comics (MCBAC) will convene at Youthville in Detroit. One of the goals is to shed light on other, more diverse “haros” (Egyptian-origin of the word hero) and encourage aspiring artists to pursue the craft of comics.

This is the fifth year for Motor City Black Age of Comics, started in 2008 by creator and owner of Urban Style Comics, Andre Batts. After making the rounds of the widely-know Comic Con and other similar conventions, he noticed a gap – characters of color were not represented with the same super powers, strength or cache as those in the mainstream.

L-R: Andre Batts, Maia “Crown” Williams, Marc “Poetic Menace” Blackshear

While the East coast’s “Da Black Age of Comics” has existed for some time – celebrating its 20th anniversary this coming February – there was nothing in the Motor City for we Detroiters, particularly to expose the next generation to the genre.

Maia “Crown” Williams, who works with Batts as executive coordinator, says while the MCBAC is open to everyone, it is most important for young people.

“What we are doing is important for now and for the those who will come behind us. We have picked a price (free) and a venue (Youthville) that will make this available to anybody that wants to come,” she says.

Batts and partner Agbeyome Allen took up the cause to bring the black comic convention concept home to the “D” in 2008 and the Motor City Black Age of Comics was born.

So why focus on black characters and stories from an urban point of view? Batts explains it this way, “You don’t typically find super heroes that represent diverse points of view. The black characters you see in Marvel and DC don’t have comparable powers to say, Superman. The characters of color you see are usually weaker, less significant and don’t relate to urban America.”

Enter the character “Dreadlocks,” one of Batts’ haros. Physically blind, but more powerful than even Superman, he is spiritually connected – a servant of the sprits of African kings – a model of courage for any fan of caped and/or masked crusaders. Dreadlocks’ real power comes from within – a clear message for those whose self-esteem is typically under attack in real life.

With names like Captain Save a Hood, Afroman, Queen Nubia and Ragamuff, these heroes are champions for all, but are particularly relevant for urban/hip hop culture. It’s no accident that African history, empowerment and success are weaved into their adventures. Aside from the story lines and action, readers are challenged to learn something about culture and history. More than just kid’s stuff, these books are designed as education as well.

Marc “Poetic Menace” Blackshear is, among many things, a hip-hop culturist who works with Batts to fuse the art on the page with the progressive youth culture.  The appeal for many readers, according to Blackshear, is the connection with what urban youth see around them, hear in their music and believe in their hearts.

Crown Williams says anyone with any kind of interest in comics should come out. “We have classes and workshops from beginners to more advanced and chances to meet some of the best artists in the industry up close. Everyone is accessible and really wants to help those that come out go to the next level,”  she says.

MCBAC organizers admire Urban Style Comics

She also stressed this isn’t about one person being better than another as far as skill is concerned, “This is about building up self-esteem and letting the next generation know their dreams as artists can come true.”

During the full day of events, MCBAC will also pay homage to one of the genre’s pioneers, Detroit’s own Dwayne McDuffie, one of the founders of The Landmark of Milestone. Also, international speaker and artist Mshindo Kuumba will conduct a session for attendees.

Batts’ comics and graphic novels, along with works by other Detroit artists can be purchased during the convention and are also available at the Shrine of the Black Madonna, Truth Bookstore, Detroit Comics and on the Urban Style Comics website (Batts’).

Event Details:

What: Motor City Black of Comics 2012

Price: FREE

When: September 29, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Venue: YouthVille Detroit

Where: 7375 Woodward Ave.

For more information, visit the event Facebook page or call (313) 451-0297.

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