For comic artists of color, a Grove Hall meet-up reminds them they’re not alone

An array of comics inside the Grove Hall branch of the Boston Public Library features titles created by artists of color.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, Denise Stephens brings her 7-year-old grandson, Aiden, to the Grove Hall branch of the Boston Public Library in Dorchester.

Since February, people of color have been gathering here monthly to geek out about comics — particularly comics about, and created by, people of color.

There’s a long table with dozens of comics splayed out, and there’s a section where people can make their own. Aiden, whose favorite comic book character is Batman, decides to draw a superhero he calls Cowabunga. He’s got a grey unitard and an orange triangle on his chest.

Aiden says the character has the ability to shoot fire out of his hands “and water power.” But Cowabunga doesn’t have an origin story yet.
“I have one in mind,” Aiden says. “I’m not telling you it.”

Denise, Aiden’s grandmother, says he can draw for hours. She brought him to the gathering, called Comics in Color, so Aiden could channel his creative energy.

One of the creators of the group Cagen Luse says the idea had been percolating for a few years, but really took off on the heels of Marvel’s “Black Panther” blockbuster.

“We said, ‘This “Black Panther” effect is going to help us get this movement started.’ And I really think it did,” Luse says.
Luse, who is a comic artist himself, says one of his new favorite graphic novels is “Prince of Cats.”

“It’s a Romeo and Juliet story,” he explains. “It’s in Shakespearean English, but takes place in like ‘80s Brooklyn ... like sword fights on the subway.”

Luse started the group with Barrington Edwards, who is also a comic artist.

Edwards says “Black Panther” is great and all, but at the end of the day, it’s a story written by two white men: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
The group wants to create a network for people of color who are creating comics.

“You really can’t compete with Marvel and DC, but you can kind of knock on the door a little bit,” he says. “And I think it’s really important for our stories to be out there and for us to show the depth and breadth of our stories.”

Edwards says when people of color create comics, a sort of metaphysical heroism emerges.

“We need imagination to kind of power through life in our communities that are unfortunately targeted — specifically targeted through time to be kind of an underclass,” he says. “We need imagination. We need the energy from Afrofuturism and hauntology and magical realism.”

Edwards says the purpose of the Comics in Color group is simple: to let people of color who are into nerdom know they’re not alone.

“There are lots of black nerds who love comics and animation. Where are they in Boston?” he asked. “So, we wanted to just kind of create a group that met just with very little expectations -- just get a group together and see if you can create some energy.”

Remember 7-year-old Aiden and his grandmother Denise? Before coming to the Comics in Color meeting, Denise said she worried that Aiden’s obsession with superheroes wasn’t normal or healthy. But being in the space with other people of color who like comics as much as Aiden, Denise’s worries were quelled.

“It just gave me the assurance that, you know, he’s okay,” she says. “He’s OK.”

And who knows? Maybe Aiden’s Cowabunga superhero could wind up somedayrivaling Black Panther.

This story was first published on July 20 on the website of WBUR 90.9FM, Boston’s NPR News Station. WBUR and the Reporter have a partnership in which the news organizations share resources and collaborate on stories.