Why Don’t Black Books Sell?

The guys over at Silver Bullet Comics asked some comic creators a couple of really good questions

1. Why are there not more comics featuring minority characters?

2.  Why don't "black books" sell?

Most of the guys that answered stated the obvious.  They said that comics are written by white males and are read by white males. 

Maybe asking the creators was dumb.  If you want to find out why the consumer isn't buying something you don't ask the people producing the product, you ask the people not buying it.

I don't read "black books" for the same reason I don't watch "black movies."  They are poorly written and full of stereotypes.  They get a pass on quality because they are "black entertainment."  Not to say that there are not some good that comes with the bad.  But for every Harlem there are twenty Undercover Brothers.  Shock humor and drug references seem to be a cancer that is eating "black entertainment" from the inside.  I imagine that the books that do this don't sell well amongst black people as well as whites.  I think it is also harder for me to identify with black characters.  A well written character can overcome this by letting you experience all parts of the characters life and you feel like you went through it too. 

I think books are doing a good job of putting more minority characters in.  I mean I grew up loving Jubilee.  Do I like her because I have an affinity for Asian women or do I like Asian women because of Jubilee.  The X-Men in general have always done a decent job of being inclusive. 

I don't think you should write a character as a black character.  You should write a good character and race doesn't matter.  Look at Blade and Spawn, both great characters that happen to be black.  You could interchange the races of these characters with other races and it would not change the fact that they were good books.  Is the world ready for a black superheroe of the caliber of Superman?  If it is written well, then of course we are ready.

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12 Responses to “Why Don’t Black Books Sell?”

  1. dammit, this is a great post and i really want to get into this, but i have SO much work that has to get done today. my question is what defines a "good character" and something that is "well written"? i've always been at odds with this because the qualifiers have always been established by whom?argh! i cannot get sucked into this right now. when i have time, i'll definitely have a conversation with my dad about this, as i'm sure he will remember more than what I remember about the people who frequented his store and what they read…mmm, great post and it feels good to have my nerves pinched.

  2. Hmm… "Well written" is purely objective and so is "good character." I mean, there are people that believe that the Star Wars prequels were well written with good characterization. I think the defs are usually derived by what society as a whole thinks. Comics, in my opinion, have an audience that can be a little more critical. The comic audience can often reject what society as a whole believes.
    So well written is individualistic in some respects, but is thing that a majority of the audience should agree on.

  3. Here's a different take, though, sparked by your comment "write a good character and race doesn't matter" … to me that's not the same as writing a good black character. Sure, Spawn is black, but does his blackness have anything to do with him being Spawn and the story? It didn't when I was reading it (haven't read since ish 25, so …). Does that make him less of a character? Nope. Does it make him a good black superhero? I don't think so. I'm not saying tap into stereotypes to make him "more black", not at all. It's fine if race really doesn't play into the character. At the same time it's foolish to think that races don't have different world views, and it would be a "better black character" if those world views somehow added depth to the superhero.
    Now, I don't think the different world views are necessarily universal to any particular race (haven't thought much about it until writing this), and yeah, I could see a white superhero with the same background as a black one having very similar world views – sort of gets at the 'write a good character …' point. But are there things that are unique to non-white races? Not universal, perhaps, but unique? And couldn't those be written into a good superhero? If so, I think it would be an entirely different sort of book, and one I would greatly look forward to reading.
    I wonder if I'm conveying what's in my head … hmmm….

  4. So, a racially black superhero is different than a culturally black superhero. The supeheroes we have experienced have been black racially but not culturally. I don't think a white or Asian writer could pull that off.
    For a successful black comic book we need a talented writer to create the character and write the book. There are successful black novelist out there that are talented, but I am not sure that writing a good novel translates into writing a good comic. Maybe it is on in the same.
    Can the book be culturally black and not be targeted at that market? I don't see a major publisher doing that. The book would have to be an independent and then it has the cards stacked up against it.

  5. Can the book be culturally black and not be targeted at that market?
    I think so. Ultimately, as you suggested in your initial post, it will come down to having a good story and a good character, to being well written. If it is, I think there could be universal appeal and a wide market audience. Unfortunately examples from other media don't readily spring to mind. What does that say about commercialism, media and marketing in our society today?

    I don't see a major publisher doing that. The book would have to be an independent and then it has the cards stacked up against it.
    I think this is less of a hurdle now than it was in years past. TopShelf, AIT/PlanetLar, Oni and others I frequent but am forgetting at the moment are great independent publishers that could totally take on something like we're talking about and get a fair bit of marketing behind it. Though I could see the product being more of a one-shot graphic novel type, rather than starting out as individual issues or even on going. At least in the initial stages.
    As for culturally black versus racially black … I think that was the point I was trying to make. I think of Black Panther or Iron Fist, could they be white and still be the same character? Was there any diversity in JMS's cast on Rising Stars? Did race add any depth of character to any of the superheroes in that book? (the details were pretty forgettable to me, as it took so damn long to finish)

  6. i just have to say…i look around in this post and "it's mostly white [guys]. I don't know about you, but when I'm in a room full of white people now it gives me the creeps…makes me feel like I'm at a Klan meeting or something." terry moore's comment, freakin' hilarious.i haven't read the entire article but i'm on my way. in the meantime, i'll leave you with my take on things. i'm female and bicultural (african-korean american). why is it that as a young girl, when i was presented the option to pick a black barbie, i went for white barbie? and not once did i have a friend who picked (or was given) a black barbie. not once. why? but why should they? how could my white friends even relate to black barbie? but yet and still, i'm taught to ultimately choose and relate to white barbie? "black books" don't sell because of black-listing and nepotism. okay, that may be over the top but not really. the majority that make up the industry cannot relate to black books unless it follows some criteria. sure, they can relate to a good story, or a good character, but that's because THEY made the rules.i agree mostly with alan moore's response. when i worked at my dad's store, i hardly saw any white customers, nor did i see them come out to support the business. my dad, a black man who loved (and still loves) comic books, was seen as being in the wrong business. hello! and people wonder why black books don't sell? this is a man who started reading comics when he was 18 and in the army; a man who felt just as passionate about a good character and a well written story as the people who said he was in the wrong business? everyone who did come, black and white, would go on and on in conversation about how great a book or character, but columbus, georgia was not ready for his business. have times changed? i don't think so. every store i've been to is still white owned and operated. to say a book is well written or that a character is "good" we have to understand that here in america, education and culture is stereotypically…anglocentric. people of color are taught to relate to a society that values "white culture". i'm not saying it's a bad thing. it's only natural that we have to associate with something–when in rome, do as the romans do. for me, this issue of why black books don't sell boils down to precisely that–association. why is it that manga does so well here in america? how about we get a panel of manga artists and writers from japan and ask them why black books don't sell.until the "black" listing and nepotism stops, a viable and successful black comic book title is a longshot. people in the industry have to make changes–speak up for the good character, the good story. oh, and they could be a hell of a lot more proactive about marketing!and what's with alan grant's asinine comment? he knows damn well why black books don't sell but chose to give a lame ass excuse. "Most comic heroes are minority characters. Batman is in a minority of guys whose parents were murdered before their eyes. Superman is in a minority of babies saved from exploding planets. Lobo is in a minority of maniacs who destroyed their own world. Judge Dredd is in a minority of people dedicated to justice. I've no idea why "black books" don't sell. I've heard uncorroborated reports that DC's "black" line of the 90s folded as much because of editorial profligacy as disappointing sales. I'm pretty sure "black books" sell okay in Africa (Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons began their careers working on Power Man for–I think–a Nigerian publisher).”hmmm, i better finish reading the panel's discussion before i say anything else…

  7. [참 좋습니다]

  8. man, parts of my brain that shut down over the years are actually working! i just finished reading the SBC article–very insightful! professor foster's take on this issue makes so much sense and i think my rantings earlier are definitely along the same lines of his obeservations. i read this and wonder if i could have made a difference in the scheme of things. i passed on going to SCAD because i thought (what people thought) that there was no "future" in sequential art, especial for females. hahahaha, what a joke and times HAVE changed.i appreciate that you started this discussion and my dad appreciates it, too.

  9. Thanks! does your dad vox? I surfed upon the article looking for something else and I was pretty blown away. I have an opinion on everything and I had to put my two cents in.

  10. i wish my dad would give vox a try but he's old school and not big on this sort of thing. plus, he's a two finger typist, albeit a FAST two finger typist, but i don't think he would be able to post very often =\ might take him a few days. he's all about talking up a storm when it comes to comics, sports cards, figurines…anything collectible, but it's mostly over the phone or in person.

  11. I'm halfway through the article, but I think Craig Lemon is pretty accurate:Because
    all the iconic heroes in existence today (with the exception of
    Wolverine) were created between the 1930s and the 1960s, when black
    characters were taboo, or poor caricatures at best (see the early
    stories of The Spirit to see how even Will Eisner didn't escape this
    attitude). There have been pitifully few successful superheroes created
    in the last twenty years, black OR white. So new books with
    predominantly black casts don't sell…but neither do new books with
    predominantly white casts…it's not just The Crew that was cancelled recently, but The Eternal too.I doubt it's a rejection of black culture; R&B and (modern) Hip Hop are massive in Australia, and while I know a lot of people with black skin, I don't know a single person with African ancestry.I read the Black Panther Civil War issues, and I have to say I was not impressed. From the opening page (suggesting Wakanda prospered due to a lack of colonialism, which is not only reverse reasoning but suggests who-ever wrote it had never heard of Thailand), to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air style portrayal of white people as confused, fun hating millionaires, it quickly occured to me that this was targetted directly at black racists. While I doubt it attracted them as readers, it probably did succeed at alienating any white readers.I also think the blacks who say 'bling' and gesture a lot and see their skin-colour as their identity are probably not the ones who buy comics.

  12. I'd also love to hear Gamany's dad's thoughts (on this topic and in general).

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