Black artists show African-inspired comics can sell

Hyde Park native Turtel Onli said the comic book industry has come a long way since he decided to self publish “NOG” in the early 1980s. He said companies then were surprised to learn that he was black at face-to-face meetings.

“I can remember when I went to a mainstream comic company is the 1970s, the guy I went to meet with said to me, ‘Do black people read?’” Onli said. “And then I went back a couple of years later, and he was like ‘Do black people understand science fiction?’ ”

The answer? They sure do, and even have a whole comic book convention dedicated to their work. Last weekend, the Black Age of Comics held its 14th annual convention as part of the DuSable Museum of African American History’s Arts & Craft Festival. The event brought together comic book artists, illustrators and writers who create African-inspired images.

From a business standpoint, there has been a question about African-American superheroes — especially female ones — and whether or not their comic books will sell. Recent evidence points to yes, with “The Vampire Huntress” by L.A. Banks taking off, according to Eric Battle, a Philadelphia illustrator who has done work for Black Age of Comics and DC Comics. He says these conventions help the artists connect.

“During the year, we don’t get to see one another and see how many of us are in the field of illustration and comic books,” said Battle, who has participated for the last three years.

Battle added that the conventions help to inspire future illustrators. Take Lauren White Jackson, 13. She’s set to release her first comic book later this year, about teens who turn into wolves. Jackson said that her interest in comics started during the Pokemon craze.

“My goal in life is to have an anime movie and have it be famous,” Jackson said. “I’m really working on that. I want to start off with comic books now, and then turn them into animation.”

Next up for White is developing her 2D animation skills and creating the musical score for her movie.

Comic books were just one of the many things to check out at DuSable’s festival. There were musical performances, food, handmade jewelry and African-inspired art. Monique Pollard, who with her friends Judith Penn and Sandra Powell run a group called Chicago Good Social, posted an invite at to bring people out.

“I love festivals,” Pollard said. “It’s a good place to be.”

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