East Coast Black Age of Comic Convention

Did you read the Publishers Weekly article (no longer available) on last month’s East Coast Black Age of Comic Convention?

An after-the-fact “the convention happened and was great” article is like a concert review — you can’t be swayed into going to the event that got the good press, since it’s already passed, but it raises awareness and may spur a reader to check it out next time.

I was surprised to find that this was the fifth year of the show (although the first for the Glyph Awards for “outstanding achievement in black comics”). Not many of the usual comic press outlets covered it, and that omission has raised much discussion at Dwayne McDuffie’s message board.

Some saw it as yet another example of racism in comics, but I suspect a more benign explanation. No one associated with the show sent out a press release on the awards ceremony [edit: I was unclear. I was referring to how the ceremony went, not that there would be one], the winners, or how successful the show was, so I suspect the show was overlooked out of laziness, not prejudice. (With so much material being fed to the online comic headline sites, there’s not much incentive to seek out additional stories, especially ones that don’t involve DC or Marvel, the subjects I believe most of their readers are still most interested in, but competently written press releases get posted easily.)

Update: It’s disappointing but unsurprising that a few are more interested in defending their victimhood than actually solving the problem they were complaining about in the first place. (The original complaint was “the mass media talked about the show being held and how successful it was, why didn’t the comic media?”) How likely is a site to work with you next time if you call them a “racist” whenever you don’t get what you want as soon as you demand it?

It’s not just about skin color, though — that’s a symptom of all kinds of dedicated fans, to become so passionate about what they care about that they wind up accidentally shooting themselves in the foot. It’s hard to remember that that passion can be used for good, attracting interest from others if it can be redirected from drawing exclusionary walls.

I’m pleased to have talked with Rich Watson about positive lessons that can be drawn from this whole experience. If I’m not careful, I’m likely to get distracted by “is not! is too!” arguing, which doesn’t do anyone any good. For those who would like to know more about how online comic journalism often works in practice, see this informative post by Heidi.

21 Responses to “East Coast Black Age of Comic Convention”

  1. shannon Says:

    Actually, laziness has a lot to do with racism as it is experienced. It’s just easier to walk along being ignorant- it’s like the ancedote in Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria about how a white teacher was convinced that black people hadn’t written any books. Now, the most cursory search of the internet or a bookshelf coud have proven him wrong. But because he was lazy, do you think his students of any color will be exposed to black literature? And so the cycle repeats. Also, when the student of color who either has been exposed to black literature or will later be exposed to it notices the lack of black faces, then racism will be experienced, which is the important part. Likewise for comics- it doesn’t matter whether the people were too lazy or whether they were hood wearing klan members- the result is the same.

  2. Lyle Says:

    Thanks, Shannon, that was a point I wanted to make and you said it better that I was able.

    IMO, there’s a fine line between benign laziness and laziness born out of passive disinterest in people that don’t look like you and it sounds like this instance could have happened either way… which is why its good to have a discussion about the lack of coverage.

  3. David Oakes Says:

    Um, how about simple, human, absolutely no racial component no matter how hard we smirk at it, benign or otherwise laziness? If no one sent out any press releases, exactly how was any one willing – even desiring – to promote people of color in comics supposed to know there was anything to promote?

    Assuming in the day and age that “there are no Black authors” is pretty venal. (Actually it takes a bit of effort.) But assuming that there are no comic book conventions dedicated to African American creators and images? I will guarantee you that there are Black comic book fans out there that had no idea the show existed? Are they “lazy”?

    (And yes, the phrasing is intentional.)

    I didn’t see any of the “big” news sites comment on last year’s Phoenix Comic Con – should I blame State-ism? (And I know for a fact we sent out press releases. I sent them.)

  4. Lyle Says:

    David, like I said, I found this particular instance to be on that fine line because it is questionable how much of a chance the event got to hit a reporter’s radar.

    We all tend to have a bias that prioritizes what’s closest to ourselves. It’s a subtle bias that’s requires a bit of introspection before it can be challenged because its takes more effort to notice. It’s a subtle racism not motivated by any kind of hostility, just disinterest.

    That’s why it’s important to have a discussion when an underrepresented community feels like their story was ignored. Sometimes it turns out that story isn’t newsworthy, but if you stop and ask if you’ve missed a worthwhile story your radar gets a little bit of fine tuning that can improve your future coverage.

  5. Alan Coil Says:

    Tony Isabella was invited to the show and wrote, on his message board, about the show before and after going to it.

    If the mainstream press missed reporting it, they did so willingly.

  6. Johanna Says:

    “Likewise for comics- it doesn’t matter whether the people were too lazy or whether they were hood wearing klan members- the result is the same.”

    It’s this kind of outrageous exaggeration that made me wonder if I should even mention the event and the resulting discussion, and now I’m thinking twice about having done so. This type of rhetoric does those with a good cause no favors.

    Just for comparison, how many other 200-person shows get national online press coverage in the comic field?

  7. shannon Says:

    Johanna, why should black people be required to all act a certain way to have their comics discussed?

  8. Johanna Says:


    That was the sound of my whiplash in trying to keep up with the subject change. What are you talking about?

  9. Augie De Blieck Jr. Says:

    Crap, I didn’t know that Tony Isabella’s message board was required reading. I must be a racist, then. ;-)

    The only hint of this con that I had heard of was an interview with Jamal Igle on Comic Geek Speak about a month or so ago. After that — nothing. It was a small show with a narrow focus without much publicity, sandwiched inbetween larger cons with broader focii and better publicity agents. (Wizard World Philly and Pittsburgh come quickly to mind. With the way the con circuit works today, I’m sure there’s another one or two I’m missing.)

  10. shannon Says:

    It’s not a subject change at all. I explained the nature of racism to you, and you stamped your feet, whining that “It’s this kind of outrageous exaggeration that made me wonder if I should even mention the event and the resulting discussion, and now I’m thinking twice about having done so. This type of rhetoric does those with a good cause no favors”. Aparently you can’t mention issues unless nobody tells you the honest truth- that intent doesn’t matter-results do. That sort of demand is never made of white cartoonists. No one says “I can’t talk about Wizard World til it gets more diverse”(and that’s a real issue).

  11. shannon Says:

    Not to mention you totally ignored the claims of people saying that their PR was ignored. How can we get more people there and be ‘important’ if we can’t get coverage, it’s a catch 22. Doesn’t that make it easy for you?

  12. Johanna Says:

    Shannon, if you don’t want further comments deleted, you will respect everyone here, including me. That means that instead of assuming you need to “explain racism” to me, you acknowledge that reasonable people can disagree on the subject.

    I have no idea what “demand” you think white cartoonists don’t get but black do. If people want their projects covered, they need to send out PR, regardless of how important the cause or what color their skin. Whining that because overworked part-time journalists didn’t seek you out, you think they’re racists won’t get the success of the show covered. In fact, it will make it more likely that people will continue to avoid the situation entirely.

    If results are what matter, how come some of those who care about the show have wasted screens of text and hours arguing with me when just a fraction of that effort put towards creating the press release about how the show went would have got them the coverage they say they want?

    (And fyi, I don’t cover Wizard because of their sexism.)

  13. Ryan Day Says:

    There’s lots of stuff that Newsarama, CBR, et al don’t cover. Many sites seem to run virtually any press release they’re sent, but actual coverage of events is usually reserved for the major cons where Marvel and DC show up to make terribly important announcements about superhero comics.

    Who knows what press releases were sent, received, lost, or forgotten, but complaining about the online comics media’s non-mainstream coverage is like complaining about Dairy Queen’s salad bar.

  14. Dirk Deppey Says:

    I’d never heard of this before the brouhaha started this week. I edit The Comics Journal, and thus would presumably have been a prime target for press releases, had any been issued. Given that nobody apparently did bother to issue a press release, or made any effort whatsoever to inform me of this convention’s existence, how exactly was I supposed to know that it existed? Telepathy?

    As Johanna notes, the principal reason this event got no coverage was the incompetence of the people who put the show together. Other excuses may be more comforting to one’s worldview, but they won’t solve the problem next time out.

    (Funniest comment on this thread: “Tony Isabella was invited to the show and wrote, on his message board, about the show before and after going to it. If the mainstream press missed reporting it, they did so willingly.” Because God knows, we all read Tony Isabella’s message board.)

  15. Alan Coil Says:

    Thanks, Dirk, for your comments.

    Johanna, I think I agree that it might have been a mistake to post anything about this. It certainly was a mistake for me to comment on it.

  16. Lyle Says:

    Johanna, I’m sorry to see the thread went in this direction. I’m glad you posted this entry despite the nature of the comment thread.

    Thanks for adding your perspective, as well, Dirk. You’ve answered some of my questions and I’m no longer seeing the coverage of this event as a questionable one, or even an issue of benign laziness. The problem most likely was poor publicity on the even organizers and participants’ part.

    My original point was that sometimes what seems like benign laziness has a subconscious bias at work and you don’t change that without having a discussion about it. Perhaps I’m a bit hair trigger on that point because I’ve seen very reasonable-sounding explanations given for comics’ issues with all sorts of biases in ways that end up amounting to “That’s just the way it is.” The hardest biases to battle are the subtle ones that don’t call attention to themselves. However, you don’t get anywhere by being disrespectful.

  17. Rich Watson Says:

    As I said in the discussion on the McDuffie forum, I sent out a press release back in February announcing the Glyph Awards to Newsarama, Comic Book Resources, and Pulse. Only Pulse ran it. Could I have done more? Yes, absolutely, and I take responsibility for that. This was the very first time I had attempted something like this and I did not think about all the things I should have. I have learned from this experience, though, and improvements will be made. I’m not interested in blaming anyone or anything else; I’m just interested in doing better.

  18. Johanna Says:

    Lyle, your point is well taken, but I regret the tendency I’ve seen here of a few to turn on potential allies. I’ve seen more clear-cut racism from those crying “racism” than otherwise.

    Rich, your attitude is the healthiest I’ve seen in this whole thing. Thanks for being such a good example.

  19. Nat Gertler Says:

    One thing you might adjust the next time is simply the headline you put on your press release (EAST COAST BLACK AGE OF COMICS CONVENTION PRESENTS THE INAUGURAL GLYPH AWARDS HONORING THE BEST IN BLACK COMICS AND BLACK CREATORS). Too many words in a row, and your idea gets lost… particularly since the name of your convention is a little tough to parse. “New awards honor black comics and creators” would have carried the headline information – leave the detail for the body of the release.

    CBR may not have carried your press release (there are many of mine they have not carried, if I recall correctly), but they did include a mention of the awards and the convention in another press release.

    I’ve seen more clear-cut racism from those crying “racism” than otherwise.

    Similarly, I’ve bought more ice cold lemonade from kids crying “Ice cold lemonade!” than otherwise.
    Oh, okay, it’s not really similar. But is sounds similar!

  20. Tony Isabella Says:

    Just to be complete…

    Besides several mentions on my message board in the months before ECBACC, and besides several mentions in my online column, the event was the lead item in my “Tony’s Tips” column for COMICS BUYER’S GUIDE #1617, which came out about a month before the show.

    ECBACC will be the focus of my next CBG column. I’ll also be writing about the show online, once I see how much I can get into the print column.

    Maybe not required reading, but there are those who seem to enjoy my work. And – let me check – my manhood is sufficient enough that I don’t need to get into pissing matches with Augie or Dirk, both of whom do fine work.

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