Saturday, October 5, 2013

It was a good day...or Harlem Shadow on my mind

The moment I learned that The Harlem Shadow had been optioned by Russell Simmons for his ALL DEF DIGITAL initiative on YOUTUBE with the potential of becoming an animated brain started to immediately play "It was a good day" by Ice Cube. For the uninitiated I have included a link to that classic song by O'shea Jackson... I know my race for accomplishment is far from over. I still got bills. I'm still worried about sales goals at the job, and I hit the dollar menu during the week if I don't pack my lunch. But when an article about my self published indie comic book, The Harlem Shadow, appeared on Entertainment Weekly's website back in August ..I had to smile, look up to the sky and give praise. It was indeed...a good day. 

The coolest thing about what has happened with The Harlem Shadow is that I have learned so many things about my personal path and people. This is not going to be some venom laced diatribe about all the people out there who proved to be haters and obstructionists. The people that come into your life either for good or bad are appropriately placed like chess pieces...they are mechanisms to move you in a certain direction...that direction being your path. You can resist the path, you can hate the path...but that path is for you and once you get over yourself and your preconceived notions of what you think your life should be as opposed to what it actually can love and embrace that path. My path is that of the scribe...the writer. More specifically...comic book writer. So all contributing factors, whether they be negative or positive, brought me to this point and I am grateful for the parts they played. The important thing in all of this is that I have come to an understanding of my path. I know that's some deep psychobabble type shit but it's real.

The prospect of a Harlem Shadow cartoon for me is about as exciting as Christmas Day when I was 8 years old (I got one of those LIONEL Train-Station kits with the smoking pipe on the locomotive, Mego Bat Man and Robin dolls with The Bat Mobile, A Star Trek Phaser and that Eagle shuttle spaceship from Space 1999!)...imagine creating something in your sketchbook that you think is the greatest thing ever. I mean the idea gives you goosebumps and when it does's almost like your own personal Spidey sense (at least for me anyway) know you're on to something. The feeling of justification when somebody actually acknowledges that your idea is awesome is exhilarating to say the least but there's also a part of you that is saying, " I told y'all. I told you I was on to something." That may sound may smack of sour grapes but it's true and anyone who has been through the slightest struggle to create something knows what I'm speaking of. There is a certain satisfaction one feels when proven right...and the fact that my indie, small press, nobody knows my name comic book wound up in the hands of Russell Simmons makes me smirk just a little bit at the naysayers and the peanut gallery. I am not guaranteed that anything will ever come of this proposed animated series based on the adventures of my ebon-clad, zoot suit avenger called The Harlem Shadow...I know nothing of the inner workings of Hollywood but I have read about them quite extensively for years and I know there is such a place called "development hell" that can swallow a project whole. But the fact that my brain baby got this far makes me feel somethin like a....pimp (sorry Mom and Dad, I know better...but I had to.)

The reactions that came in the wake of the announcement were at once entertaining, inspiring and enlightening. There were many votes of confidence and kudos extended to me from family and friends, although to this point I'm not sure that all of my inner circle truly realizes what has happened with my intellectual property. I purposely waited a month or so to let the events sink in before saying anything about the proposed cartoon...but during that space of time I thought that I would hear more from movers and shakers in the black community of comic creators. At one point I came across a disturbing thread in which black comic book veterans whom I revere were speaking about my project as if it was something they were unaware of and how could Russell Simmons choose a project that hadn't paid it's "dues" or originated from their specific network. I quickly jumped in the thread and identified myself and the one creator that I was most concerned with, Dawud Anyabwile...the creator of Brotherman and the undisputed King of the Black Age of Comics...did not hesitate to embrace me and wish me well. There were some folks who got upset about a piece of art that I commissioned that was used in the Entertainment Weekly article. The artwork used in the article was rendered by a notable "Black Age of Comics" juggernaut...the incomparable Mshindo Kuumba. They were incensed because Mshindo's name was not mentioned in the article or even given a credit for his depiction of my character. I asked that he be listed but for whatever reason he wasn't. I understood how people felt but it's important to note that I am not in control of the media and never will be but every time I have had the opportunity, I show Mshindo big love and respect for his talent and was kind of disappointing but I get it. I wanted more than anything for this event to be a group celebration for my black indie comic brethren...after all I was influenced by a lot of these people to create my comic books and attend these up and coming comic cons like ECBACC, ONYX CON and DA BLACK AGE in Chicago. But once again...this is my path. There is success and a breakthrough somewhere in this seeming "disconnect" with my Black Age colleagues...and who knows? Maybe I'm reading people wrong or being sensitive. Either way...message to the Black Age: I'm down with my Black Age Creators and I am proud of all y'all. I am also proud to be one of you. My success is your success and I hope yours is mine as well. If it wasn't for you brothers and sisters...I may have never had the courage to publish Lucius Hammer or The Harlem Shadow.

The other things that kind of irked me were small items and I have pretty thick skin but decided to kind of address some recurring questions and observations that I keep seeing;

Q: Ohhhh, that's great! The Harlem Shadow! You mean like The Shadow...only he's from Harlem. Creative!

A: Okay...I get it. The Shadow is a beloved pulp character. And yes...there is definitely some influence bleeding over from Walter Gibson's classic character into mine...but The Harlem Shadow's name comes from two different places. One is Claude Mckay...a popular writer and poet who emerged during the Harlem Renaissance and wrote a poem about prostitution called Harlem Shadows. The other nugget of influence was from my favorite book...The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I thought it would be cool if a superhero had a name that attached him to a certain neighborhood or Malcolm X's nickname...Detroit Red. Still...people are going to smart over my use of the word "shadow". They will until they "experience" him. Then all the crying should stop. 

Q: Why does he look like The Spirit? And The Shadow?

A: Because I was influenced by The Shadow radio serial that my grandfather put me down with as a kid and Will Eisner is that dude when it comes to sequential art. I wanted to create a "Grand Age" of pulp and mystery men characters that were black for a historical sequence in my LUCIUS HAMMER comic book and I needed a hero that embodied the different qualities those two heroes I spliced them visually. If you really dissect The Harlem Shadow...he is also part Bat Man, Dr. Strange and Green Lama. This may be hard to wrap your head around at this point because there are only two issues out...but imagine Dr. Strange if he used his mystical powers to fight the criminal underworld in New York like The Shadow.

Q: Why Harlem?

A: Well....this awesome period of self discovery occurred in New York City in the twenties for black folks called The Harlem Renaissance. It is an amazing topic that has always been an area of interest for me. Since there seemed to be no existing black superheroes from this dawned on me that this could possibly be something new, exciting and create an alternative way to look at black superheroes and their history. What better place or time than the Harlem Renaissance? Yeah...I know.

Q: Why black superheroes? Why Russell Simmons and Common? Is this a black thing?

A: Because we need Black Superheroes. Of course we already have some iconic characters that have been given to us by Marvel and DC but does that mean we stop creating them? Most certainly not. And as a black writer/creator I feel I have a different story to tell than the ones told by the white creators of those aforementioned characters. My stories may not be better...but at least they will be different. I'd like to believe that Mr. Simmons sees this as a opportunity to tell a different story and really expand the fictional universe of black superheroes. I couldn't have been more pleased when I learned of his desire to highlight the vibe of the 20's era via industry, fashion, music. His selection of Common as the enigmatic voice of The Harlem Shadow was spot on. I have been listening to Common's conscious and slightly afrocentric message for years...his voice is hypnotic and strong. He is The Harlem Shadow. As far as "is this a black thing?"...yes it is. It's a black hero telling the superhero saga from the perspective of a black man...but it's for everyone. Just like The Godfather is an Italian story clearly...but all kinds of folks love it because the Italian story becomes our American story. The Harlem Shadow is a story for everyone and is universally fun and cool...he is a superhero with that pulp swing to him but he's also got the soul of this black writer in him and that's what makes him special. Everyone wins! 



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