Friday, July 4, 2014

Me and my SHADOW...THE STATE OF THE HARLEM SHADOW

Nobody told me to attempt to publish my own comic books for a living. I chose that path on my own. We have discussed it before in previous chapters of my "cybertribe", this is a calling for me this comic book thing but I didn't have to answer that calling. I could have left well enough alone. Continued watching the slow evolution and sometimes deliberate destruction of a medium I hold dear, Super Heroic literature. I didn't have to ever pick up a pen and write LUCIUS HAMMER or the HARLEM SHADOW. But that's not how inspiration works. Inspiration fills you with an unwavering sense of purpose, in some ways you become possessed by an ideal or concept and the spirit or nature of that idea drives you to action. When I sat down to co-create Ravenhammer Comics in 2009, I had no clue what I was doing except that I knew there was a higher purpose involved. It is now 2014...five years since I created LUCIUS HAMMER and his mysterious role model...THE HARLEM SHADOW. The road to success has been a gnarled and treacherous pathway. People have literally walked into my life from the ether with interest in these amazing properties I have been blessed with the honor of creating. They have tried to outright usurp them or change them. I have been told by co-creators and potential business suitors that my projects are too "niche" or that they aren't what the market is looking for right now. Last year this time I was being courted by Russell Simmons and Def Jam. They were interested in my "niche" comic book character, The Harlem Shadow. I thought that my efforts of the past few years were finally going to bear some fruit, and in a way they did...The Harlem Shadow was the subject of an online article in Entertainment Weekly http://popwatch.ew.com/2013/08/02/harlem-shadow-russell-simmons-common/. In my wildest dreams, I had pictured myself reviewed and praised in any number of magazines for my literary, pop-art creations...it was no shock that I wound up front and center in Entertainment Weekly magazine propelled by the herculean force of a well scripted, well illustrated jewel of an indie comic that dared to give us the first black superhero from the roaring 20's. The shocking revelation here is that nobody was ready for "The Harlem Shadow".

Not even me.

This all started in a rather uncomplicated manner. I was deep in the process of writing the first issue of Lucius Hammer. Now for those of you who have not read LUCIUS HAMMER Issue One...shame on you. It is a rarity if I may say so myself from the standpoint that it seeks to create a solid mythology or genealogy if you will of the black superhero. I have received thousands of e-mails from pop culture super-sleuths out there who have discovered my ruse and concluded that some of my characters are analogues. This is true and false at the same time. Lucius Hammer was meant to be my version of LUKE CAGE or POWER MAN. I began with the intent of writing a parody-laden superhero comic poking fun at blaxploitation riffs and tropes that have become commonplace and perhaps beloved in the realm of pop nostalgia. But my muse started calling out to me...she instructed me to make Lucius the centerpiece of this sweeping saga of the black superhero. I have always wondered myself why black superheroes don't really begin to show up in comics in earnest until the sixties. I mean I know why they didn't appear until then (fictional characters of color suffered the same second class status that real African Americans did in everyday life...perhaps a worse fate because their existence could be eliminated completely by the indifference or hatred of the prominent writers of that era.) but this was delicious food for thought that caused me to become enthralled with the prospect of building my own secret history of black superheroes. The Harlem Shadow was a background character that never ever should have warranted any conversation other than to say...wow, I never thought about a character like that. A mysterious, well dressed nocturnal vigilante sporting a domino mask and fedora...calling himself The Harlem Shadow. It seemed so simple at the time I created it. In fact...his creation was spontaneous. I needed a focal point...a first black superhero to lead them all to their own comeuppance as a subset of the superhero genre. To my knowledge there had never been a black mystery man style superhero ever. I had a stack of books sitting next to my computer table concerning Harlem and the Renaissance. I was mindlessly flipping through one of the resource books and came across a poem written by a man named Claude Mckay. That poem was entitled...Harlem Shadows. This character was most certainly building itself and guiding me to do so once I began to tune into its frequency.

After his dubious one page appearance in LUCIUS HAMMER 1...people began to clamor about The Harlem Shadow. I was even curious as to when I would get the opportunity to pen a fitting mini-series of adventures concerning "The Patron Saint of Negroes". He was just too cool to be true. The first black masked vigilante surfaces during the Harlem Renaissance. I imagined this hyper realized New York/Harlem in the 20's but very sleek, fast and cutting edge for its time. Here is an excerpt concerning the appearance of Harlem from my own personal treatment that I wrote for the proposed Harlem Shadow animated series;

"The Harlem Shadow Animated Series should be groundbreaking in its visual style. This is a cartoon that has ambitions to be a film noir. This Harlem in the animated program should come across as a funky, bebop crossbreed of Gotham City and Ralph Bakshi’s Cool World (with the fashion sense of Bakshi’s Coonskin). There are lurching shadows in this Harlem…labyrinthine alleyways and gothic churches, it’s own boardwalk and of course a string of cabarets and speakeasies. But there is also sunlight and a melange of diverse colors; Harlem is a throbbing artery of black folk from all walks of life at probably their most triumphant…of course there will be crime and vice but this Harlem in the story is a welcoming Mecca for the colored masses and so there is an undercurrent of joy, excitement and progress. Influences for the look of neo-nostalgia would be Max Fleischer’s early Superman Cartoons and the more recent Batman Animated Series they inspired by Warner Brothers. Fashion, cars, technology and the burgeoning advertising industry should be omnipresent. The atmosphere screams “this is a fantastic place during a fantastic time” it is more than plausible that a “Superhero” could be birthed here." 

Whenever I would attend conventions back in 2010 and even into 2011...there was always a passionate following for Lucius Hammer but The Harlem Shadow had almost like a cult/underground following if you can understand that in the context of an indie comic book. People were always quick to remind me in person..."You know...I think The Harlem Shadow is strong enough to carry his own book." And I would look at them, incredulous. How would I ever publish two titles at the same time...titles that are well received everywhere I go but are nowhere near selling enough in quantity to make me independently wealthy? It didn't matter, the muse spoke again and I listened. In 2010, I launched The Harlem Shadow Issue 1 at Philly's East Coast Black Age of Comics to great fanfare and instant success. It turns out the that folks of all colors had been waiting to read about the exploits of the first black superhero. And I appeared ready to oblige them.

2010 proved to be a year of intense adversity for me that I rather not relive or chronicle in the lines of my blog. Let's just say life as I had known it changed drastically overnight and I had to scramble to pick up the pieces that remained salvageable. I now had self-published Lucius Hammer Issue 1 and The Harlem Shadow Issue 1. I had been reviewed by outlets as diverse as "Aintitcoolnews" http://www.aintitcool.com/node/49349 and Columbia University http://archives.jrn.columbia.edu/2012-2013/theuptowner.org/2012/10/18/pow-zap-harlem-heroes-seize-digital-world/index.html. My personal problems had continued to mount during this time and I was desperate for a benefactor to swoop in and help me quickly obtain some kind of presence in the entertainment world so that I might capitalize on these wildly imaginative and unprecedented indie characters. I had every reason to believe Hollywood would be interested in my comic projects because I had been approached at 2010 Onyxcon by a woman claiming to be affiliated with Tyler Perry. We remained in contact for a short period but never really discussed anything. This was disturbing to me because I got the sense that even the so-called big ballers in the entertainment world were scared of a creature they did not understand...that creature being an animated black superhero. Now there are many folks out there who will immediately reference Static Shock as a widely recognized and critically lauded animated series based on a black comic book...but I beg to differ. The Harlem Shadow was not a cartoon necessarily for kids, although kids will gravitate and go crazy over this series when it's produced. The Harlem Shadow, as I saw it, would be an animated period piece with a timeless quality much like Batman The Animated Series. The setting would always be the 20's with an edgy science/ steampunk undercurrent. Another excerpt from my master treatment for the proposed animated series explains the overview for the show...

"The Harlem Shadow is a pulp noir action tale about a masked vigilante who endures a long and strange journey to become America’s first black superhero. His exploits take place during the famed Harlem Renaissance causing him to be simultaneously heralded as hero and villain by fellow New Yorkers. Dressed in the finest suits, complete with stylish hat, domino mask and twin chrome plated revolvers…this mysterious marauder becomes an instant scourge to organized crime and a deterrent to the growing criminal element known as supervillains. Harlem; a brilliant, kaleidoscopic world of color, culture and intellect built by empowered Negroes is the perfect incubator for this country’s first super powered vigilante of color."   

When I never heard back from this person regarding her level of interest in my project, I learned my first lesson in entertainment; Everybody is looking for something to develop but to suit their own tastes or those of the company they represent. Also, and this is probably most important....there is nothing that will happen overnight. Do not wait on pie in the sky contracts or checks because they are definitely not coming. I had just received my first official "eye jammie" from Hollywood. This huge blow to my confidence led to my getting involved with a local "auteur" from Cincinnati (my main sphere of operation for the time being). Now let me start off by saying my initial meeting with this person was laden with omens of deception and red flags galore. Let's call this "auteur"...Knipsey Russell to protect his identity. I don't believe this guy was evil or intended to tarnish my projects. I only bring this event up here in the recesses of my blog to possibly serve as a cautionary tale for you kitchen table Spielbergs or Spike Lees out there. First of all, never sign anything without the involvement of an attorney. As proof that you always need to be lawyered up, next time you create an attractive intellectual property and the interested party that wants to option those properties tells you that they've got you covered and all you need to do is sign...pause for a breath and tell them you'd like your attorney to look over the paperwork. Notice immediately how the atmosphere in the room changes. That's because this is a chess game and if you sign some paperwork that you don't fully understand (and you won't because if you are not an attorney, trust me...you will not understand) you could have your property taken right out from under your nose because you wanted to feel important and sign a contract.

Long story short, Knipsey Russell convinced me to sign some papers that weren't legally binding. When it was time to part ways...he was not being cooperative and tried to flex on me and my properties. He told me that I had no rights any more. With some quick financial assistance from friends and family, I was able to secure the legal services of a fine attorney who made quick work of Knipsey Russell. Do not believe people who don't have a title, no accomplishments, resume, money or apparent know how to deal with your property. An almost clear sign that someone is a wolf and not out for your best interest are these two statements "There's no money involved up front..." and "You don't need an attorney... if you ever hear someone utter these two things...bounce. Bounce asap!

Back to The Harlem Shadow...I had participated in a convention in Cincinnati right before personal storms attacked my life head on and met a gentleman who was very well connected in entertainment circles. He was impressed with The Harlem Shadow like almost everyone always is. We exchanged e-mail addresses and promised to stay in contact. And we did for a time. However, our personal lives and projects seemed to eclipse my project and once again...I'm floating in limbo, trying to catch a break. I manage to get another issue out a piece of Lucius Hammer and The Harlem Shadow. Both issues are stunning. I know that Marvel and DC are both great at what they do...but when I look at the books Ravenhammer published under duress and constant anxiety, I am proud to say that they can go toe to toe with any of those professional publishers.

It turns out that this gentleman that I met at the Cincinnati Comic Con got a chance to show Russell Simmons my comic book, The Harlem Shadow, and according to him...Mr. Simmons was really impressed. This news was surreal to me and was verging on being unbelievable. In my fledgling years of trying to create my own characters and properties, I had discussed with friends the possibility of getting the attention of a Russell Simmons or Oprah Winfrey to assist me with my black superhero agenda. I didn't know how I would ever get something into his or her hands but I definitely had that thought that if I could appeal to them...I could get the help I needed to reach the masses. This was uncanny. The universe doing me the ultimate solid and hand delivering my homemade comic book into the hands of Russell Simmons. The negotiations to obtain the rights to the Harlem Shadow to produce either as an animated series or live action film began in May of 2013 and concluded with a signing a short option contract in August of 2013. It was soon announced shortly after that hip hop legend, Common, would be joining the efforts to bring the Harlem Shadow to life as the lead voice actor. I was ecstatic. Vindicated. Relieved and excited. I am an original member of the first generation of hip hop. I bought the 12' inch single of Rapper's Delight when I was in sixth grade. I was there when RUN DMC started banging Hard Times and It's Like That. I was also present and accounted for when a young cat emerged from the city of wind named Common Sense. This was all so perfect in terms of cosmic alignment and wish fulfillment. In my mind, this could not have been a better direction for the project.

But in the world of entertainment, these kinds of exciting deals crash and burn every day. I knew that going in. And I know it now. As of this moment, The Harlem Shadow is not actively being produced as an animated series. Since last August, a few things have occurred to really hamper the forward movement of the project...first and foremost, the fact that YOUTUBE was no longer providing the funding for programming on ALL DEF DIGITAL which would have been the initial home of The Harlem Shadow Animated Series. No money means you cannot pay the talent to create the show and if you cannot find another investor then your show gets shelved. And that's what's going on right now with the greatest animated series about a Harlem Superhero that never existed. I will admit to being very deflated but not defeated. The folks that were involved with the project are great people and I have confidence that what drew them to my comic book in the first place will re-ignite at some point at the right time with the right resources and then we will have liftoff.

I am focused right now though on finishing what I started. And so I return to inspiration. I don't need movie stars and moguls to tell a comic book story. There are a lot of fans out there who just want to be told a good story. They want to see an amazing character or world that they have never observed before. That's what I'm good at. Whether or not my projects become Hollywood blockbusters and groundbreaking t.v shows remains to be seen...I wouldn't doubt it. But my job is not to worry about all that. My job is to build it. My job is to take these ideas and create them so people can see them and be transported. After that, my work is done and I'm on to the next one. Word of advice to my fellow creators...control what you can control. That would be your dedication to your craft and daily excellence in how you choose to manifest that craft. All of the other things will come...it's weird, there's a magnetic attraction when you just listen to your inner voice and create inspired work. Stay tuned for greatness.

Ravenhammer Lives!!!!

Brian Williams 7/4/14



  


2 Comments:

OpenID Cobb said...

I'm a writer, and I've been writing for many many years online. I've been looking for an artist to bring a lot of my ideas to life, and I never run out of ideas. Anyway, I'm going to be around for a long time, which means over the next 10 years, I could probably give you several hundred hours of work. Check out my blog, and the comic I created with Stripcreator and get a flavor. I'm sure I could write for the Harlem Shadow, and I'll probably do so anyway in the long term.

July 15, 2014 at 8:57 AM  
Blogger BWilliams said...

Cobb...I am the writer and creator of the Harlem Shadow. My name is Brian Williams. For now...I am the only one writing this character because his origin has not been fully established.

July 16, 2014 at 10:02 PM  

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