Black superheroes celebrated

Published 9:21 pm Monday, February 18, 2019

Black and Super from Suffolk News-Herald on Vimeo.

Families came out of the rain on Saturday and into a whirlwind of black superheroism at Morgan Memorial Library.

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“Black and Super: African-American History in Comics” was a celebration of the black superheroes from comic books, movies and television, with nearly a dozen vendors and a slew of crafting and games at the downtown library.

“Suffolk is a very diverse city, and we wanted to talk about different types of diversity (and) the things that people are interested in,” said library associate Cory Bland.

The library screened the documentary “White Scripts and Black Supermen: Black Masculinities in American Comic Books” by director Jonathan Gayles, which explores how some of the earliest black superheroes were written by white creators, and how that reflected the whole comic book industry.

Visitors packed into the library and browsed jewelry, fabrics, crocheted beanies and fleece pillows while they enjoyed confections sold by Najeonna Iman, owner of One Girl Desserts and Pastries in Chesapeake.

“It is a little rainy today, but I feel like we had a good turnout,” Bland said. “A lot of people were interested in what was going on, and from what I’ve seen, everyone’s enjoyed the different activities.”

More than a dozen different black superheroes were proudly displayed, from Luke Cage and Blade to Vixen and Black Lightning. Children took turns on the microphone in a freestyle rap battle, tested their knowledge of superheroes in a trivia contest and colored their own paper cutouts of Black Panther’s mask.

“He’s just really cool and his movie was really good,” said Mason Barnes, 10, as he held a stack of comic book trade paperbacks. “He’s just a really cool superhero.”

Zoey Swindell, 8, and Keyon Olsen, 12, were each given a prize bag for winning the writing contest that accepted submissions leading up to the event. Zoey won for the age bracket up to the fifth grade, while Keyon won for the fifth- to 12th-grade bracket.

The writing prompt asked each young writer to say what they would do if they had superpowers, what those powers were, how they got them and where they would lead them.

Zoey said her story was all about how she wanted to help people and animals. Keyon’s was about a 12-year-old who could turn invincible just by touching water.

“He discovers other superpowers later on in the story, like the power of flight and being super smart to outsmart his enemies,” Keyon said.

Six comic book artists and writers talked about their own creative approaches during a panel discussion and at their tables throughout the event. Tu-Kwon Thomas, 38, has been drawing since he was just 7 years old and now has a vibrant, energetic style to his work.

“What inspires me to do it is comic books, everyday life, (and) challenging people to become better,” Thomas said.

Most of the artists were locals inspired by Hampton Roads itself. Yonnell Young’s Millennial Comics series Delta Dogs is about seven heroic cousins from Norfolk that face wild challenges after they get their powers, Young said.

Willie Cordy’s “City Earth” comic series is about all seven cities of Hampton Roads. The Portsmouth native draws inspiration inspired from local news and local characters, along with his students at Regent University in Virginia Beach, where he teaches art.

“Virginia has a wealth of knowledge and a wealth of history, so I based all of my characters and my creations from here,” he said.