"I also work the other 11 months out of the year," Chris Kindred laughed. He was repeating a line Keith Knight frequently included at the bottom of his emails when his February solicitations were wrapping up, in response to the discussion going on about "black jobs" in comics.
All of the panelists, Chris Kindred, Shannon Wright, and Chris Visions, speaking at the signing for Ronald Wimberly's Black History in Its Own Words, at Fantom Comics in Washington, DC, each had a story to tell regarding that February flurry of work when media outlets look to diversify their portfolio with artists of color (a phenomenon that also occurs among Latinx and Asian American artists, in their designated months of the year). Each creator had their own stories, reactions, and critiques to the pros and cons of the media's way of thinking during February, and when one seemed to pull back a punch, the moderator, Julian Lytle, prodded them to go on.
Black History in Its Own Words started as a way to fill the February slot on the Nib's site back in 2014. This is not to suggest that the Nib only highlights black creators in February, but all media, including this blog and this writer, could do better. The task was straightforward: pick eight quotes, pick eight people, and illustrate them.
But how do you condense Black History into eight vignettes? The truth is, you don't. Wimberly made 12 total for the original Nib post, then made 12 more the subsequent year, and another 14 that appeared in this collected volume.
"I chose quotes ranging from the casual to the profound from luminaries both past and present," Wimberly explained prior to the publication of the book. At the panel, he explained that the way he chose the individuals in this book was to be sure he would not have a reason to create a book like this again or to need to a separate volume for women or queer people.
Having read the book, the volume certainly encompasses the spectrum of Black History without relying on the more notable figures most audiences get shown during February: MLK, Malcolm X, etc. Instead we get a range from George Herriman, one of the forefathers of American comic strips, to Kimberly Bryant, the founder of Black Girls Code, to Marsha P. Johnson, the trans activist who threw the "shot glass heard around the world" which became the Stonewall Riots. These glimpses into Black history will, hopefully, inspire readers to look further into the people showcased—and maybe even read about them during the other 11 months of the year.
A recording of the panel discussion will be available on Ignorant Bliss podcast soon.