The future of African-America’s sway over the arts was manifested with an overflow crowd in place at the first inauguration of the Black Comics Festival held at the California African American Museum (CAAM) in Exposition Park Dec.10.
CAAMCon Black Comics Festival is the brainchild of prolific New York Times bestselling author, artist, scholar, and UC Riverside professor of media and cultural studies John Jennings, and CAAM curator Alexsandra Mitchell. They were inspired by the success of the Black Comic Book Festival, now enjoying its 10 year anniversary at Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (where Mitchell was a former staff member).
The anchoring keynote conversation featured groundbreaking director-screenwriter Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station,” “Black Panther”) and Aaron Covington, a novelist and screenwriter in his own right (“Black Panther: Long Live the King,” “Creed”). They reflected on their meeting as students (and roommates) in the USC film school 14 years ago, a transitional period in their lives and the emergence of a Black presence in entertainment.
“I had just literally walked off the football field (California State University, Sacramento) into graduate school,” Coogler recalled. His youthful anxiety there was eased by his new acquaintance, when Covington ruefully observed “…we the only Black people here.”
Arriving as filmmakers of color confronting the precarious ascent up the Hollywood treadmill, they bonded over sports, food, and comic books. Their talk covered the impact of colonialism and migration on culture and the tendency of the media to dehumanize minority groups.
The second half of the program was moderated by Sebastian Jones, writer and president of Stranger Comics (HBO’s “Niobe”), and including co-founder Jennings, screenwriter/producer Rodney Barnes, whose resume includes “The Boondocks,” “Everybody Hates Chris,” and HBO’s “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty,” and multi-platform director-producer-writer Cody Ziglar, whose credits include “Futurama,” “Robot Chicken,” and “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law.”
Jennings has been a Harvard Fellow in 2016, editor of “The Blacker the Ink: Constructions of Black Identity in Comics and Sequential Art,” author of ““Black Kirby: In Search of the MotherBoxx Connection,” and illustrator of “Parable of the Sower: A Graphic Novel Adaptation.”
All three share humble beginnings, where they went against the common dictum of, in Barnes’ words, to “…get a job as soon as you can, and play it safe.”
Family support provided a base to pursue goals not necessarily conducive to immediate gratification, (i.e. food on the table.)
“My grandfather was probably my first superhero,” noted Jennings, referencing the older man’s sacrifices in realizing the aspirations of his descendants.
Ziglar echoed this sentiment.
“Everthing I write is from that place where I’m like ‘wow, they did so much for me that there’s no way I can write something where they’re not going to be held in absolute reverence,” he said.
CAAMCon’s positioning here, in the epicenter of the entertainment world, showcasing arguably the single driving demographic force in global culture, was an inevitability, and we look forward to next year’s edition as a continuation of this world shaping tradition.