Ed.—Today marks the release of Genius #1, the first in a five-part comic-book miniseries about a young woman from South Central L.A. who unites the city’s gangs and attempts to secede from the U.S. As one of our resident comics lovers said, it’s “fast-moving, smart, and appropriately cynical”; it’s also the rare instance of a black heroine, co-written and drawn by black creators, in a mainstream comic book. We asked co-writer Marc Bernardin (a veteran who’s done books for Marvel, been a deputy editor at Playboy, and written for the TV show Alphas) to write a piece charting his childhood voyage through the nerd-culture landscape—a landscape that rarely felt like a place he belonged.
Pop culture wasn’t made for me.
I noticed that even as a kid, growing up in the Bronx in the 1970s. You had to search far and wide to find good representations of Black people. There was Roots, Morgan Freeman’s Easy Reader on The Electric Company, Jim “Black Belt Jones” Kelly in Enter the Dragon, Boomer on Battlestar Galactica. Of course, as a kid, you don’t miss what you’ve never known, so I simply latched on to the things that appealed to the nascent geek: kung-fu movies, KISS, Godzilla, The Dukes of Hazzard, The A-Team, and Knight Rider (which is basically The Dukes of Hazzard with 75 percent less Daisy Dukes and 100 percent fewer blazing emblems of hate painted on the car’s roof). And Star Wars. Always Star Wars.
And I made do. Besides, what’s not to love about The Five Deadly Venoms, or B.A. Baracus building cabbage-firing mortars? Nothing then, and nothing now.
My first comics were Marvel’s black and white Savage Sword of Conan magazines. In a black and white comic, everyone is basically the same color, but Conan’s flowing locks made it obvious that he was a white dude. It was equally obvious, though, that he was an outsider. Most people didn’t like him when they first encountered him. He was from someplace else. Not quite the last of his kind, but close. Conan, in turn, greeted that antipathy with scorn and strength. He just did what he did and took what he wanted, to hell with what anyone thought of him. (I wouldn’t encounter the inherent racism in Robert E. Howard’s writing until I followed those comics back to the source material. But as, it turns out, I’ve a tendency to like work written by abhorrent people. More on that later.)
From there, I moved on to the X-Men, as does every teenager who comes to comics at 13. The metaphor at the center of the X-Men is like chum in the adolescent water: Our bodies are changing in ways we don’t understand and aren’t prepared for; we all want to be special, but more than that, we want to be special together. We want kinship and purpose, and to have the power to lash out at those who hurt us as well as the restraint to not.
For all of that inclusion, you still didn’t encounter too many black faces in the pages of comics. For every African Princess or African Prince or Inner City Disco Mercenary, you had…well, a princess, a prince and a hero for hire. But I read comics anyway. Until they got too expensive. It wasn’t the opposite sex that steered me away, it was college.
I was 24 when I first encountered Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. I was working my first job out of college, as an editor at Starlog Magazine. (Don’t think I didn’t just see the silent nods of recognition.) It was there that I truly encountered sci-fi history: Doctor Who, Blake’s 7, the Foundation saga, Roger Corman, Red Dwarf, the Universal monsters, The Prisoner. I learned why it was a mistake to put another “R” in “Quatermass.” It was a crash course on the essentials of science fiction and it was glorious. I pulled a book off one of the many bookshelves, an anthology called The World’s Best Military Science Fiction. In it was Card’s original short story. I didn’t know who Card was—nor could you tell from this supremely empathetic fiction the kind of man he would turn into—and I didn’t care. His story of a boy who was so strategically gifted that he was mankind’s only hope at fighting an alien species scratched an itch I didn’t know I had. It would flip the switch to a light that wouldn’t turn on for another decade.
When I first got the opportunity to write comics—with my writing partner, Adam Freeman—I wasn’t consciously trying to inject diversity into the books we were writing. But our first book, a graphic novel called Monster Attack Network, featured a gay black man as the lead’s best friend. Our second, a DC miniseries called The Highwaymen, was about an elderly black guy—and his white sidekick—trying to remember what it was like to be a hero. We did a high-school reunion book called Hero Complex in which the Big Bad was basically Will Smith: charming, smart, ruthlessly driven and African American. It wasn’t an agenda, it’s just what happens when your default is different from the norm: The books don’t look like the norm.
A book with a black female lead (the very definition of anathema in the comics world) who would be gunning down police officers? “No, thanks” was the response we got from everyone.
Everyone but Top Cow, a division of Image Comics—one of the last real bastions of creator-owned comics. They released a one-shot a couple of years back to overwhelming response (you can find that issue on Comixology for free, or so they tell me). Now, the five-issue miniseries is arriving.
Pop culture wasn’t made for me, so I made it. For me and you both.
All five issues of Genius will be available weekly, throughout August. The first issue will be released on August 6 and each single issue will retail for $3.99.
For more information please visit TopCow.com
Call the Cops – Rob Hustle ft. Liv: http://youtu.be/IlY9C6pzxKc
Latest posts by Camron Wiltshire (see all)
- Killer Mike’s Pre-Show Speech After Ferguson Verdict. - Nov 26, 2014
- Grimerica Talks Sacred Geometry with Randall Carlson - Aug 13, 2014
- Meet the Man Who Created the Most Radical Hero in Comics - Aug 8, 2014