Saturday, January 9, 2010


Truth Be Told Authorship and the Creation of the Black Captain America STANFORD W. CARPENTER TRUE
The world is permeated by images and stories that convey notions of Black identity. Many of these images and stories circulate in the form of artifacts. Artifacts—in this case comic books—are more than the images, texts, representations, or discourses that they seem to contain. Artifacts should not be “read”as text.To do so denies the fact that artifacts—as “things”—are part and parcel of a vast array of cultural, economic, political, and social relationships. In looking at comic books as artifacts, in configuring my investigations as an ethnographic enterprise, I am acknowledging that images, texts, representations, and discourses of Black identity are the end result of processes in which human agents—people working together and alone—make decisions about which images, which texts, which representations, and which discourses will be used to construct Black identities and stories about Black people. It is within these contexts that the construction of Black identity and stories about Black people is at once a negotiation, a vocation, and a creative enterprise. The 2003 comic book miniseries titled Truth: Red, White, and Black reexamined the origins of Captain America and established that the first man to wear the red, white, and blue uniform and go by the name of Captain America was Black . . . a move that enraged fans and impressed mainstream audiences all the while adding to the bottom line of Marvel Enterprises by increasing the corporation’s portfolio of license-able properties. This paper looks at Truth through the eyes of three members of its creative team, each of whom came to the project with different intentions,skills, experiences, histories, and a variety of creative archives—in order to address the simultaneous construction of identity, reworking of myth, and the maintenance and development of property. Comic books do not have a single author or creator; rather, they are made by teams of people, usually consisting of an editor, assistant editor, writer, penciler, inker, letterer, and colorist, create most comic books. Of the seven aforementioned named positions only two, the editor and the assistant editor, are employed by the comic book publisher. The remaining members of the creative team are hired as freelance workers with contracts ranging from months to years. The creative team works in an assembly line fashion in which each person works on a few pages at a time and passes them on to the next person. For example, once a script is complete it is sent to the penciler who, upon drawing a predetermined amount of pages in pencil, sends them on to the inker who applies ink and so on. Like the surrealist game, exquisite corpse, in which participants contribute elements to a picture, the lack of a single author in comics doesn’t eliminate individual intentions, nor does it resolve creative negotiations. Rather, comic books are the end results of a process by which individual intentions are executed at one stage in the process, only to be added to or altered in latter stages . . . a process that does not require that negotiations be resolved or disagreements settled. Comic book fans regard comic book characters such as the White Captain America as the product of a text. They read the White Captain America’s adventures within the context of his continuing story. Marvel Enterprises, the corporation that owns the Captain America likeness, regards Captain America as property and view his adventures within the context of the development, maintenance, investment in, and improvement of the property. Once assembled, creative teams focus on the task of satisfying the oftencontradictory audience and corporate desires. This task is complicated by the fact that there are no discreet lines that distinguish comic book creators, comic book audiences, and their corporate owners. Comic book creators read comics, and in many cases they grew up on comics just as their fans did. As a result, comic book creators shape and are shaped by the very transnational flows of stories and images that they play a role in creating.And while many of the established properties that the members of creative teams work with have histories that are problematic in terms of race, gender, ethnicity, and a myriad other representational concerns, these concerns must be reconciled within a production process that includes creative teams that have only recently seen an influx of creators from the very same racial and ethnic groups that these established properties demeaned. AUTHORSHIP AND THE CREATIVE TEAM AS AN ETHNOGRAPHIC SUBJECT My ethnographic emphasis on creative teams, archives, and processes emerges out ofmy own experiences as a cartoonist that manifest themselves in debates about the authorship and ownership of creative work. In the mid 1990s I wrote and illustrated a weekly comic strip retelling “African” folktales for the Skanner, a Black newspaper with circulation in Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington. While comic strips employ imagery similar to comic books, comic strips emerge out of a different type of production and method of circulation. Briefly, comic strips tend to be owned and created by an individual who may or may not employ various assistants. Unlike comic books where the comic book exists for the characters, comic strips are inserted into newspapers or magazines to alongside other, lengthier content. Comic strips can be distributed to periodicals by the creator/owner but for the most part, comic strip artists prefer to enter into an arrangement with a syndicate that has the ability to sell a strip to tens or hundreds of newspapers or magazines. My comic strip appeared as part of an arrangement that was negotiated between the publisher and me. I was not represented by a syndicate. My original intent was to a do comic strip featuring folktales from around the world titled Tales Retold. I solicited it to a variety of newspapers and syndication services.When the publisher of the Skanner saw it he said, “looks interesting, we’ll take the Black ones.” The editor gave it a new title, African Tales, and asked that I use an undifferentiated “African looking” background. Many readers and academics assumed that its “pan-African” images, title, and stories were a direct reflection of my politics. I may have been the “author” of this comic strip—in a legal and creative sense—but 48 Authorship and Creation of Black Captain America I still worked within a social, economic, and political context. It was truly jarring to have that context read back on to me. The scholarly emphasis in works dealing with comics on thematic content, textual analysis, cultural historical significance, and readership can best be understood within the context of trends in cultural studies. In separate essays Jason Toynbee and Graham Murdock trace the emphasis in media and cultural studies on audiences, readership and textual analysis to Roland Barthes influential essay, The Death of the Author, in which he argues that authorship is built on the romantic idea that “great works” are the exclusive product of the “author’s” imaginative resources and fail to account for the pre-existing work upon which “great works” are based. This essay led to the development of cultural and media studies scholarship emphasizing audience readings, interpretations, and consumption patterns of texts. I experienced the problem of this line of inquiry firsthand as my cartoon was deconstructed, explained, and interpreted without regard for my intentions, source material, editorial restrictions, and a working life intimately bound to copyrights and trademarks. A later article by Michel Foucault titled, What Is an Author, argues that the author is a discursive function of the text. Legal scholars have further developed this idea in order to address the legal author as a subject position that is a precondition for the establishment of an entertainment industry in which the ownership of stories and characters—that include images of race—can be centralized in corporate hands. James Boyle argues that this phenomenon is rooted in society’s desire to “romanticize a notion of subjective control of private information,” that the creation of a legal author requires that ideas be convertible into a property form and then attributed back to an author as the property holder. While the legal definition of the author is built on “the romantic [notion of the] author whose original transformative genius justifies [the creation of] private property,” what it really designates is the line of ownership. Jane Gaines argues that comics are no different from any other entertainment industry. In the earlier years of the industry copyright laws designed to protect stories necessitated that the roles of artists, editors, and writers be downplayed or regarded as small contributions to a larger story in order for corporations to retain their proprietary rights. The move away from copyright to trademark protections shifted the industry away from an emphasis on Stanford W. Carpenter 49 the ownership of stories to the likenesses or images of the characters. This paved the way for a greater recognition of the contributions of creative teams, without a concomitant loss of proprietary rights, thus setting the stage for today’s comic book industry in which individual members of creative teams acquire their own fan bases. Comic book creators with large fan bases are able to negotiate more lucrative contracts with better terms than lesser-known counterparts.Creators with large fan bases can also exert greater influence within the creative process. In essence, they are more likely to get their way. Ironically, the scholarly emphasis on thematic analysis and reading the comic book purely as text has continued. This is in sharp contrast to fanzines, the comic book press, and the mainstream media outlets that have tended to focus on individual creators and business concerns. Still, whether it is African Tales or Captain America, analyses of race in terms of images and text overlook the role of proprietary concerns, publishers, divisions of labor, creative negotiations, and the acquisition and deployment of transnational flows of artifacts, images, and stories by creators. For this reason, I have conducted ethnographic research among comic book creators to explore the interlocking issues of authorship, intent, and ownership that cut to the heart of racial representation in comics and a variety of other realms. Captain America in Black and White Yes, they made a Black Captain America, a man of a different hue than his fair-skinned counterpart that symbolized America in all its glory . . . and shame. And the truth is, that in the eyes of many fans a Black Captain America, especially a Black Captain America that is revealed to have preceded the White super powered patriot they have become accustomed to, doesn’t so much add too the mythos as it tarnishes his fair-skinned counterpart. The White Captain America was created in 1941 by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon—employees of Timely Publishing—an earlier incarnation of Marvel Enterprises. The White Captain America’s story begins when 98 lb. weakling Steve Rogers volunteers to be injected with the top-secret super soldier serum. The serum transforms him, giving him the strength, agility, and constitution of ten men. Tragically, the creator of the serum is assassinated 50 Authorship and Creation of Black Captain America before the serum can be mass-produced. The newly powered Steve Rogers is given a red, white, and blue uniform; an indestructible shield; and the moniker Captain America. In three separate interviews the Truth’s respective editor, writer, and artist had the same comment about the White Captain America’s premise: the military would never have performed the super soldier experiments on a blonde haired, blue eyed, White guy . . . at least not the more dangerous initial trials. And they cited the Tuskegee Syphilis experiments to support their contention. These experiments, conducted in Tuskegee, Alabama, from 1932–72 involved the intentional misdiagnosis of African America men with syphilis in order to give researchers an opportunity to see what the disease would do if left unchecked. The end result was a seven issue comic book miniseries titled Truth: Red, White, and Black that introduced the Black Captain America. The Truth miniseries opened with a dapper young African American couple, Isaiah and Faith Bradley walking arm and arm at the 1940 World’s Fair. “That day was pretty much our honeymoon,” says Isaiah in a voiceover, “We had our picture taken on the corner of Rainbow Avenue. The World’s Fair had declared ‘Negro Week.’ A whopping seventy-five cents admission could buy you the dream of equality for a whole day . . . that is, until somebody decided it didn’t.” WW II begins and Isaiah Bradley along with hundreds of soldiers are selected as test subjects for the Super Soldier Serum. The soldiers’ friends and relatives are told that they died in training accidents. Meanwhile, the soldiers are subjected to horrifying experiments designed to create the perfect warrior. The survivors are packed into the steerage of a ship headed across the Atlantic to Europe. As the men, bodies deformed from rapid muscle growth, play cards and listen to stories about post-WWI race riots, one of the soldiers begins to sweat, slips into unconsciousness, and dies amidst visions of Africans that have come to take him with them. The unit’s numbers dwindle to just one, Isaiah Bradley, as they are sent on a series of missions behind enemy lines. While in the hospital Isaiah Bradley ordered to prepare for a suicide mission by Colonel Price. “Soldier,” says Colonel Price, “at this moment, you may not think there’s much difference between the Germans and us, but if we win the war, your family will live.” Stanford W. Carpenter 51 The story of the suicide mission continues. In an installment titled The Math Isaiah Bradley, now the Black Captain America, raids the Schwartzabita concentration camp. All the pieces come together as the Black Captain America uncovers Nazi experiments, not unlike the ones that he experienced. His mission near complete, the Black Captain America unwittingly enters a gas chamber . . . just before the valves are opened. By the end of the installment, the unseen narrator is later revealed to be Faith Bradley. The mission was successful on all but one count: Isaiah Bradley did not die. The listener is revealed to be the White Captain America, on his own personal quest to uncover the true stories behind both the Super Soldier Program and the “urban legend” about a Black Captain America. It doesn’t take long for the White Captain America to get to the truth. It is later revealed that the Super Soldier Program was originally conceived as part of joint German/U.S. eugenics program that was begun long before WWI! Isaiah Bradley, the Black Captain America, escaped and was smuggled back to the U.S. by a loose confederation of Black soldiers and European Resistance fighters. He resides in Faith Bradley’s Bronx apartment, physically young but with few remaining mental faculties. His wall is papered with photos of himself with a veritable who’s who of Black history since WWII. The story comes to a bitter sweet end, as Faith Bradley takes a picture of Isaiah Bradley—in the tattered remains of his Captain America uniform— and the White Captain America arm and arm. AXEL ALONSO ON EDITING TRUTH Axel Alonso has been in the comic book industry since the mid 1990s. Of mixed Hispanic and English origins, Alonso grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. He received his B.A. in journalism from U.C. Santa Cruz and M.A. in journalism from Columbia University.He is currently the executive editor for Marvel Comics, a division ofMarvel Enterprises.When Truth was published he was a group editor with responsibility for various Hulk, Spider- Man, and X-Men related comic book series. He was also Truth’s lead editor and one of the prime movers behind the project. I originally met Alonso in 1999 when he was an editor for the mature readers Vertigo Line of comics published by Marvel’s cross-town rival, DC 52 Authorship and Creation of Black Captain America Stanford W. Carpenter 53 Comics.He was lured from DC after he had built a reputation for developing new freelance talent and turning forgotten, and even embarrassing, comic book properties into critical and market successes. Many of these successes dealt with racial themes. For example, he created a miniseries based on the Human Target, a White male character who assumes the identities of people in trouble. The miniseries focused on the Human Target’s identity crisis, prompted in part by his decision to impersonate a Black preacher so effectively that even the preacher’s wife couldn’t tell them apart. This was followed by a Congo Bill miniseries. Congo Bill was a White male character, created in the 1950s, who goes to Africa and acquires a ring that gives him the ability to exchange his consciousness with a gorilla. He used Congo Bill to retell Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness from the perspective of Glass, a Black mercenary haunted by the memories of the innocent lives that he has destroyed. Glass is sent into the Congo to put down the now mentally unstable Congo Bill.Alonso is most known for developing 100 Bullets, a comic book about an international conspiracy that seeks out individuals and gives them a briefcase with a gun, 100 untraceable bullets, and a reason to kill. Most of the characters in 100 Bullets are, at best, deeply flawed. But the world of 100 Bullets is incredibly diverse. One of the first projects that Alonso created for Marvel was Luke Cage: Hero for Hire miniseries with 100 Bullets writer Brian Azarrello. Luke Cage was a Shaft knock-off from the 1970s. According to Azarrello, his intent was to recast Luke Cage as the superhero version of criminal rapper Suge Knight. In one of our early conversations in 1999, Alonso was put off by my suggestion that the work was about any kind of overt identity politics.He argued that comics are genre medium, he described the political and the racial elements as necessary “high concept story elements” that were mixed in with “enough explosions to sell the books.” Moving up the ladder has been a double-edged sword for Alonso. In his current position he has greater power to green-light projects but a lot less time and a lot more worries. The sales of his monthly books are tracked and it is expected that they continually rise. His desk is littered with proofs and proposals, the walls are papered with covers for upcoming comics in the order that they were due out, the phone rings constantly, and people are popping their heads in his office every few minutes with questions. According to Alonso, the Truth miniseries started as an offhand comment by then Marvel publisher, Bill Jemas. Jemas never intended to follow through but the idea the “inherent of politics of wrapping a Black man in red, white, and blue” intrigued Alonso as he played out the possible consequences of a WWII Super Soldier Program in his head. The Tuskegee Experiments immediately came to mind. “I thought it would be a really interesting way to use the character to tell a larger story, a chapter of American history. [We used] Captain America as a metaphor for America itself.” With Alonso pushing the idea and Jemas open to it, it wasn’t difficult to get the necessary internal permissions to solicit a proposal from Bob Morales. “Bob [Morales] bought the premise . . . and from there it was all a part of an ongoing dialogue . . . Bob came up with the ensemble cast. And most importantly . . . that ending is purely his. It’s Bob’s story. [But it’s his] story based on concepts that were initiated internally.” BOB MORALES ON WRITING TRUTH Bob Morales has been in and out of the comic book industry for about a decade. Of mixed Black and Hispanic origins, Morales grew up in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York. Throughout the mid 1990s, Morales wrote a comic strip with Truth artist Kyle Baker for Vibe Magazine where he eventually became the arts editor. The strip featured one page musical and cultural satires that included Nirvana Can Wait in which Curt Cobain is sent back to earth to live as a Black man; Hip Hop Wampum in which gun for cash programs evolve to the point were guns become currency, and the self explanatory Old School Retirement Home.While the strip was short lived, it established that Morales and Baker as comic creators that could appeal to a Hip Hop audience. Morales’s initial reaction to the idea of a Black Captain America was laughter. Then he heard the premise. He thought it was depressing . . . so depressing that when he finished the proposal he couldn’t even look at it for several weeks. Then came the negotiations. At issue were three elements. Morales had lifted the idea for Faith and Isaiah Bradley, a strong marriage with a proactive woman at its core, from a previous unsuccessful proposal for a Luke Cage 54 Authorship and Creation of Black Captain America Stanford W. Carpenter 55 miniseries, the one that would be written by Brian Azzarello. Morales also wanted Isaiah to be a young science prodigy working on the project, a nod the Marvel’s tradition of scientists such as Reed Richard—a.k.a. Mr. Fantastic—and Bruce Banner—a.k.a. the Hulk—who are victims of their own experiments. And Morales wanted Isaiah to live into the present in a brain-damaged state. But Marvel didn’t want Isaiah to be a scientist. Instead they wanted the story to adhere more closely to the Tuskegee Experiments and have an ensemble cast of possible Captain Americas. At different times Marvel wanted Isaiah to come home to a parade or die a tragic death.Morales won out as far as keeping Isaiah and Faith as a couple and having Isaiah suffer from brain damage. Alonso and Morales both remarked that this intentional nod to Mohammad Ali was a greater tragedy than any of the other proposed endings. While he was disappointed in having to get rid of his idea for a Black scientist, Morales felt that the single most important element of his proposal was to have a strong Black marriage at its core. For Morales, much of the actual writing of Truth consisted of toggling between his original proposal, continual editorial suggestions, and his own research into the period. He described the medium of comics as a “reductionist form.”A continual challenge to figure out what can be crammed into a few panels. Citing a Kurt Vonnegut essay,Morales continued, “the important thing to do . . . is to always have your character want something and at the end he either gets it or he doesn’t.”He described the scenes in which the families are notified of their loved one’s deaths as an example of this. Morales decided to start the story at the World’s Fair when he stumbled on a reference to Negro Week at the New York public library. He continued his research at the Schomberg center where he came across letters and papers describing Negro Week, Black soldiers experiences during WWII, and pre-WWII race riots. He also spent a lot of time tracking down urban legends about mass killings of Black soldiers. In the end, according to Morales,“reality supplies you.”With the opening scene established, the proposal in hand, and a sense of what Marvel was looking for, the script itself was a logical progression. Looming over all of this was the fact that the actual story of the Black Captain America in uniform was going to take about three and a quarter issues. This meant that he had to kill all but one of the test subjects—299 men—by issue four, page seventeen in such a way that the readers will identify with the characters and ramifications for their families. This also meant that a unit of Super Soldiers had to be in Europe by issue four and since this was a top secret program it made sense to have the soldiers transported in steerage. He didn’t want all of issue three to take place at the base so something had to happen on the ship. The reverse middle passage sequence grew out of these considerations.Making the Super Soldier Serum Project a joint U.S./German endeavor was one of the first things that Morales added to the concept. Having the project splinter during WWII and building up to a confrontation in a German concentration camp was a natural progression. But the “sequence with the women in the gas chambers, not understanding what the hell [was happening when Isaiah showed up] . . . that was in the original proposal.” For Morales there is a real downside to doing the research in that it leaves him feeling torn between his desire to be true to the facts and write an exciting story. “This is a story about people getting fucked and its only incidental that they’re getting fucked because they’re Black. They’re getting fucked because that’s what happens in war. [Still], there’s a racial reality to the way Blacks were [treated] during the war that people can forget now.” “People were sacrificed. Was it worth [it to sacrifice] a group of Blacks for the rest of society? [When] you get inducted into the Army, you’re property whether you’re Black or White, Italian [or] Irish. It doesn’t matter. You’re there for somebody to throw you at something . . . And if you don’t go, people will shoot you . . . that’s the greater reality.” “[Then] there’s the ambiguity of whether or not somebody can make an argument that a Super Soldier Program as it’s depicted in this book is a good thing . . . I’m not making that argument [but] I left room in there for that argument to be made because it’s basically the argument of war.” KYLE BAKER ON VISUALIZING TRUTH Kyle Baker’s first experiences in the comic book industry were as a high school intern at Marvel Comics in the 1980s. Baker grew up in the Jamaica Queens section of New York and identifies himself as Black.He has worked 56 Authorship and Creation of Black Captain America on both DC and Marvel characters; written and illustrated his own graphic novels; created cartoons for Vibe Magazine, the New Yorker, and New York Magazine; and worked in Hollywood as a writer and animator. Like a growing number of comic book artists, Baker does much of his art on computer, allowing him to do triple duty as the penciler, inker, and colorist. A recent thirty-two page feature article in the Comics Journal by Kent Worcester about Baker’s career focused on his comic projects and his musings about the comic book industry but never broached the subject of race. Some might use this to argue that Baker has transcended race but my interview raises a different set of questions. During our interview Baker spoke in racialized terms, leaving me to wonder whether Worcester omitted the topic, avoided it altogether, or if the topic came up because I am African American. In trying to create the visuals for Truth, Baker was caught in the middle of a series of contradictory expectations. The idea was simple: make a Black Captain America that would appeal to comic book fans and non-comic book readers (particularly Hip Hop consumers). The problem was that not only do these audiences have very different ideas about what good comic art is but the concept itself—an exploration of the gruesome underbelly of the American Dream in a time of war—didn’t necessarily sit well with the established notion of what the White Captain America is in the eyes of his fans. According to Baker, when he was approached to create the art for Truth, the proposal had already been accepted but the script was still in progress. When Morales first mentioned the idea of a Black Captain America, Baker was skeptical. He wondered aloud if this decision was about using Black characters to show White audiences that Marvel is cool or trying to expand Marvel’s market share. “Anytime you make a decision like that it’s a financial thing.” Still, in spite of his initial cynicism, Baker felt that it was a good starting point and he liked the angle that Morales settled on. When Baker created the art for Truth, he consciously tried to develop a look that would appeal to the Hip Hop market . . . a market with an aesthetic that he identified as being urban and Black. “I used the style that I used for my Vibe Magazine [comic strip], which is . . . very graffiti inspired stuff, a lot of magic marker, very loose sketchy drawings, a lot of action and a lot of bright colors . . . It’s a very pop, poppy, pop art type of thing.” Stanford W. Carpenter 57 58 Authorship and Creation of Black Captain America However, Baker’s pursuit of the Hip Hop consumer was not without its drawbacks, “[Truth] got really good press in the New York Times, CNN, [and] MTV. It did really well with people who don’t normally read comics and it did really poorly with comic book fans.” “I think my favorite part of the story was when [the Black Captain America] was killing all of the Nazis [at the Schwartzabita] concentration camp.” But even as Baker asserted his preference for action, he made an historical argument for much of Morales’s more subdued storytelling and the negative reactions among comic book fans. “The trend in super hero books . . . is less fights . . . when I started, the business had been mostly for children and [comics were around] 50 cents and sold at 7–11s and candy stores.” Now comic books are sold at specialty stores at much higher prices to collectors. In the effort to tailor their products to collectors, Baker feels that the industry has painted itself into a corner. “What I find is that a lot of the people who read that stuff are 30 to 40-year-old men who are sort of embarrassed about the fact that they’re 30 or 40-years-old and still reading Batman. So [creators] try to make [the comics] appear more sophisticated by getting rid of all the fights and all the color . . . [I worked on New Mutants and] that book had no fights for a year. The year that I worked on it, it was just them sitting around talking . . . what’s the point of being able to shoot rays out of your eyes if you’re not going to ever do it!” Baker believes that this and the current trend toward photo realistic rendering of superheroes, typified by the work of Alex Ross, has created a comic book industry incapable of selling comic books to children and, in many cases, non–comic book collectors. “It just seems that anything comic booky is looked down on by the readers and by the critics,” remarked Baker. In addition to incorporating a Hip Hop aesthetic, Baker had a lot of problems solving what to do around the issue of skin tone. Comics are a medium that tends to use earth tones and shadows in the backgrounds in order to create atmosphere. Yes, there are times when the stories will call for the heroes to skulk in the shadows or blend into the crowds, but dramatic moments and fight scenes—of which there are many—work best when the heroes stand out. For Baker, this meant rethinking a lot of his color choices, an issue that he had encountered on the project that he did just before working on Truth: a graphic novel retelling the story of David from the Bible. In King David, he intentionally used shades of black and brown to reflect the African and Middle-Eastern origins of the story’s characters. “If the person is dark-skinned, the only way to make him separate from the background is to make the background light. People are just not used to seeing this because there aren’t very many Black people in comic books.” According to Baker, a lot of comic book fans wrote to him to complain about the color. Some blamed Baker and others blamed the printer. In most of the cases, when Baker responded to the letters, explaining that the characters were Black, the fans didn’t believe him! “They absolutely [thought] there was something wrong with the color!” exclaimed Baker. While Baker used a lot of the coloring conventions from King David in Truth, he didn’t receive color-related complaints. The complaints about his visuals for Truth were directed at the pop art style. “The reason I wanted to do Captain America was because it was a positive Black character. The reason I did King David is he’s a positive hero.” Baker followed up by describing the rules that he goes by when he creates a comic book. “I don’t like stupid Black characters and I don’t like criminal Black characters. I won’t do it.” For example, in the graphic novel You Are Here, which he described as a book where all of the lead characters were “stupid criminals” he assigned all the lead roles to White characters. The supporting characters, however, were much more diverse. Ironically, he did get mail complaining about the lack of diversity of the cast. Baker continued, “When you’re watching Cops or you’re watching the news, every time it’s a criminal it’s a Black guy. Look at the [crime] statistics. If you break [them] down by race, it has no resemblance to what you see in the media.” “You never see Black people in church.We go to church more than anybody . . . I know more people who go to church than sell drugs. [Laughs] You know. I don’t know any gangsters or drug dealers. I know tons of Black churchgoers.” “Yes,” I thought to myself in agreement. Stanford W. Carpenter 59 FINAL THOUGHTS I privileged discussions of authorship early on in this paper because they highlight the ways in which creative teams work with pre-existing material and how legal and romantic notions of authorship establish divisions of labor, editorial control, proprietary rights throughout the production process. Essentially, Barthes’s assertion that texts are built on the works that precede them is dead on. Foucault’s argument that the author is a discursive function of the text is correct. But neither of these statements necessarily lead me to believe that the reader should hold a privileged position in scholarship. Rather, both of these statements highlight a series of cultural, economic, and social constructions that can be teased out through ethnographic research. Comic book creators use existing works, identifiable images, and story elements that lack specificity to “draw in” or “connect” with the reader in order to create a connection between the comic book page and the reader’s world. This continual movement between general and specific images and story elements—as well as the introduction of visual elements with no connection to the narrative—opens the door to the juxtaposition of conflicting imaginaries while giving the “world” of comics its sense of depth. Comic books are group-authored texts by individuals, working within a series of editorial, production, and proprietary constraints. While each individual has a primary responsibility to the task for which they are credited, they routinely influence and even alter each other’s contributions. The waters are further muddied by the co-presence of romantic and legal notions of authorship. The truth of the matter is that ethnographic research into the intersections, the places where legal notions of authorship, intent, production processes, creative negotiations meet can help to make sense of how ideas about war, patriotism, heroism, and race take on a form that circulates in the market place (in this case as a comic book!) and eventually find its way into public discourse and the archives from which people construct their world views. The irony is that, within this configuration, the differences of opinion and intention between Alonso,Morales, and Baker don’t have to be resolved. Each of them performs their allotted task and sends their work to the next person in the process. 60 Authorship and Creation of Black Captain America As members of the Truth creative team, Alonso, Morales, and Baker bring different skills and desires to the process. They each provide different elements. But their views on race and its representations are not commensurate. Alonso was the catalyst. His position within Marvel Enterprises made him much more sensitive to bottom line concerns than his colleagues. Alonso’s take on the Black Captain America had more to do with broader political concerns and gritty realities of everyday life, a perspective that is carried from his previous work developing the Human Target, Congo Bill, 100 Bullets, and Cage. These projects featured worlds with diverse protagonists who, while having heroic elements, are deeply flawed. He sets the premise—that the government would never develop the Super Soldier Serum on the backs of White men—and determines who will execute it. Morales develops the story and creates the characters through his exploration of Black history and urban legends. Though Morales thought the idea of a Black Captain America, as Alonso put it to him, was depressing he saw it as an opportunity tell a story about good Black characters who make choices in the ethically murky fog of war.His idea for a Black scientist never saw the light of day but he gets to keep a Black marriage at the story’s core. Baker turns the stories into images. He takes on the job because he has worked with Morales in the past and is interested in telling the story of a positive Black hero. He tailors his style to Hip Hop consumers. Baker was cynical about the prospect of creating a Black Captain America. I don’t think he would have done the project if not for the involvement of Morales. Baker is ardently opposed to creating Black characters in a negative light for the simple reason that he doesn’t want to add to the existing archive of negative images. And while this may gel with Morales’s world of good people making bad choices in complicated times, Alonso’s emphasis on gritty realities, anti-heroes, and deeply flawed characters are simply not something that Baker has an interest in. Truth be told, the stories of both the Black and White Captain Americas are quintessentially American stories.What is most interesting about Truth is the way in which it scratches below the surface of the White Captain America’s origin to reveal the gritty realities and ethical complexities of a World War that is usually looked back on in such simplistic terms as good vs. evil. The truth is that the story of Captain America has always been about how far America is willing to go to win, what sacrifices are acceptable, Stanford W. Carpenter 61 creating the perfect man, creating the perfect warrior, creating the perfect symbol of its ideals. The dirty little secret, the ultimate irony, is that the answer to these questions undercut the very ideals that the idea of the White Captain America stands for.And the story of the Black Captain America, aptly titled Truth, puts the nightmarish underbelly of the America’s ideals in high relief. While this story could be looked at as a chapter in the never ending saga of Captain America, a cautionary WWII story, or an allegory of the African American experience, there could be no Truth without Congo Bill, Nirvana Can Wait, King David, or many other of Alonso, Morales, or Baker’s works. There would be no Black Captain America without the White Captain America created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon. Alonso, Morales, Baker, Kirby, and Simon are credited in accordance with the tasks they performed but they are not considered to be the “authors.” The kicker is that the role of author, and all of the proprietary rights that come with it, are reserved for Marvel Enterprises. Even after all of its referents, metaphors, allegories, negotiations, debates, and intentions are sorted out, the Truth comic book miniseries is brought to its readers by Marvel Enterprises, an imagined entity that pays dividends to people who may or may not ever flip through the pages of the comic books upon which their fortunes are based. But one truth remains—that it’s so much easier to discuss the Truth comic book miniseries as a chapter in the continuous story of a legendary figure as opposed to a commentary on the lack of Black role models, casualties of war, or the failure of America to live up to its ideals. In fact, that’s the magic of the medium of comics—taking uncomfortable truths and putting them into a familiar, less abrasive form. 62 Authorship and Creation of Black Captain America

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