Harlem NYC – 7th Annual Black Comic Book Festival @ The Schomburg Center
I had no idea what I was walking into. I’ve been meaning to go the Schomburg Center in Harlem, NYC for years to attend the annual Black Comic Book Festival, but life, bills and winter always prevented me. Here it is, now in its seventh year and with lucky # seven, I was able to attend this ‘free’ event with no idea of what it had in store.
In 30 minutes, a decamp ride and the number 3 train led me to me to the mecca of black culture; Harlem, NYC. As soon as I departed the train, went through the exit and hurriedly walked up the steps; there it was…
Harlem’s Historic Schomburg Center…the Center for Research in Black Culture…. I didn’t know what to do!!! I marveled at its structure and looked at the visible signage reading, “Black Comic Book Festival”. While gazing this structure, a feeling overtook me, and it was indescribable. I was looking at something more than just a comic book convention; this was a homecoming in which I would learn something new and historic; I could feel it. This place provided not only comics, it provided a large amount of knowledge deep rooted in black culture of the past, present and future; up to and including literary greats over the years.
This convention is very fitting that it should take place here, in Harlem, NYC and during the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.
Who is Schomburg?
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, is named after Auturo Alfonso Schomburg, an Afro-Latino born in Puerto Rico. During his formal education, his life’s purpose was discovered when one of his teachers said that, “Black People had no history, heroes and accomplishments”. That was the fuel that started his ambitious efforts to research, collect, catalog and identify the accomplishments of African, African-American, African-Latino individuals in Africa and in the Diaspora.
Here in Harlem, NYC, his collection of African literature, art and other noteworthy manuscripts in the form of rare books and slave narratives are unparalleled as ‘Black History’ has named him one of the prominent intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance and Afro-Latino History.
The Journey Begins
Armed with a curious mind and a limited amount of time (because of the alleged ‘snowstorm pending’) I set out to see the center with an excitement of looking at Black comics followed by hopefully glimpsing the past of my African-American roots. Below are some areas where I spent a considerable about of time.
My first stop landed me at the booth of the famed Marcus Williams (instagram: @marcusthevisual), the illustrator, writer and comic book officiate of his well received comic book, Tuskegee Heirs. We’ve written about him before in regards to this comic book, but there was a poster that sparked my interest. The Super Natural Woman, a book by Marcus Williams. Was this his new groundbreaking comic? Curious, I asked about this brand new character and he stated, “its going to be released February, 2019”. For those who are not followers of Marcus Williams; The Super Natural Woman is the story of a super powered African-American woman accompanied by a young quirky superhero consultant, who live in Garrison City. Originally a project on Kickstarter, 280 backers donated over $10,000 for this project. I even bought a poster in response to this. Marcus Williams has definitely brought light into the world of Black comics and I can’t wait for this comic to launch.
My decent into the center’s basement area led me to a room that had 3 prominent illustrators; comic book writers and creative who believed in their craft so much, they acted almost like their characters in first impressions.
The Past: Harriet Tubman Demon Slayer
What if one of your favorite almost ‘super heroes’ from African-American history was responsible for both liberating slaves to freedom and killing massive demons in the process? Comic book writer and creator, David Crownson took that question and created a cult following with his comic book, Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer.
Wait?! What?! Yes, that is correct, Harriet Tubman, certified ‘O.G.’ of the underground railroad is kicking ass and taking names as she destroys demonic entities. Aside from journeying slaves to the promise land of freedom, she’s also protecting them from the devil’s minions. Though I was early, arriving at the center, I was too late going to Crownson’s booth to get issue #1. I was ecstatic to see some remaining issues of number #1, but sad to see that the last few issues present were prepaid. All I could purchase was issue #2 and I wasn’t disappointed as I saw the black female version of Castlevania destroy all demons!!!
The Present: Bounce: Round of Shots I & II
I’ve been to the club many times and on occasion I’ve spoken with the local bouncers to get a perspective on their lives and how they occasionally view the patrons at their local establishments, clubs and entertainment complexes they secure. Former bouncer, Chuck Collins personified his experiences in graphic novel form in the incredibly entertaining Bounce: Round of Shots I & II. At Anime NYC in November, 2018, he expressed to Region 99 that he would be launching his graphic novel soon. We weren’t late for that one as we bought Shots I and II and took a photo of the creator. As I read book I, some of his parables as a bouncer are true to form as he says some hilarious ‘shyt’ in the short: “NO TIP/MAKE IT STRONG”. I won’t reveal the line here, but I’ll say this… Respect the Bartender, they’re workers too. Buy the Comics!!!
The Future: PB Soldier
The future is now as Nat Cummings, an operative assassin and computer hacker, develops morals as he tries to rise above it all and rethinks his decisions as a slayer in the futuristic ‘E’ organization. Almost a dark glimpse into the present day society, Phocused Black Star (PBS) Media has created a rich graphic novel with an African Focus and truly defines what it is to have morals at a very difficult time in society. Created by PBS’ own Naseed Gifted, the comic is now in its third issue and is generating a massive following.
MLK Jr. Exhibit
Slightly tired from walking through the crowds, I decided to tour the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLKJ) exhibit and it was phenomenal. We are all familiar with Dr. King as he fought for civil rights for African-Americans from 1954 until his death. However, one aspect of Dr. King that I didn’t know was his travels to India. Mahatma Gandhi had since passed but Dr. King had great respect for this man and his ideals (the foundations of the non-violent protests in Alabama started with him), stating, as he visited the country, “To other countries I may go as a tourist, but to India I come as a pilgrim”. Pilgrim, by definition represents, a person who journeys to a sacred place for religious reasons. For King, his journey to India was for the sharing of knowledge and enlightenment as he discussed his views on nonviolent protests with Indian officials and compared his meeting with them as meeting past presidents of the United States.
Although this was a Black Comic Book Festival at the Schomburg Center, to me it was something more. To rephrase Dr. King’s quote to a Comic Con perspective, “To other ‘cons’ I may go as a tourist, but to the Schomburg’s Black Comic Book Festival, I went as a pilgrim”. I had a chance to partake in the black experience in the world of comic book conventions and had a chance to reconnect with my “essence” so to speak by being in an environment that was filled with the sprit of a man and his collection of the past, present, and future works of African/African-American/Afro-Latino from the Diaspora and the mainland, Africa.
Overall, the Schomburg Center once again knocked it out of the park as they held their 7th annual con here, however one major issue they will need to rectify is the spacing. Because of its advertisement as a free con, massive crowds came to participate in this event. Additionally, because the Schomburg’s space is designed for small groups, this con is going to conflict with people and their movements and possibly fire codes as its attendance is growing rapidly and becoming a favorite among con fans. All in all, additional space is needed, fast. There were a few occasions that I thought I elbowed someone in the face or knocked down a child and I had a hard time getting to the bathroom. As I conclude this review, I was very much impressed with this con and I can’t wait to attend next year. Hopefully they’ll have it at another location with more vendors and artists.
They certainly made a fan out of me as I discovered a new place and learned some history about my culture.