“It’s important to find your crew, people who you can talk to, relate with and explore without having to explain yourself.”
The term “blerd” or Black nerd seems fairly common these days, but just a few years ago it seemed novel enough for the New York Times to write about. The 2021 article cites creators like Jordan Peele, Ava DuVernay, and Ryan Coogler as leading a cultural sea change. But while it may seem like a shift to some, for many blerds, Cagen Luse included, there’s a feeling that it’s nothing new—that they’ve always been there. One thing that has changed, however, is that spaces for nerds of color to meet, exchange ideas, and boost their own stories have finally started to open up.
In Boston, Luse and fellow artist Barrington Edwards founded the Boston Comics in Color (BCIC) festival to consolidate a community around the city’s nerds of color. While the event was derailed for a short time due to COVID, Luse and Edwards pressed on and pulled off an outdoor open-air marketplace in 2021, which attracted a few hundred fans. Last year, BCIC held an in-person con that attracted more than 800 people, and this year, Luse said they’re hoping to see even more at the free event at the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury on April 29.
The 2023 BCIC festival headliners include artists Alitha Martinez (Iron Man, Batgirl), Larry Stroman (X-Men, Ghost Rider, The Punisher), David Crownson (Harriet Tubman, Demon Slayer), Joel Christian Gill (Strange Fruit, Tales of the Talented Tenth), Jarett Melendez (Chef’s Kiss, The Comics Kitchen), and tattoo artist Tina Lugo. In addition, the event will host workshops, an artists alley, short films, dance performances, and a new feature Luse is particularly excited about, a cosplay contest.
“I go to cons and it can be isolating only seeing scattered people of color until you find your group,” Luse said. “In Boston, there was no glue and that’s what we’re trying to fix with BCIC. It’s important to find your crew, people who you can talk to, relate with and explore without having to explain yourself.”
BCIC started after Luse and Edwards met to talk comics at the Grove Hall Library in Boston. Initially just an excuse to meet and discuss new books and old favorites, their talks slowly attracted other enthusiasts, and eventually grew to include workshops and creator panels. The tradition has continued, and this year’s panels at the festival include: Writing the Revolution: Activism and Identity in Comics Writing; Gaming While Black, Wakanada Forever: The impact of “Black Panther” on comics and pop culture; and Do It Yourself Publishing, among others.
Luce was admittedly a shy kid and spent much of his childhood sketching and reading comics like Calvin & Hobbes and The Boondocks in the newspapers around his home in Maine. As he graduated to titles like X-Men and G.I. Joe, he kept drawing, eventually attending the Atlanta College of Art in 1994 (now Savannah College of Art and Design) and later graduating from UMass Boston. It wasn’t until 2015, though, that he began working as an artist, developing and selling his own LunchTime ComiX and other art through his shop 950Design.
In addition to the growth of the BCIC, Luse has seen the benefit closer to home as his nine-year-old son Coleman has followed in his father’s footsteps and created his own series of books. His comic, Xman and the Big Adventure, is one of four books the young artist has completed and sold out of its first printing.
“Comics have been very therapeutic for me and I’ve been lucky to be able to find the joy in comics working with my son,” Luse said. “We want that for everyone that comes to Color in Comics, so we can boost and encourage those stories that aren’t alway heard or shared.”