Comics in Color exposes young and old heads alike to representative art and creative outlets
Around the DigBoston newsroom, we know Cagen Luse as an occasional contributor and the local artist behind LunchTime ComiX, his “story of a life, love, and humor of a racially ambiguous family.” Like many comic heroes, though, he also has an alter ego of sorts, albeit one in which illustration remains front and center.
Starting earlier this year, Luse, a graphic designer by day, began teaming with high school art instructor Barrington Edwards for Comics in Color. The duo’s events are described as safe spaces “where you can come and just nerd out about illustrated stories by and about people of color,” and where anyone from amateurs and fans to experts are welcome to chat, listen to speakers and, if they’re so inclined, put their own pencils to paper.
With the seventh installment of Comics in Color coming up on Saturday, Sept 15, at the Grove Hall branch of the Boston Public Library, I met up with Luse and Edwards over beers at Suya Joint in Dudley Square to find out how they first joined forces.
What’s the Comics in Color origin story?
CL: We know each other through art and through Roxbury Open Studios. We’re both working artists in the area and run in mutual circles. … We started talking about comics, and how much we love comics, and [Edwards] may be the first person I really connected with on comics in my adult life. Of course I go into comic stores and just shoot the shit with people, but other than that the subject just never really comes up. This was a connection. Basically we’re dudes of color, we love comics, and we live in Roxbury.
Were there any standout inspirations?
CL: We heard about the [Schomburg Center’s annual Black Comic Book Festival] in Harlem. [Edwards] said, We gotta go, so we hopped on a Greyhound bus and went down there. It was a mind-blowing experience.
BE: It was panels, workshops, films, discussions, vending. It was a con-plus, plus, plus.
CL: It was a real comic con. A lot of cons have become about marketing, not the books anymore. This was about the books.
What was the idea you had after coming back from that?
CL: We wanted to create a network of people of color who love comics in Boston. We saw this in New York—this is a thing, it can happen—but there was nothing even close to that in Boston. We said, We can make this happen through our networks. Let’s do it.
BE: I’m a teacher, mostly design and illustration. I get a lot of kids with that energy who say they’re into comics, and I thought it should be more of an institution.
CL: From that point we started talking about it, and it took a couple of years of running through ideas until we were finally like, Let’s just set a date, put the word out there, and do it. Let’s see who shows up.
When was that?
CL: February of this year. Black Panther was coming out, there was a lot of hoopla about comics with people of color in them, and we thought it was the time. … People who weren’t paying attention to comics were all of a sudden starting to pay attention to them.
Has the popularity of Black Panther been a purely positive thing? How has it impacted this whole effort?
CL: I think it’s a good step in the right direction. It’s a black comic book character created by white Jewish writers, which is what it is for the time, but it’s kind of a half-step.
BE: Besides our love of comics, we have been not only making comics, but also trying to sell comics. For myself, I’ve really been trying to find an audience. I wanted to see where that audience was, and what we could do to pull that audience of comic book lovers together. I could feel they were out there, so we decided to make the group.
How did the first one go, and how did you decide where to take it from there?
CL: It’s been an organic progression. We had gone to these conventions and had black comics from all over the country, and we put the call out. … It started with us laying our collection on the table and saying, Let’s talk about black comics. People came, it was amazing, and we had a great discussion. Then, for the second one, we did a comics-making activity.
What are some of the gems from your collection that you have brought out to these events?
CL: Prince of Cats by Ron Wimberly, which I just found out got optioned for a movie with Lakeith Stanfield. I always talk about that one because the artwork is amazing, the story is amazing, the use of color is on point. I always bring the Encyclopedia of Black Comics by Sheena Howard. I bring Black Panthers, I bring Ultimate Spider-Man by Miles Morales.
Who has been coming out to the meetups?
BE: It helps that our partner is the Grove Hall [branch of the Boston Public Library]. We get people coming with their kids, and grandparents coming with their kids and participating too. It’s a really broad spectrum, from people our age to high school kids and parents. Over the course of the sessions, that energy has been really interesting to watch, seeing casual observers become more interested in the language of comics.
Do people say things like, “Where have you been all my life?”
BE: What happens is that a lot of the conversations revolve around identity and how important it is for people to see themselves reflected in comics. And also to see themselves reflected in their own imaginations. Little kids start to have people of color in their comics and designs about their own life. There are also conversations about the industry, and why there is exclusion and the economics of who owns what. As an art teacher I get that all the time, questions about whether it’s viable for young people to be artists. And then they see that comics are everywhere, and they realize they can have a career. And we can point to people who just got [their comics] optioned for Netflix.
BE: People come and often have their eyes opened in a pretty profound way. But we never know what little kid, years from now, will say it was transformative.
CL: There are definitely people who want to connect on projects. I don’t know if it’s happened yet, or where the conversations go from there, but it’s being said.
BE: We get these “ah-ha” moments. We leave the last half-hour for people to chat and to think about if they are seeing comics in a new way that they hadn’t.
CL: There’s a lot more to come. We’re growing and building as we go. Ultimately, we’d like to do an expo. We’ve talked about doing anthologies and getting artists to do a book together. Just continuing Comics in Color as it is fills a void. We’ve expanded it with speakers and a guided discussion, and even added another hour, and that’s not enough time. Look outside of the library even a half-hour after the event is done, and there are still people out there talking about comics.
COMICS IN COLOR AT GROVE HALL BPL. SAT 9.15. FACEBOOK.COM/COMICSINCOLOR
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.