Pencils/Inks: Eric Battle
TM & © 2009, Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Pencils/Inks: Eric Battle
Comic books are as much mythology as they are fine art. Growing up, most children had to only walk into their neighborhood candy store and with a relatively small amount of money to find adventure in every beautiful illustration and dynamic storyline. Not all artwork nor literature has been as accessible. Just as magical as the accessibility of these wondrous pieces of art were how they made (and continue to make) their audiences feel. And with the creation of characters like The Black Panther, Storm, Luke Cage, The Falcon, Blade and War Machine many children and adults also found images that directly mirrored, represented and inspired them.
We need not have been working class and poor families growing up in New York City to relate to the escapades of Harlem's Luke Cage or The Falcon, but to those of us who were (and are) it is invaluable to see ourselves as heroes too. We aspired to rule kingdoms and soar through the skies like Black Panther and Storm because on paper we could. We even had a voracious beast slayer in Blade and a knight in shining armor in War Machine.
The artists who have helped to tell the stories of these characters have created truly amazing and often underrated art. Their technique, precision and dedication is astonishing. As you move throughout the exhibit, please note the diversity in the interpretation of each character from artist to artist and generation to generation. Each style is distinctive in nature, stroke and design.
It is our honor to bring this show to you so that you too may enjoy the diversity of these legendary characters via the amazing work of these talented artists. Our company name, Somos Arte, means "we are art", and we are not only a creative services studio that provides branding, campaigns, commercial photography and shows for our clients; but we also celebrate art in all its forms and invite you to celebrate with us. Welcome to our second show in this genre and it is our hope that you leave as enthused and awed as we have been in developing the show for you to enjoy.
In 2006 I had an amazing conversation with Joe Quesada and Dr. Marta Moreno Vega. Joe was in the middle of writing and illustrating his new graphic novel Daredevil: Father. He told us about his mother and his father and how reminiscing about the both of them lead him to this project. The conversation ended with a promise to collaborate on what would be Somos Arte's first comic book art show. Joe entrusted me with his entire collection and with the vision to design the show. It was my idea to make the gallery itself part of the show, so my partner Shirley and I brought in the very talented David Medina to paint murals based on Joe's artwork. Thanks to Jim McCann's support, Marvel approved all of our ideas but when Joe arrived on opening night, he was surprised because he had no idea of what to expect. It was then that he whispered to me that he had never had his own solo art show. What happened next was an outstanding run that garnered international press from Spain to Brazil and across the US.
After the show, everyone kept asking Shirley and I what was next? Well, how do you follow up Marvel's Editor in Chief's first solo art show? Then Axel Alonso asked, why don't we do a show on Black Panther? Three years pass and we finally found the inspiration to do our second comic book art show. The show would be a celebration of Marvel's African American heroes: Black Panther, Storm, Luke Cage, Blade, The Falcon and Jim Rhodes (Iron Man/War Machine). These are characters whose stories span five decades! From Black Panther's first appearance in 1966 in the pages of Fantastic Four #52 to Jim Rhodes first appearance as a hero on the cover of Iron Man #170 in 1983. These six characters have not only appeared on the pages of comic books over the past 40 years, but they have also been translated into toys, television, video games and cinema (Academy Award winning Actress Halle Berry as Storm).
Our theme was selected and now we needed the art. Our studio then assembled its heroes to make this show happen! I asked Joe and Axel to help and they put us in the able hands of Arune Singh and Jon Ennis. Joe offered an original cover of Black Panther. Axel put in a good word with Reggie Hudlin. Reggie joined our team and shared ideas and opened us up to the work of many other artists. David Medina was back as our muralist, Riggs Morales came on as well as the talented artists Eric Battle and José Gutierrez. Shirley and I examined many comic books to find the right images to really sell this show. I invited Gene Colan to our show and he asked to submit art! Gene Colan, 65 years in the business, created three original pieces just for the show. Once word got out about his contribution, others came in immediately after along with new friendships and amazing stories. We hosted an impromptu master class at our studio when Khoi Pham and Dennis Calero joined us for a visit with Gene and his loving wife Adriene. International work came in from Canada (Ken Lashley) to Argentina (Leonardo Manco). Then I learned about the artist Billy Graham (1935 - 1999). He inked, drew and was part of the creative team under Stan Lee that developed Luke Cage: Hero for Hire. At the time, he was the only African American to draw both Luke Cage and Black Panther. I found Sean Clarke and Nick Katradis and they trusted us with Billy Graham's original art from the 1970s for our show. Our show had its art. Artists donated original pieces. Artists and collectors alike contributed original art, so now I welcome you. Welcome to our second show and I hope you leave with your stories and inspiration as these characters and artists have all inspired us.
Black representation in popular culture is always risky. Will it be embarrassing? Will the character be relatable, or dare I hope, inspirational?
Marvel’s track record is unique in the entertainment business because it’s filled with iconic and inspirational black characters and that deserves to be celebrated.
It all started with a soldier in World War Two. It was a perfect parallel to real life. In the same way the armed services began to be integrated in the war paving the way for many breakthroughs in Civil Rights, the first “normal” black character first appeared in mainstream comics: Gabe Jones, a member of Nick Fury’s Howling Commandoes.
With his introduction, gone were the unrealistic depictions of black features, the stereotypical speech patterns. Gabe was a man, treated equally to any other member of the squad. Maybe he was a little bland, like Franklin in Charles Schultz’s PEANUTS, but certainly not embarrassing.
Spider Man’s managing editor, Robbie Robertson, was the next great creation, counterbalancing J Jonah Jameson’s bluster and paranoia with calm moral authority. Plus he was a classy guy who smoked a pipe.
But it was the next black character in the Marvel Universe who was the game changer. The Black Panther was the African king of the technologically advanced country of Wakanda. He single-handedly defeated the Fantastic Four in their first meeting.
Many people wonder if the superhero Black Panther was inspired by the political organization of the same name, yet both debuted the same year. How’s that for tapping into the cultural zeitgeist?
The Black Panther projected Sidney Poitier cool. He quickly became a Captain America analogue, but with an icy uber competence that demolished stereotypes. His scientific prowess enabled him to hang with brains like Reed Richards, and his bank account would crush Tony Stark’s wealth. He didn’t have “super” powers per se, but his speed, flexibility and power put him in the same class as Spider Man, Daredevil and Captain America.
Marvel has always seized on the pop culture trends of the moment. For example, in the 1960’s Nick Fury was transitioned from a WW2 hero to a Bond-like cold warrior as an agent of SHIELD. As the blaxploitation film movement of the 70s caught fire, Luke Cage, Hero For Hire was born. Lacking the Black Panther’s royal African heritage, Luke was a Harlem hood rat, a street thug who was framed by a jealous partner in crime and sent away to prison.
Luke volunteers for a prison experiment that goes bad when it’s sabotaged by a racist prison guard, making Luke’s skin hard enough that bullets bounce off it. He punches his way through the stone walls and makes his way back to the city, with a new name in a new business – Hero For Hire.
Most heroes didn’t accept payment for their services, but Luke charged everyone from The Fantastic Four to Dr. Doom. Cage’s quest for the C.R.E.A.M. didn’t diminish him in my eyes – it just made everyone else looked like a sucker in comparison.
The Falcon debuted as a partner – not sidekick – to Captain America. Heroes with flying powers usually don’t get a lot of traction in the comic book world (even the oldest, Hawkman, can’t maintain a monthly series) and for a long time the Falcon didn’t even have wings. The Panther hooked him up, and subsequent writers have tried to make his good guy social worker image more complex and rugged…but while well regarded, he still is one of the lesser-known black heroes.
Conversely, Storm is the most famous black superhero; she’s also one of the most famous female heroes as well, right behind Wonder Woman and Supergirl as an icon.
Storm was created in the 70’s as part of the re-launch of the X Men comic, which had been cancelled a few years before. Her back-story is complicated: the daughter of a Kenyan princess and Black American journalist, orphaned at a young age. After becoming a Dickensian street urchin picking pockets, she discovered her powers and wandered into the wilderness, becoming a weather goddess worshipped by the natives. She was then discovered by Professor X, founder of the X Men. He taught her that her ability to control the weather was a result of being a mutant, and that she should join his mutant team to master her abilities and help mankind.
The new, international multi-ethnic team of X Men was an immediate hit and Storm was one of the most popular characters.
Most recently in an issue I wrote, I had the Black Panther marry Storm, creating a power couple in every sense of the phrase.
Blade is another character out of the 70’s, this time emerging from the revival of horror comics that had been pretty much banned since the 1950’s. At the time, TOMB OF DRACULA was a very popular series, and from that book rose Blade, a “daywalker” vampire who hunts his own kind with wooden knives and other clever weapons.
Blade was the first Marvel super hero to be made into a successful film franchise. His inability to find similar success in the comics is an ongoing frustration for his fans.
Iron Man’s most famous storyline was when Tony Stark had to face his greatest challenge – his own alcoholism. When he was unable to be a superhero, he turned the franchise over to his best friend Jim Rhodes, who sported a tricked out version of the armor with a Raiders color scheme and a shoulder-mounted Gatling gun as a fashion statement.
Collectively, this group represents Kings, Queens, mutants, vampires, social workers, soldiers and ex-cons. None of them have the last name of Johnson, Jackson or Washington. I thought they were cool when I was a kid, and I think they are cool for my kids. Given that this assemblage is only the most famous of the large number of heroes of color that Marvel has created, we all owe them a debt of gratitude to expressing our own collective dreams of being bigger, stronger, more heroic and able to pull off very tight outerwear in almost any social setting.www.hudlinentertainment.com