“Hip Hop Started Out in the Art” – Tom Brevoort, Post-Racial Hip Hop & Comics

N.b.: If you only have time to read one thing about Marvel editor Tom Brevoort’s latest comments, then skip this post and go check out comic artist David Brothers’ response.  It is thoughtful, beautifully written, and what I’ve written here is just an echo of what he expresses so eloquently.

kamala

The title of today’s post is a play on Lauryn Hill’s “Superstar” which appears on the album homaged above.

amazing-74109Recently, Marvel announced that as part of its October soft reboot of its entire line (Marvel is king of the soft reboot) the “All-New All-Different” introductory issues would include hip hop-themed variant covers. These covers would recreate “classic” hip hop album covers using superhero characters. Click here for a cool slide effect between the original art and the comic covers.

I wasn’t sure what to feel about this. I love hip hop. I love comics. I have written quite a bit about their connections. I included both in my dissertation project examining collection and racial/gender identity in contemporary transnational American literature. It makes sense that I’d find at least some of these appealing depending on the artist, the definition of “classic” (i.e. the album choices), and just the cleverness of the juxtaposition—that is, if the comic title works in play with the original album title or name of artist.

From the examples they showed the covers are great. The Spider-Man/Tribe Called Quest one looks so good, as does the De La Soul one with Extraordinary X-Men—though that could be because I love those records. But nah…because even though I take issue with Marvel’s definition of “classic” when it comes to Get Rich or Die Trying or Tyler the Creator’s Wolf, the covers still look fly. The place where the collector part of me and the scholar part of me overlap wants me to get them all as examples the cross-pollination I have explored made manifest.

But then I come across good ole Tom “99% white” Brevoort’s tumblr and his answer to this question:

Brevoort-Hiphop

Just to be clear: Tom Brevoort does not see the connection between black artists/writers and hip hop. It’s his use of “really” that gets me. It strikes me as so dismissive.

I’ve written about the commodification of hip hop before and the strange relationship the culture has with capital. I understand that having your album cover be re-created to be part of an issue of Amazing Spider-Man is “getting up” in a big way. However, as Marvel’s Senior Vice President of Publishing and long-time editor cannot understand the connection between giving more black writers and artists opportunities to create for Marvel and the influence on music represented by covers of albums all of which are by black musicians, I must be skeptical of the spirit in which these variants have been made. I mean, I am not naïve. I know that these variants are a way to inflate sales of particular issues since there are people who will buy multiple copies of their favorite titles and sometimes every variant of the same theme regardless of the actual comic book content, but to not be cognizant of the connection between Black arts and hip hop makes this whole thing come off as a more sophisticated version of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble rapping and breaking.

 

I am gonna break it down for Tom Brevoort, so it is clear, giving him the benefit of the doubt, and assuming he really doesn’t see the connection and is not just obfuscating. The connection between the hip hop album variant covers and hiring more black artists and writers (and creating a less hostile work environment) is that instead of simply exploiting the work of Black artists for your profit, you’d be demonstrating the respect your company claims to have for those artists and the way they changed music by giving creators of color the opportunity to do the same for comic books.

Extraordinary-X-Men-Hip-Hop-Variant-66033Despite what Tom Hanks’ wack son Chet Haze may think and say (and yes Tom Brevoort, that’s how stupid you sound when you say things like this), there is a history to hip hop, and that history emerges from the social and economic conditions of black and brown people in New York City (particularly the Bronx) in the 1970s. Brevoort’s response to the question wants to see hip hop as a post-racial genre and not a historically-situated cultural practice and its production. It is not that white people can’t be part of hip hop. It is that fifth pillar of hip hop culture is knowledge, and this kind of response is demonstrating not the least bit of wisdom.

Actually, Tom Brevoort has been a blessing. Since Marvel Comics doesn’t seem to bother with professional public relations and its employees interact so freely with the fans, we get to see a bit into the mentality and attitude of the people who corral Marvel’s writers and artists and ultimately make the choices about our favorite characters. I’d rather have Brevoort’s frank ignorance than the slick PR response that uses the proper buzzword rhetoric, but is empty of any actual meaning. Arturo Garcia said it most succinctly on Twitter yesterday:

I love a lot of the stuff that Marvel has been doing lately. Ms. Marvel and the new Spider-Woman series are great examples (though, I think Sam Wilson as Captain America has been a waste of an incredible opportunity), but we need more than diversity of representation. We can’t forget that we need diverse writers and artists and editors! (Are there any numbers on editors of color in comics?) The kind of obtuseness Brevoort demonstrates on the regular is not the way such diversity is achieved, since he can’t seem to even muster the respect for the concept to address the question.

Renegades_of_Funk_Afrika

Hip Hop and comic books go way back., even further back than this album cover (Afrika Bambaataa & Soul Sonic Force’s Renegades of Funk, 1983)

While I was writing this Brevoort started backtracking. I guess he agrees with me that his response was dismissive, characterizing it as “curt.” He says he gave “the wrong impression,” but I think he spoke transparently enough. Despite his claim that “[A]s [the new titles] continue to roll out, I believe that you’ll see the evidence of our commitment to creator representation among the creative teams,” until I see that evidence and a consistent prioritization of it, I am going to stick with Maya Angelou’s advice when it comes to this dude and people like him, “When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.”

Lastly, over at Black Nerd Problems, Omar Holmon points out that fans have been doing rap album cover/superhero mash-ups for quite a while now and presents evidence for the possibility that Marvel cribbed some of these covers. Shawn P. has a take on it too on his tumblr. I am not so sure that such a mash-up is so unlikely a thing to conceive given the long relationship between comics and hip hop, but as Holmon asks at the end, if Marvel had done their research why not hire some of these artists to do a cover a two or give them a shout out? The simple answer is: Diversity is not a priority for Marvel.

14 thoughts on ““Hip Hop Started Out in the Art” – Tom Brevoort, Post-Racial Hip Hop & Comics

  1. In regard to Brevoort’s follow-up “explanation”:

    “Fair cop” is code for “I don’t actually see the value and merit in what you asked, but because I fucked up so publicly, I’m going to be defensive and but-I-have-black-friends my way out of culpability and make this about your perception and not about my actions.”

    Miss me with the bullshit, Mr. Brevoort. You’re only fooling white supremacists with your response.

    • Yes. He didn’t say. “I was wrong” or “I didn’t think it through.” He said, “I gave the wrong impression.” Impressions and actual attitudes are not the same thing, but he’s concerned with the former only it seems.

    • Hi Dilson. Thanks for commenting. When you start looking at graffiti and breaking crew, esp. from back in the day the connection between comics and hip hop culture becomes even more apparent,

      You should check out Ed Piskor’s Esiner Award-winning series Hip Hop Family Tree

  2. Brevoort’s initial response elicits head-shaking, but those are the kind of blinders people don’t even realize they have on. I’m not reading many new books now, just an occasional one here and there, but I’d be curious to know how many people of color and women are actually working as writers and artists in the industry, especially for the big 2. I’m sure it’s better than during my prime reading years but still far less than you’d expect compared to other industries.

    • Unfortunately Karen you’d be wrong that things are any better in terms of writers/artist of color at the Big 2. There is Philipe Smith who was writing the now defunct All-New Ghost Rider (who is Afro-Latino), but there hasn’t been any full-time African-American writer since 2007, and even then I think there were maybe 3. There are a couple of artists as well, but not more than a handful and none on the regular.

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