Friday, October 11, 2019

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Bryan Hill, black men, and diversity in comics

When it comes to black men and comics, I've been reading quite a bit of work by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Bryan Hill. I read others, and clearly, I read more than just works by black men. Still those two -- Coates and Hill -- do take up some space in what I cover and discuss with folks.

You hear quite a bit of talk about diversity in comics these days, and the overlapping and divergent careers of Coates and Hill create considerable opportunities for what differences among black men in the field means. 

I've been reading Coates's work on Black Panther and Captain America. Of course, I began reading him more than a decade ago when I followed his work as a journalist. He was recruited into comics based largely on the acclaim he won for "The Case for Reparations" (2014) and Between the World and Me (2015).

Based on his overall reputation as a major author and public figure, Coates is now one of the more well-known and actively reviewed African American comic book writers. It helps that he is writing such popular characters with T'Challa and Steve Rogers.

Hill, by contrast, is not as widely known as Coates outside of comics, but he's far more prolific across multiple titles. To name just a few works in recent years, Hill wrote American Carnage, Killmonger, Postal, The Wild Storm: Michael Cray, and Detective Comics. Right now, he's writing Postal Deliverance and Batman and the Outsiders. He's also one of the writers for the television show Titans. So with Hill, you get a much broader range of output, at least in the realm of comics.

So far, Coates works primarily in the superhero sector, mostly concentrating on a few key figures. Hill does heroes, but with Batman and the Outsiders, he's really presenting characters and their team dynamics. He also does non-superhero work like with Postal Deliverance, where he's narrating a multi-layered tale about groups of people and crime, among other topics.

I think about Coates and Hill in the larger context of comic books, but I also spend time thinking about them as part of an artistically productive generation of black men writers and visual artists, which includes Colson Whitehead, Jay-Z, Aaron McGruder, Paul Beatty, Black Thought, Kehinde Wiley, and so forth.

There are a steady stream of reviews of the monthly comics by Coates and Hill, but we could definitely stand to see more extensive examinations of what they're doing. It would be helpful too seeing how their works are in conversation various others across the field and beyond.

 A notebook on comic books

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