The great "atlas" of African-American comics for all audiences
Created by three veterans in the field, The Access Guide is the most comprehensive compendium on authors, fairs, publishers, and BIPOC agents to date.
As society as a whole takes a step toward greater inclusivity, Culture is shedding its hermeticism and gradually reaching out to other readers to show them a possible way into the often "knotty" world of comics and graphic novels.
Stories starring African-American characters and created by black illustrators and writers have long been at the top of bookstores, with superheroes such as Black Panther or Captain America by screenwriter, journalist, and author Ta-Nehisi Coates. Or the best-selling juvenile novels New Kid and Class Act by Jerry Craft.
Then there was Afrofuturist fantasy and science fiction with an anti-racist theme, with geniuses such as Kwanza Osajyefo's Black or Omni.
Until now, however, we've struggled to place ourselves within a field in which we've only seen the tip of the iceberg. But this week, The Access Guide to the Black Comic Book Community 2020-21, the largest atlas of BIPOC creators, fairs, publishers, and comic stores, hits bookstores.
The guide was the idea of one of the comics world's veterans, Dimitrios Fragiskatos, owner of Brooklyn's Anyone Comics, who thought of the potential of opening the door to readers from diverse backgrounds and slowly introducing them to a mind-boggling map of which we were only seeing the neon lights of major titles and publishers.
Fragiskatos recruited historic comics executive and Heavy Metal publisher Joseph Illidge to assist him in the venture and illustrator and designer George Carmona III.
The Access Guide is somewhat unusual in comics because it covers not only the big names and creators but also independent and crowdfunded titles that are rarely found on bookstore shelves. It also picks up the testimony of publishers who reflect on their efforts to include increasingly diverse audiences and BIPOC voices in their creative processes.
It also maps in the broadest sense the network of minority-owned comic book stores across the United States and the trade shows, conventions, and conferences focused on Blerd (Black Nerd) culture and BIPOC productions.
According to Fragiskatos, who began to work on the guide in October 2020, the veteran trio's idea is that the book will be published annually with new material. At the same time, Illidge stressed to Forbes that the project intends to bridge diversity and bring new perspectives:
"We live in a polarized society right now," the Heavy Metal editor said. "That made the whole world pivot."
Josep Illdge pointed out that they were inspired by the "Green Book," the safe travel book that in the '40s and '50s, the Jim Crow era served to indicate to African Americans the restaurants and motels where they could stay, as well as to avoid the so-called "sundown towns" where their lives were at risk.
In that way, The Access Guide's goal is to help readers navigate toxic and dangerous spaces and find truly inspiring material.
"We want to reframe negativity so that more people enjoy great stories and get involved in the community," he said.
For illustrator George Carmona one of the great things about this guide is that it turns the reader into an "explorer."
"I want [subsequent editions] to move from that North Star starting point to using a compass and eventually GPS," he noted.
Its authors point out that beyond trying to indoctrinate or make judgments about inclusivity, The Access Guide is intended to be a handbook with up-to-date information for the reader to draw his or her own conclusions. At the same time, it shows how equity through its grassroots, in small businesses led by BIPOC minorities, many of which have stayed afloat in the COVID's toughest times thanks to their customers and fans.
"It helped that a lot of people were at home with nothing else to do but read comics," Fragiskatos said. "But seriously, customer relations did more for us than any loan."
All proceeds from the sale of The Access Guide have gone to the Dwayne McDuffie Fund.