It was Hannibal Tabu who recently noted that the three most senior figures at DC Comics right now are all people of colour. Expectations and attitudes are changing, and through their publication of super-heroic fiction, comics and comic book characters have been pushing through regarding the idea of representation.
Today DC Comics has launched a new digital-first comic book, called Represent! The first issue is free and available now, It's a Bird by Christian Cooper and Alitha E. Martinez. You may recognise Christian Cooper as the former Marvel Comics editor and Star Trek comics writer accosted in New York's Central Park while birdwatching, with threats that the person would call the police and tell them that an "African American man" was threatening her, with all that this implied. The event received national coverage and was a contributing factor to the rise of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
"This digital series is designed to showcase and introduce creators traditionally underrepresented in the mainstream comic book medium," said executive editor Marie Javins. "We'll highlight both new and familiar voices, beginning with 'It's a Bird' by writer Christian Cooper and artist Alitha E. Martinez, a semi-fictionalized account of Christian's very real evolution from a kid with a pair of binoculars to a man in an unexpected media spotlight after an altercation with a woman walking her dog in Central Park." It's A Bird, echoing the famous Superman line, tells the story of a young Black birdwatcher gifted with a pair of binoculars that allow him to learn the stories of Amadou Diallo, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.
Christian Cooper says that the new EIC Marie Javins and the departing VP, Global Publishing Initiatives & Digital Strategy Bobbie Chase "approached me about possibly doing a comic story that tapped into my experience. I thought, "I don't know, DC Comics? Superheroes? Not sure how that's going to work." We kicked around a couple of ideas. They said they had gotten the title, I'm not sure exactly from who, but somebody pretty high up in the DC food chain: "It's a Bird." It took me half a beat. "Oh…I get what you did there." Once I had the title, the story wrote itself."
"I hope young people read it in particular, and that they're inspired to keep the focus where it needs to be, which is on those we have lost and how we keep from losing more," said Cooper, while Martinez added, "I wish this story could have been that punctuation of, '…and we all lived happily ever after.' But it just keeps coming."
Cooper states "when I was sitting down to do this, I'm like, "This is the first comics story I've written in 20 years. I don't know what I'm doing. I can't resurrect that part of myself." Then I started writing it, and I'm like, "Not only can I do this, but I'm having a hell of a lot of fun! Finally! At last!"
"It was wonderful to return to comics format, and it felt right. It felt natural. As I said, there are no limits to what you can do in comics. I think that is a large part of what made me create this particular approach to the story, with so many different elements of my experience—from the binoculars themselves which are passed down, from generation to generation. In real life, the binoculars that I use were a birthday gift from my dad, who was very active in the Civil Rights movement, and was a Korean War vet. All of these real elements combine with these fantastical elements to create something that is more than the sum of its parts, I hope. That's something that comics do so magnificently well. It was wonderful to be back in comics, and I hope to do more. We'll see!"
DC Comics encourages readers to share this story with friends and family and to talk about how people can inspire change in their communities. They also state that many organizations—including Color of Change, Equal Justice Initiative, NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, National Center for Civil and Human Rights, National Urban League, and the Bail Project—are also working to advance social justice and civil rights in support of #BlackLivesMatter.