Nick Kazden writes:
At the end of the first official day of San Diego Comic-Con, Black Mask assembled a group of some of their hit writers and artists to talk with fans about the future of the publisher.
"Everyone in Black Mask works in different genres, but comics are what brings us together," said Matteo Pizzolo, moderator of the event and co-founder of Black Mask. As if leading the company doesn't keep him busy enough, Pizzolo is also the author of Black Mask books like Calexit and God Killer.
Matteo asked everyone on the panel why they had such a deep love of comics, and all of their answers varied. For the most part, everyone on the panel had been reading them since childhood.
Vita Ayala, author of Our Work Fills The Pews, credits comics with improving her reading abilities:
"I couldn't read for a long time, like, longer than most. … There's a real connection with the readers because they are filling in all the blanks between the panels, and I think that is very unique."
Jamal Igle, who is best known for doing pencils on the Supergirl run that now influences the CW show, described comics as the most rewarding medium for him:
"I've done a lot of things. I've worked in television, advertising, but I've always found comics to be the most fulfilling, challenging medium I've ever been involved in."
Fabian Rangel Jr., who wrote Space Riders and is currently writing Space Riders: Galaxy of Brutality, said he "really likes opening up a book and just being blown away by art and trying to connect the dots."
That makes sense for anyone who's taken a look at Space Riders. Rangel said he was heavily inspired by Jack Kirby and that his partner on the book, Alexis Ziritt, adds so much to the book with her out-of-this-world artistic style.
Kwanza Osajyefo, the writer of Black, thinks comics — and his book in particular — fills a storytelling void.
"There's a real absence of African-American or black characters in comics in the context of being African-Americans," Osajyefo said, explaining that he thinks those characters are just shown "existing" instead of actively participating.
Conversation soon turned to the benefits of working at a smaller publisher like Black Mask compared to the more corporate process of working for the big two. Khard Randolph, the series' cover artist, described Osajyefo as someone who pushes the team to go further with every issue and added:
"Working on Black for me has been liberating because I'm so used to working in corporate, mainstream comics where you're not allowed to do a lot of stuff. Working on Black has almost been the complete opposite."
Magdalene Visaggio, who wrote the Eisner-nominated Kim & Kim and Quantum Teens are Go! for Black Mask, said she doesn't receive anything comparable to the level of pushback she has to deal with at the Big 2. Visaggio, who said representing trans characters in an honest light is an important motivator for her, briefly mentioned a one-shot she has in the works at the one of the Big 2 publishers. In it, she created a character who was both trans and had superpowers. Whereas at Black Mask, she says she could get away with that, editors approached her asking to make the character one or the other to avoid appearing like the publisher was reaching too far.
Talk once again returned to Black due to the creators' fears there would be negative feedback from retailers and consumers about the book's covers and message.
Randolph said he was expecting a lot of negative feedback for the covers — particularly issue two, where he depicted a lynching on the front cover — but acknowledges that fans understand the book is trying to get a message out there and not just shock the audience.
"That was heavy. It took a lot out of me emotionally to draw it," Randolph explained. But when he showed his mom, who acknowledged that it was a "heavy" cover, he got the classic mom compliment that it was "drawn well" and decided to move forward with it.
While Black Mask may have a reputation for edgy storytelling, Pizzalo says that is in no way a hallmark of the company. In fact, he says some people come to them thinking they are only looking for edgy stories:
"If something isn't approved, they're like 'I need to make it edgier,' but edgier does not equal better. […] The one's that work are when the creator doesn't know they're being edgy, they're just being authentic."
Igle, who got in trouble in the past for changing Supergirl's short (and I mean short) skirt to a skort, said the most important thing is to tell stories you care about:
"You got to tell the very best story that you want to read. So you got to tell the story you want to tell, and if other people like it, cool."