The comic’s covers are also notable for their inclusive credits. Black, whose interior pages are drawn by Jamal Igle, lists those responsible for the inking (Robin Riggs), the gray tones (Derwin Roberson), the lettering (Dave Sharpe) and the editing (Sarah Litt) — contributions not generally included on comic book covers.
Amid the usual fisticuffs of superhero comics, Black makes room for commentary about some neighborhood police officers — “They patrol the places, but don’t know the faces,” says an officer at the scene of the opening incident — and presents characters with a stake in each part of the conflict: Should the powers remain hidden? What to do with people secretly imprisoned by the government? Is a kill-or-be-killed mentality acceptable? If they go public, should their powers be used for profit, self-protection or altruism?
When news about black people having superpowers breaks (spoilers ahead!) — thanks to video taken and transmitted by a cellphone — incidents of racial attacks in the country explode and Kareem decides to become a protector. “The day I got shot changed my life,” he thinks. “Not because I got up, but because of all the people who can’t.”
Critical response to the series has been laudatory: “Black is admirable not only for its contribution to the visibility of the contemporary black experience within the realm of graphic storytelling, but also for providing a fictional form of catharsis from a very real and present fear that pervades the black experience in our present day,” read a review on Paste magazine.
Black “doesn’t represent all blackness, that is impossible,” said Mr. Osajyefo. But the goal was “to reflect what black people look like and where they come from.” The characters emerge from all walks of life and the dialogue is peppered with slang.
The team also set out to draw everyone distinctly. There are no “cookie-cutter faces,” Mr. Smith said. The comic is printed in black and white, which meant that the artists could not rely on shifts in color as a stand-in for diversity.
Growing up on DC and Marvel comics, Mr. Smith noted, meant learning how to draw primarily white characters. “You kind of forget how to draw a face you see everyday in the mirror or your neighborhood,” he said. “Jamal Igle and I drew this book about black people looking like black people.”
The creative team is working on two follow-up series that will complete the Black trilogy, and Mr. Smith said reader reaction helped propel the project. “Going to the conventions and seeing and hearing the enthusiasm,” he said, was a point of pride. “It’s like they’ve seen an old friend for the first time in years.”