For Black Boys and Girls, Big and Small: Links for Dolls and Comic Books

As seen earlier, I had a troubled, fleeting fancy for AKA Barbie. If you’d rather bear witness to a true, wholesome love of Barbie, then the blog Don’t Just Play Barbie, Be Barbie! is your ticket. There are several Barbie sites on the web, but Be Barbie gives lots of love to dolls of the diaspora.

Repainted Black Barbie Dolls
Repainted Black Barbies from Tabloach Productions

One of Be Barbie’s posts features work from doll repainter Loanne Hizo Ostlie of Tabloach Productions. Ostlie does dolls of all races, but her African American dolls are pure Black and Beautiful. They’re definitely worth a look if you want to feed your doll fetish.

If you do have a budding interest in black dolls, and you’re in or around Philly, you might want to check out The Philadelphia Doll Museum, which has over 300 black dolls in its collection. The Museum describes itself as “the only known museum in the nation that emphasizes the collection and preservation of black dolls as artifacts of history and culture.”

There is also a Black Doll Collectors site where doll enthusiasts can share information. The site has very good coverage, including photos and short summaries, of the 2008 Black Doll Collectors Convention, which was held May 30 through June 1, 2008 in Mansfield, Massachusetts. The event included visitors from France and South Africa.

Will Smith is wowing audiences playing a super-hero in Hancock. That brings to mind the many African American heroes who’ve been featured in the comic book genre, and the many websites that are dedicated to them.

AOL’s Black Voice’s site recently made a list of the Top 25 Black Superheroes of All Time. As a long time comic book reader, I found their list to be, well, lame. They listed Marvel Comics’ Black Panther – a truly revolutionary figure in comic book history – as #23, behind Marvel’s Black Goliath (#15) and DC Comics’ Mister Terrific (#14). Those and other characters are OK, but none have the stature and importance of the Black Panther, who should have been in the top 7.

Black Voices’ list is clunky because it consists of heroes from different genres – comic books, movies (Hancock and Morpheus from the The Matrix are on the list), TV shows, and kiddy cartoons. The number one hero is a character from Milestone Media, which was founded in the early 90s by a group of African-American artists and writers who sought to give blacks better representation in comics. I’ll let you look at the list to see who AOL selected as top dog.

A better informed group of black comics enthusiasts met in Philly at the The East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention (ECBACC) this past May. ECBACC, as far as I know, is the only current comic book convention that features an emphasis on African American characters, artists, and publishers. Among other things, ECBACC presents the Pioneer Awards to groundbreaking artists and writers who paved the way for today’s comic book artists and writers, and the Glyph Awards, which recognize the best in comics made either by, for, or about Black people.

The site has lots of great content about current happenings in the industry, and the Black Comic and Cartoon Pioneers page has an informative look at African American comic book history.

Wikipedia has the most exhaustive list of black super heroes I know on the web. But the most fun I’ve had is at The Museum of Black Super Heroes. The site is a virtual (web-based) museum of the history, art and culture of blacks in comics.

As the site notes here

Marvel’s first black superhero was named “Whitewash” (the name speaks for itself). Whitewash was a character drawn in full blackface fashion who appeared in the 1940’s war comic “Young Allies”. (images –1, 2, 3) Notice a common theme in all three cover images? Created for comic effect only, Whitewash was portrayed as a helpless bufoon whose only purpose was to provide laughs as he fell into one dire situation to another. Full of the stereotypes you would expect to see at that time in American history, negative black comic characters were all too commonplace.

Black superheroes were also subject to the negative perceptions of the artists drawing them at the time and therefore a parallel can be made to struggle for equality in America. Marvel’s Black Panther appeared in 1966 (Fantastic Four #52) and wouldn’t gain his own title until 11 years later (how’s that for affirmative action?). Followed by DC’s Black Lightning and Marvel’s Luke Cage, poster children for the entertainment industry’s Blaxploitation of the 70’s. Where possible I have included some images from the comics themselves depicting some of these racial situations as they appeared in print. The progress of blacks in comics has an undeniable link to our society’s racial issues and I ask you to keep this in mind as we delve into the offensive nature of some of the characters.

The site also includes an annotated list of many black superheroes. Seeing all of those characters brought back a rush of pleasant memories. The graphic design of the site is a little rough around the edges, but otherwise, it’s heaven on earth.

And speaking of heaven and the like, a very interesting set of comics comes from Urban Ministries, Inc., or UMI. UMI is the largest independent, African American-owned and operated Christian media company. It publishes Christian materials, including Sunday School and Vacation Bible School curricula, books, movies, and websites designed for African American churches and Churches.

UMI has partnered with Michael Davis, a co-founder of Milestone Media, to create Christian-based comic books which prominently feature black characters. The comics are published under UMI’s Guardian Line.

One character, named Code, is described as “a mysterious man of God, he travels the world helpling those in need. This is Code. This savvy man of mystery has a revolutionary knowledge of Scripture and technology that empowers him to help others. However, that power does not make him exempt from obstacles and the threat of evil…”

Code, a Super Hero from UMI’s Guardian Line

The premise for this line of comics is intriguing enough that I might buy some back issues to see what they’re like.

If you’re interested in looking for various vendors of African American based comics, check out AfriComics, which describes itself as “the Black Science Fiction and Comic Book Portal.” It has links to comic book publishers with African American character content, including small independents.

Finally: you MUST check out what I regard as groundbreaking comic: Bayou, by writer/artist Jeremy Love of Gettosake.

Bayou is published by, an online comics site from DC Comics. The idea of online comics, at first, doesn’t seem viable. For comic book readers, there is a joy to holding the book itself, pondering its art and text, and going back and forth through a comic to find the words and images that really grab you. You can’t do that online.

But when it comes to Bayou… everything works.

From Bayou at

Bayou is basically a children’s book, but this is not your mommy or daddy’s children’s book. Set in Depression-era Mississippi, it’s about a black girl who lives with her sharecropper father and “finds companionship with a blues-singing swamp monster named Bayou.”

The art is wonderful. The story line mixes elements of Uncle Remus, Alice in Wonderland, southern gothic, the Blues, African and Native American mythology, and Jim Crow.

The sheer execution of this makes me call it groundbreaking. Jeremy Love’s images fill the screen wonderfully; he’s figured just the right scale for the art that makes it work on a computer monitor. It’s a breeze to read the text, view the images, and go from one page to another. And Lee, the main character, is a truly heroic young black girl-the kind I wish we’d see more of in any genre.

Bayou is free. As of this writing, it has 129 pages of content, and the story won’t wrap up for several months. It’s a tale that will appeal to teens (14+) and adults, and people of all races. (It has images of lynchings that might be too much for pre-teens.) It has a magic that will touch everyone. Highly recommended.

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