Race and gender are not often the most pressing of topics in the sci-fi/fantasy world — supernatural beings, mechanical monsters and general good versus evil can take precedence — but in the real world of the writers who help create that speculative fiction, such issues still weigh against the industry.
Eisner-nominated writer Brandon Easton — who recently won multiple 2014 Glyph Awards (honoring the best in comics made by, for and about people of color) for his comic series “Watson and Holmes” — decided to delve into questions and concerns that minorities working in the genre biz face by producing a documentary titled “Brave New Souls: Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Writers of the 21st Century.”
Hero Complex caught up with Easton, who premiered the film at the 2014 Eagle Con on the campus of Cal State L.A., and got some answers about the project and the issues it raises.
Before completing the documentary, what did you see as the biggest problem facing black speculative fiction writers, and did that change once you finished?
The biggest problem is the lack of a marketing and promotion infrastructure. That’s the ultimate obstacle, unless you’re independently wealthy or have access to a sizable marketing budget. As I spoke to the various creators featured in “Brave New Souls,” I realized that a few of them have been rebuffed by black geeks who seem to be under the impression that the product from black creators is automatically going to be inferior to anything produced by the mainstream. The combination of low visibility and outright rejection from our potential audience has created a perfect storm of market inaccessibility. I don’t know how to change that; it’s definitely going to be a serious challenge.
What was the most surprising bit of advice that came out of the documentary?
Most of the creators interviewed revealed very similar kinds of advice from mentors and industry colleagues, but the one thing that stood out was Tony Puryear and Erika Alexander talking about using radio locally and on the international stage as a way to cultivate an audience. Radio is a very personal but ubiquitous medium that can reach people quickly, and I don’t know too many speculative fiction creators who use radio on a regular basis.
Is it true that women seem to have different obstacles in getting their work recognized?
There’s definitely a Venn diagram of similar experiences between men/women of color and white women in how the industry and the genre audience perceives them. However, there are some different obstacles in play. Prominent white women creators get harassed publicly on a regular basis (and this doesn’t mean that women of color don’t get harassed; it just doesn’t seem to be as public). On the other hand, white women tend to have a lot more support than creators of color in the marketplace. The genre community appears to be more willing to take a chance on a new white female creator than a creator of color. At least that’s my observation.
For comic book creators, the indie route seems the way to go. Were there any you spoke to from the Big Two, and how did their experiences differ?
During the production of the documentary, I don’t believe there were any black writers at the Big Two. As far as the indie route is concerned, it is liberating to have complete creative control over your material, but, again, without a large-scale marketing plan in place, you could have the most brilliant graphic novel ever created and few would know it exists.
This question permeates throughout the rest, but how did most writers overcome the stigma that may come attached with them being black?
The only way to overcome any stigma is to be exceptional. All the black writers I know are incredibly talented individuals whose work speaks for them. Quality material can supersede bias and prejudice within the industry, but convincing fans to take a chance on you is difficult. Another thing to consider is that blacks aren’t stigmatized in the traditional sense across all mediums. There’s less of a barrier for entry for black writers in the world of novels and short stories in relation to the mainstream comic book industry or Hollywood cinema and television. However, we have plenty of black genre authors out there with critical acclaim and modest sales, and there are a few shows and movies with black writers and directors, so the answer is complicated. Clearly, there are creators out there who’ve found a way to navigate the tough waters and build solid careers over the last few decades.
You premiered this at Eagle Con, which you helped set up. Do you plan to go the convention circuit or the film festival circuit, or both? Maybe the Comic-Con International Film Festival?
I plan on screening “Brave New Souls” at as many comic book conventions and film festivals as possible over the next year. I’ve applied for San Diego Comic Con, but I missed their film festival cutoff so I hope to get a small screening for interested parties. I want the conversation to continue, and based on the response at Eagle Con, this is a dialogue that needs to happen as often as possible.
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