Facing a demon through comics

Oct. 31, 2013 @ 07:45 PM

A group of teenagers from Carrboro and Chapel Hill will introduce readers to some new comic book characters Saturday – heroes with names like “Blaxican,” “Just-Ice” and “Imagine.” The stories these characters tell are drawn from their creators’ different experiences with racism.

About 14 black, Latino and multi-ethnic teenagers have been working with visual artist Luis Franco and poet and writer Kane Smego at Chapel Hill’s Street Scene Teen Center, writing stories, creating characters and artwork. The program, called Comics Speak!, is a partnership of Sacrificial Poets, the N.C. Dream Team, The Ella Baker Women’s Center for Leadership and Community Activism, and the town of Chapel Hill’s Public and Cultural Arts Office.
The students’ creations will be released at a free public signing Saturday at Ultimate Comics. Proceeds from the books will go to print more copies. A display of some of the art work from the comics is now on view at Chapel Hill Public Library.
The students have met once a week for about three months. During initial sessions, their teachers asked them to discuss their backgrounds, said Smego, of the Sacrificial Poets. Then, they asked students to write about an experience in which their racial identity was brought home to them, in either a positive or negative way,” Smego said.
Jasmine Farmer, a 2012 Carrboro High graduate, created the character Blaxican, whom she calls “a multi-ethnic hero.” Farmer, who is black, was in a group with Gerardo Alvarez, who is Mexican, and Robert Graham, who is multiracial. Farmer, a poet, said she is not a comics reader nor a visual artist, but when Smego told her about Comics Speak!, “I wanted to be involved in some way,” she said. Alvarez did most of the visual art work, while she used her poetry skills to create a lot of the plot, she said.
They created a story with characters “growing up in a really racist neighborhood” who have experiences with racism but finally get tired and fight back, she said.
She, Alvarez and Graham drew from three experiences, Smego said. Farmer wrote about a teacher in middle school who she said made her very aware of being black. Alvarez wrote about an incident in which he was in a pawn shop with his father, who was accused of stealing. Ethnic slurs also were used. Graham wrote about an incident in which students on a school bus teased him because they thought he was Latino. The students wove these stories together to create the Blaxican story.
In another comic book story, the character “Just-Ice” fights villains named “Ray Cism” and “Iggy Norance.” “Sydney Newman Vs. the World” is about a man who is viewed as a villain, but only because of the way others stereotype him. In “Imagine a Dream of Serenity,” Serenity, Dream and Imagine – who are respectively white, multiracial and black – unite to battle segregation.
Comics offer students a way to discuss these issues “in a way that is creative and excites them,” Smego said. While some may believe that racism does not exist, or its worst effects have diminished, “the groups experiencing this with the most frequency are also the groups most often marginalized,” and comics offer them a medium in which to express their feelings, he said.
The point of this exercise is to uplift, he stressed. Farmer said she developed close relationships with other participants in Comics Speak! “I knew some of the people in the group from high school, but they weren’t people I spoke to,” she said. As they got to know each other, “it became like family. We started doing stuff outside of Comics Speak!” She and some Latino students, two groups who are sometimes at odds, got to know each other “and [realized] we are battling the same thing,” Farmer said. 

WHAT: Comics Speak! Comic book release and signing
WHEN: Saturday, noon to 3 p.m.
WHERE: Ultimate Comics, 6120 Farrington Road, Durham
ADMISSION: Free. Copies of the comics will be for sale.