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Jamaican Illustrators Challenged to 'Draw' on Comics

Alex Simmons author of Black Jack speaks to writers and illustrators

Writer Alex Simmons challenged the writers, animators and illustrators who gathered at the lecture ‘Blacks in Comics’ to draw for  use comics as a medium to properly represent Jamaican culture in a global space. He explained that creating a comic was cheaper and easier than producing a film or play and that in the modern landscape the internet provides an even more viable route and access to a global audience.

Simmons was delivering an intriguing trek through the evolution and politics of comics at the lecture presented through the combined efforts of the University of Technology, which also played host, and Jamaica Animation Nation on Saturday, February 16, 2013.

Simmons is the author of the comic serial Black Jack but his writing projects have been varied spanning from Nancy Drew, to Archie to the short films related to the Lion King. He is also the founder of the Kids Comic Con.

Through his presentation, Simmons explored the representation of blacks and other non-white figures in comics moving from the rampant racism of the early 1930s and its evolution through to the present.

“There is a way to bring through positive images of people of colour but to get there we had to go through this minutiae,” Simmons said. Simmons pointed out that while history is filled with blacks who have made great achievements, much of it has been silenced. He explained therefore that comics provide a route to change representation and he viewed his creation of the figure Black Jack as his contribution to creating that change.

“Here was my opportunity to do my bit, to take the things I had seen and change it,” he said. Simmons pointed out that comics, rather than just being idle entertainment, have been an important part of the machinery that has made modern myths and shaping and reflecting the world.

“A lot of the mythology that has been projected on us has been done through this'Blacks in Comics' lecture at the University of Technology medium. Take some of it for yourself,” Simmons challenged.

Simmons also touched on the business side of creating comics. “I’m a gut writer,” he confessed when asked if he had done any research before creating Black Jack. “I needed to create that character. I needed it for myself and I didn’t even realize that.”

Even so, he also noted that one should not forget that it is business. “You’ve got to know that it’s art and business and the business of art,” he explained.

“The business is not dying, it’s changing tremendously,” he said pointing out that comic giants such as Marvel and DC are now parts of larger conglomerates which are more focused on making pamphlets. This focus now reduces comics to mere “pamphlets” that are a step toward making a blockbuster flick.

Even so, Simmons pointed out that there are independent producers of comics and there is now far greater diversity. He noted that while many blacks do not support black content there remains space for well-produced works because the door is now open.

“Once the door is open what do you bring into the room?” he challenged.