The August 28th passing of actor Chadwick Boseman is still sending shockwaves. Not only was the actor’s death surprising—he was just 42, and kept his colon cancer diagnosis hidden from the public eye since 2016—but on and offscreen, he was a role model. Along with roles as Black history-makers like Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and Thurgood Marshall, his most impactful role may have been that of Marvel’s Black Panther. For many Black Marvel fans, Boseman’s embodiment of T’Challa, the benevolent king of the nigh-utopian Wakanda, provided a vision of hope and afrofuturism rarely served by blockbuster entertainment. That’s just one of the reasons why, on September 14th, artist Damion Scott (Batgirl; How to Draw Hip-Hop) paid tribute with a Black Panther mural on the gate of Brooklyn-based comic shop Anyone Comics.
Painted on September 14th, the new mural replaces Scott’s own Spider-Man mural that he’d painted three years prior with the help of street artist Cyph, shortly after Anyone Comics store handler Dimitrios Fragiskatos started his shop. “The first time (Damion) walked into the store, he kind of looked around and said “hey, do you want your gate painted?” Fragiskatos recalls. “And I’m like, yeah, absolutely! I would love that.”
Fragiskatos takes pride in Anyone Comics being a “staple” of the diverse Crown Heights neighborhood in which it resides. Within its largely Black community and customer base, the impact of the death of Chadwick Boseman was immediate. “Literally, (street artist) Funk texted me that night that he and Damion (Scott) were cooking up this idea” to paint a Black Panther mural on the gate.
Black Panther meant a great deal to Anyone Comics customers before the film broke ground. “Before the movie was even rumored, people were asking about Black Panther (comics).” Fragiskatos says. “He was already an important character in people’s minds. He is the first Black (superhero) in Marvel comics. There’s a legacy. There’s a prestige to who that character is… he’s as important as any other superhero, if not more so here.”
The death of Chadwick Boseman is now “the most discussed thing” at Anyone Comics, “mostly from parents” whose young children have difficulty distinguishing “what they see on television” from reality. He adds that in the midst of what has already been an extraordinarily difficult year, especially for African Americans, Boseman’s loss has caused many customers to wonder “what can go right?”
Scott, who goes by the pseudonym “MOSH”0110 as a street artist, reflected on the changes that took place between his Spider-Man mural three years ago and his latest work. “I mean, the world of social media is kind of like opening the floodgates, right? Filled with police brutality and all those things. We used to talk about it, but nobody ever believed our story… The great thing about where we’re at psychologically is that we’re forced to look at ourselves in a certain way and look at things that we don’t want to see. It expands the consciousness.”
“Chadwick was an inspiration… a strong, healthy, clean brother. We don’t have a lot of those out there. It’s definitely a hard loss. And 2020’s been a tough year in general.” Scott elaborated on the importance of Boseman’s off-screen persona. “It’s always good to see a brother that’s out there representing us… he was somebody for young people to look up to. We don’t have enough people like that, to be able to see ourselves as geniuses and heroes. He will always be a symbol of that, but it sucks that in this environment, we lost such a powerful symbol. It’s so important and in some ways so simple. He will always be a symbol of this moment. I will never forget 2020. He’s almost like a martyr, in some sense.”
As for Black Panther as a character, Scott said he has “always been a fan” but was hesitant to draw the Marvel hero early in his career as he wanted people to “focus on the work” rather than attach his identity to it. “But as I grew up, I changed, and realized how important it is for other people to see folks like me out here doing their thing. That goes back to what I was saying about Chadwick. We need that.”
Asked about the influence Chadwick Boseman had on Black children, Scott believes “the lesson, plain and simply, is to value yourself. I think Chadwick showed us that you have to value yourself. Black lives matter. All lives matter at the end of the day, but we’re unfortunately in a situation where we tend to run into obstacles that are set in place to destroy us. Value yourself, and do not let the world tell you what you are. When we look at Black Panther, he’s a symbol of all that representation. Black royalty.”