Hey all, we’re live at New York Comic Con at the Black Panther 50th Anniversary panel with panelists Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze, Christopher Priest, Axel Alonso, Darryl McDaniels of Run DMC, James Igelheart (Genie in the current Broadway adaptation of Aladdin), and Don McGregor.

When asked what drew them to Black Panther as a character, McDaniels said “It was cool to see a black superhero that wasn’t  sidekick…that was the KING of a nation…and was as smart as Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark…it was shocking to a kid from Queens, New York to see a black superhero who was a leader.”

Coates said that he was drawn to Black Panther after Will Moss called him up and asked if he wanted to write a Black Panther book.  He loved comics but there weren’t many Black Panther books when he as growing up in the 80s and 90s so he went back to older stories.  Black Panther had this pull– he was a hero in a place where “everyone was black.  What more could you want than that?”

McGregor mentioned that when he was drawing Black Panther, he was told to put no black villains on the cover because, according to him, he thinks people were “afraid of being racist.”  He received a lot of pushback to put white people in the book helping Black Panther and McGregor said “The black guy doesn’t need it!” Then when McGregor started telling a story about Black Panther taking on the Ku Klux Klan he was told the story was too political.  McGregor retorted “For two years you’ve been asking me ‘where are the white people?!’ Well…”

Aletha Martinez just joined the panel!

Alonso, when asked why we didn’t see more Black Panther stories until recently, said there was a sea change in comics where  recently, they became a more specialty item and attracted more diverse readers and creators.

Priest added that storytellers are compelled to write stories about relationships that they understand and for a long time, there weren’t many people of color working in the Marvel or DC offices.  At Marvel, Priest was the first black editor hired.  At DC, there still hasn’t been a person of color regularly assigned to edit a Superman book.  Priest noted that the influx of diversity in the audience of comics has finally started to allow more Black Panther stories to come to fruition.

Stelfreeze noted that he was a comics artist since 1988, but “I’ve only been a black comics artist for the last eight years!”  He was a “geek” who just wanted to work in comics and was hired off the strength of his work.  His editors were always “surprised” to discover he was black.

Igelheart noted that sometimes when things get tought, he goes to Midtown and “ignores the news” and immerses himself in the world of Marvel.  He believes that in a world of Trump, sometimes we need to take a minute for “escapism” that allows us to “stand tall” the next day.

According to Stelfreeze, at one point he conceived that in Wakanda, “the darker you are, the more royal” you are.  He never thought Marvel would let him do it so he called Moss who called Alonso who gave him the go ahead.

Alonso told a story about Reginald Hudlin’s run on Black Panther, which he edited.  He kept the book alive using any means possible, crossing over with Zombies, fighting  Avengers, etc.  

We moved into Q&A.  A young black sci-fi writer asked about where we might see Black Panther go in the future.  One panelist said that they hope that one day “Black sci-fi” will just be called “sci-fi.”  Coates affirmed this, stating that “we never forget T’Challa is black” but one day he hopes these black stories can just be seen as stories.

A young lady asked Coates a question about the lesbian couple he introduced in his run of Black Panther.  He gave “a lot of credit” to McGregor and other previous creators for establishing the world of Wakanda for him.  He used that continuity that had been developed to figure out where he could go with his own story.  He saw Panther’s honor guard and went inside their heads, asking what it means for them to be a group of women pledged to the king of Wakanda and what might be “going on inside their heads.”  He came to this place “naturally.”  McGregor added that he had gay characters planned for his Black Panther run but said if he had revealed which characters were gay, he would have had his book canceled and it “would have been the last book I ever did.”

A gentleman in a Black Panther mask asked what the panelists think makes a good Black Panther antagonist.  Priest said that he was “angry that DC never let me write Batman” so he was writing Marvel’s Batman during his run on Panther.  According to him, what makes a good Black Panther villain is someone who challenges the character and also naturally comes out of his history.

Martinez is excited that she can “finally be included in this conversation for real” in reference to drawing a story featuring black women in the lead.

Alonso was challenged about Marvel’s standards for inclusion of creators of color.  He said that it wasn’t good enough but that “it’s going to get better.”  He pointed out several creators of colors he’s worked with and have recently been hired by Marvel.  He added that “this is not a PC push.” He called himself “the last thing from a social justice warrior.” 

A young woman asked about who the next character of color would be in the Marvel universe.  Coates said he was excited for World of Wakanda.  Alonso added that Marvel is making an announcement at 2:30-3PM today and is also in talks with Coates about more work.

A man from Charlotte asked the panelists what they would say to ease the unrest happening there.  Stelfreeze said people need to speak up against injustice and continue doing so to fight those taking advantage of them for “financial reasons.”

Final thoughts: 

  • Priest: “Where the hell were you people when I was writing the book?!”
  • Martinez: “Sorry I was late!  Please give World of Wakanda a chance when it comes out next month.”
  • McDaniels: “The relationship with comic books with hip hop is something that is really real.”
  • Coates: “It’s a pleasure” to be here with so many people who shaped Black Panther.
  • McGregor: “Thanks” to all the readers even when “they didn’t have quite as positive an impact” at the Marvel offices. He also thanked Brian for all their work together.
  • Stelfreeze: “I want to write a letter to sixteen year old Brian and tell him who I’m hanging out with here today…it would absolutely blow his mind on so many levels. That…I’m in a position where Ihave to come up with new dreams cause I’m knocking them out left and right.”
  • Alonso: “Comics are changing…support the books” if you want to keep seeing change.
  • Igelheart: “Even when I’m down or when I’m extremely happy, I” love “kicking it” with a comic book.