On Thursday, January 16th, the Education Department of the World Famous Apollo Theater hosted KAPOW! CAREERS IN COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS. Moderated by the Apollo’s Associate Director of Community Programs L. Ade Williams, comic veterans N. Steven Harris, Micheline Hess, Joseph Illidge, and Alitha Martinez spoke about their careers and the skills needed to have a lasting career in comics.
To be clear this is the same Apollo Theater “Where stars are born and legends are made” and most people who think of the Apollo that way associate it with being a musical venue. The reality is the Apollo is a non-profit organization with a mandate to support the community at large and Kapow! engaged not only the local NYC geeks but the youngsters associated with the Apollo.
When I asked one of the organizers of the event, Jason Steer, Associate Director of Workforce and Career Development at the Apollo Theater, how this program came about, he explained, “Our mission here at the Apollo is presenting people of color in different industries. The comic book industry as we know, due to the success of Marvel and DC, has bloomed over the last 10 years and outside of Black Panther, I don’t know many people of color that have seen or are aware of the depth of creators.”
Steer continued, “In this space, part of our program is to make sure that we can introduce young people or people of color to meet and witness masters. For us, it’s all about making sure the Apollo is consistently creating a space for young people of color to see themselves in a number of different industries.”
The Kapow! presentation started with panelists talking about their origins in the comic industry, the basics of their education and their trajectory in getting to where they’re at now in the comic world. This was a very frank discussion talking about everything from being able to break into the industry, to surviving while creating your art, to being able to use your creative skills in other fashions to keep the lights on. The panelists also spoke about creative rights and how being independent and owning your character is very important in a world where movies are being made with characters that the creators would barely see pennies if they were lucky enough to have that type of contract. Harris and Martinez both gave the good and bad of working in the mainstream as well as a practical demonstration of character design and page layout.
When talking about the effect of real-life influences on their art, Micheline Hess spoke about how her latest story Diary of a Mad, Black Werewolf is “…about a pack of werewolves that live in New York City, Black women that for a 100 years have been hunting, eating and killing racist people and messing with them at the same time. It’s just a way that allows me to deal with the things I see in the news that make me feel very powerless as a person and frustrated, as cops are shooting people that are unarmed or women that follow people with their phone cameras and don’t let them into their apartment complex, just things of that nature.”
During the panel, Joseph Illidge announced his next big project for the publisher Humanoids, MPLS Sound. Illidge co-wrote this book about the fictional history of a band. Set in Minneapolis, it’s about a black woman named Teresa Booker and the rise and fall of her band Starchild before Prince and The Revolution. This book will be released later this year, but look for a more in-depth discussion with the creators about this book before then.
And for other free events like this or their next career panel Costumes: Telling The Story And Creating The Character, go to the Apollo Theater website for more information. You can also check out the #ApolloCareerPanel hashtag on Twitter.