“The Paradigm Shift”

PART ONE: Moving From Being a Consumer to a Producer of Content

By Brandon M. Easton October 7, 2010

I’ve often been asked at panels and workshops why isn’t there “more” Black-themed sci-fi or comic book material in the literary marketplace. Once I get past the sometimes needless discussion of race, sex and economics; I tell folks that the only thing that inhibits the development of Black sci-fi intellectual properties in the modern world is the total failure of the creative professional to become just that, a creative professional.  

This is a complex and often ignored part of the journey to get paid for being an imaginative human being. Writers discuss talent, luck, perseverance and business smarts as these are integral to becoming a part of the pop culture zeitgeist. However, few ever talk about the core trait needed to make those other parts of the formula become active, and that is the emotional shift from being a consumer of product (for example, fans of the sci-fi genre) to being a producer of product (working writer, illustrator, designer of sci-fi material).

Some would say, “Of course you need to do this, why are you even bringing this up?” My answer: experience.  Before I continue, I do need to throw out there that I am not an expert on anything other than being myself. And I’m still learning how to do that effectively. This line of thought was built by the past 13 years of professional experience as a journalist and creative writer of comic books and other sci-fi literature. I am still on the way “up” into this business, but I am making slow and steady gains. And if for that fact you decide to not take these words seriously, then I do understand, but I would consider that to be a poor choice.

Over the years, I have seen a lot of things at conventions, panels, production offices and editorial boardrooms that led me to the conclusion that many creators simply have no idea how to stop being a fanboy/girl and behave as a professional writer.

The first step in being a creative professional is learning how to deflate, if not eradicate, your feelings of appreciation when confronted with a colleague you admire. While it might be tough to reign in your desire to congratulate your favorite writer or artist, acting like a gushing teenager will forever brand you as unprofessional at worst, or in the very least, someone not to be taken seriously.

I’ve watched otherwise sane, emotionally stable and intelligent writers fall apart when they meet their idols. I’ve seen people like Joss Whedon, J.M. Stracyznski, Mark Waid, Peter David and many others wear a look of embarrassment and discomfort on their faces when fans go overboard with enthusiasm. Creative professionals usually don’t network with people they consider to be two steps above a stalker. Trust me on this.

All the strikingly-designed business cards and clever loglines won’t make much difference if the person delivering them is emotionally immature. Emotional immaturity is not something unique to the African-American community. I’d wager that much of American society suffers from an underdeveloped sense of professionalism and common sense. But what I have noticed from the African-American geeksphere is an unwillingness to move beyond a bizarre sense of entitlement.

Many would-be Black creators I’ve known tend to believe that: 1) Black folks interested in sci-fi will read their stuff just because they’re Black; 2) White folks will be interested because they will get to “experience” our culture and this will help with racial healing; 3) Taking established White hero archetypes and putting Black skin on them will make it viable in the marketplace. These are not only false, but counterproductive to building a legitimate creative career. I’ve witnessed heated debates over this on message boards and at panels and folks still don’t seem to “get” it.

Black Americans are massive consumers of television, film, musical and literary content. However, upon closer inspection, you might find that much of Black America’s preference for pop culture will mirror their White American counterparts. Go to your local comic book store and look at what the Black folks are buying. It might surprise you. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I hope and pray for another Milestone Media-type renaissance in the comic book/sci-fi marketplace. There has already been a Black sci-fi/fantasy build up with the works of Sheree Thomas, Brandon Massey and N.K. Jemisin. Comics, however, have remained patently stubborn and much of it has to do with the lack of quality material rather than inbred industry racism.

In the coming months I will explore the “paradigm shift” by discussing the market, Black buying habits, sexism in the Black creators community and how to effectively network with other professions. Until then, good luck and Godspeed. 

Brandon M. Easton is a professional writer, screenwriter, and educator based in Los Angeles, CA. Born and raised in Baltimore, MD, Easton is a graduate of Ithaca College and Boston University’s prestigious Screenwriting program. Brandon has well over 10 years of writing experience and is currently working on his next series SHADOWLAW which will be (finally) released in summer of 2011. Brandon hopes you will check out his free podcast series WRITING FOR ROOKIES to learn more tricks of the trade.  Visit Brandon at www.shadowlawonline.com and writingforrookies.podcastpeople.com

Jan S Friday, May 27, 2011
Thank you so much for writing this column. I look forward to reading 
future installments. :)

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