Marvel's successful release of "Black Panther" and the CW's launch of "Black Lightning" have put a spotlight on black superheroes. This newfound interest in these characters may spur some to look into black comics; luckily, the "Encyclopedia of Black Comics" came out last year. Edited by Sheena Howard, who has a doctorate in rhetorical and intercultural communication from Howard University, the book is a collection of essays written about influential black creators of black comic books and comic strips. It was a huge undertaking that resulted in more than 100 entries. Howard talked about what she learned in creating it.
Q: How did this all start?
A: I really liked "The Boondocks" comic strip and I started reading it in 2007, when I was at Howard University. I was 23 when I started my Ph.D. and I finished at 26, so I was still young and didn't have a goal in terms of what I wanted to study at Howard. I thought about "The Boondocks" as something I could write about. I really thought that it was a cultural icon for some of the things that it had accomplished.
Q: So that Ph.D. research led to the idea to look into comic books in general?
A: Exactly. I really thought that I was just going to be able to go to the library and find a book about the history of black people in comics. I'm looking for months for this book. I found books like "The American History of Comics," but they very rarely mention black people in the industry in any real way.
Q: After submitting your dissertation, what did you know and find out about black comics and the culture that it inhabits?
A: I knew a lot about some of the people who had led black comic artists and creators to do some of the things that they're doing today. "All Negro Comics"  was the first black comic book, created by Orrin Cromwell Evans. So I knew those sorts of people. From there, I started to meet the people today who are creating the works and doing political work in comics that interest me.
Q: Who would you consider to be the most influential black comic comic figure?
A: I definitely think that Aaron McGruder has to enter the conversation of most influential because what he did has never really been done. There's only a handful of syndicated comic strips created by black people.
Q: Describe what you were trying to do with the "Encyclopedia of Black Comics."
A: The encyclopedia is over a hundred entries about black people of African descent who have published significant works in the United States. It's about the movers and shakers, both old and young, dead or alive.
Q: What would you do to improve the experience of reading comics for those in the black community?
A: I would definitely get more diverse people behind the scenes. Of course we want diversity in the characters and content we're consuming, but I also want people to get paid. I want people to be the writers, producer and editors — I want people to be behind the scenes.