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" [1947] 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.