These days, black comic book characters are not hard to imagine. Since The Black Panther took the world by storm, people recognise the value of Black comic book characters being lead characters in comics.
Black comic book characters have been around in the US since the 1930s albeit with racist portrayals. However, it wasn’t until 1947 that the first all-black comic was published by Black artists. In the decades that followed, black comic book characters have appeared in lead roles in major comics such as Marvel and DC comics.
Black female comic book characters didn’t appear in lead roles until the 1970s with the publication of Friday Foster in 1970. It was the first mainstream syndicated comic with a lead Black female character. There were also Black superheroines like Nubia in 1973 and Storm in 1975.
Today, more Black creators and artists are entering the world of comics, so Black characters in comics are no longer an anomaly. They are also not portrayed through the eyes of the other but rather from the perspective of the Black artists who create them, giving them originality and dimensionality.
One such creator is Shequeta L. Smith. She’s the brain and CEO behind Shero Comics, the creator of the Rayven Choi series.
I chatted with her about her journey in comics and her newest creation: Young Grandmaster Choi.
MM: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
SS: I am originally from Salisbury, NC, and graduated from NC State University. I moved to Los Angeles shortly after college to pursue screenwriting. While on my journey to becoming a professional screenwriter, I spent over a decade working in corporate sales and marketing for several Fortune 500’s.
In 2016, I launched my multimedia company, Shero Comics, which focuses on creating IPs and content that features Black and minority women as the main protagonist.
This year, we will complete the trifecta of the company by launching the gaming division, Shero Games.
MM: Why did you decide to focus on comics out of all the other genres of literature?
SS: I’ve always been interested in pop culture and all things geeky. Believe it or not, I’m actually a Space Camp vet. Growing up in a very small town, I didn’t have access to comics, but on Sunday, my grandma would always hand deliver the funny pages to me. So that’s where my love for the medium began.
MM: Did you always know that you were going to be a comic book author?
SS: Looking back, I didn’t grow up with that being one of my dreams. I wanted to be a Supermodel, but I was one inch too short to be the next Tyra Banks, so I looked for other creative outlets.
During college, writing became the thing that I was most passionate about. Not long after graduation, I hired my first artist, and we drew and coloured my first comic book character designs.
So, I started with comics, and then came screenwriting. I chose screenwriting over comics, but years later, when I saw Marvel bringing the two together, I figured that I could also do both.
MM: What is it like being a Black girl in comic book space?
SS: At times it can feel alienating. It’s a very male-dominated industry. Sometimes you feel more tolerated than respected. However, I feel like I’m operating in my purpose, so that’s ultimately what keeps me going.
I also realize that what I’m doing is going to make it easier for the Black girls and young women coming behind me, so that makes the sexism and racism tolerable — though it’s still incredibly difficult at times.
MM: What has been the reaction to your previously released comics?
SS: The reaction to my previously released comics has been pretty awesome both in the states and overseas. I’ve managed to take my comics overseas to international comic conventions.
In Korea, we sold out of books at both stops we made at Comic Con Seoul and Camp Humphries military base.
It’s been a great response from an indie perspective, but I’m more than ready to go mainstream with my IPs.
MM: So, you’re at the beginning phase of your next project, Young Grandmaster Choi; what can you tell us about it, and what was the inspiration behind it?
SS: Young Grandmaster Choi is the prequel to our award-winning graphic novel series, Rayven Choi. The series follows a six-year-old Black American girl who is sent to South Korea after the death of her parents. In Korea, she’s adopted by a Korean family.
While the graphic novel was violent and brooding, this series is lighthearted, fun, and educational. We get to see Rayven adjust to life in a new country, at a new school, and as she begins her training in martial arts. I’m hoping that these books will be inspirational for young people, especially young black girls.
The inspiration for Rayven Choi came after I went on a study abroad trip to Korea twenty years ago while I was attending college at NC State University. When I returned from that trip, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life, and this story was playing in my head.
MM: Why is this project so important?
SS: This project is important because there are so many stereotypical images of Black women and girls out there, and we need this kind of story to show us in a different light and combat those images.
I think this book is going to be relatable to not only Black girls and women, who may feel alienated in spaces where they’re the minority, but to women of all races and walks of life.
I feel like this is the gift that trip to Korea gave me, an international approach to storytelling, and that’s what this Rayven Choi journey has been about.
MM: You’ve decided to fund this new project by doing a Kickstarter campaign, why did you decide on this route?
SS: I decided that I was going to do my next campaign on Kickstarter back in 2021. I was in a cohort with IFundWomen that ended with us launching a crowdfunding campaign on their platform. That campaign was a success and helped me pay for the final book in the Rayven Choi series.
However, I had many comic book industry friends that had used Kickstarter and had successful campaigns, so I knew I wanted to launch the next one on the platform since it’s so popular amongst indie comic book creators and companies.
MM: If all goes well with the Kickstarter campaign, when will Young Grandmaster Choi be released for sale?
SS: The books are actually a part of the campaign. That’s how we’re raising money by selling advanced copies of the books.
Now that we’ve met our original goal, and have enough money to fund the production of the book, the rest of the campaign is about us selling as many advanced copies of the book as humanly possible.
After printing the books and shipping them to backers of the campaign, we’ll probably release the book to the general public in late summer of 2023. But I’m urging people to get the books while the campaign is going on because it helps us determine how many books we need to order and whether or not we should have them printed here or overseas.
MM: What advice would you give to Black creatives and entrepreneurs who are thinking about starting their own business and being the change they want to see in the world?
SS: I would tell other black creators and entrepreneurs to always trust their gut; to pursue whatever it is that they’re most passionate about and to not be afraid to pivot.
I would also tell them to solve a problem that affects a lot of people since that will assist with how fast they’re able to acquire customers, raise capital, and scale their business.
You can find out more about the Kickstarter campaign for Young Master Choi here.