feature: “black history in comic books”

February 9, 2015

Some of them couldn’t fly, they didn’t wear colorful costumes and they didn’t have super powers. But they were superheroes all the same. Others were as real as Spider-man. Throughout the 1940’s 50’s and 60’s, comic books appeared featuring real or fictional African Americans. The real-life black heroes were brilliant scientists or ex-slaves who risked their lives for the freedom of their people. Fictional black heroes defeated villains ordinary humans could not.

By Demetrius Sherman, AFROPUNK Contributor

In 1947, the first issue of Negro Heroes featured George Washington Carver, Matthew Henson, Harriet Tubman and Joe Louis. The second issue featured Booker T. Washington,  Sadie Alexander, Jackie Robinson and many other real-life black heroes. Non-fiction African American comic books continued into 1969 when the Gilberton Company produced Negro Americans.  Like Negro Heroes,the Negro Americans comic book covered the lives of  African American great achievers. Many illustrations  in  the non-fiction comic books appears to have been taken from photographs and the plain yellow, brown or blue colors gives the stories a real and not fantasy look.

In the 1940’s, All Negro Comics stood out as being owned, produced and written by blacks. Unlike Negro Heroes and Negro Americans,  however, All Negro Comics featured fictional African Americans. Ace Harlem  is one character in All Negro Comics. Although Harlem is a tall, Hollywood-handsome black detective, the bad guys might be called stereotypes. Other characters in All Negro Comics, were created for laughs, but may also have displayed an image many blacks did not care to see.

Probably the best character to come out of All Negro Comics is college-educated Lion Man who is an agent for the United Nations (the latest version of the character is pictured in the banner). Lion Man’s mission takes him to Africa where he meets his sidekick—an orphan named Bubba.  Today you’ll find a character named Lion Man appearing in various comic books including  Batman. This is likely because Lion Man carries the title of Public Domain Superhero. One of the most interesting versions of Lion Man is the comic book tutorial by Eric Neal that teaches life-lessons to children.

The life story of Orrin Cromwell Evans, creator of All Negro Comics involves Nazi-sympathizer Charles Lindbergh, racism and Mr. Evan’s determination.  Christoper states that Evans “went out of his way to meet Morrie Turner, the first syndicated black cartoonist. He was always impressed with the way a well executed cartoon could simplify and clarify complex issues.” Non fiction comic books related the lives of outstanding African Americans in an easy to understand format.  The fictional African Americans in comic books produced black  heroes with a positive image. Whether fiction or non-fiction, the African American characters  in early comic books sent the message to readers that he or she could also achieve through determination.


* Demetrius Sherman is creator of ebooks Dark Hunger and The Sheridan Hope Thrillers featuring Sheridan Hope, the black Sherlock Holmes. Click to read a sample at:

– Originally published on Black Girl Nerds, reposted with permission 
Twitter: @BlackGirlNerds
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