Awash in a sea of white characters and white storylines, there exists a comic that speaks to an experience of blackness like none other: Brotherman. The series, created by artist Dawud Anyabwile and written by his brother Guy Sims, follows the story of Antonio Valor, a valiant public attorney who seeks to right the wrongs in his hometown known as Big City. “Although he possesses no superpowers he is tapped into the innate powers that dwells within each of us yet not all can master,” Anyabwile explained. Under the cover of darkness, Valor assumes the identity of Brotherman, a masked crime-fighting hero. “He is fearless, caring, intelligent and focused.”
The concept came about back in 1990 and was used as a marketing tool to attract customers at the Black Expo NYC to visit the East Orange, NJ airbrush shop owned by Anyabwile and his brother Jason. Sims wrote the story over the course of two weeks, and within a month the illustrations had been inked by Anyabwile, based on sketches from his sketchbook. They printed 10,000 copies of the first issue, and the books were an instant success. The comics inspired a generation of comic book readers and sold more than 750,000 copies between 1990 and 1994.
“One on level, Brotherman is an exciting, fun, and hip comic book,” explained Sims, “a story of one man trying to make a difference in his city. One another level, it is a statement on the possibilities of advancing creativity, culture, and understanding entrepreneurial opportunities.”
The last comic was released in 1996, and it was fourteen years before Brotherman returned accompanying the Brotherman Art Exhibit in 2009.
“The Art Exhibition was designed to give the fans a detailed look into the history of the comic book, learn about how a Black family went against all odds to create a Black hero supported by an all Black cast in the year 1990 and managed to break new ground within the comic industry and beyond,” Anyabwile said.
The team hopes this exhibition, which features large scale renderings of the characters, scenes from the books, behind the scenes footage of the design process, original sketches, and special events such as Q&As with the creators and workshops, will be able to expand and tour on an even larger scale.
At the time of the comic’s inception, black representation in the comic community was severely limited, and as a result of the flourishing popularity of Brotherman, a new and more inclusive, less stereotypical, view of the black experience emerged in the industry. “The portrayal of Blacks in comics began to significantly improve, more independent Black comic creators came on to the scene, many creators were inspired by Brotherman to even pursue fields that generally were not open to Black people such as comics, animation and film,” noted Anyabwile.
“There is a need in our community, the African American community, for our children (and adults) to see images of themselves, to see themselves outside their current surroundings, and to know they have the abilities and skills to create and re-imagine who they are and their place in the world…and to profit from them as well,” continued Sims. Brotherman is not only a comic series, but also a forerunner in a movement towards inclusivity in the comic industry. What started as just an idea jotted down in the pages of a notebook has gone on to inspire and speak to countless comic fans, creating a legacy of a new, more accurate and representational view of the black experience and imagination.
Brotherman has exhibited six times, and is currently on display at the Auburn Avenue Research Library through Sunday, Sept. 24, with a closing night ceremony on Saturday, Sept. 23, from 5 to 7 p.m. The exhibit is free and open to the public, located at 101 Auburn Ave.
For more information about the Brotherman series, go online to www.brothermancomics.com.