Feb 9 2015
Today’s BlackComicsMonth spotlight interview comes from Brandon Easton. Pull up a chair, take notes and get to know this talented black man from Maryland.
Brandon Easton is an award winning LA based screen and comic book writer. Born and raised in Baltimore MD, Easton has numerous big time gigs under his belt, including writing for Warner Bros’ ThunderCats and Transformers: Rescue Bots. His published works include Arkanium, Transformers: Armarda and Shadowlaw, which netted him the 2012 Glyph Award for Best Writer. He guest wrote New Paradigm Studios’ Watson and Holmes #6, for which he was nominated 2014 Eisner for Best One Shot. That same issue also won numerous Glyph Awards, including Story of the Year, Best Writer and the Fan Award.
You’re a writer who has a huge amount of work across various formats. Sci-Fi (Arkanium), fantasy (ThunderCats), murder/mystery (Watson and Holmes) in TV and comics. How are you able to stay fluid across different genres and formats, especially within an industry that is less-than-inclusive?
It’s really about connecting with the right people, having a positive attitude, delivering quality work on time and knowing when to move on when opportunities are no longer available. The old maxim of “doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result” has a particular truth for writers. I know a lot of writers who refuse to adapt and adjust to the changing marketplace and remain stagnant. I’ve been able to move fluidly because I believe in remaining flexible at all times.
Being flexible is something they don’t teach in creative writing programs or film school but it’s one of the most important survival techniques for the entertainment industry. I never look a gift horse in the mouth and if I have a skill set that needs to be adjusted to make my resume and experience look more appealing to future employers, I will make those adjustments to the best of my ability.
You never know when certain opportunities will come out of the blue and in my career, I’ve been offered gigs when I least expected them so there’s been a little luck in the case of being in the right place at the right time. Ultimately, it’s been hard work with no shortcuts. It took me roughly ten years to build myself up to the point where I can be taken seriously as a creator.
What do you view as the most persistent issue affecting black writers today?
Great question. There are a few issues at hand – if we’re talking about the comic book industry, then we have to realize that the majority of long-term comic book readers are well-set in their reading habits and rarely will give a chance to a new concept unless it’s written by a creator they’re already familiar with. The ethnic background of the consumer is irrelevant, they could be Black, Latino, Asian, White, Native… if they grew up reading Marvel and DC, then that’s all they’re generally going to consume.
This hits Black indie writers hard because few of us get a shot at writing for the bigger companies which leads to a perception of inferiority in the marketplace. In other words, the conclusion tends to be “if they haven’t worked at Marvel or DC, then they obviously aren’t any good” and that becomes a solid form of marginalization as well as a stigma. Black comic book fans will also make this dangerous assumption and their spending habits reflect that.
The other major issue is marketing. Few indie comic book creators have access to an extensive marketing budget. What makes this even worse for the Black indie creator is the lack of a cohesive creative community to help spread the word when a new project is released. While there are tight pockets of Black writers spread across the country, we don’t have a unified front to share and celebrate each other’s projects – but that is just starting to change, thankfully.
In May 2014, you released a documentary “BRAVE NEW SOULS: BLACK SCI-FI AND FANTASY WRITERS OF THE 21ST CENTURY” in which you have interviews with black writers discussing the various challenges and issues faced by them and others. What was the impetus behind this work?
When I moved to Los Angeles in 2008, I spent a few years struggling hard but hustling even harder to get my name out there. From 2008-2011, I worked a lot of horrible jobs but I managed to hit the convention scene and started hosting panels about breaking into the entertainment industry as a writer. During this period, I met a slew of incredibly talented, smart, funny and determined African-American/Black speculative fiction writers from all walks of life. Some were further along in their careers than others, some were brand new, some had worked in television and film, some had been published by major houses and a few had won big time awards on the international literary stage.
The one thing they all had in common other than ethnic background was the fact that they didn’t have the market penetration and/or fan awareness they should have had considering their talent level and critical acclaim. It didn’t make any sense to me. So I decided to pool my meager economic resources and set up a camera and some lights and interview them about their careers, obstacles, inspirations and goals for the future.
The end result was the documentary.
You’re very involved in keeping rookies and other industry pros up to date and informed via your blog, The Fool’s Crusade. Your podcast and FaceBook groups give hardcore geeks and casual consumers a wealth of knowledge they might otherwise miss. Why is this aspect of your work so important?
One of the biggest tragedies of the 21st century is the unrelenting swell of ignorance in an era where knowledge about most subjects is free and can be obtained with a finger swipe across a cell phone screen. Despite living in the most intellectually accessible age in the history of mankind, people seem as ill-informed as ever.
It’s a sad, horrible irony.
Geeks are especially guilty of this – you’ve got folks making declarative statements about how the film, TV and comic book industry operates on message boards and comment threads that are completely false but they’ll defend their ignorance until the end. I’d wager 98% of these folks literally DO NOT KNOW WHAT THEY’RE TALKING ABOUT but they’ll still prattle on about casting decisions, studio budgets, script changes, why Marvel Comics won’t do “this or that” in their movies or why DC Comics just “won’t make this or that decision” in their TV shows, etc.
None of these folks read industry trade magazines like Variety, The Hollywood Reporter or Deadline (where they could learn the hows and whys of industry politics and business decisions) but somehow they’re experts on the creative industries. I believe everyone is entitled to an opinion, but I believe that should be amended to “everyone is entitled to an informed opinion.”
In the realm of social media, lies appear to travel faster than the truth. Misinformation moves at the speed of light whereas factual data and instructions remain at a relative snail’s pace. I believe an educated fanbase is the best kind because they’ll devote their time to discussing the work from a more relaxed perspective instead of having conversations mired in foolishness with childish banter based on stupid information.
Passion is awesome. Passion fueled by nonsense is dangerous.
Black creators face the frustrating problem of creating stories that avoid making perceived political statements, simply for having black lead characters. Why do you think audiences think this way? What’s your solution to this?
We’re all, in some way, products of long-standing propaganda campaigns. Since birth we’ve been programmed to think a certain way about a million different subjects and in the case of Black folks, we often must go through a gauntlet of distrust in order to receive the benefit of the doubt.
In other words, before people take us seriously, we have to first prove what we’re not (i.e. not criminal, not moronic, not lazy, not perverted, not mean-spirited, not lecherous, not irresponsible, not dishonest, etc.). Because there’s been disgusting representations of Black humanity for centuries, we’re not seen as regular, everyday people and that erroneous perception creates unrealistic expectations about our lives.
One of those perceptions is that we’re putting an “agenda” into our stories. No one ever defines what that “agenda” is but this is assumed at all times and can lead to editors being unreasonably gun-shy about hiring a Black writer on a project.
The only legitimate solution is for more Black-created projects to hit the marketplace and be high-quality stories that are entertaining. More new projects in sci-fi, fantasy, action-adventure, romance, legal thrillers, spy stories… you name it. The more people become used to seeing Black faces on the covers of these types of stories, the faster the preconceived notions will vanish.
If these projects make an impact on the marketplace, it will be normalized to the point where it becomes a non-issue because the younger generation will accept it as commonplace.
Who are some of the creators (and works) that influenced you? Who would you like to work with in the future?
Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Octavia Butler, George Lucas, Stephen King, Joe Haldeman, Steven Spielberg, Richard Matheson, Rod Serling, Dwayne McDuffie, George R.R. Martin, Michael Moorcock, Katsuhiro Otomo, the Wachowskis, Rakim, KRS-One, Public Enemy, Michael Jackson… I could go on for hours, but these are off the top of my head.
I’d love to work with J.J. Abrams, Joss Whedon, Ava Duvernay, Oprah, Greg Berlanti, Travis Charest, Ken Lashley and Warren Ellis.
You recently became part of the Disney|ABC Television Group Writers Program. Can you give us a little insight about that process? Will you still have time to write for comics?
I was one of eight chosen out of fifteen-hundred applicants and I’m still pinching myself every day to make certain this isn’t a dream.
I have a few comics projects that were completed before I started the Writing Program; the biggest being the Andre the Giant biography from Lion Forge/IDW. I’ve also worked on a space opera/sci-fi mecha series called Armarauders that’s ridiculously cool.
I have a feeling that the Writing Program will dominate the majority of my time in 2015.
Now that you are with Disney|ABC (and I’m geeking out here), is there a chance that you might end up writing for shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Carter and the like? If so, what would you like to pursue or change on those shows and characters if anything?
It’s still early in the program and I have no idea where I’ll end up.
You can follow Brandon Easton on FaceBook and on Twitter and Instagram, as well as like the Shadowlaw comic FaceBook page. Brandon will be at the Long Beach Comic Expo February 28th and March 1st, you can buy tickets here.
Make sure you pick up Brandon Easton’s Watson and Holmes #6 masterpiece on COMIXOLOGY for FREE.
Here’s a look at Armarauders: