This week we started a new monthly series called Retro Comic Spotlight. Each month Quentin Rushing and I, and various guest authors along the way, will highlight a personal pick from the many indie books that have influenced us, and indie comic culture, along the way. Quentin’s picks will tend to be more mainstream, while mine will be a bit more underground or niche.
I’ve told the story before of how I began diversifying my comic collection for my children. As I began to research black superheroes my reading quickly led me to black indie comics and I was in awe over the depth and breadth of black comic characters in the indie world. As I continued to dig, one name kept appearing over and over again, Brotherman. What started as a mission to give my kids books and characters that represented them ended up becoming a love and passion of mine as I fell in love with the Brotherman comic series and all the many series which it influenced after.
The Dictator of Discipline, and the modern black indie comic movement, began in the back of an airbrush shop in a mall in 1990. The 11 issue critically acclaimed and award-winning Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline Comic book series was created and published by brothers, Dawud Anyabwile, Guy A. Sims, and Jason Sims under the banner of the now defunct Big City Comics, Inc. Originally conceived as a way to drive more business to the brother’s t-shirt shop, the first issue would launch in April 1990 during the New York Black Expo and would continue until July 1996. Over six-years and 11 issues, the Brothers created one of the first comic books to feature a black hero set in a mythological world of black characters, igniting the modern indie black comic movement.
Brotherman is the continuing story of a man drawn deeper into the darkness to bring light to those who have lost all hope. The main character is Antonio Valor, who is fighting crime and corruption in a place called Big City. He’s not a superhero per se, said Anyabwile, during an interview with the AJC. “He does, however, tap into the powers within himself that we all have,” he said. “He has his intellect, his wit. He conquers his internal fears and he has the heart to take on different situations.”
The character is patterned after some of the men Anyabwile grew up surrounded by — including his college professor and his community activist father — who often go unrecognized but “who are doing heroic feats like helping troubled kids in the neighborhood and being there for their families.”
In 1992 Brotherman went on to be nominated for the prestigious comic industry Eisner Award for Best Artist. Beyond the art and storylines, the impact of Brotherman has and continues to be the creative catalyst for people of all backgrounds, ethnicities, and nationalities. The success of comic companies like Milestone, Ania, and Kamite Comics, and of comics like Tribe, Icon, and Purge can be attributed to the impact this comic book had within the industry and black comic culture as a whole.
In 2015, Brotherman once again graced the pages of comics. Dawud Anyabwile and Guy A. Sims once again collaborated, this time including colorist Brian McGee, to publish part one of a new graphic novel series for Brotherman: Dictator of Disciple called Revelation. Revelation went on to win two Glyph awards in 2016, claiming the awards for Story of the Year and Best Artist.
In 2018, Big City Entertainment announced the inclusion of artwork and memorabilia from the Brotherman Comics series into the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC), located in Washington, DC. The historical and unique materials are to be included in its Archive collection for use in research and exhibitions.
“What an honor,” said Guy A. Sims during an interview with the Philadelphia Tribune. “I was at the museum last year before the announcement. At the time, I never thought the museum would be reaching out to us to have our work displayed. It’s an honor.“
Full issues of the original Brotherman series can be read online through the museum’s website.