Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Discover The Almost Forgotten Southeast Queens Native That 1st Lit Up The Black Panther Comic Franchise!

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Learn How A Young Southeast Queens Writer Pens
 Organic Swagger Into The Black Panther Comic Series

By Kamau Austin
Courtesy The Vulture.com

The Black Panther is springboarding towards a worldwide revenue windfall that's been reported over 400 million dollars in 4 days over the President's Day Holiday Weekend by some media outlets.  It has broken many records especially for a movie opening in February.  But how did we get here celebrating such a royal depiction of Black culture?

It didn't happen overnight.  I remember reading the very 1st Black Panther Comic book way back in 1966 as a pre-teen.  And actually I remember feeling a sense of pride about reading of a fictitious African King in an technologically advanced nation.  It fired my imagination on the possibilities on Black people being technologically advanced and filled me with pride like the movie also did for countless people over the weekend.

The original Black Panther comic, which I read as a child, was more like an Africanized version of other Marvel Comics like Iron Man for instance.  Iron Man, was really a billionaire, Tony Stark, with a technologically advanced company and super gizmo suit.  Likewise, The Black Panther, T'Challa, was a wealthy African King with a highly technologically advanced nation and other resources.  This was a groundbreaking concept back in comics in the mid-60s.

The Black Panther was conceived and illustrated by the iconic leaders of Marvel at the time the legendary Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby.  In fact, I was always lagging in my reading ability when younger until I started reading Marvel Comics with the science and nerdy scenarios.  So I am in a way really indebted to Marvel comics. 

Black Panther, was the "first Black superhero in mainstream comics" according to Wikipedia.  I remember me and other guys on the block in Southeast Queens, talking back then about the latest Black Panther comics and other Marvel characters we loved - with high energy excitement!

So I know what I'm saying when I state - what we witnessed on the big screen this weekend was not the original version of the Black Panther of over 50 years ago.  That took input from Black writers over the years to get us to the cultural insights of the current Black Panther movie today.

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Hollis, Queens, NY Native Christopher J. Priest changed the direction of Black Panther Comics

Enter Christopher J. Priest, who back in the day I knew him as Jim Owsley (no one is exactly sure why he changed his pen name) a young intern at Marvel.  His birth name was James Christopher Owsley.

He became an intern at Marvel in 1978.  Priest went on to become a provocative writer of comic books and the 1st editor in a mainstream comic company in 1979 - in his early 20s.

Vulture.com posits "While Priest did not invent the Black Panther character — a superhero and king of a fictional African nation who had been kicking around Marvel for decades — in many ways he revolutionized it."   

According to Wikipedia Owsley AKA Christopher J. Priest, "made his professional debut as a writer in 1983 with issue #1 of The Falcon miniseries and was made full editor of the Spider-Man comic books from 1985 to 1986.  Professional and personal disagreements eventually led to his leaving Marvel."

Priest is 56, from Hollis, Queens, NY is credited with a lot of the rewriting of the Black Panther back in 1983 to make it focus more on Black Panther being a king.  Also under his influence and other writers Black Panther became more authentic and realistically imbued with Black culture, social issues and angst.

According to Vulture.com in reference to Priest: "His turn-of-the-millennium run at Marvel Comics, when he was writing the character Black Panther, has served as an inspiration for this year’s feverishly anticipated Marvel Studios film Black Panther. Given the comics world’s self-image of liberal inclusivity, and the fact that Priest is the first black writer to work full time at either Marvel or DC, starting with his first regular writing gig back in 1983, you might think he is long established as an elder statesman of the industry."

So before renown social commentator Ta-Nehisi Coates, was pulled recently to write the story of the Black Panther comics, or Director Ryan Coogler was tapped to make the Black Panther Movie, Christopher J. Priest, is the man credited with making the Black Panther more organically soulfully Black or African.   Priest is very outspoken about racism in the comic book industry and can better understand the complexity of being a Black superhero than persons like Stan Lee or Jack Kirby.  Obviously Marvel and later Disney over the years understood this and hired Black writers like Christopher J. Priest and later Ta-Nehisi Coates to rework the franchise to be more organic.

See A Marvel Video Featuring Christopher J. Priest

According to Vulture.com Priest grew up in the tough Hollis, Queens, NY area and stayed home reading comic books, where it was safer, rather than being outside dealing with tough elements in the community at the time.  Southeast Queens, NY, was tough back in the day and my mom and dad also encouraged me to read, study, and get involved in sports too so I can relate.

I'm sure if you have seen the recent Black Panther movie you would probably agree it smashes negative images of Africa, uplifts it's culture, and shows most importantly Blacks worldwide want heroic movies and depictions of themselves.  Christopher J. Priest, is the one who stressed the kingly position of the Black Panther as a monarch.  Thank you brotha Priest for contributing to a movie that celebrates the potential and regal nature of Black culture and personalities.

Reportedly, Black Panther lead star Chadwick Boseman, refers to reading the work of Christopher J. Priest for his acting inspiration.  And Ta-nehisi Coates conveyed "He had the classic run on Black Panther, period, and that’s gonna be true for a long time.” 

“People had not put as much thought into who and what Black Panther was before Christopher started writing the book.” While previously the Panther had been written as a superhero, Coates notes, “[Priest] thought that Black Panther was a king.”

According to Vulture.com "It seems doubtful there’d even be a movie about him today if not for Priest’s refurbishing. Yet Priest himself has been chronically underappreciated... "

To read more about Christopher Priest checkout the article on him at Vulture.com

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