"I approached it like an educator.... There was about a ten-year gap between contacting people and when the convention was founded. It wasn't about not seeing Black people, it was really about getting these people connected."
East Coast of Black Age Comics Convention Founder
Founder of ECBACC, Yumy Odom listened to some quotes from various 20-On-20 interviewees in order to give context to his reflections and ruminations on the event's origins and ongoing mission.
"Uncle Yumy... is like family to me. Yumy looked out for me the way you're supposed to look out for folks when they come to you the way I came to ECBACC." ~ Joseph R. Wheeler III
Can you talk a bit about your outreach philosophy and how you got the word out about ECBACC?
Part of it was just how I've been my entire life, always about sharing ideas and whatever I had. I reached out to a few of the creators a decade before ECBACC got started. That included Professor Foster, Brother Turtel Onli who came up with the term Black Age of Comics, and a few other people. Of course, the Internet was not like this, so I was actually writing letters to people and making phone calls. I have some of the letters that I kept and post once in a while. I also had email. It was done grassroots, and that's why ECBACC still has that same family kind of connection. Even though we have all the social media, everything is still done person to person.
What was the spark that started ECBACC for you?
ECBACC comes out of First World Komix (FWK) back in 1986 when I founded The Frator Heru Institute. I did a FWK class called Kemet and Komix in the Classroom. So, as time went on, I was thinking why not have a symposium or conference for people who like comic books? I approached it like an educator. I was thinking about all these people across the country who were doing comic book-like projects but were not connected to each other. I had that idea in my head for a while. I moved to Philadelphia in '88. And I decided to choose this out of my five Master's theses topics. There were Black characters but they were made by people of European descent. The first actual one I found out about later was, of course, in 1947, All-Negro Comics. Then I saw other people like Jerry Craft, so I included cartoon images alongside the superhero comic books.
The first one that I saw was Dawud Anyabwile's Brother Man in 1990. And then they kept popping up. There was Trans-Nubians, Brother Mshindo's work, and Parallax: The 3rd Wave by Nigel Binns. All of that stuff started to appear in front of me. I was working on my Master's from 1990-93. There was about a ten-year gap between contacting people and when the convention was founded. It wasn't about not seeing Black people, it was really about getting these people connected.
To go back to Brother Wheeler, he was the first one to [do an ECBACC-style convention]. He was the second to mention it, Andre Batts was about three months after him. Both started in 2009. Wheeler has always supported ECBACC. He was the first ECBACC cosplayer with his own masquerade to promote El Tercero.
"They are the most sophisticated iteration of a BAC-themed convention. It is a tribute to Yumy and the good people in Philadelphia who have bonded together in the spirit of commerce and entrepreneurship to do this. I'm totally thrilled they're doing it, and I know what heavy lifting it is." ~ Turtel Onli
Can you talk a bit about lessons learned while developing ECBACC?
I appreciate those comments he made because this is work. You have to connect with people. You can't have a lot of gossipy nonsense. You have to be really grounded and have an actual mission. We try to make sure that all the Black Age conventions are universal. It's broad-based who can be at ECBACC. So you can be an Asian person with African characters and that's ECBACC. European with African characters, that's ECBACC. Africans with African characters and that's ECBACC. It's about the images and not the people who make the images all of the time.
The first decade of ECBACC we had at least 3 attacks about ECBACC being a "racist" convention. Have you been to white Wizard World and told them about whatever they're doing? No. Most of the good critiques we get are about us needing to do more of something. But that means we have to do more work and there are only four board members who actually manage the entirety of ECBACC: Vice President - Akinseye Brown, Treasurer - Stephanie Branford, Secretary - Shenkarr Davis, and me.
What was a specific triumph or milestone that you accomplished that sticks out for you?
There are a lot of them, but I would say specifically our awards programs. The Glyph Awards was the first award of its kind in the comics industry. Nobody was celebrating Black images let alone Black people making the images until ECBACC. Now there are like ten award categories in the Eurocentric awards that came behind us celebrating the same people we celebrated the decade before!
ECBACC also kept works alive from ten, fifteen, and even twenty years ago through workshops, panel discussions, and just by talking about them. Some folks didn't even know about All Negro Comics 1947, so Professor Foster did presentations at many-a-convention.
"I want it to always be changing with the times. ECBACC isn't any one individual; it's an entity, and it should pass to the next generation." ~ Maurice Waters
What do you see for the future of ECBACC? You speak about it from the educational lens, but do you see yourself possibly incorporating elements from other more fan-based cons?
I agree with that. I see it as being bigger, but I want it to maintain the human connection. ECBACC was my first official comic book convention. I hadn't been to a comic convention until after ECBACC. Brother Maurice and Akin were the first ones to take me to a convention. I think it was in the Javits Center in New York back in the early 2000's. I think it was the most unfriendly place I'd ever been. It was just too crowded to enjoy looking at comic books. It was just too much. We went to a panel and then went to lunch. Some European guys who were in the panel wound up sitting near us and wound up talking about why they didn't like Black characters. They said it was because they didn't know any Black people so they couldn't relate. I'm thinking here they go with this nonsense. You like Silver Surfer, you like Superman. Do you know people from space?! It's not because they don't know them. It's a bunch of stuff behind why they don't like Black characters. I understood these were white conventions. It's all good, but I'm not getting anything from them so why am I there? That's why I don't go to any of them.
I also hate the notion of an Artists Alley. I tell people ECBACC doesn't have one. Our artists are featured on the main floor. They've been in alleys enough. No more alleys! I understand why they use the term because it's a line of tables like an alley, but we don't use those terms in ECBACC.
So I see ECBACC getting bigger but not losing the familial feel it's had since its inception.
How do you maintain that as you get bigger?
You have to get people on board who understand what that means. We have volunteers like Carla Wiley, Dionne Stallworth, Jihan Thomas, and Cheri Davis, Brother Shenkarr's wife who is also our photographer. Everybody we invite out to a workshop understands ECBACC's mission and vision.
"The Glyph Awards. It's ECBACC's crowning jewel. They're the industry standard for Black Creators. With sponsorship, the Glyph Awards could be even bigger. That is absolutely ECBACC owned."
How do you see the Glyph Awards' contributions to the industry, and what would you like to see for its future?
I agree with her. Glyph Awards needs to be major. It's the night before the actual convention, but it could really be its own all-day celebration. People could check out the work of the nominees before they are announced. We could have a reception, and even add cosplay to the event too. But that requires funding. We're working on some things now. People don't quite grasp the mission enough to fund it. People like to see it, but they don't support it financially even if they've benefited from it. Sometimes people forget that before they got the Eisner, they got 2 Glyph Awards, which is how the Eisner got to see them.
On Sunday we started doing the breakfast at Reading Terminal. We've only had up to ten people because most people are tired. They hang out at night after the convention and we're at Reading Terminal from maybe 9:00 am to 11:00 am.
So if we could get some funding for all of this, we could make it our new tradition at ECBACC.
Have you ever reached out to some of the other boutique conventions to see how they're able to get funding?
Most of them charge. Our table costs are low. If we increased our tabling cost and charged for entry we could do more, but our idea is to get families to come out, which they do. But if they had four people in their family, are you going to pay $40 to come to a convention and shop too? So, we decided we'd have a free convention and charge what we can for tables to pay for rental space.
Are you planning to have a live event in 2022?
Yes. The East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention is scheduled to return to Philly in May 2022! In the interim, we will be sharing posts, history, and info as we move into the 21st anniversary.
What would you like to say to the ECBACC community about the last 20 years?
To tell the deeper story of this journey would take a tome. Founded in 2002 as the nation’s first full-service comic book convention, ECBACC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit literacy and arts organization offering: professional comic book industry workshops, comic book mini-cons, and youth literacy initiatives year-round. Workshops include the Story-telling That Advances Reading Skills (S.T.A.R.S) program, The ECBACC Pioneer / Lifetime Achievement (PLA) Awards, The Glyph Comics Awards (GCA), and The Heruica Character Creation Awards (HCCA). ECBACC has AfriCoz, the first convention-based, Africana-inspired superhero, sci-fi and fantasy cosplay contest. ECBACC Publishing has the Read For Fun (RFF) Workbook, The S.T.A.R.S Facilitators Training Manual, and The Super 8. ECBACC has a 60-vendor marketplace hosted at the annual convention.
All of this gives ECBACC a distinct cultural and historical mission that goes beyond selling, sharing, and trading comic books and related memorabilia. A core component of ECBACC is to establish a connection (ECBACC Synergy) between creators (artists, writers, editors, etc.) and aficionados (fans) to serve as a model for community-based conventions. Thus far, we have succeeded on every level.