Khem festival creates platform for Black and brown comic creators – NJ.com
Wakanda Ball in Newark
When comic creator Naseed Gifted co-founded Newark’s Khem festival in 2015, he wanted to celebrate Black animation, gaming and comic book creators. And so he did.
The three-day festival, now in its eighth year, recognizes diversity in the comic realm through art, fashion and comics. This year’s event at The Future is Black Afrofuturism Art + Tech Gallery on Broad Street showcased 12 artists and drew over 1,000 people, many dressed in cosplay or superhero costumes to align with the theme: Bringing Wakanda to Newark, before wrapping up last week. Afrofuturism was a concept of the an gallery, which explored a future where Black culture is celebrated in comics and technology. A pre-event included a Wakanda-themed Ball based on the fictional country in East Africa and home to the superhero Black Panther.
“If you look at science fiction, fantasy and even historical documents and media, most of the time they take Black people out of it,” said Newark native Gifted, 45. “So we wanted to amplify the context that we’re going to be here… in the future and what that future looks like.”
Less than 5% of the comic industry is Black, Gifted said. But the idea of inclusionary comic spaces celebrating Black comics has been a movement since 1993 when the founders of Milestone Media asked, “Where are the Black superheroes?” According to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, the film release of Marvel’s Black Panther 2018 showed the power behind representation.
Gifted under his organization P.B.S. Media created the festival, an offshoot of his comic, Afrofuturism Adventure “P.B.Soldier,” set in a renaissance Newark. A Newark public school vice principal, he uses the festival to introduce STEM concepts such as engineering, math, science and technology.
“I’ll always paint Newark in the future sense “ because of where I think it can go, Gifted said.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said the Khem festival “is incredible.”
“It is a way to project ourselves into the future. Sometimes people don’t see us when they talk about the future, and this is important,” he said. “It gives us a space and, more importantly, it gives young Black boys and girls opportunity to see themselves in a different way, and it is going to be incredibly impactful.”
Through the Khem Festival, Gifted created a platform for Black artists like AfroFuturist and biologist Rashida Lovely and pilot Derrick Garvin to show and sell their work. Lovely founded Newave Studios, a multi-arts and science studio in Scranton, Pa. Garvin is CEO of Dynasty of the Magi, a comic book he created and combined with a game based on the comic.
At this year’s festival, artist Serron Green, whose also known as Xplore Freedom, was one of the featured artists in the gallery. Green, 53, created an alternate universe where superheroes like Batman, Superman and Green Lantern are Black through his artwork.
“How does that change the narrative and the perception of the character itself,” said Green of Newark. “Or a character like Superman in a climate where Black men are getting shot, constantly imagine if he was bulletproof.”
“The question also is, does the oppressed become the oppressor given that power?”
Another artist Charles Date 16, of Rahway, used music and vibrant colors to illustrate her characters and inter- storytelling. Her series is called Vulcarmia.
“We don’t have many opportunities to express ourselves, especially from our community,” she said. “So, it’s important to draw, write, sing, dance, to get more color into the world.”
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Shaylah Brown may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @shaylah_brown
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