Allow me to begin today’s festivities by wishing you a happy Jackie Robinson Day.
In the event that you’re not a baseball aficionado — in which case, I might think somewhat less of you, but we can still be friends — I’ll explain that April 15 marks the anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first appearance with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, becoming the game’s first black player since baseball banned participation by African Americans in the late 1880s. The integration of the national pastime led not only to revolutionary change in the sporting world, but in society as a whole. No less a civil rights champion than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. credited baseball’s black pioneers with “making my job easy” by demonstrating that people of color could work successfully alongside their white counterparts, and even excel, when provided opportunity.
It seems appropriate, then, to celebrate Jackie Robinson’s historic accomplishment with an artwork featuring the Black Panther, whose advent in Fantastic Four #52 (July 1966) represented to mainstream comics what Robinson’s arrival did to baseball. It’s Ryan Sook’s variant cover for Black Panther #1, the first issue of the new Marvel series that hit the stands last week. I acquired the original black-and-white ink art from Ryan last month at Silicon Valley Comic Con. I don’t usually have much interest in buying published covers or pages — my collection largely consists of commissioned pieces, as regular readers can attest — but I couldn’t pass up the chance to own this amazing cover. Thanks, Ryan! (You can see the published version, in full color, below.)
These are good days to be a Black Panther fan, which I’ve been since he began appearing regularly in The Avengers in 1968. Not only are we getting a fresh run of Panther stories in the comics — with scripts by award-winning author and social commentator Ta-Nehesi Coates, and art by the incredible Brian Stelfreeze — but T’Challa is also poised to make his big-screen debut next month in Captain America: Civil War. Portraying the Panther is actor Chadwick Boseman, who coincidentally also played Jackie Robinson in the film 42. Boseman will continue the role in a Black Panther solo film scheduled for release in July 2018. You’d best believe I’ll be among the first in line to see that one.
It’s worth mentioning that while the Panther was the first black superhero in mainstream comics, he wasn’t the first character of African descent to star in his own title. In December 1965, Dell Comics — best known for its licensed comics based on popular TV shows — published Lobo, a Western adventure featuring an African American gunfighter as its titular protagonist. The series, created by writer D.J. Arneson and artist Tony Tallarico, lasted only two issues. Not until Luke Cage, Hero For Hire arrived in June 1972 would a black superhero headline his own book. (The Black Panther took over the lead feature in Marvel’s Jungle Action comic beginning in July 1973. He moved to his own eponymous series in January 1977.)
I still remember the first time I stood in front of the spinner rack at the local supermarket and saw the Black Panther on the cover of a comic book. My younger self could scarcely have envisioned the day when the Panther would stand at the brink of multimedia superstardom, as he does today.
As I said earlier… good days indeed, for us T’Challa fans.
And that’s your Comic Art Friday.