There are heroes in Philadelphia’s City Hall. They fight crime, protect the poor, and channel the spirits of Egyptian gods.
A showcase of the black comic book art created by local artists is now on display in two glass cases on the 4th floor of City Hall.
The earliest example, from 1947, is the first independently published African-American comic book, “All-Negro Comics,” featuring the character Lion Man protecting ore mines in Africa, and a private detective in Harlem. It was created in Philadelphia by George Evans and drawn by his brother Orrin.
George never got a chance to make a second book.
“He would send these issues out and it would be sent back because distributors would not want to sell a comic book with black people on the cover,” said Yumy Odom, founder of the annual East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention, who loaned some of his comic collection to City Hall.
After the demise of “All-Negro Comics,” more than 40 years would pass before anyone would try it again in Philadelphia.
That second go was a hit.
Two brothers from Germantown – Guy and David Sims (now Dawud Anyabwile) – created ‘Brotherman’ in 1990, a character working and hero-ing in the fictional Big City, based on Philadelphia.
“He is a lawyer by day, superhero by night,” said Odom. “No super powers, just an ordinary guy who wanted to fight crime with not many gadgets.”
After two decades, ‘Brotherman’ is still a lively brand; its hip-hop infused stories and characters (including “Melody Rich, Public Attorney”) are currently in print as a set of three anthologies.
The display in City Hall also features more humorous work, like Reginald Byers “Jam Quacky, the Hip-Hop Duck.”
“Anyone can read them, but ‘Brotherman’s’ themes – good and evil, and how to fight injustice – they are really adult themes,” said Odom. “Not profanity – I mean young children can read them but won’t get as much out of them as adults would, looking at how things operate as an adult.”
Many of the characters on display are teased out of the Northern African origins of Greek mythology, including Razanj, a superhero with powerful dreadlocks similar to the snakes of the Medusa.
This weekend, Odom will speak at Rutgers University about the African origins of many stories in Greek myths. The Saturday panel is part of Camden Comic Con, the first comic convention to be held in Camden, NJ.