In its 23rd year, the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention continues to amplify Black creators, stories

On Saturday, attendees of all ages enjoyed panel discussions, workshops and a comic book marketplace at Temple University’s Student and Faculty Center.

Comic book creators, authors and artists at ECBACC

Comic book creators, authors and artists from up and down the East Coast gathered for the 23rd edition of the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention on May 18, 2024 in North Philadelphia. (Emily Neil/WHYY)

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More than two decades ago, Yumy Odom started a free convention to connect the Black comic book creator community in  Philadelphia.

“Philadelphia [had] a lot of Black indie comic book creators. They knew each other but they really were not connected … until I reached out to them and connected them,” Odom said.

Each year, the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention (ECBACC), Odom’s “labor of love,” attracts about 500 people throughout the day,

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ECBACC has inspired similar conventions throughout the country and around the world — Odom said there are 45 different conventions that have modeled themselves after ECBACC, some of which are in Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa.

“We’ve impacted the whole world with this very small convention,” Odom said.

Yumy Odom, founder and president of ECBACC
Yumy Odom, founder and president of ECBACC, said the convention has inspired other conventions around the world focused on Black comic book creators and stories centering Black characters. (Emily Neil/WHYY)

In its 23rd year, the convention this Saturday again served as a gathering place for comic book lovers, creators, fantasy authors and multi-generational artists at Temple’s Student Faculty Center in North Philadelphia.

Attendees walked around, networking and speaking with creators from throughout the East Coast region who came to share their work and seek inspiration from one another.

“I also want to learn a little bit here and grab some stuff, because I like comic books, and I might learn a thing or two because eventually in the future I want to either make my own animated series, or a comic book series itself,” said Dominick Tillury, 16, a self-described “comic book nerd” and an artist.

The convention, which creates space and celebrates creatives of color, attracts attendees from beyond Philly’s borders.

Gerald Fauntroy, who came from Maryland, said a convention like ECBACC that focuses on Black creators and audiences is key to supporting Black artists and authors in creating original work.

Fauntroy, a comic book creator, was hit with inspiration in the midst of the action and quietly drew in his sketchbook in between chatting with visitors to his table, where his comic book “The Trials of Atlas” was displayed.

“It encourages Black creators to actually create versus recreating,” Fauntroy said. “I’ve seen a lot of creators and they say, ‘Hey, this is the Black Superman or the Black this, the Black version of something. But I want to see more [of] you created this, you know the beginning, the middle, the end, you know all of this top to bottom and no one can take it away from you.”

This was novelist N.D. Jones’ third  ECBACC convention. The Baltimore-based author began her writing journey by reading Black Panther comics as a kid. From there, she started writing fanfiction, and then ultimately began creating her own characters.

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Author N.D. Jones poses with her work at the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention
Author N.D. Jones poses with her work at the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention on May 18, 2024 in North Philadelphia. (Emily Neil/WHYY)

On Saturday, she had multiple novels on display.

“It’s nice to have an opportunity to have the customer, the artist, the reader, and the creative to meet each other to create a venue in which you can bring all of those individuals together,” she said.

In addition to the main convention, ECBACC facilitates various mini-conventions, workshops and training classes throughout the year up and down the East Coast. Odom said they’ve been to every library in Philadelphia to advance their “main mission…literacy and comic books.”

Part of Odom’s motivation to start the convention came out of his experience of improving his vocabulary and knowledge as an avid reader of comic books as a kid — a passion that Philadelphia-based author Denise Matthews shared.

Philadelphian Denise Matthews
Philadelphian Denise Matthews attended the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention on May 18, 2024 in North Philadelphia to present her comic book and novel and connect with a wider audience. (Emily Neil/WHYY)

Matthews attended the convention Saturday to present her fantasy novel and comic book. She’s been writing since she was nine, and said she’s happy that “now people are recognizing comic books as an actual literature.”

“I grew up in a Catholic school. And that was forbidden, comic books were looked at as a joke. They were torn up, they were thrown away,” Matthews said. “I’ve seen my brothers lose so many comics over the fact that they’re reading that and not a novel. I find you can’t distinguish the two. It’s reading and it’s broadening their mind and it’s showing them a universe and giving their imaginations [something], I say go for it.”

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