An Au­thor­i­ta­tive Voice For Black Su­per­heroes

Ta-ne­hisi Coates ex­plores the pol­i­tics of, and in, Black Pan­ther.

Paper Boy - - Front Page - By GE­ORGE GENE GUSTINES

When Mar­vel Comics an­nounced in Septem­ber 2015 that Ta-ne­hisi Coates would be writ­ing a new Black Pan­ther se­ries, the tim­ing could not have been more for­tu­itous. That same month, Mr. Coates, who writes reg­u­larly for The At­lantic, was awarded a John D. and Cather­ine T. Macarthur Foun­da­tion “ge­nius grant,” and, two months later, a Na­tional Book Award for non­fic­tion for “Be­tween the World and Me,” his let­ter to his son about be­ing black in Amer­ica.

The mo­men­tum for the hero was also tremen­dous. Is­sue No. 1 of Black Pan­ther hit stores last April and went on to sell more than 300,000 copies. He then made his big-screen de­but in “Cap­tain Amer­ica: Civil War,” and will have a solo film next year. In July came “Black Pan­ther: A Na­tion Un­der Our Feet,” a col­lected edi­tion of the first four is­sues of the comic. This April comes a new se­ries, Black Pan­ther and the Crew, a team com­pris­ing only black he­roes in the Har­lem neigh­bor­hood of New York, writ­ten by Mr. Coates and the poet Yona Har­vey.

Mr. Coates an­swered ques­tions about the suc­cess of Black Pan­ther and what’s next. ( The in­ter­view has been edited and con­densed.)

Q. Does the re­sponse to the Black Pan­ther se­ries sur­prise you? sponse a lit­tle bit, but I don’t know, man. I’m in the zone of writ­ing, and that place is still re­ally, re­ally hard and re­ally, re­ally chal­leng­ing. What I’m try­ing to do is to learn more. I’m read­ing a lot more, and read­ing as a fan is very, very dif­fer­ent to read­ing as a cre­ator. Maybe read­ing as a critic is close to it, but ac­tu­ally try­ing to fig­ure out what peo­ple are do­ing and why it has cer­tain ef­fects on me is a very, very dif­fer­ent way of look­ing at stuff. Sell­ing is im­por­tant be­cause I want the book to con­tinue, but when I’m done, I want peo­ple to say: “This was a clas­sic run. This is one of the best things Mar­vel ever did.” You must feel a cer­tain level of con­fi­dence, or do you try not to re­flect un­til the story is over?

I do think about it, but I don’t think it will prob­a­bly be know­able un­til a few more years. I don’t mean to im­pugn any­body that’s buy­ing the se­ries — I re­ally, re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate it — but I think, of­ten­times, things may not al­ways be ap­pre­ci­ated in their time, where it turns out later that this was ac­tu­ally some­thing great. And at the same time, there are prob­a­bly things that are ap­pre­ci­ated in their time that prob­a­bly don’t pass the test of time.

How much of this is the movie? How much of this is Pan­ther’s im­proved pro­file right now? How much of this is “Be­tween the World and Me”? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. What I want peo­ple to feel ul­ti­mately is that this is part of the en­tire oeu­vre that I put to­gether. I don’t want it to be “Ta-ne­hisi just took a break and did comics.” It is not a break for me. How does the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate now af­fect your writ­ing? Do you save that for — and I’m go­ing to put quotes around this — your “real” writ­ing, your non­fic­tion writ­ing?

[Laughs.] It has to in­flu­ence. I think that is the tra­di­tion, ac­tu­ally, for comic book writ­ers. Maybe not for all of them, but cer­tainly the ones to which I was ex­posed. I think about this all the time. When you take a book like Spi­der-man or Dare­devil and the big thing is crime­fight­ing, I don’t think that’s dis­tant from the time when those char­ac­ters were cre­ated. Dur­ing that pe­riod, we had this ris­ing crime, and the city was seen a cer­tain way, in a way that Man­hat­tan is not seen to­day.

Even the de­ci­sion to cre­ate Black Pan­ther: It was not an apo­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion to have this black char­ac­ter in Africa, in this ad­vanced na­tion, and have him be highly in­tel­li­gent. All of these were po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sions.

ROSS MAC­DON­ALD

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