Lil’s World: Black Comic Book Heroes Took Over The Village Of Harlem

May 17, 2023

By Lil Nickelson

On Saturday, April 8th, 2023 I went to the Children’s Arts Carnival (CAC) located at 62 Hamilton Terrace in West Harlem to attend the opening reception of FORAYS INTO FANTASY.

A one-woman exhibition for award-winning Illustrator and Visual Afrofuturist, Micheline Hess that was curated by fellow artist Dionis Ortiz. Micheline’s exhibition invites visitors to explore fantastical worlds that are melanin-rich, and vibrant with strong protagonists, laying out the welcome mat for Black people who love fantasy adventure. It’s a way of telling kids that yes, you can exist in these worlds too, and not just as side characters, henchmen, or comedy relief. You exist in the center. You are the main character. You are the heroes who can save and create your own worlds.

The exhibition dates are from Saturday, April 8th through – Saturday, May 13th, 2023. The gallery hours are Saturdays & Sundays from 12 noon – 5:00 pm. Weekday visits are available by appointment only, so email CAC at

As part of her solo exhibition, on Saturday, April 22nd at 1:00 pm sharp CAC presented a two-hour kid’s workshop (for ages 6 – 12) to meet the artist Micheline Hess for a fun-filled afternoon of storytelling and character design. To boost some young person’s knowledge power of imagination through working with this award-winning artist, CAC graciously allowed Black comic book mania to reside in its brownstone over two Saturdays.

If that wasn’t enough the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture hosted the 11th annual Black Comic Book Festival in person this year over the two days, Friday, April 14th through Saturday, April 15th at 515 Malcolm X Blvd in Central Harlem. The SchomCom Exhibitor Marketplace bought 47 animators, blerd, bloggers, cosplay lovers, fans like me, families, illustrators, independent publishers, and writers to celebrate Black comic books and graphic novels, and art over three spacious levels (lower, main, and upper). This annual event highlights the work of creators from across the country, including Puerto Rico, and features the best panel discussions, workshops, book signings, and a cosplay showcase.

The festival activities began on Friday at 10:30 am and ended at 7 pm with interesting panel discussions from Banned Books and Diversity in Comics to How to Draw Black Superheroes & Comics to Access Guide’s Black Comics Trivia Challenge and more.

I was able to sit in on the Banned Books and Diversity in Comics panel discussion and I sat near the sister dressed as Borinquena, a Puerto Rican Woman superhero created by Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez. The discussion brought me back to my childhood growing up in Harlem. I was in junior high school when I learned that there was an NYPL in Brownstone in Harlem that was filled with books written by Black people about Black people, and that library housed the collection of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, a Puerto Rican-born Black scholar whose personal library was bought by the center in 1926. I spent as many Saturday afternoons as possible there in the early spring, fall, and winter seasons learning about our contributions to the world; something I couldn’t find in any schoolbooks.

I was an avid comic book reader when I was growing up and truth be told I was still buying comic books in my freshman year in college. I don’t recall ever seeing any woman superheroes before Wonder Woman; just Betty and Veronica vying for the attention of Archie and Ethel was after Jughead. Females in general were definitely sidekicks in my youth. By that same token, before the Marvel Comics film “Black Panther” became a box office hit, superheroes were almost always white men.

Yes, the civil rights movement of the 1960s played a significant role when Black heroes and heroines conquered the movie theaters in low-budget films that often addressed the realities of Black ghettos. I remember the entire movie theater cheering for Richard Roundtree in Shaft, and I saw the movie “The Mack” 16 times over two Saturdays at the Nova Movie Theater in 147th – 148th Streets on Broadway cheering on the late Max Julien and Pretty Tony. Today, I laugh about it now, but back then I had a serious crush on a pimp; can you imagine! In high school I even met and got Fred Williamson’s autograph in Trinity Cemetery on Amsterdam Avenue and 154th Street as he filmed a scene from “Black Caesar,” that man was so handsome. These so-called “Blaxploitation” films influenced comics in the 1970s.

This development spilled over into comic strips that featured one-dimensional “ghetto gangster stereotypes” like Luke Cage. In 1972, Cage, an ex-convict with superhuman strength and almost indestructible skin, was the first Black superhero to get his own comic series.

Related: Read more about Harlem food with Lil Nickleson and her “Dining With Miss Lil” column with HWM.

The 1970s also saw the appearance of the first Black superheroines — Wonder Woman’s  lost twin sister, Nubia (1973); Storm (1975), born with superhuman abilities and the power of weather control, and Bumblebee (1976), one of the “Teen Titans.”

Photo credits: 1) Artwork of Illustrator and visual Afrofuturist artist Micheline Hess. 2) 11th Annual Black Comic Book Festival signage. 3) Model dressed as Borinquena character.

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