Term of Award

Fall 2013

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)


Department of Art

Committee Chair

Edward Rushton

Committee Member 1

Jessica Burke

Committee Member 2

Derek Larson


Comic books can be understood as a visualization of popular culture in the U.S. For a long time these tales were formed by a white power fantasy, circulating in mainstream culture as over-exaggerated narrations. To give an example of white power fantasy, Dwayne McDuffie, a prolific writer in popular entertainment states:

“…if I write, as I have many times, a story where Daredevil, who doesn’t have powers, gets the drop on Thor, who has unbelievable powers, people go Oh, that was so cool! Daredevil was so clever! If I have Black Panther do the same thing that’s impossible! It’s like, yeah, it’s impossible with Daredevil too, man. It’s like, I write Batman all the time, in Justice League, where he’s hanging out with seven guys who, by any logic, should be able to you know, eat his lunch without even working up a sweat. And he’s constantly outmaneuvering them, and outfighting them and out-thinking them, and we think Batman is so cool! But when black characters do much less, relative to where their positions area it makes the readership uncomfortable, because they’re not used to seeing it.”[1]

Superheroes have a strong influence in our society, and as such we should look at the messages they represent. To this end, I have examined the roles of African American characters by understanding their history before and after the induction of an African-American superhero, their appearance, and the archetypes they represent. I have interviewed artists, local comic retailers, and fans of comics on their favorite superheroes and their reasons for liking that particular hero to begin my analysis, and branched from there to texts written by the companies who own the superheroes and other anthropologists who have examined the role of black superheroes in our society.

This body of work examines how America has conceptualized African American males and females as superheroes in popular culture and reflecting how they fit in the pantheon of heroes. I have chosen to appropriate certain materials from Marvel and DC Comics because they have defined the superhero comic book genre and how we should look at our heroes. I want the work to encourage people who consume media to think more critically. I want people to think more broadly about representation and not accepting what’s falsely represented in the media.

[1] YouTube. "Dwayne McDuffie on the realities of the Black writer in the comic book industry." YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u16sKK-1oLQ

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