The Inexorable Rise of Hannibal Tabu #BlackLivesMatter

Hannibal Tabu is the closest thing to a popular literary critic in comic books. The co-head of the communications team for Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, he’s been an outspoken advocate of lesser known innovative writers and idea makers, especially Black creators, and he’s even written a few comics himself.

He founded and owns “The Buy Pile,” a weekly review of new comics that he began independently in 2003, then moved over to U.G.O. dot com, and has been running over at Comic Book Resources (CBR) since 2009.

Tabu is now an editor at the über cool comics’ blog Bleeding Cool.

You can check out The Buy Pile on iHeart Radio.

Tabu has been a consistent critic of the “big two” comic publishers: DC and Marvel and their history of hiring — or more accurately — not hiring Black talent. As a matter of fact, Tabu’s opportunity to work on Artifacts at comic publisher Top Cow was one of the very few options wholly new writing voices had to gain entry into an increasingly competitive industry until recently.

Photo above: Clockwise from center left: Tabu, Quinn McGowan, and Dr. Stanford Carpenter. Black Heroes Matter flashmob at Comic-Con International in San Diego in 2018. 

Back in 2017, Tabu told The Huffington Post why his advocacy for Black voices in comics was important, “I often quote the Ras Kass line, ‘The diameter of your knowledge is the circumference of your activity.’ If all that one knows is the same voices, then they will be stricken dumb by experiences outside of those voices. The Black perspective on the western world can be drastically different than the white one, and in voices like an Ava DuVernay, a Neil Drumming, a Marc Bernardin or a Geoffrey Thorne (and I’m just naming people who have already had national platforms, before drilling down to the Dani Dixons or Brandon Eastons of the world) you get such nuance, such richness that you cannot get from your Scorceses or your Tarantinos or your, sorry to say, Bendises (Bendii?) or Morrisons.  To quote Sting, ‘there is a deeper world than this, tugging at your hand.’ More Black voices, more Aboriginal voices, more Samoan voices… this can only enrich the quality of the work and elevate the discourse, not to mention expanding the audience, which is simply good for business.'”

At the time of writing, it should be noted that Marvel currently has zero Black creators on staff and DC has three: Nalo Hopkinson, Bryan Edward Hill, and N.K. Jemisin.

I spoke to the Memphis born, L.A. based Tabu, via email about the pandemic, quarantine, his son coming out as trans, and why his voice is more important now than ever.

Photo above: Tabu at EagleCon 2020 Versus panel, image courtesy of The Grand Geek Gathering.

In what myriad ways was this an unusual Father’s Day or in what ways did you feel like a return to something like normalcy? Normally on Father’s Day I go out to sing karaoke at night. That, clearly, was not an option. My wife is immunocompromised, and even if the government was stupid enough to fully open everything, I’d be right here because I can’t risk her life. I drove and picked up contact-less food from a small Black-owned business, letting my daughter DJ on the way. 

I had some delays in getting to my annual ritual of watching Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, but I got it done.

That said, “normalcy” is either “poor people forced to work in service for the economy and dying at disproportionate rates,” so I’m not a fan of it and never way. If we never go back to “normal,” I don’t think that’d be a bad thing, despite the joy I’ve had singing in bars, a concept that seems so insane now I can barely fathom it.

Above: Portrait of the artist in the hood. via Facebook

How did you end up leaving CBR for Bleeding Cool? Ha! Well, business conditions changed for Valnet, the company that owns CBR around the same time business conditions at Bleeding Cool created an opening. There’s no bad blood between me and Valnet nor CBR, so it’s not a very salacious or interesting story, just divergent business interests on one side and convergent business interests on the other. I cherish my time at CBR, being on Eisner-winning staffs, and I adore my new colleagues at Bleeding Cool.

How’ve you spent Quarantine? Most of my quarantine has been spent in a 21-year-old black leather recliner from Ikea, doing my day job, and juggling side projects. While my wife has been bedridden and dealing with family stuff in our room, the school-style desk of my youngest daughter has been a substitute location. I’ve recorded podcasts and done panels in a car in the garage, which has also been where I joined a DND 5e group. I think my productivity, which kicked in during the third week, is a manic response to cabin fever and anxiety, but hey, at least we all get something out of it.

What are positive things you’ve seen out of the movement that’s occurred in the wake of the death of George Floyd? The only positives I have seen in the wake of the unprecedented unrest has been personal: agents opening themselves to queries from Black creator, publishers ready for conversations they never seemed willing to have before, and so on. The country is in a battle for its soul and it looks, to the numerous observers I’ve researched within and without, like the country is losing.

Your son is trans. What are some things that surprised you about the experience and where did you and your wife go for resources? Surprised? Well, I guess the grieving of the loss of a daughter and all those theories therein were much more quickly managed by getting to know the more grounded, clear headed son I gained. The reading we came across made it seem like that would be a bigger deal, but either it wasn’t or the world forced us to focus on other things. My son is amazing, a gifted and speedy video editor, has great taste in music, and a dry wit that’s a hoot.

As for resources, my partner is a research maven and we were very heavily helped by the LGBT Center in Hollywood, which has provided support and mentor ship and community. I know he just got started on TrevorSpace, and he seems to like that.

What are you working on right now? I’m still doing Plague Nerdalogues with Marc Bernardin, after raising $16k for No Kid Hungry and more than $40k for Black Lives Matter. I’m co-head of the communications team for BLM Los Angeles, trying to keep their website updated. I have a day job, supervising a group of front end developers. We are about to finish season five of #WildfireWednesday on Tapas, Webtoons and operative.net, called Project Wildfire: Smoke On The Water. I’m chest deep in a new three-part miniseries for Wunderman Comics that we will be officially announcing in July.

Uh, what else…? Parenting, being a husband, I sleep now and then. There’s a lot going on.

For all things Hannibal Tabu related check out his site here.