On Saturday, Aug. 14 at 11 a.m., the Apollo Theater celebrates both the 20th anniversary of Free Comic Book Day (the largest international comic book event) and the 47th annual Harlem Week summer festival, with an exploration of Marvel Entertainment’s Harlem-based character Luke Cage, the first Black superhero to star in a regularly published comic. “Luke Cage: Harlem’s Super Hero,” a free, virtual panel composed of comic creators and television producers, will illuminate how Cage rose from comic book pages to a Netflix series while tackling social justice issues along the way. Here’s an interview with the event’s moderator & producer, Apollo Theater Community Programs Director L. Adé Williams.
AmNews: First, why is the Apollo Theater—best known for performance art—doing a comic book event?
L. Adé Williams: Because art is connected. Artists inspire each other the same way they inspire non-artists. The people who created the Luke Cage comic and TV series were influenced by movies shown at the Apollo and acts who performed here, just like there are several Apollo staffers who get inspired by the works that Luke Cage creators have done; that’s why the best known theater in Harlem is hosting an event centered on the best known superhero based in Harlem.
AmNews: Can you elaborate on the connection between Cage and movies that were shown at the Apollo?
Williams: Marvel wanted “in” on the popular Blaxploitation motif of the times, so when Luke Cage debuted in 1972, he was basically Shaft with superpowers.
AmNews: Marvel has historically allegorized social issues in their entertainment. Their X-Men series had analogies for xenophobia, homophobia, and violent vs. nonviolent philosophies in the Civil Right Movement. Luke was a wrongfully convicted Black man. Upon his incarceration, questionable medical experiments were performed on him. Did the character’s creators purposely address social inequities by using Luke’s story as an allegory for the prison industrial complex and its disproportionate effect on the Black community and psyche?
Williams: (with an ear-to-ear smile) My answer is that we’ll discuss that during the virtual panel, which is just one of the reasons why it should be interesting to non-superhero fans too.
Readers who’d like to learn about the evolution of Luke Cage and some of the inspirations behind his stories can log on to either ApolloTheater.org or harlemweek.com on Saturday, Aug. 14 at 11 a.m. or see it afterwards on demand. The Apollo’s Luke Cage: Harlem’s Superhero panel features Jessica Jones and Miles Morales’ co-creator, Brian Michael Bendis; creator, showrunner and executive producer of Marvel’s Luke Cage on Netflix, Cheo Hodari Coker; former Marvel writer and editor, Jo Duffy; and award-winning writer, filmmaker, journalist and educator David F. Walker. This event also features analysis by Professor Jonathan W. Gray, whose forthcoming project, “Illustrating the Race,” investigates the representation of African Americans in comics.
Mecca Naeem (@MeccaNaeem) is a video artist who co-created Urban Anna Mae (urbanannamae.com), and a freelance writer who writes about the Black visual canon.