Black Superheroes Tackle Fatphobia In Afrofuturistic Philly

Bo has a very particular skill set.

The comic book character residing in “Future Philly” – a dense world of Blade Runner-style technology and misery – is a cyberpunk hacker who feeds intel and data to his assigned superhero, a near-mythical being called Wildstorm.

Bo is basically ground support for Wildstorm. Although set in the indeterminate future, Bo leans into late 20th century analog gear: he wears a t-shirt with a floppy disk graphic, he uses a high-tech glove embedded with circuitry of communication designed after a Nintendo Power Glove from 1989, he keeps a Sony Walkman cassette player on his belt with which he listens to hardcore punk from the 90s (Los Crudos, Antioch Arrow, Rancid).

Bo, the main character of the “Black Vans” comic book, keeps a retro style in his afrofuturistic world, with his floppy disk t-shirt, his Nintendo Power glove and his Sony Walkman cassette player on his belt. (Illustration by James Dillenbeck)

In any other story, Bo – a burly gay Afro-Latino – would be a secondary character.

But in Black Vans, Bo carries the story. He and other superhero-adjacent hackers known as EQ must rise to the occasion after their superhero bosses mysteriously begin to disappear.

Writer Alex Smith and illustrator James Dillenbeck created the Black Vans comic, partly because no one else did. Their heroes tend to be black, gay, and heavyweight.

Screenshot of the cover of "black vans," by Alex Smith and James Dillenbeck.
Screenshot of the cover of “Black Vans”, by Alex Smith and James Dillenbeck.

“Bigger characters — big characters — are super underrepresented in our genre fiction,” Smith said. “James and I mostly date tall men in the ‘bear’ community. It’s always puzzled us that all of these bears really like nerd stuff and geek stuff, but you’d never see them on the page. Comics play a huge role in creating this false dichotomy about what certain body types can and can’t do.

About Johanna Gooding

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