Joseph Illidge

Joseph Illidge - Great Responsibility

by MTF Labs | MTF Podcast

Joseph Illidge is the Executive Editor of the illustrated sci-fi, fantasy and horror periodical Heavy Metal Magazine. Over the course of his career he has written and edited graphic novels and comic book series for some of the biggest publishers in the game, including a long stint for DC Entertainment, overseeing the Batman series.

He’s also the co-editor of a brand new guide called The Access Guide to the Black Comic Book Community, he’s finishing a graphic novel that centres on the world of superstar musician Prince and he’s working across the industry to champion diversity both on the page and behind the scenes.

Joseph Illidge
The Access Guide to the Black Comic Book Community
Heavy Metal Magazine


Dubber      Hi, I’m Andrew Dubber. I’m Director of MTF Labs, and this is the MTF Podcast. With great power - as we all know - comes great responsibility, and in the comic book world of superheroes, there is perhaps nobody with more power than the executive editor, publisher, and writer. Joseph Illidge, now Executive Editor of the sci-fi and fantasy illustrated periodical Heavy Metal Magazine, is all of these things and more.

He’s spent a career creating characters, shaping stories, and literally deciding who lives and dies in the comic book world, including a long stint overseeing the adventures of The Dark Knight himself, Batman. Joseph has also made it his business to be instrumental in contributing to the diversity of representation in the comic book world, both on the page and behind the scenes. He’s been a champion of writers, artists, and independent publishers, encouraging, rewarding, and recognising those who tell stories that speak to all of us, regardless of background. And much like a city’s hero himself, he’s been awarded a Citation from the New York State Assembly for exemplary community service through his career’s achievements.

Now, Joseph’s one of the key figures behind a new book, ‘The Access Guide to the Black Comic Book Community’, a roadmap for comic book readers to find the publishers, stores, and conventions that provide kinship, safe spaces, and an imaginative variety of experiences through comic books.

Dubber      Joseph Illidge, thanks so much for joining us for the MTF Labs Podcast today. How are you doing?

Joseph      All right, all right. Thank you for having me.

Dubber      You’re Executive Editor of Heavy Metal Magazine, comic book writer and editor, DC and Warner Bros. for a long time, and regular editor for Batman comics. That’s pretty cool. What does the job actually entail on a day-to-day basis?

Joseph      On a day-to-day basis, well, it usually involves reading scripts, checking artwork, conversations with creators on different projects. Various times during the week there are staff meetings. These staff meetings are now happening mostly through Zoom. In some cases by telephone or Google Meet. But usually, it’s really a mix of going through a lot of different creative materials, having regular feedback with creators, and setting things up for proper scheduling, quality control, regular publication for monthly publication. Heavy Metal is now a monthly magazine, which it has not been, I think, in almost thirty-five years, so it makes it particularly crucial to maintain schedule.

Dubber      For background, what is Heavy Metal Magazine?

Joseph      Well, Heavy Metal Magazine started publication in 1977. It originally began as English reprints of a French magazine called ‘Métal hurlant’, and really was the magazine that brought a lot of European creators to the American market and American comic book industry in terms of visibility. Heavy Metal Magazine has been a book of mature content since its origins and really a leader in pushing the envelope in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

Dubber      When you say ‘mature content’, describe maturity.

Joseph      Yeah, interesting. So one of the things that Heavy Metal’s most known for, in addition to the magazine, is the 1981 animated film ‘Heavy Metal’ that really dealt with a lot of themes around sexual freedom, around nudity, around extreme violence. So, basically, tackling subjects in ways that are not for children but also ways that don’t align with America’s repressed views around sex and sexuality.

Dubber      Okay. So let’s go back to your comic book number one. Your origin story. What sort of kid were you?

Joseph      My mom was a big soap opera fan. So when I was young, every Friday my mother would take me to a newsstand. She would buy herself soap opera magazines, she would buy me comic books. So she had her soap operas, whereas comic books were my soap operas. That’s where I first got to start learning about narrative and storylines and characters, and so the idea of story is something that’s always been very important to me, growing up. And so comic books have been a part of my life ever since I was a kid, going into going and attending an art high school, an art college, and then a career in the comic book industry.

Dubber      It’s interesting that you raised soap operas because comic books had become soap operas by that time. Long arcs, lots of characters, people having relationships in all sorts of different directions, and I guess keeping track of that would be a week-by-week basis.

Joseph      In a sense. Every week you’re going to get something different. Books would come out every month, so if you’re following the soap opera of the X-men, you’re following that on a monthly basis. If you’re looking at the entire Marvel Universe as one single organism, then that is a weekly soap opera, and you’re just dealing with different characters in any given month.

But, again, for a young person, that’s an interesting introduction to narrative through storytelling, to character development, to diversity, depending on the kind of book it is. Things of that nature. So it was my primary narrative continuous experience alongside prose narrative. I was a library kid as well. But in terms of the synthesis of the visual and the written word, comic books were the first narrative that I had in a way that I was able to interact with it. Obviously, there’s cinema, there’s television. Those things were present. There’s something different about the comic book and graphic novel format in terms of experiencing it manipulating time, looking at two comic books at the same time and seeing connective threads in an ecosystem, things of that nature.

Dubber      And were you at school going “Well, I really like comic books, so I’m going to go and get a job in comic books.”? Was it as deliberate and straightforward as that?

Joseph      Not really. I had this dream of being a comic book artist, so I certainly didn’t have a dream of being a comic book editor, and I didn’t know what that was until my 20s when I started interning at Milestone Media.

While I was in college and after college, I came to the sobering realisation that being a comic book artist was not my path, but my path was in the realm of the word and the power of the word to activate imagination and to inspire and to affect people through story. So that was what led me to start an internship at Milestone Media. Or apply for an internship, more accurately, and they were kind enough to give me an opportunity, and that was my gateway into the comic book industry. And then while I was at Milestone is when my editorial career began.

Dubber      Who was your hero?

Joseph      I guess that would ultimately be Dwayne McDuffie, who was my mentor. Editor-in-Chief of Milestone Media. Did a lot of writing for a lot of seminal stories. Justice League Unlimited, Static Shock, the beginning of the Milestone Universe, Justice League, Batman, Superman. That person is my hero. At that time, early in my career, it was likely a Latino artist named George Pérez.

Dubber      And there’s a McDuffie Award now, isn’t there?

Joseph      Yes, there is. And, actually, the latest one, the winner is going to be announced this Saturday. And I’m a frequent judge in the Dwayne McDuffie Award, alongside various other friends and colleagues in the comic book industry.

Dubber      Right. And what is the award for, specifically?

Joseph      The award is basically to recognise narratives that communicate diversity - diversity of experience, diversity of culture - in a way that is really noteworthy. Something that is perceived as a potentially seminal work.

Dubber      Is it a good medium for that?

Joseph      All storytelling mediums are. I believe the industry and the medium are two entirely different things, and the industry is something that is going through constant change. It is pivoting and moving towards something closer to being more egalitarian in terms of hiring, in terms of creators, in terms of stories.

Dubber      Okay. I want to talk a little bit about Batman, just for a second, because I know you’ve had a lot of connection with Batman. I can see Batman behind you on your wall.

Joseph      Yes. I have had my time with him.

Dubber      I’m really curious, do you like him? Is that something that we’re supposed to do?

Joseph      Batman’s an interesting character. I think what makes Batman appealing is that he represents self-determination and the human will to overcome trauma, or attempt to overcome trauma. Whether or not he’s successful would be debatable. And that kind of characteristic, and the fact that to be a hero, you don’t need superhuman powers, but that you can be a hero through the excellence of human abilities… So I think for those reasons, he’s a character that is supposed to be admired. Once you start getting into further psychological examination - whether or not you think it makes sense to apply real-world dynamics and logic to Batman - then you start getting into a deconstruction, and that presents a number of flaws and paradoxes.

Dubber      Sure. I know the Adam West Batman is not the Batman of modern comics. Do you think it’s that storytelling and what we want from that have changed?

Joseph      Definitely. The audience has become more sophisticated. One thing about Batman is Batman is one of the heroes that, to my perception, reflects the changes in society more so than a lot of other heroes. So the era of Batman that you’re talking about, that’s a different era. That was a different time. We were in-between wars, we were dealing with television shows that I think tried to be a bit more pleasant, a bit more idealistic, and so the world of Batman was both idealised and exaggerated.

Dubber      Right. Well, just for background, I was never a collector. I spent way too much money on records. So comics have been one of those things about which I’ve spent my life being both enthusiastic but more or less ignorant. But I’ve always been surrounded by comic cultures. I grew up with, obviously, Batman and Superman on TV. I’ve seen an awful lot of Marvel and DC on the screen. I’ve read a handful of Alan Moore graphic novels. And I’ve also known some people who’ve worked as comic book artists on things from Judge Dredd to Muppet Babies, and I’ve got friends who’ve run comic and game shops. So I’m a little bit familiar with the culture. But just so we get a sense of the world, who is what you would consider the target market for comic books, and does that change over time?

Joseph      There’s really no single target market because there are comic books for everyone, really going across the age ranges, really going across the level of interest. We’re seeing more graphic novels that are memoirs that are dealing with stories about personal angst, just personal growth. The kids market and the young adult market are the most profitable and largest growing markets in the graphic novel sector. Whereas you could say that twenty-five years ago the market was dominated by the superhero genre, right now it is the exact opposite, and the superhero genre is niche in comparison to the global market of comic books and graphic novels.

Dubber      When you say ‘the global market’, are we talking about manga, for instance? Is that something that’s taken off in a big way?

Joseph      That would be part of it. Just global in terms of worldwide and how graphic novels are… Whether it’s the manga that’s in Japan, whether it’s Korean comics, whether it’s the graphic novels that are in the European Union, you’ll see graphic novels having more prominence in certain places outside of America. And librarians have embraced graphic novels as a gateway, a means through which to get young people into libraries. So that’s really important.

Dubber      Well, congratulations on ‘The Access Guide to the Black Comic Book Community’.

Joseph      Thank you so much.

Dubber      I see on your Twitter feed that those are now being mailed out to people.

Joseph      That’s right.

Dubber      The title seems fairly explanatory. What’s it for?

Joseph      It’s really to be a gateway to anybody who is interested in learning about more black creators, publishers that support and hire black creators, black-owned comic book stores, black-owned conventions.

It’s really a guide and a gateway because one of the things is there’s still a wide distance between the people and the stories that they would really like to engage. So there’s so many stories and so many people out there, most laypersons don’t know about it. They don’t necessarily have a comic book store in their own neighbourhood. They don’t know the expanse and the wide variety of stories being made. They may think that ‘Black Panther’ is where Afrofuturism began, which couldn’t be further from the truth. So this book is the means to show people “Who’s out there? What kind of stories are they telling? Where can you find them?”, and, if you’re a black person, “What’s a safe space to you in terms of a publisher, a convention, a comic book store?”.

Dubber      I’m reading a lot about this in terms of it being a ‘Green Book’ for comics. Is that how you think of it?

Joseph      That was the original conception by my partner, Dimitrios Fragiskatos. He was the one that told me about it, and I decided to be a part of it. And then the third partner is George Carmona III. He’s the designer of the book. And the way Dimitrios pitched it to me was the ‘Green Book’ of the comic book industry in terms of a way by which black people could learn more about people like themselves, stories with characters and culture that reflect their experience, where they can go and get these books once the world shifts more to an in-person society as opposed to the society that we’re in now which is mostly virtual.

Dubber      Interesting. And it’s got the date in the title. Presumably, there’s a new one next year.

Joseph      That’s right. We’re looking at this as an annual programme where we will do one every year. We will release each volume in the first quarter of every year. So this is something that we consider an evolving series. And as every year goes by, we expect there to be more creators, more stores, more conventions, and so those things, the new input will go into the newer volume. Also what new projects were created within the year 2021 and the first quarter of 2022.

Dubber      I guess these things are really connected, but for you, is representation on the page or representation in the back room the battleground for this sort of thing?

Joseph      Both, because if it’s not in the back room, it’s not likely that it’ll get to the page. So it has to start at an executive level and a business level, and then that can facilitate more on the creative level.

Dubber      Right. So forgive me if this comes across as the dumb question, but is it the case that black artists and writers are expected to tell what might be seen as black stories? For instance, are traditionally excluded voices supposed to tell stories about exclusion?

Joseph      Not ‘supposed to’. Every creator decides what their creative path is, what their mission is as a storyteller. I do think part of the problem with the American industry is that it immediately places that stigma on creators who are black before allowing them the opportunity to show that their capability as storytellers has a wide range.

Dubber      I know you say it’s niche now, but on the superhero front, do black characters who get superpowers follow the same sort of trajectory as white characters who get superpowers?

Joseph      Not logically, no. So if you ever see that happening, that’s bad writing because that doesn’t track. That doesn’t track in terms of the socio-political dynamics of our planet, so it shouldn’t track in fiction, then, that then takes those dynamics and applies superpowers to it.

Dubber      Right. So it amplifies something about the state of the world as it is.

Joseph      Yes, definitely. If you look at the old Marvel characters from the ‘60s, one of the things that those creators were brilliant about was the understanding that gaining superpowers would actually make your life more complicated. So take that, and then apply that to black people in America, black people in the European Union, so on, so on, and so forth, and that’s where you would get the truth of experience, the truth of possibility, if you want to extrapolate things going forward.

Dubber      Right. Well, here’s a thing I really loved about ‘Into the Spider-Verse’. It wasn’t “Oh, that’s cool. Spider-Man’s a black kid now.”, it was more “Hang on. Anyone can now be Spider-Man.”, and that takes it away from that exceptionalism kind of thing.

Joseph      Exactly right. Part of the brilliance of that was the understanding that the iconic power of the Spider-Hero was an invitation to everybody, was a metaphor for everybody and their innate special gifts or talents.

When you look at the relationship between Miles Morales, an Afro-Latino kid, and Peter Parker, white and conceivably Jewish - there’s been a lot of discussion that Peter Parker’s Jewish - and the relationship between them, it was not a white saviour story, which would have been the easy route. It was a story in which both characters taught the other character something very important and made them wiser at the end of the story. It was an equally reciprocal and potent investigation of the idea of the mentor.

Dubber      On a slightly different tack, there’s a comic called ‘Black Cotton’ that strikes me as a really interesting idea.

Joseph      Yes.

Dubber      Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Joseph      Well ‘Black Cotton’ was co-written by a guy I know named Brian Hawkins, and what it’s about… I actually just picked up a copy yesterday when it came out in the comic book stores. Basically, they put forth an alternate America which reverses the racism dynamic so that black people are the entitled ones and white people are the other. So it’s the first issue of a four-issue miniseries, and it was an intriguing beginning. Where the story goes remains to be seen. There is a lot of potential to say some things about the world in which we live in an alternate reality like that, so let’s see how it rolls out. But I thought it was an intriguing beginning.

Dubber      Is this an alternate history story?

Joseph      It is, but it starts in the present. So that alternate history, I would imagine, is going to be revealed over time. Or maybe not. Maybe that is the world and you’re to just accept that if you walk in there. How that came to be is not important. That’s a possibility too. We’re going to find out.

Dubber      Okay, fantastic. There’s yet another biography of Stan Lee that’s just come out recently, and we hear the story again that Jack Kirby was work-for-hire and famously missed out on a lot of the fruits of his creativity. How does intellectual property work in comics these days?

Joseph      On a deep level, on a legal level, I’m not qualified to say. On a more basic layman level, there are more opportunities now for creator ownership. So traditionally and originally, all of the characters were owned by the big corporations. And based on how certain contracts or certain companies worked, if those characters were translated into other media then the people who created them - even though they have no co-ownership of them whatsoever - would receive some kind of royalty check. Now you have a lot more companies that either have paradigms that allow for creators to retain full ownership of their characters or create a shared ownership scenario where the creator and the company own an equal portion or something close to that.

So right now, there are more opportunities for creators doing comics to own their own characters. Those, of course, come with a greater financial risk because a publisher that will allow you to retain some rights over your characters is not going to pay you what DC Comics is going to pay you to do a Superman because those are totally different dynamics, different profit and loss implications. And so the financial models, the initial pay, they exist at totally different levels, and the risk is greater.

Dubber      But the Stan Lee, Jack Kirby dynamic couldn’t happen anymore?

Joseph      Well, I don’t think it could happen anymore because of social media, quite frankly. I didn’t get to read the biography yet, but a friend of mine wrote it, Abraham Riesman. Really well-respected journalist.

When it comes to Stan Lee and his other collaborators - whether it was Jack Kirby, whether it was Steve Ditko, whether it was Bill Everett - my perception of the issue is that the artists, God bless them, were not only creative geniuses, but they were the ones that were staying home at the table doing the work. Stan Lee, because of his personality, business savvy, whatever, positioned himself - whether intentionally or not - as the P. T. Barnum of comics. So he was the one that was going out in the world, spreading the evangelism of Marvel Comics. He was the one writing the editorials. He was the face of the company. If you knew Marvel, there was no way you did not know Stan ‘the man’ Lee. And journalism and entertainment thrive on tips of spears when it comes to a narrative.

I don’t know about you, but back in the ‘90s there was this VH1 show called ‘Behind the Music’ where they would tell the rise and fall of bands, and a common theme tended to be “Here’s this band. They make amazing music. The media focussed on one person. That person becomes a star, establishes a solo career. The band breaks up.”. That’s The Go-Go’s, that’s The Police. So think about something similar in comics where because Stan Lee was the one that was out there the most, talking the most and being the broadcaster, he was the one that history, unfortunately, identified as the sole creator or the primary creator. And what we’re learning is that that couldn’t be further from the truth.

And that doesn’t speak to anything about his integrity as a human being. I met him once, so I can’t speak to that. But what it speaks to is how media approaches creation, and the potential for journalistic responsibility to put an end to those kinds of distortions of creative contribution.

Dubber      Well, speaking of really respected, serious journalists like your friend who did the Stan Lee book, Ta-Nehisi Coates is writing ‘Black Panther’. Is that any kind of indicator of how seriously the form’s now being taken? He’s a pretty heavy hitter.

Joseph      Right. Well, the form has been taken seriously for some time before Ta-Nehisi Coates came onboard. What that indicated was that his voice was a voice that was not seen as just for black people by a black person. He was seen as someone that could speak to everyone, and so his intelligence, his credibility, his unique perspective on history was something that Marvel clearly saw as a beacon, something that they could superimpose on one of their characters and magnify the character. Put Ta-Nehisi Coates in a position where he has a parallel career track alongside his other literary works. So that kind of fusion is significant, and I don’t think the industry, at least in America, had ever seen a confluence of person and intellectual property like Ta-Nehisi Coates and ‘Black Panther’ before that.

Dubber      Right, okay. Interesting. Well, something that I’m really excited to see coming up because it brings together a lot of my… Well, pushes a lot of my buttons, let’s say, is ‘MPLS Sound’. Do you want to tell me a little bit about that? Because that’s really exciting.

Joseph      Sure. So ‘MPLS Sound’ is a graphic novel. It is coming out in April to be published by Humanoids and distributed in the book market through Simon & Schuster.

Dubber      And written by you.

Joseph      Yeah, that’s right. Co-written by myself and Hannibal Tabu, and the art team is Meredith Laxton and Tan Shu. And it’s really a story about the early ‘80s and a fictional band called Starchild that competed against other bands in Minneapolis with the goal of becoming Prince’s band in the timeline of history before The Revolution of 1983. So ‘MPLS Sound’ takes place mostly between 1980 and 1982, and so it was really fascinating for me to learn about the Minneapolis sound, to learn about…

I knew about Prince because when I was a teenager, ‘Purple Rain’ was out in the theatres. I was exposed to Prince’s music since I was a pre-teen, but I did not understand the entire Minneapolis sound movement, and I certainly didn’t understand how Prince was a nexus by which you could connect so many artists and producers. So that was really revelatory. One of my editors on the project, Fabrice Sapolsky, is probably the biggest Prince fan that I know, so he was my mentor into the world of Prince. And once I got to learn more, I was able to bring that to the story.

So my hope is that that will be seen as a love letter to that time. If you’re talking about music, you’re usually talking about either romances or ballads. So I would hope that people see this story as both a romance and a ballad.

Dubber      Interesting. How do you communicate the music visually?

Joseph      In a situation like that, I really have to give credit to the artist Meredith Laxton because there are times when as a writer, I have to be quiet, and the art has to tell the story. So what I would do in a situation like that is when I write a script page, I’m not doing it panel by panel. I’m basically saying “This is what I’d like us to achieve with this page. Design it as you like.”, or “These are the things that need to happen in this page. Compose it as you like.”. But it’s really the design. The use of double-page splashes to show an expanse.

Again, speaking along the lines of the editor, Fabrice Sapolsky - who is one of the two editors - he wanted to give some kind of aesthetic that was similar to music videos because that takes place chronologically around the same time as the introduction of MTV into the world, and the language of the music video was omnipresent. It hit the world like a megaton bomb. And so we wanted to bring those kinds of aesthetics to the graphic novel.

Dubber      Wow. Does Prince get a speaking part in this story?

Joseph      He has some cameos. He does get to speak. He doesn’t speak a lot, but when he speaks, it’s important. Because it’s not about him, but he is most certainly a catalyst.

Dubber      And were there any issues? Did you have to speak to their estate, or…?

Joseph      I did not, no. I had to deal with my editors and the publisher, but I did not have to speak to The Prince Estate, which was just fine. And, again, for me, it wasn’t a Prince graphic novel. And, funnily enough, when I did the first draft, he didn’t say anything, and there’s actually a character in the story that is meant to be the voice that he couldn’t be. And then my editor told me “No, you can have him say some things.”, and I said “Really?”. I’m like “Okay.”. Then you’re intimidated by that. You’re going to put words in the mouth of The Purple One? Okay. No big deal.

So I really did it with care, and I really did it cognisant of what I was learning about the man. The character who is basically more of his voice still exists very much in the book, and so her presence serves the purpose of Prince’s point of view in this whole narrative.

Dubber      And is Prince the wise man in this story?

Joseph      I would leave that up to everyone to decide because it’s a matter of perspective. So one of the things that people who know Prince will understand by the time they complete the story is Prince acted as he has historically acted in his career in terms of the mystique that he creates around himself and around the people in his orbit. And if you equate him to a supernova that shines amazingly brightly but that you can get burned if you’re too close in proximity to it, that’s how it is for us outside of the bubble of his world. So whether or not he represents the voice of wisdom in the story, that could change from one act to the next.

Ultimately, the story is about the journey of a woman named Theresa Booker and her goal to create a band that fights against the stigmas of the Minneapolis sound music industry, which was mostly white male rock.

Dubber      Interesting. The idea of gender representation is obviously a really important thing, as well, across all media. Is that something that’s central to your work? Is that something that’s front of mind for you as well?

Joseph      It is. It became that when I started working at DC Comics, and I was working in the Batman department. One of the books that I became responsible for in terms of editing was a book called ‘Birds of Prey’, which was a female-driven book. One of the women in the book was a wheelchair user, and that was when I realised that “Okay. You’re not only coming from a background in which you are representing cultural diversity, now you have to explore gender diversity, and you have to responsibly shepherd this book and how women are represented and how wheelchair users are represented.”.

So as my career continued, what I found is the mission for inclusion and equal opportunity encompassed more and more groups and ultimately encompasses everyone who represents the other.

Dubber      Interesting. It’s been really interesting to watch street artists, for instance like Kaws who sold works for fifteen million dollars at Sotheby’s, become part of the capital A art world. Is the same thing happening to comic book artists? Is it possible?

Joseph      Well, what I will say is because more comic book artists are using digital technology to create their pages, physical pages - physical, original art - is becoming more valuable because there’s less of it. And because of things like the Marvel Cinematic Universe which has now made the entire world aware of the superhero mythology, there is a unicorn quality, of sorts. There’s this magnetism to this particular form of art, and so original art has become collectable. And, in fact, if you look at Sotheby’s - and I think maybe also Christie’s - you will see a lot of auctions for original art, and it could range into the six figures.

Dubber      Wow. Okay, so imagine for a moment that I’m a fifty-three-year-old white guy from New Zealand living in Sweden and thinking about adding comics to books, newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, podcasts, movies, journals, newsletters, all these things I’m currently consuming, to help me understand the world through a range of different narratives. Where’s a good place to start? What’s out there that’s actually important?

Joseph      Well, that’s interesting. I actually think a good place to start is the library. I would say go to the library, tell the librarian what kind of stories you’re interested in reading, and they will recommend some good graphic novels because, again, librarians have become significant advocates for graphic novels. It’s more important than ever to have a diversity of graphic novels in the libraries.

Book stores. I think you can go to, depending upon where you are… I know in America, it’s basically Barnes & Noble, and it’s Indigo in Canada. So go into a bookstore, ask if they have a graphic novel section, and say “Hey, these are the kinds of things that I like.”, because it’s so vast. So you could say “I like this genre. What do you have in this genre that you think is a good starter book?”. I think that’s one way to go.

Another thing to do is you could Google comic book publishers and then go to websites and see “Hey, okay. Here’s BOOM! Studios. Here are some of the books they do. That one looks intriguing. Let me find out more about it.”. But I really think a great starting point would be libraries.

Dubber      It’s a great answer. So my final question would be, A, do we still need superheroes? And does it ever occur to you that you might actually, to some people, be one?

Joseph      Oh, interesting. I think there will always be a need for superheroes. I think superheroes are like any other genre. Romance, horror, science fiction, fantasy. Those narratives are important in society. Those narratives are reflections of our struggles and in some cases will inspire us or keep us going.

Even though the superhero genre is wrapped up in costumes and larger than life scenarios… Right now, Disney+ has a show going called ‘WandaVision’, which is really about grief. You look at how Chris Evans portrayed Captain America in the Marvel films and there’s such an altruism, there’s such a truth there. And there’s a line where he says to Scarlett Johansson’s character in ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ “And I’m always honest.”. Just that line, isn’t that something to aspire to? To want to be always honest? So there will always be a need for superheroes as far as I’m concerned.

That I might be one, that’s a very humbling question. What I would just hope is that when this is all said and done, I leave the comic book industry better than I found it. And that’s what I’m trying to do. And as an editor, part of my job is to elevate other people. It’s to elevate the voices of other creators, whether they’re writers or artists, and help facilitate getting their stories out there and helping make them the best creative people that they can be.

Dubber      Amazing. Joseph Illidge, thanks so much for your time. It’s been really fascinating.

Joseph      Thank you, Andrew. It’s been great, and I really appreciate the talk. It’s been a lot of fun.

Dubber      Thank you.

Dubber      That’s Executive Editor of Heavy Metal Magazine and diversity’s superhero, Joseph Illidge, and that is the MTF Podcast. You can find Joseph’s work, including more information about his upcoming graphic novel ‘MPLS Sound’ which is almost but not quite about Prince, at his website And you’ll find ‘The Access Guide to the Black Comic Book Community 2020-2021’ at You can find MTF Labs at and @mtflabs on social media. I’m Andrew Dubber, @dubber on Twitter. The podcast was made possible with help from Jen Kukuca, and the music was by Francesco D’Andrea and airtone. You have a great week, stay safe, and we’ll catch you next time with more brilliant minds from the incredible, superpowered MTF community. Talk soon. Cheers.

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