As comic-book and pop-culture conventions have swelled to superheroic dimensions, so too have conversations about genre fiction and fandom. Whose stories get told, who tells them, and how we identify with them are long-overdue questions that are finally being asked and answered in public ways—and this past weekend in New York, the Seventh Annual Black Comic Book Festival celebrated those questions, and interrogated the answers. The annual event, hosted by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, featured two days of panels, screenings, and book signings, as well as the wall-to-wall cosplay that's become a staple at any fan convention. For photographer Dee Williams, it was an event too perfect not to shoot. "The main purpose of my work is to highlight and tell the stories of marginalized groups, specifically those of the African diaspora," she says. "So photographing the Festival aligned perfectly with my personal photography goals."
The Brooklyn-based Williams kept her setup simple when shooting attendees outside the event—a Sony A7 and a Canon 5D Mark III, both with prime lenses—and her curiosity undisguised. "I'm not embarrassed at all to say I had absolutely no clue what some people were dressed as," she says, "but everyone was so kind, and I didn't feel any negativity toward my lack of knowledge." (She got into comics and anime a couple of years ago, but points to her younger brother as the real expert.)
And while the cosplay stretched across cultures—attendees came styled as Sailor Moon, Kayako Saeki from The Grudge , Coming to America 's Prince Akeem, and all manner of superheros—Williams says that there was no mistaking how more inclusive storytelling has changed the feeling among fans. "A lot of people didn't grow up seeing too many comic book characters or superheroes that weren't white," she says. "The young kids got to see Black Panther and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in the same year! That is remarkable representation for Black and Latino kids."
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