Santa Rosa cartoonist’s 'Black Panther' cartoon goes viral

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When the movie “Black Panther,” based on the Marvel Comics superhero, opened in mid-February, it was an instant hit, and by April, it had earned $1.3 billion worldwide, but the film’s impact went well beyond its financial success.

While it wasn’t the first movie starring a black superhero, “Black Panther” took an already iconic character and gave him a global stage. The blockbuster film, directed by Ryan Coogler of “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed,” drew a large audience of African-American viewers in the U.S., offering a rare glimpse of heroes that looked like them. Like other Marvel big-screen adaptations of the past decade featuring updated characters, it also was an opportunity for longtime older fans to share their cherished favorites with children and grandchildren.

The power of the new release wasn’t lost on Santa Rosa cartoonist Tom Beland, who conceived and drew a cover for the series. His drawing was selected to appear as one of the alternate covers for the first issue of the newly rebooted Black Panther comic book series, due out later this month.

“I saw the movie with a friend who is black, and I was excited about seeing this film from her point of view.” Beland said.

For his friend, the fierce women warriors of Wakanda, the Black Panther’s mysterious African nation, made the biggest impression.

“When we came out, she said, ‘That was me.’ Then we saw some kids looking at the characters on poster for the movie and saying, “I’m that one.’ ”

Those remarks prompted Beland, who has written comics for Marvel, to immediate action.

“I just did what came naturally. Cartoonists observe,” Beland said. “I did a cartoon in about 15 minutes. I just doodled it out.”

His drawing shows two African-American children, one boy and one girl, each pointing to a figure on a “Black Panther” movie poster. The caption simply says, “That’s me.”

After using his phone to post the picture on Facebook, the cartoonist got a much bigger response than he expected.

“I looked at my phone an hour later and there were 300 shares,” Beland said. “The costume designer for the movie reposted the cartoon on Instagram. Michael B. Jordan. the actor who plays the Black Panther’s enemy, Killmonger, posted it on Instagram and said he liked it. It got on the Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March Instagram pages. It sort of had a life of its own. It got up to 15,000 likes on my Facebook page. The Washington Post wrote a story about it.”

It’s no surprise that Marvel Comics soon showed interest in publishing Beland’s drawing. The 55-year-old cartoonist has written stories for both “The Fantastic Four” and “Spider-Man,” two of the company’s most famous titles, but he also is known for his own original work, including “True Story.”

Beland, who is on the staff at the Outer Planes Comics & Games store in downtown Santa Rosa, previously worked as a graphic artist and cartoonist at the Napa Register and the Vallejo Times-Herald.

Despite the impending launch of a new comic book series, the Black Panther has been around for more almost half a century. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and intr=oduced in the popular comic book series “The Fantastic Four” in 1969, the character is the first superhero of African descent to appear in mainstream American comics.

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @danarts.

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