On July 13, comics creators Shing Yin Khor and Taneka Stotts awarded the first Harpy Agenda Microgrant to J.A. Micheline for her sharp critique of the controversial first issue of the Boom Studios miniseries Strange Fruit by Mark Waid and J.G. Jones III.

With the $100, “no-strings-attached” grant awarded to comics journalists and critics of color, Kor and Stotts seek to “promote diverse, unique, and new voices” and “encourage complex, thoughtful, and passionate, comics criticism and journalism.” The grants focus on journalism and criticism with an intersectional perspective on social justice issues.

Micheline’s review at Women Write About Comics, “The White Privilege, White Audacity, and White Priorities of Strange Fruit  #1,” calls into question the appropriation of the history of racial violence and use racial tropes by the creative team, who are both white men.

Screen shot from J.A. Micheline's review of Strange Fruit #1 on Women Write About Comics
Screen shot from J.A. Micheline's review of Strange Fruit #1 on Women Write About Comics

The grant will be awarded monthly and is open to nominations on the Harpy Agenda website. Khor and Stotts oversee a rotating panel of comics critics of color who will judge the submissions. It is supported through private donations.

With the Harpy Agenda, their own creative work, as well as their upcoming anthology Elements, to oversee, Khor and Stotts have a busy schedule, but Kor took a moment to answer a few questions about their new initiative.

ComicsAlliance: What inspired you to create the Harpy Agenda Microgrant?

Shing Yin Khor: The Harpy Agenda is something Taneka and I have been talking about for a year, and originally conceived as a website that would feature complex and academic comics journalism and criticism from mostly women of color. However, we've both been so busy with our other projects and haven't found time to really devote to running another website!

Anyway, I was sitting at an San Diego Comic-Con panel this year, and listening to Jamie Broadnax talk about her site, BlackGirlNerds.com, and it really struck me that the problem wasn't having outlets for people of color to write interesting, innovative work, it was that we are rarely paid for it. The majority of journalists and critics of color are doing it because they are passionate about the comics landscape they work in and want to see it be better, but it's work.

And $100 isn't a lot, but it's... y'know, an electric bill, a nice dinner, and mostly a "we need you, thank you, keep it up."

I had been stashing money away in anticipation of launching the website, but realized that I didn't really want to be a website publisher, and just wanted to get to the fun part of giving writers money. I sat on the mezzanine steps of the convention center and excitedly e-mailed Taneka, and the moment she was on board, I knew this was something that could work.

I cannot emphasize enough how much I've been guided by the hand of the queer and PoC [people of color] comics community. Even a chunk of the starting fund for this is my contributor bonus for the Beyond anthology (edited by Sfé R Monster and Taneka), which is in turn a Kickstarter bonus system pioneered by C. Spike Trotman. Every time I look for my inspiration and motivation, there is usually another woman of color helping to shape the work I do.

CA: Why do you think journalists and critics of color who cover comics are particularly necessary?

SYK: Aside from having a viewpoint that is not often covered by the mainstream press, the emotional labor required to write intersectionally (about race, gender, queerness, etc) in comics is significantly higher for writers of color. We are expected to entwine our personal experiences into our work, and yet be challenged on it at every step of the way. Doing this work --- looking at comics through a complex, intersectional, and often academic lens --- is simply more difficult than writing yet another glowing review of Sex Criminals.

CA: How does the recipient of your first grant, J.A. Micheline for her review of Strange Fruit #1, embody the ideals of the Harpy Agenda?

SYK: It's an interesting and nuanced piece of work that combines J.A.'s strong authorial voice and opinion with a researched understanding of history and context. It's a fantastic article that has sparked a lot of interesting and valuable conversation around the handling of race in comics. Women Write About Comics has been publishing some really wonderful and challenging work lately, and their staff moderates comments in a delightfully no-nonsense manner.

I want to be clear that we are not a non-biased grant. We are intersectional feminists, committed to the work and ideas of PoC creators, that want to see comics journalism transcend entry level conversations about superheroine skirt length.

Check out the Harpy Agenda website to learn more or to make a nomination.

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