We are not always aware of when we are witnessing history being made. Such is the case of comic book creator Reggie Byers who has the distinction of being one of the first African Americans to own a comic book publishing company.
Byers did not realize that in 1985 when he self published SHURIKEN #1 under his Victory Productions imprint that he was a pioneer. His intent to satisfy his personal urge to publish comics would establish him as a groundbreaker for black comic creators in this specialized arena of popular culture dominated by white men.
CO2 Comics’ relationship with Reggie Byers, whose comic CRESCENT is a proudly presented feature on our site, extends back over three decades to 1982 when he first knocked on the door of our former comic book publishing house Comico in Norristown, Pennsylvania.
Comico at the time was a fledgeling company publishing black and white comic books in the Direct Market composed completely by young men who had met in high school and college, all unified by friendship and a desire to make comic books.
Reggie had graduated from Norristown Area High School in 1981, a year after my younger brother, Tom. My father also taught there. They would often tell me about his creative exploits and love for comics so, though I had never met him, I was well aware of his talents and was excited to finally meet him. His arrival at Comico was fortuitous for us all and he was immediately welcomed into our ranks.
Reggie’s assignments increased as work became available while the company grew and eventually began to produce color comics. He started out as a self proclaimed gofer, then editor of Primer, our new talent showcase, and eventually, because of his mastery of the Japanese Anime style, he became a penciler on ROBOTECH The Next Generation.
Reggie had watched Comico grow from the ground up and had learned the ins-and-outs of the business along with us all. The money he made from penciling ROBOTECH became his seed money for his personal enterprise and in 1985 he launched his independent comic company VICTORY PRODUCTIONS featuring the adventures of his own character SHURIKEN, a female martial artist named Kyoko Shidara who became a freelance bodyguard after discovering that she had been working as bodyguard for a criminal organization.
SHURIKEN was an immediate success in the Direct Market where it enjoyed the support of all the distributors prompting a second printing that elevated sales to over 20,000 units, an amazing circulation for a black and white comic book. These numbers were assuredly influenced by the success of Eastman and Laird’s TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES and supported by the thriving speculator market at the time. Also significant was Reggie’s growing popularity as penciler of the wildly successful ROBOTECH series which also included the talents of other African Americans, Mike Leeke, Dave Johnson and MACROSS production assistant, Aaron Keaton who were also school friends of Comico founders.
Reggie immediately invested his profits from SHURIKEN sales into other titles created by his close friends, Chris Etheredge and Robert Durham, expanding the Victory line to include KOMODO AND THE DEFIANTS by Etheredge, along with PHASE 1 and SHRIKE, both by Durham.
Victory Productions stood out in the Independent comic market as a company driven by three African American comic creators producing a broadly inclusive product line that featured a team of black superheroes, an Asian ninja, a Native American warrior and an anthropomorphic ensemble.
Questioning the significance of Reggie Byers’ role as possibly the first successful black comics publisher I was not surprised that Reggie had previously not considered his role as such because the creative group that we had all surrounded ourselves with at the time was so focused on creating great comics that race was never an issue. The fact that it has taken any of us thirty years to recognize his contribution is less of an embarrassment and more a tribute to the respect we all had for each other as friends, colleagues and comic creators.
I sought confirmation instead from prominent historian of African Americans in comic books, Professor William H. Foster lll who sited the example of Orrin Evans who published a single issue of ALL NEGRO COMICS in 1947 before being locked out of the industry by the big companies at the time.
Professor Foster said that the mid ’80s offered an opportunity for many independent comic publishers, a number of which were African American but because of poor listing of dates and management of records it is hard to confirm with accuracy who came first. He said with fair certainty that Reggie Byers would easily be considered in the top five candidates though because of his large sales figures on the early issues of SHURIKEN he is probably the most significant African American comic book publisher of that independent era which preceded a 1990′s boom in African American publishers.
Reggie, himself, confirms that he had been solicited for guidance by BROTHERMAN publisher Dawud Anyabwile, who in 1989 known as David Sims launched his family owned company Big City Comics that is often recognized as having ignited the contemporary Black Comics/Superhero movement that became exemplified later by the success of Milestone Comics.
Victory lasted only two and a half years before becoming one of the many victims of the comic glut and eventual crash of the market that also was partially responsible for the bankruptcy of Comico. SHURIKEN was absorbed by Malibu Comics after Reggie did a brief run of BLADES OF SHURIKEN for them. Malibu eventually sold to Marvel and now Shuriken occasionally is featured as a mutant character in their broad stable of superheroes.
Reggie went on to develop characters for other ventures such as JAM QUACKY for JQ Productions in the ’90s and CRESCENT which he self published before giving CO2 Comics the opportunity to present it here on our site.
Currently he is focused on empowering young people. With that mission in mind over the last 20 years Reggie and his wife, Dionne have developed their most influential property THE KIDZ OF THE KING featuring ten multicultural angels disguised as teenage superheroes who lift up the Word of God and battle against the demonic forces that attack the children of the world. It has been produced in comic book form and as an animated feature. Reggie is also working on a graphic novel depicting the story of Jesus Christ based on the four Gospels in the Bible.
It is a common notion that it is hard to gain respect in your own back yard, but not in our neighborhood. We at CO2 Comics have always been proud to be associated with him as a comic creator and delighted to have known him as a friend for all of these years.
We hope that now he will be acknowledged by fans critics and historians alike for the recognition he deserves for his significant role not just in the African American community but in the creative community of the comics industry.
Making Comics Because We Want to,