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SVA Alumni Flock To Make Christian Cooper's 'It's A Bird!' Comic Take Flight
September 22, 2020 by Emma Drew
Christian Cooper sitting on a park bench with his binoculars and bike helmet in his lap.

Christian Cooper in Central Park.

Credit: Brittainy Newman/The New York Times

The latest DC Comics launch has a slew of SVA talent behind it—with a recently minted social justice icon at the helm. It's A Bird!, released exclusively digitally last Wednesday, is written by Christian Cooper, the Black man whose interaction with a white woman calling the police to report him while he bird-watched in Central Park went viral earlier this summer. The art team behind the project is made up of illustrator Alitha Martinez (BFA Cartooning and Pre-College faculty) with inking by Mark Morales (BFA 1991 Media Arts) and color by Emilio Lopez (BFA 2004 Cartooning). 

The short graphic novel focuses on the relationship between everyday examples of racism experienced by people of color and instances of police violence resulting in Black men and women's deaths, potently connecting racism's daily humiliations and deadly police brutality. The same day that Christian Cooper faced Amy Cooper (no relation), the woman in Central Park, George Floyd would die in Minneapolis under a police officer's knee.

Opening page of the comic "It's a Bird," by Christian Cooper

Opening page of the comic "It's a Bird," by Christian Cooper, courtesy of DC Comics.

Martinez, known for her work for Marvel's Iron Man, Batgirl and Black Panther: World of Wakanda, joined the project at the invitation of editor Marie Jarvis and before knowing the caliber of the content, but soon realized that "nothing comes close to this because you're dealing with the most sensitive topic of our day, at the most sensitive time," she explains.

The story itself focuses on a Black teenage birder names Jules, whose binoculars show him, instead of birds, the faces of Black people who have been killed by the police. It's a magical-realist type of story, as Cooper describes it, one that "shouldn't be looked at as any one experience, because it's not," he told The New York Times. "It's drawn from a whole bunch of experiences and woven together from that—my own and the ones we keep hearing from news reports." But drawing the victims of police violence—including Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice and Amadou Diallo among many others—was "very difficult," Martinez says. "You literally had to imagine death scenes that should not have happened, you're sitting there having to live with that."

A page from the comic "It's a Bird," by Christian Cooper

A page from the comic "It's a Bird," by Christian Cooper, courtesy of DC Comics.

The artwork is emotive, dynamic and was meaningful for Martinez to work on, including the fact that Morales was involved—"you have arrived some place when you have Mark inking your work." However fantastical conceptually, though, it's a highly resonant story. "I have a son who I'm raising to walk in this world," says Martinez, who identifies as Afro-Latina. "That's his story, that's what he might have to face."

It's a Bird! is the first in DC's new series "Represent!", featuring the work of writers traditionally underrepresented in mainstream comics. It also marks Cooper's return to comics—in the 1990s, he was a writer and editor at Marvel Comics and the company's first openly gay editorial employee. Martinez commends DC—"they didn't flinch" in tackling such a pressing issue—and hopes the initiative will mean women of color will also have more of a voice in the industry. "Comics have always been a political voice," she says. "Even when we think it's not, it definitely has been so."