Lathrup Village man teams with artist to relaunch best-selling Black comic book, ‘The Tribe’ – The Oakland Press

Since 1993, “The Tribe” holds the record of being the best-selling African-American comic book produced by an African-American creative team of all time. (Photo courtesy of Todd C. Johnson)

More than 30 years after its debut, Lathrup Village resident Todd C. Johnson and former Detroiter Larry Stroman are reuniting on their creator-owned comic book called “The Tribe.”

Johnson (who once co-owned the Comics Café in Ferndale) and Stroman (who illustrated Marvel Comics’ “Uncanny X-Men,” “X-Factor” and “Ghost Rider”) reunited for their first comic book convention appearance in 25 years at the Great Lakes Comic Convention at Macomb Community College in February. They announced they were relaunching “The Tribe” this summer and they will self-publish. It is undetermined how long the series will run.

“We want to get the first issue out and after the fan reaction decide if it will be a one-shot, a mini-series, or ongoing,” said Johnson, the writer and co-creator, who is an alumnus of Cass Technical High School in Detroit.

“The Tribe” debuted in 1993 and ran for four issues. It was initially published by Image Comics (which was founded in 1992 by seven prominent artists at Marvel who wanted to own their creations), then the next two issues were published by Axis Comics and the final issue by Good Comics (both publishers are now defunct).

Despite the creative team switching companies and an inconsistent publishing schedule, “The Tribe” No. 1 sold more than 1 million copies and holds the record of being the best-selling Black comic book produced by Black creators of all time.

“It is an honor that this milestone still stands after three decades and that there are legions of fans that supported what we were attempting to do with an actual purchase,” Johnson said. “We had no expectations. We were just trying to have fun and make the best effort we could to do something we could be proud of and fans would support. The totality of the sales was just a great byproduct of our efforts.”

Despite being only four issues long, “The Tribe” quickly amassed a strong following.

“We are lucky. We are honored,” Johnson said.

“The Tribe” centered around the adventures of a predominantly Black team of superheroes in Brooklyn, New York, led by Blindspot, who can turn invisible. Their primary villain was Lord Deus, who had connections to Europan, a corporate conglomerate of European and Japanese techno-pirates.

“‘The Tribe’ was my break into comics. Larry was invited to publish a title by Image and he called me and asked would I be interested in helping him come up with something and write the title,” recalled Johnson. “It was a culmination of things we talked about in comics that we liked … characters, situations, powers, etc.”

Johnson spoke about why he and Stroman stopped creating “The Tribe” after four issues. His answer was “life.”

“We just didn’t fit in or feel welcome in the Image dynamic. The next two companies were just us trying to wear too many hats with no experience in operating a comic company,” he said. “Larry was newly married and moved to California. I had two young children. We were both tired of dealing with the resistance of the (comics) industry and navigating it all. We were just uninterested and moved on to other individual activities.”

The new comic has a similar premise to the original series: The heroes are focused on protecting the innocent from a power-hungry corporation.

“There were so many directions and characters that were discussed but never fleshed out in our short run,” Johnson said.

It wasn’t hard at all for Johnson and Stroman to return to their creation. When asked why they decided to revive “The Tribe” after more than 30 years, Johnson answered: “Legacy. And just an urge to finish what we started.”


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