Konkret Comics’ Black Superheroes Win Major Awards
DelCo Native’s Konkret Comics Are Filled With Heroes Of Color
by Tara Behan Marmur, contributing editor
DelCo has its very own superheroes. Akolyte, Kandake and Luna are just a few of the superheroes populating the pages of Konkret Comics, an independent, black-owned publishing company launched in 2019 by Lansdowne native Derek “Lonzo Starr” Allen. Konkret’s heroes are the real deal. In May, Kandake won the 2023 Glyph Comics Award for Female Character Of The Year presented by the prestigious East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention (ECBACC), a nonprofit literacy and arts organization.
This has been a banner year for Konkret, which was nominated for 14 Glyph Awards. Five of those nominations were for books by Starr, who writes Konkret’s Akolyte series. By day, Akolyte is Demetri Price, a well-known music producer in Sapphire City. Then, Akolyte discovers that he shares DNA with a cosmic God. “This cosmic God has to unlock his true power so that he can become an infinite supreme and a guardian of the galaxy,” Starr explains. “I modeled Sapphire City after Lansdowne. I turned Delaware County into its own mythical city.”
Akolyte is featured in five issues, plus an animated mini-commercial, and a live-action film is in the works. Yumy Odom, founder and president of ECBACC, is a fan of Starr’s work. “The writing and art of his Akolyte series is so dynamic,” says Odom. “So many creators who started at the convention have gone onto Disney, Marvel and D.C. Comics. The same is possible for Akolyte.”
In fact, the Philadelphia area has a long history of Black comics. “Not many people know that the first Black indie comic book, Lion Man, was created in 1947 in Philadelphia,” says Odom. The founder and president of ECBACC, Odom created the nonprofit in 2002 to help combat illiteracy through comic book art.
But Starr didn’t know any of that when he was growing up in Lansdowne. Black and brown representation was sorely missing from the comics, superheroes and sci-fi that Starr loved during his childhood. While Star Wars was his gateway into galaxies far, far away, he also loved Silver Surfer, Gambit and Superman. Those comic book heroes had one thing in common: None of them looked like Starr. “I would draw Superman or Wolverine to look like me, even though that wasn’t their original form,” he says.
A self-proclaimed Black nerd, Starr didn’t have an easy time being a comic book fan. “Comics and superheroes aren’t things we really talk about,” he says. “Sports and music are what we usually talk about in our communities. So a lot of kids hid what they loved.”
In his 20s, Starr started a company called Konkret Music and produced a song called “Clark Kent.” “The song is a metaphor for the fact that a lot of women are looking for this perfect Superman, and they never notice Clark Kent is right next to them,” he says.
Starr shopped his song around at a Comic-Con in Philly. The experience opened his eyes to a world of fandom that he never knew existed. And, he met indie comic book creator Miles Biggar, creator of Dark Eagle. “Before then, I never knew there were independent comic book creators,” says Starr. “Seeing this regular guy making comics at a high level was mind-blowing.”
Starr convinced Biggar to allow him to write a theme song for Dark Eagle. When Biggar sent Starr the script for the comic book, he realized that writing a comic book isn’t all that different from writing a song. “And that’s when I decided to make my own comic book,” Starr says. “That’s how Konkret Comics came about.”
The more he delved into indie comics, the more Starr realized how much opportunity exists beyond the megaworlds dominated by Marvel and D.C. Comics. Starr began connecting with other independent comic book creators across the country and internationally. “That’s how I learned the business of what it takes to make a comic – from the writing to the graphic design,” explains Starr.
Still, most black and brown characters in comic books were sidekicks, not main characters. Then, Starr saw the “Black Panther” movie – and the huge box office numbers it generated. Turns out, there is a big market for Black superheroes. “’Black Panther’ showed us royalty,” Starr says. “It made underrepresented people feel proud and important. Most importantly, it created a fire underneath me and other black creators to create more.”
Through Konkret, Starr fosters the talent and aspirations of those writers and illustrators. “Konkret has creators all over the country,” says Starr. “We have creators in Florida, Chicago, Detroit, and Atlanta, to name a few. We also have two of our first female creators, and they’re doing amazing right now.”
Karla Medrano is one of those female creators. “I’m brand new to this whole comic book space,” says Medrano. “Lonzo has been such a great mentor. He’s so patient with all my questions.”
Medrano worked for more than 20 years in the healthcare industry before taking the leap in 2020 to her true passion of writing and creating. “Lonzo has taught me a lot about coming into my own, being confident and recognizing my worth in this space,” she says.
Medrano is the creator of Luna the Queen of Mahru, a character she hopes to see on the big screen. “I’m working on issue number two now and I’m also starting my own creative workshop for people who, like me, have a comic book story idea, but don’t know where to start. I want to pay it forward. I’m fully diving in thanks to the love and support I’m getting from the Konkret family.”
Starr also reaches out to young Black and brown creators. “I can only imagine what it would have felt like to be a young kid and walk into a comic book store and see a superhero that resembled me,” he says. “Superheroes that weren’t the sidekicks, that weren’t living in poverty. Superheroes that were actually inspiring characters.”
Starr wants Black sci-fi to expand. “We rarely tap into the fantasy aspect, but that’s what we’re seeing right now,” he says. “We’re seeing more people of color in space and doing other interesting things.”
He has an online summer camp program in the works to teach kids how to create their own comics and characters. “Comic books are a pathway to reading at a young age, even for me,” Starr says. “I didn’t like what they wanted us to read in school, but I loved reading comics. They excited me and kept me entertained. I want to continue that for the next generation.”